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Periodization is the systematic planning of athletic or physical training. The aim is to reach the best possible performance in the most important competition of the year. It involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period. Conditioning programs can use periodization to break up the training program into the offseason, preseason, inseason, and the postseason. Periodization divides the year round condition program into phases of training which focus on different goals.
The roots of periodization come from Hans Selye’s model, known as the General adaptation syndrome (GAS), describing biological responses to stress. Selye's work has been used by the athletic community since the 1950s (Fleck, 1999).
The GAS describes three basic stages of response to stress: (a) the Alarm stage, involving the initial shock of the stimulus on the system, (b) the Resistance stage, involving the adaptation to the stimulus by the system, and (c) the Exhaustion stage, in that repairs are inadequate, and a decrease in system function results. The foundation of periodic training is keeping ones body in the resistance stage without ever going into the exhaustion stage. By adhering to cyclic training the body is given adequate time to recover from significant stress before additional training is undertaken. The response to a new stress is to first respond poorly and the response drops off. For example when the body is first exposed to sun a sunburn might develop. During the resistance stage adaptation improves the response to a higher level, called super compensation, than the previous equilibrium. The example would be that a suntan develops. The exhaustion stage is a continuation of the stimulus at too high a level and the increase gained from adaptation is now offset and all gains are lost. The example would be that wrinkles, spots, or even skin cancer develop. The goal in sports periodization is to reduce the stress at the point where the resistance stage ends so the body has time to recover. In this way the exhaustion stage does not reduce the gains achieved, the body can recover and remain above the original equilibrium point. The next cycle of increased stimulus now improves the response further and the equilibrium point continues to rise after each cycle.
Selye (1957) labeled beneficial stresses as "eustress" and detrimental stresses as "distress". In athletics, when physical stress is at a healthy level (eustress), an athlete experiences muscular strength and growth, while excessive physical stress (distress) can lead to tissue damage, disease, and death. Periodization is most widely used in resistance program design to avoid over-training and to systematically alternate high loads of training with decreased loading phases to improve components of muscular fitness (e.g. strength, strength-speed, and strength-endurance). The Selye-cycles are similar to the "micro cycles" used at later times.
Russian physiologist Leo Matveyev and Romanian sport scientist Tudor Bompa expanded and further organized the periodization model. Matveyev has been regarded as the father of modern periodization. He analysed the results of the Soviet athletes of the 1952 and 1956 summer Olympics and compared successful and not so successful athletes and their training schedules. From these training plans periodized schedules were developed for the 1960 Olympics. With the success of the Soviet athletes, Matveyev's plans were spread all over the Eastern Bloc in their annual coordination meetings. From there it also spread to Romania, where Tudor Bompa developed the system further. In the 1968 it was used for the first time in the GDR and in 1972 in West Germany. After the fall of the Soviet Union, periodization started to become modified. While Matveyev followed Pavlov and assumed that everybody should use the same periodization, individualised systems, using more and more biological data, were introduced.
Periodic training systems typically divide time up into three types of cycles: microcycle, mesocycle, and macrocycle. The microcycle is generally up to 7 days. The mesocycle may be anywhere from 2 weeks to a few months, but is typically a month. A macrocycle refers to the overall training period, usually representing a year or two. There are longer cycles as well for the Olympian, being 4 or 8 years, and the career plan which is usually only considered for Olympians and professional athletes.
Theory of planning
Training should be organized and planned in advance of a competition or performance. It should consider the athlete’s potential, his/her performance in tests or competition, and calendar of competition. It has to be simple, suggestive, and above all flexible as its content can be modified to meet the athletes rate of progress.
The entire preparation phase should be around 2/3 to 3/4 of the macrocycle. The preparation phase is further broken up into general and specific preparation of which general preparation takes over half. An example of general preparation would be building an aerobic base for an endurance athlete such as running on a treadmill and learning any rules or regulations that would be required such as proper swimming stroke as not to be disqualified. An example of specific preparation would be to work on the proper form to be more efficient and to work more on the final format of the sport, which is to move from the treadmill to the pavement.
The competitive phase can be several competitions, but they lead up to the main competition with specific tests. Testing might include any of the following: performance level, new shoes or gear, a new race tactic might be employed, pre-race meals, ways to reduce anxiety before a race, or the length needed for the taper. When the pre-competitions are of a higher priority there is a definite taper stage while lower priority might simply be integrated in as training. The competitive phase ends with the taper and the competition.
The transition phase is important for psychological reasons, a year of training means a vacation is in order. A typical weekend warrior might take three months while a professional athlete might take as little as two weeks.
A mesocycle represents a phase of training with a duration of between 2 – 6 weeks or microcycles, but this can depend on the sporting discipline.  A mesocycle can also be defined as a number of continuous weeks where the training program emphasize the same type of physical adaptations, for example muscle mass and anaerobic capacity. During the preparatory phase, a mesocycle commonly consists of 4 – 6 micro-cycles, while during the competitive phase it will usually consist of 2 – 4 micro-cycles depending on the competition’s calendar.
The goal of the plan is to fit the mesocycles into the overall plan timeline-wise to make each mesocycle end on one of the phases and then to determine the workload and type of work of each cycle based on where in the overall plan the given mesocycle falls. The goal in mind is to make sure the body peaks for the high priority competitions by improving each cycle along the way.
A microcycle is typically a week because of the difficulty in developing a training plan that does not align itself with the weekly calendar. Each microcycle is planned based on where it is in the overall macrocycle.
A micro-cycle is also defined as a number of training sessions, built around a given combination of acute program variables, which include progression as well as alternating effort (heavy vs. light days). The length of the micro-cycle should correspond to the number of workouts - empirically often 4-16 workouts - it takes for the athlete or fitness client to adapt to the training program. When the athlete or fitness client has adapted to the program and no longer makes progress, a change to one or more program variables should be made.
The annual plan
The annual plan is important in that it directs and guides athletic training over a year. It is based on the concept of periodization and the principles of training. The objective of training is to reach a high level of performance (peak performance) and an athlete has to develop skills, biomotor abilities and psychological traits in a methodical manner.
This phase consists of the general preparation and specific preparation. Usually which can be sub divided into three different phases. One should always remember that this is a base, a creation phase with the objective to attain the previous training state, and that the longest period of periodization must be devoted towards the preparatory period.
This phase may contain a few main competitions each containing a pre-competitive and a main competition. Within the main competition, an uploading phase and a special preparatory phase may be included.
This phase is used to facilitate psychological rest, relaxation and biological regeneration as well as to maintain an acceptable level of general physical preparation. This phase lasts 3–4 weeks (perhaps longer) but should not exceed five weeks under normal conditions and may be sports specific. It allows the body to fully regenerate so that it is prepared for the next discipline.
- Arnd Krüger (1973). Periodization or Peaking at the right time, in: Track Technique 54 (1973), pp.1720- 1724
- Arnd Krüger. Nachwort zum neusten Stand der Literatur zur Periodisierung, in: L. P. MATWEJEW: Periodisierung des sportlichen Trainings. Berlin: Bartels & Wernitz 1972, 201 - 231 (2. Aufl. 1978). Also basis for the French translation: Postface.La base de l'entraînement.Paris: Vigot 1980.
- V.I. PLATONOV: General theory of training of athletes in Olympic sports. Kiew: Olympic Books, 1997.
- "Periodisation in fencing". Retrieved 23 January 2015.