What’s Wrong With Periodization
I apologize for the big gaps in posts recently. Travel, the US Thanksgiving holiday and life's many responsibilities keep getting i the way. And I'm afraid it's not going to get much better for at least a month since December is always a busy time. I'm sure you understand. OK, now back to business...
Someone sent me a note a couple of days ago mentioning an emailed newsletter she had received. In it the author noted that a recent presenter at a training conference had said there was no research showing that periodization is effective and therefore it shouldn’t be used. She wanted to know what I thought. In a way the presenter is right: There is no research that I have ever found that compares periodization with some other training model to find which is more effective. I just confirmed that by doing a PubMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=pubmed) search on “periodization training.” There were 41 results. Every one of them simply compared various types of periodization to see which worked better or mentioned periodization in the study’s design.
I also did a search on “breathing exercise.” There were 5,248 results. I looked through the first few pages and didn’t find a single one that showed breathing was superior to not breathing. So by the same logic that means you shouldn’t breathe while exercising.
I realize that I am being somewhat facetious here. I get this sort of thing all of the time. People, usually coaches trying to appear cutting edge, create periodization straw men and then attack them. The common straw complaints are that periodization is too regimented, too generalized, not customized, not unique, or does not take into account all aspects of competition. I think what they are actually describing is their lack of understanding of periodization.
I define periodization as the organization of an athlete’s training with respect to time. How one chooses to do that organization is an individual matter. I only know of one alternative to periodization and that is random training. Since there is no organization it isn’t periodized. (By the way, random training may be quite good for novices.)
Many have come to think of periodization as having rigid guidelines that must be followed: 7-day weeks, 4-week mesocycles, volume preceding intensity, specific workouts at specific times, no concern for the individual’s unique needs, and more. Periodization isn’t this at all. It’s actually quite free-flowing and creative. A coach or athlete can do anything with it they wish—so long as it works.
This later point is the key—so long as it works. In my Training Bible books I laid out very specific training protocols that the self-coached athlete can follow to simplify the process because they generally work at some level for everyone. But do you know how often I follow those same, exact protocols with the athletes I coach? Never. Why? Because I’ve been doing this long enough now that I am aware of lots of variations and how they might best be combined for a given athlete’s unique situation. I don’t expect the self-coached athlete with no background in sport science to understand or even see all of the alternatives any more than I would understand anything beyond basic accounting practices while my accountant could see multiple issues and solutions.
So, should you decide to scrap periodization and do something undefined but otherwise new and different? My bet is that whatever this unknown alternative may be it is just another version of periodization, but with a new name.