The basics of periodization

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Back in the 60’s, the Soviet Empire pursued the goal of absolute global domination, and this came not just in the form of military expenditures and proxy-Marxist-regimes, but in athletics, particularly the Olympics. 

Olympic victories it was thought would prove to the world the superiority of the communist agenda. The eastern Bloc was privy to much of the information gleaned by tireless Soviet scientists, who raced after athletic domination. Romania, Bulgaria, Russia and Poland all produced great athletes, one after another. Some of this was due to the willingness to used banned or dangerous substances to improve athletic ability at the expense of the athletes health. But most of it was not. 

One of the near miraculous discoveries to come out of the dead Soviet regime is called Periodization. The basics are simple, though the Soviets had it down to such a fine science, that an athletes entire year of training was mapped for him. Each lift, rest period, days of recuperation, percentage of maximal weights, distances to run as percentage of maximal effort. 

Those charts could bore a PHD, but even weekend warriors can make use of the basics. 


Tudor Bompa pioneered periodization for eastern Bloc countries
Tudor Bompa pioneered periodization for Eastern Bloc countries

The Soviets found a better way than all-out, no-guts, no-glory, training. It was found that by backing off on the intensity and duration of training at the proper times, athletic prowess surged. The nervous system was key. 

When we exercise, we place stress on all our systems, including our central nervous system (CNS). The greater the intensity of training, the greater the stress. Elite athletes may need more rest than then someone who only trains once in a while. The elite’s system is being confronted with much greater stimulus load. The Russians also employed (and still do) exercises and activities to control the reaction of the CNS. They even mapped different routines for different personalities! For instance, if a person is easily excitable and has a tendency to push himself hard in training (such as myself), relaxation exercises, deep breathing and light jogging would be part of the warm up routine. For those who lack motivation, a more intense warmup is in order, perhaps with constant verbal pushing by a trainer (Military style. Remember I’ve said that the whole military system is set up assuming no one tries very hard…). Other things like warm showers, saunas and message can relax the CNS, making an athlete able to train harder. 

The training was like a wave cycle, ebbing and flowing. Push, back off, push-push, back off, push, back off-back off. There were peaks and valleys in both intensity (percentage of maximal effort) and duration (volume of training).


Sample 12 week periodization
Sample 12 week periodization

Then there is micro and macro periodization. The ebb and flow of the week, the month and the year. Peaking is scheduled at the time of competition and training intensity is carefully monitored so as not to peak too early. 

A month-long periodization chart would be something like this:

First Week: Low Intensity

Second Week: Medium Intensity

Third Week: High Intensity

Fourth Week Low Intensity

Fifth Week: Competition

This is one of my secret weapons when it comes to the Army’s fitness test. Most people want to blast themselves right up until two days before the test. I’ve already blasted myself the week before, then I’ll rest completely two days prior and then a really light work load the day before–pushups and situps. Maybe about 30 of each. this re-stimulates the CNS just enough so that it doesn’t “forget” its job, but is not enough to significantly stress. 

Two weeks prior I’ll have at least one “Shock Day”, probably two. That day is gonna hurt. I may do up to 500 pushups throughout the day in some form or fashion. Sprints and at least a hundred situps with a medicine ball too. The next day I’ll be a pile of refuse. But it works like this: Imagine you have tiny ball peen hammer and there’s a glass table in front of you. You can lightly tap the ball on the glass and it won’t break. You could do it for a long time and other than a few small scratches you just get tink, tink, tink. But lift the hammer and bring it down full force and the table shatters. You had to increase the intensity. The same goes with your body. Until you shock it, grab it and shake it, it doesn’t recognize the need to change. You can’t do it often though; you’ll fry yourself ala Crossfitters. 

I highly suggest using some form of periodization, especially as your wrights and run times improve. Backing off helps. It’ll give your body the power it needs to reach another plateau, and soon you’ll be smashing that one too, and soon you’ll be on your way to athletic domination.


One thought on “The basics of periodization

    kernunos said:
    May 16, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    I always did better with the rest in between when younger. I’ve had a huge back-off period. I must be getting ready for one hell of a shock day!

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