Periodization for Sport Performance

Periodization for Sport Performance

Periodization is a fitness training concept that has been around for ages, however thanks to modern exercise science and research, the specific model for proper periodization has been developed. 

Periodization involves the progression of training intensity aimed at ensuring an athlete or individual is in peak condition for a major sporting event or fitness goal, and is the most important aspect to a fitness or sport training program.

The modern periodization model that has been adapted by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) is one that involves a progression from hypertropy (muscle growth) to power development, and finally with the maintenance and peaking for a competition or event. It involves an offseason, pre-season, and in-season phase with transition periods of lower intensity to avoid over-training. 

The benefit of this model is that it can be adopted by any athlete, fitness enthusiast, or personal trainer/strength and conditioning coach. By following this model, athletes and individuals can ensure they are in their best physical form at the proper time. So without further adieu, I present to you... 

The Periodization Model for Sport Performance:

The Off-Season
A well developed periodization plan should begin in the offseason. Yes, that means even when you aren't performing or competing, you should already begin thinking and establishing your training program. In fact, many elite athletes have several periodization plans in motion at any given time, with each one being a part of their mesocycle (short-term), and a part of a long-term (macrocycle) conditioning plan. 
In the off-season, the emphasis should be on creating an aerobic base, as well as developing muscle size (hypertrophy), endurance, and basic strength. Using exercises that target specific muscles required in the sport or event will be important, using the set and rep range found below. Compound exercises such as the bench press, back squat, bent over row or military press may be useful. The intensity, or percentage of 1 repetition max ("1RM" - the amount of weight that can successfully be lifted ONE time) should be followed as described below whether the goal is hypertrophy/endurance (early in the off-season), or developing basic strength later in the phase. This will help prepare the muscles for the higher intensity requirements of the following phases. 

The Pre-Season
Many coaches will argue that the pre-season is the most important phase of any periodization cycle. This is the time where competitions/games have yet to begin, but are forthcoming. Muscles should already be conditioned from the off-season phase to be able to manage an increase in training intensity. That means that the emphasis should be on developing strength/power using exercises such as the squat, deadlift, and hang cleans using the set and rep range found below. Once these exercises have been perfected, athletes should transition to more power-based exercises like the power clean, clean and press, or snatch near the end of this phase - as competitions are nearing. Additionally, as the pre-season phase continues, athletes should progressively place more emphasis on sport-specific tasks, and less on resistance training.

It's important to remember the difference between strength and power. Strength is termed "low-speed strength", because the resistance is overcome slowly by pushing (or pulling) under high stress, whereas Power can be thought of as "high-speed strength", because exercises require the athlete to use "explosiveness" to try and overcome the resistance as quickly and efficiently as possible (while still maintaining proper form, of course). 

First-Transition Phase
Before a competitive season begins, athletes should take part in a transition period, where 1 week of lower intensity (50-60% 1RM) exercises should be used to ensure muscles are fresh for the start of season, but still maintain their strength and power that was developed in the pre-season.

In-Season Period
This is the period when the games, competitions, or goal outcomes have begun. In this phase, the emphasis should continue to be on sport-specific tasks, while still supplementing with resistance training. Notice from the table below that to peak for competition, the intensity of exercises should be upwards of 93% of the athletes 1RM, and should be performed at maximum speeds. However, the set and rep ranges (i.e volume) should be left low to ensure that injury, and over-training do not occur. If there are more than one competition or game within a periodization plan, then it is not uncommon for athletes to transition between a maintenance, where intensity is still relatively high, in to a peaking phase for the next competition. For some athletes who have long seasons, this means that the competition phase can be ever-changing. It is especially important for these athletes to work with their strength and conditioning coach to ensure they are maintaining their power output, while still peaking for each competition without over-training. 

Post Season
Finally, once the season has ended and the competitions or games have ended, it is important for the athlete to take a step BACK from their training. Yes, this means...RELAX - something that is often hard for athletes to do. However, by taking a step back from the rigors of training following a periodization plan, the athlete can rest their body in preparation for the following season. Recreational activities can still be performed, however the emphasis should be on enjoyment, rest, and recuperating. By the end of this phase, and before the beginning of the next periodization plan, the athlete should be grinding at the gears to get back at it, with the competitive fire burning stronger than before and ready to take on the next periodization plan and competitive season.   

In closing, I can't stress enough that importance of developing a periodization plan early in an athlete or individuals competitive career. By working with their strength and conditioning coach, athletes can ensure they are in top form when they need to be, and can avoid injury and the dreaded symptoms that come with over-training. For questions, comments, or to find out more, contact me at the information below.

Thanks for reading, 

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Kalan is a Combat Sports Performance Specialist who brings an evidence-based approach with practical-based knowledge to the world of strength & conditioning. He is recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA). and is currently finishing his MSc. Kinesiology degree at the University of Victoria. Through his masters thesis research, Kalan has established and implemented the KFit Test Battery for Combat Sport Athletes which is used by both Karate BC & Karate Canada as their standard fitness test for  athletes across the country. Additionally, Kalan is an exercise physiology lab instructor at the University of Victoria, and trains individuals (including athletes) every day to help meet their fitness needs and goals. He has many years of experience both as an elite athlete and high performance coach and is knowledgeable in the many fields surrounding fitness and training for sports performance.