Friday, April 30, 2010

Training Design: A Road Map to Success

Training Design: A Road Map to Success
By Dave Shrock, Modesto Junior College
Coaching has been described as the science of total preparation (Plisk & Stone 2003). Effective coaches of all levels rely on systematic training design, or periodization, as a road map to optimal individual or team success (Bompa 1999)..

Following these assertions, coaches should be guided by the knowledge of what the crucial tasks are that must be accomplished in the demands of the athlete’s event/position and of the sport. Tudor Bompa, an authority on periodization, states ‘a coach is only as efficient as his or her organization and planning’ (150). Bompa continues by stating that periodization is one of the most important concepts of training and planning, as structured phases of training lead to the highest level of preparation and performance. Training design, or periodization, provides guidance, direction and scope to training; yet needs to be simple, suggestive, and flexible so it can be modified to meet individual circumstances or changing environments.

Will Freeman, in his periodization book entitled Peak When it Counts (2001), suggests the three fundamental purposes of periodization: 1) to enable an individual or team to peak at the ideal moment, 2) to achieve optimal training effect from each phase of training, and 3) to make training an objective process. To create the objective process, coaches can measure and test athletes to assess progress towards goals, while at the same time, providing comparisons and objectivity so that the coach can make modifications to workouts, if necessary, and fine-tune progress towards the training objective.

Often when we hear the term periodization, we think of it as a recent phenomenon. On the contrary, periodization began back in the ancient Olympics with Philostratus’ training of the athletes. U.S. collegiate athletic teams in the early twentieth century utilized more evolved systematic training, while the Germans in the 1936 Olympics began refining periodization with four year training plans. The concepts were further refined by Eastern bloc state-funded regimes after the Second World War. In 1965, Leonid Matveyev published what has become the classic model for periodization in the West. (Bompa 1999).

Periodization for Individuals and Teams

The application of periodization varies between team and individual sports. Considerations of training are determined by the sport’s specific requirements, and the discipline demands of each athlete- such as power-speed positions versus endurance based (Olbrecht 2000). Ledger (1998), suggests utilizing the strategy on two levels. While the development of the individual is important to facilitate their positional and individual potential, team development can be addressed with periodization to produce an efficient and cohesive unit. Often, individual and team concerns can overlap and complement each other depending upon their time of season.

During the off-season, or preparation phase, individual conditioning and strengthening plans can be utilized to raise the level of fitness and expertise of each player, while during the season, training as a unit should be utilized at every opportunity. An excellent example of combining individual and team related technical training involves the use of game related movements for conditioning. It has been suggested that undulating, non-linear periodization, which will be discussed shortly, best suits team periodization when planning for the year.

Variation within microcycles does remain important for team sport players, and this variation of training loads and volume depends on the training age and experience of each player (Gamble 2006). Studies have determined that the variable summated periodization approach, progressing from extensive to intensive on a three week loading; and a one week restorative, or unloading approach is well adapted to team sports and many individual disciplines (Plisk & Stone 2003).

Creating an Effective Periodized Training Plan

Before embarking on setting up any training design or periodized program, the coach needs to determine both long term and intermediate goals or objectives for the individual and the team. Evaluation begins with general considerations such as the physical, physiological, psychological, and technical capabilities of your athletes and team along with specific demands and expectations of the sport, the level at which athletes and team compete, and the time available to train plus prepare for competitions.

Considerations should include which competitions are considered developmental, and which competitions, or group of competitions, need the athletes to be at optimal preparation. The evaluation of the athletes includes their training age, level of skill, as well as their occupation and financial support, awareness of nutrition, level of motivation, and support to achieve established goals or objectives.

In the creation of an objective and measurable training plan, routine testing of athletes in controlled sessions or competitions is important so the development can be measured; including areas that need to be addressed in a holistic approach to training (Bompa 1999; Sellers 2007b; Stone et al 2007).

Once all parameters of the sport and season are identified, along with the attributes of the athlete and team, the coach needs to identify the focal or major competition. From this date, the coach can begin to work backwards, aligning the components outlined below to create a road map or an effective periodized plan.

There are several components to the periodized plan. These periods refer to training with specific and distinct, yet linked goals. By establishing a periodized plan, training loads can be applied in a progressive, cumulative, systematic fashion, with the goal being optimal performance achieved at a specific time.
1. Four year or quadrennium period: Used in fundamental long range planning which fits well into the Olympic cycle and U.S. scholastic and collegiate systems
2. Annual period: Culminates with the focal completion identified for that year.
3. Macrocycle: Term used for phases of preparation and competition leading up to a season or series of focal competitions. Often coaches implement a single, double, or tri-cycle model of periodization depending on the number of seasons, or focal competitions, the athlete or team has in any given annual plan or year.
4. Mesocycle: Matveyev, in his classic periodization model, utilized natural monthly bio-cycles to construct ‘meso’ or monthly periods of four weeks. Within each mesocycle, intensity and volume are gradually increased in each microcycle creating a summated model until the last microcycle, which decreases load and volume for a restorative or stabilizing effect.
5. Microcycle: The building blocks of a mesocycle are the microcycle, normally seven to ten day periods, where load and volume of work are interspersed with recovery.
6. Training Session: Depending on the demands of the athlete or team, and their training age, the coach may incorporate one or several training sessions into a daily routine.
7. Training Unit: The smallest of the periodization units, a unit describes the specific activity prescribed during the training session. It should be noted that sequencing units is important for each session’s effectiveness. Well orchestrated programs utilize continuous warm-ups, specific to sport demands, before progressing to motor skill demanding activities while the body is less fatigued, before initiating endurance activities, culminating with a cool down.

Overlapping this periodized approach is the concept of phases that emphasize thematic or training emphasis. The initial phase is called preparation (prep) or conditioning, phase which may last several mesocycles. Athletes in the prep phase address conditioning and fundamental sport skills so that they will be able to adapt to the increasing demands of competitive environments. The preparation phase is usually divided into the general and specific prep phases. In the general prep phase broad, multilateral training takes place and then moves into overall strength, flexibility, stamina, and coordination. Building on the general phase, athletes move into the specific preparation phase where the improvement of sport specific skills is emphasized. Training volume is often high during this prep phase to allow conditioning, while intensity is low.

Depending upon the length and complexity of the season, the majority of the competition season is called the competitive phase. The athlete has evolved from the prep phase with stable fitness and the ability to accomplish position and sport specific demands with minimal fatigue. As the competitive phase progresses towards the focal competition, training volume begins to decrease while intensity increased with event and sport specific training emphasized (Bompa 1999; Counsilman & Counsilman 1994; Grosso 2006; Sellers 2007a; Sellers 2007b; Stone et al 2007).

The crescendo of a competitive phase is the taper, or peak, when all components of the cumulative training plan converge to enable optimal performance for a period of time. Tapers are initiated one to three weeks prior to focal competitions and are determined by the training load and level of fatigue on the athlete to that point in the season. Studies on the tapers of swimmers, cyclists, and track athletes identify a performance increase of .05 to 6 percent enabled by increased blood cell volume and muscle glycogen content, giving the athlete greater stamina and energy (Karp 2007; Ledger 1998).

The final phase of periodization is called the transition phase which lasts one to four weeks beginning after the focal competition and allowing athletes to heal injuries and recover from previous training. While the inclination is to immediately stop training after a focal competition, athletes are better served to gradually reduce volume to facilitate recovery. The goal of the transition phase is to maintain some level of fitness while allowing the athlete’s body to recover, and the athlete to rejuvenate (Stone, et al 2007).

Training design and periodization have often been compared to cooking with many ingredients, compounded by innumerable factors beyond the coach and athlete’s control. The key is to begin with a simple systematic plan and to keep records so that the coach and athlete can review the progression afterwards and make informed assertions and refinements from the training plan. There are many sources available for the novice coach willing to increase their effectiveness by utilizing periodization or training design. Several are listed in the reference section below, and additional resources are available through NGBs or the USOC.

Tudor Bompa declared that periodization is one of the most important concepts in training and performance. By structuring phases and periods which lead to the highest level of speed, strength and endurance in athletic competition, all athletes can succeed at their highest level (Bompa 1999). Negotiating the road to success is most effectively achieved by utilizing the road map of periodization.

• Bompa, T. (1999). Periodization: Theory and methodology of training (fourth ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
• Counsilman, J., & Counsilman, B. (1994). The new science of swimming. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
• Freeman, W. (2001). Peak when it counts (fourth ed.). Mountain View, CA: Tafnews Press.
• Gamble, P. (2006). Periodization for training of team sport athletes. Strength and conditioning journal, 28 (5), 56-66.
• Grosso, M. (2007). Athletics training program Modern athlete & coach, 45 (1), 27-31.
• Grosso, M. (2006). Training theory: A primer on periodization. Modern athlete & coach, 44 (3), 7-14.
• Karp, J. (2007). Hey! Back off! Marathon & beyond, 11 (3), 20-27.
• Ledger, P. (1998). A guide to planning coaching programmes. Leeds, U.K.: National Coaching Foundation.
• Olbrecht, J. (2000). The science of winning. Overijse, Belgium: Olbrecht.
• Plisk, S., & M. Stone (2003). Periodization strategies. Strength and conditioning journal, 25 (6), 19-37.
• Sellers, C. (2007a). Sequencing your workouts. USOC Olympic coach, 19 (2).
• Sellers, C. (7 August, 2007b). Training design for fencers. PowerPoint presentation at USA Fencing Coaching Camp, Colorado Springs, CO.
• Stone, M., M.Stone & W. Sands (2007). Principles and practice of resistance training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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