Periodisation is a Myth

Periodisation can be described as a long-term methodical plan to achieve optimal performance, whereby various physiological qualities are systematically developed, while also controlling levels of fatigue and the law of accommodation.

But is this actually reality? Do coaches (or athletes) actually believe that by planning macro, meso and microcycles up to 12 months in advance (or further) is actually going to have the anticipated effect on performance when D-Day arrives?

I don’t. Periodisation in the classical sense is a myth.

The social, industrial, political and pharmaceutical landscapes from which Matveyev and Zatsiorsky constructed their annual or quadrennial plans is completely different to today. Although the Russian and Eastern Bloc texts are still classics, create engaging dialogue within the profession and formed the basis for our understanding of planning; the application to apply the theory lacks some context in today’s world. These models were based initially on the Olympic calendar; where every facet of the ‘programme’ was controlled. They are not exactly wrong. They are however rigid, stable and predictable.

The linear relationship between volume and intensity within these classical approaches is solid in theory. Start the GPP with a low intensity and high volume and then as you progress through the multitude of micro and mesocycles towards the SPP, begin to increase the intensity and reduce the volume; then you should get to the CP in optimal shape right? This is bs. It subscribes to the saying soon ripe, soon rotten. In my opinion, this also is a myth. The issue I have with this approach is that with a few hiccups (injury, illness, life stressors) along the way, you will never get ripe at all. All you have is very green bananas.

John Kiely (see here and here) is perhaps the utmost expert on sport periodisation and Mladen Jovanovic who has discussed Daily Undulating Periodisation/Framework (DUF) and Agile Periodisation on his blog, are two key voices in the field as they are aware and vocal of the complex biological systems in effect, which are devoid of system, constraint and structure. There needs to be scope for variation, experimentation and deviation from the plan. Athlete’s will all react different to the stimulus provided (see Bondarchuk), so why would you move them into the next phase because the week rolled-over or the cell changed from green to blue in your spreadsheet? There needs to be constant assessment of the stimulus-stress-adaptation response to determine when to progress the intensification of the training.

Constraining yourself to a calendar or a colourful excel spreadsheet is dumb (and I’ve done this!). The complex biological system of each athlete is smarter than any formula you write into a cell. Long-term planning is fraught with danger and misguided judgment by the coach. The true value of a great coach is the ability to see what is happening within the athlete, during training/competition and make daily/weekly adjustments to develop the appropriate stimulus-stress-adaptation response. Anyone can follow a weekly volume-intensity structure.

In no way am I saying do not plan. You need to plan, organize and structure all components of the athlete’s training; however don’t be dogmatic about it. Be cognisant of the individuality that exists for each athlete, which may not abide by the typical 3:1 loading structure.

Understand you have an end goal but do not be glued to a process because you have it written down on paper. As the coach, understand the context, show some initiative and application to what you SEE.

All coaches need great plans for their athletes. Just don’t plan too far in advance.


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