A (simple) explanation of periodization

Periodization is a training cycle/schedule that is divided into periods of time or phases and each phase (known as a mesocycle) commonly has a specific training goal.  The objective of periodization is that each phase prepares the runner for the next more advanced phase so that they develop good foundations and “adapt” to the next phase. Most periodization programs, and these are loosely the basis of what I work on, consist of a base phase of endurance running, followed by a strengthening period of hill training then a sharpening phase of speed followed the all-important tapering phase. This ensures the athlete is ready and prepared and in the best shape possible to “perform” on the day of their race. 

In an ideal world, each individual athlete should have their own training plan because we are all unique and have different lifestyles and demands placed upon us outside of running.  I try to base most of my training plans on this type of periodization because I know that rest and adaptation are just as important as a hard training session and the evidence suggest many benefits to this type of training;

  • It manages fatigue

  • It reduces the risk of over-training

  • It manages load and intensity

  • It aids recovery

  • It reduces risk of injury

However, because we are all individuals and have work, family and other commitments my training plans are generic and have to take into consideration that we are not professional athletes. In an ideal world it would be great to follow a really structured training program (and I fully support a structured plan as you know), but to move onto the next level of running you also need to include in your running week a combination of strengthening and stretching activities so that you become stronger and more able to perform. But this kind of training can come at a price, you have to give a lot of your life to it and to be honest most runners prefer to race once or twice a month rather than building gradually for one key race. We are all interested in self-improvement but we also need to remember to have fun and find a balance between work, family and running.

How do we find this balance between periodization of training for a specific goal race but also wanting to do every race on the calendar for fear of missing out.  Periodization in the truest sense is complicated and it is demanding, suddenly going from endurance runs to hills and then speed can lead to injury, so it is better to gradually blend from one phase to another, building to a high fitness level; enjoy your goal race but then take a break.  This is my approach, look around and see what’s next, it seems to be a belief that if you rest or take time out you will go back to square one in your running. You won’t be, you need to have a dip, some down time so that your body can recover, if you don’t your body will force you into recovery by breaking down, stress has a very good way of finding a weakness in the body and you will become injured.