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Periodisation – what, why and how

18/09/2010

What is periodisation?

To me, periodisation is:

“Specialising in different things, in different phases, over a period of time, in order to bring them all together at the end.”

For example, if I were to build a house, I would divide the project up into the following phases:

  1. The foundation phase – concentrate on digging the foundations.
  2. The walls phase – concentrate on building the walls.
  3. The roof phase – concentrate on putting the roof up.
  4. The decorating phase – concentrate on the internal decorating.

If I did these phases in this order, I would end up with a nice house.  But if I did them in a different order, or I tried to do them all at the same time, I would end up with a mess.  And the same principles apply to training for health, fitness and performance.

Why should we periodise?

Different periodisation phases can last from a few days, to a few months.

I can think of 2 main reasons:

  • Practicality – The ways of improving some aspects of fitness compete/interfere with other training aspects.  In other words, training them at the same time can cancel both out.
  • Efficiency – Doing it this way usually means you reach your goal quicker than if you didn’t.  In other words, you minimise the training aspects that cancel each other out, and maximise the training aspects that build on each other.

Example #1 – An athlete wants to improve their power.  So they should increase their strength and then improve their explosiveness/speed.  Doing it the other way round will mean very low/no improvements in power.

Example #2 – Your average overweight guy wants to look better naked.  So he should build up his muscles first, and then lose excess fat.  Doing it this way will give much better results compared to doing exactly the same thing, but in the other order.

How do we periodise?

Exactly how we periodise depends on what your goals are and where you are starting from.  But in general, this is how I go about planning a periodised training plan.

  • Identify your ultimate goal.  For example, getting ready for a kumite (karate sparring) competition.
  • Identify the physical aspects that are needed to succeed at kumite.  For example:
    • Anaerobic fitness
    • Coordination/agility/reactions for attack and defence.
    • Muscular power endurance.
  • Put these building blocks into a logical order.  For example:
    • Improve general coordination, fitness and strength.
    • Improve power, while maintaining/improving general fitness and coordination/agility/reactions.
    • Improve power endurance and anaerobic fitness while maintaining/improving general coordination/agility/reactions.
    • Improving specific attack/defence drills while maintaining power endurance and anaerobic fitness.

I chose this order for two main reasons. 

  • It moves from the general to the specific
  • The longer lasting physical aspects (adaptations of the muscles/heart/lungs) are targeted before the more ephemeral ones (adaptations of the nervous system).

This is a very simple explaination of periodisation.  As long as I remember, I’ll go into more detail and explain long (macro) medium (meso) and short term (micro) periodisation in future articles.  But in the meantime, start thinking about your own long term training and see if you can split it into sensible phases.  Good luck!

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