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Training periodisation in endurance sports

Today’s #ScienceFriday will dive into periodisation of training in endurance sports. What exactly is periodisation and what is the difference between traditional, block and undulating periodisation? Here you can also find out how newbies to endurance sports can get the best out of their training!

If you have any questions, feel free to write to us and we will answer you as soon as possible!

What is periodisation?

Periodisation is a term used among coaches and sports scientists to divide and structurally plan an athlete’s training for the year (macrocycle) into manageable phases (mesocycles). This organizes training into a cycle of various training aspects (e.g. volume, intensity, exercise type, recovery) within a mesocycle to promote the onset of fatigue in order to improve training ability or reduce it when needed. 

Each mesocycle is approximately 3-4 weeks long and each week can be further broken down into smaller periods known as microcycles that focus on specific developmental areas of training such as endurance, strength, intensity and skill.

How can periodisation help the athlete?

The breakdown system of periodisation allows an athlete to work toward specific goals both long and short term. Such goals can also be used to motivate and help an athlete better understand their performance improvements or decrements.

The structure allows a trainer to effectively monitor and evaluate an athlete’s progress to ensure they are on track to reach their best possible performance at the correct time within a season (i.e. important competitions) not too early or too late. 

Periodisation is an important factor (if done correctly) to ensure the correct balance of progressive overloading of training. This allows for adaptations to occur and provides enough recovery time to actively manage fatigue and help prevent the onset of overtraining (1)(2). This is also necessary to achieve supercompensation, where the aim is to improve performance due to stimuli from past training sessions.

What is overload & is it necessary?

Overload is a training concept in which training is progressively increased in order to see adaptations such as improvements in endurance, anaerobic capacity or strength gains. It is important that this is done during the correct training phase to ensure the athlete is in peak form and recovered in time for goal competitions.

Periodisation models:

  1. Traditional Linear (TP):

Training progresses through cycles of low intensity high volume training (base), pre-competition with increased intensity training (build), competitions and a transition phase (off season). It works on an 80/20 rule of 80% low intensity work (majority in base phase) and 20% of high intensity work (majority in competition phase). Moving closer to a competition the intensity becomes priority and volume is reduced. TP is typically used among beginners and intermediates.

  1. Block periodisation (BP):

BP consists of shorter periods (blocks) of developing a specialized training ability. Different blocks contain varied amounts of volume with reduction between each, however, intensity is in a constant incline towards a competition.

BP intends to build upon previously developed abilities from previous blocks. One block may consist of 1 goal in 1 week or 3 goals in a 4 week block. It is a suitable periodisation plan to help suit training to the athlete’s environment (e.g. winter months may suit short intensity workloads). Block periodisation is currently the favoured concept among endurance trainers to structure their athlete’s training (3).

  1. Undulating periodisation (UP):

UP is mainly used to periodize resistance training and high-intensity interval training for endurance athletes. UP is used by manipulating either daily sessions (DUP) or sessions on a weekly basis (WUP), allowing for simultaneous high and low intensity training. It also allows an athlete to work in different repetition ranges or interval durations for each session.

How can a newbie best structure their training through periodisation without a trainer?

As a beginner to an endurance sport or sport in general, it is important not to go full gas from the beginning. This is bound to end in overtraining or injury. A basic rule is to first build up your training volume gradually and at lower intensities. Once you have been able to build up to long rides over a period of a few months, you will then have a better base to introduce more specific high intensity interval training.

A good place to start is to approach a training diagnostics lab to complete a performance test. This can help give you highly accurate information of your current fitness level and will identify your training zones (either from heart rate (HR) or wattage). Your training zones can be used to follow a more structured training session and as a guide to know if you are training at the correct intensities.

If testing is not an option, an easier method to estimate your HR training zones is to:

  1. Calculate your maximum HR (HRmax): subtract your age from 220 (the answer is your HRmax)
  2. Use your HRmax to determine the following training zone ranges:
  • Zone 5 (90-100% of HRmax) – Maximum
  • Zone 4 (80-90% of HRmax) – Hard
  • Zone 3 (70-80% of HRmax) – Moderate
  • Zone 2 (60-70% of HRmax) – Light
  • Zone 1 (50-60% of HRmax) – Very light

Download our enduco Light for the perfect partner to help you get started with your training and have some help along the way. The app will suggest and guide you through individualised  training sessions and make sure you don’t over do it.

Sources

  1. Fry, R. W., Morton, A. R., & Keast, D. (1992). Periodisation of training stress–a review. Canadian Journal of Sport Sciences = Journal Canadien Des Sciences Du Sport, 17(3), 234–240. 
  2. Carter, J., Potter, A., & Brooks, K. (2014). Overtraining Syndrome : Causes, Consequences, and Methods for Prevention. J Sport Human Perf, 2(1), 1–14. 
  3. Goutianos, G. (2016). Block periodization training of endurance athletes: A theoretical approach based on molecular biology. Cellular and Molecular Exercise Physiology, 4(2).