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Is Training Periodization Complicated?

Training periodization is a systematic approach to organizing and planning athletic training to optimize performance over a specific period.

I've done everything from self coaching, being coached, using pre built plans, training apps, and AI driven training platforms. In my experience, what I have found is, even if a "system" says it doesn't use periodization as part of a selling point, it absolutely does. It may try to call it some other fancy word or name but broken down, it's simply a systematic approach and how they are organizing training for the best performance they believe they can deliver.

For triathletes, periodization plays and important role in achieving peak fitness while managing the capacity of the individual. Let's break down the different phases of periodization and their purposes:

1. Transition/Off-season:

The transition or "off season" phase is generally post-competition or after the last main race of the season. Athletes entering this phase back away from the focused structure of training and is used to recover before heading back into another phase. This period can last 2 weeks and even up to 8 weeks depending on the athletes needs. It's a great time to prioritizes mental and physical recovery. Athletes are really encouraged to engage in cross-training, recreational activities, and rest to prevent burnout, maintain motivation, and allow the body and mind to recover. If you have never trained before, this phase would be something different. It would be the Preperation Phase. it still remains mostly unstructured but simple gets you active to a degree where you will be able to more successful in the stages to follow.

2. Base Phase:

Coming out of transition is usually a base phase, unless you are in the middle of a season, you may go back into a build phase. There are two main trains of thought for the base phase. One is to focus is on creating a solid foundation for endurance through more low intensity sessions. The other is to focus on creating high end speed through more short high intensity session. In my experience I lean towards creating higher speed so that I am training at those higher speeds when building my endurance. This phase typically lasts several weeks to a few months, laying the groundwork to build on in the weeks to come.

3. Build Phase:

As athletes transition to the build phase, the training intensity and volume change. Workouts will continue or now include higher intensity intervals, tempo runs, and threshold workouts, targeting specific aspects of endurance. You will also grow your endurance capacity by adding in longer low intensity sessions. This phase can last 4-12 weeks depending on the race distance you are training for. The aim is to build your abilities in full preperation for race day. The build phase is also the time to start considering nutrition for your race and applying it in training so you know what and how your body responds to it.

4. Peak Phase:

The peak phase fine-tunes an athlete's fitness for optimal performance during the competitive season. Since we are not growing our efforts anymore, the same duration or intensity is targeted week to week. Specific race simulations and sharpening workouts become the focus, with a careful balance of maintaining fitness while reducing overall training volume. It should last no more than 2-4 weeks, this ensures athletes are fresh and at their peak on race day, minimizing fatigue.

5. Tapering:

Tapering is a crucial phase leading up to a race, involving a significant reduction in training volume while maintaining some intensity. You don't want to loose the top end speed you've worked so hard for but you can't do long sessions anymore which means these days will be short with at or above race pace speeds. This phase can last from 1-3 weeks, tapering allows for the restoration of glycogen stores, reduction of fatigue, and enhancement of neuromuscular function, setting the stage for peak performance. It's also the time to start adding a few more electrolytes to your daily hydration. A big mistake in this phase is only drinking water thinking it will hydrate you best for raceday.

6. Competition/Racing:

The competition or racing phase is the culmination of the training journey, where athletes put their skills and fitness to the test in competitive events. Tapering off training intensity in the days leading up to the race, athletes focus on short, easy workouts to maintain sharpness without inducing fatigue. This phase, lasting a few days to a week, provides a platform to showcase training efforts, assess performance, and learn from the racing experience.

General Tips:

  • Consistency is Key: Consistent training across all phases is crucial for long-term success. Life happens though and the sport should add to our lives, not take away.

  • Listen to Your Body: Adjustments may be needed based on how your body responds to the training load. Missing a day or two is not the end of the world and don't try to make the session up, just keep going. However this could be a sign you're overloading and need to relook at your plan for the weeks ahead.

  • Nutrition and Recovery: Proper nutrition and recovery strategies are essential to support training adaptations. I can't stress this enough as recovery and nutrition is what helps you stay in the game. If you are injured it doesn't matter what your training plan was. Active recovery so you can continue your training is one of the most important things you will do.

Remember, individual athletes may respond differently to training, so it's essential to tailor periodization plans based on personal strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Always consider consulting with a coach or sports professional to create a personalized plan that suits your specific needs and aspirations.

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