Every athlete is different and has different goals, for this reason, a customized specific plan needs to be created for each athlete. Periodization is a form of resistance training that may be defined as a strategic implementation of specific training phases, it is one of the most important theories that we have to understand when setting up a training plan. It was introduced to cycling in the USA by elite coach Joe Friel on the 1990s, he first wrote about it in his book “The Cyclist Training Bible”. Periodization brakes down your training plan into different Mesocycles (usually each lasting between 3 and 5 weeks), in which you target a specific area to improve. Normally the idea of periodization is to prepare the body for a race, the closer the race, the more specific the exercises; which will try to imitate the race environment. However, there are 4 different types of periodization methods: Linear, Reverse, Non-Linear and Block Periodization.
I will try to explain each method as simple as I can and to the best of my ability, however, do not be intimidated by the subject as it is a great way to set up your annual training plan. Remember, keeping it simple is many times the best way to go, do not convert it into an overly complex problem.
- Linear Periodization
- This is the most common training method of periodization and the oldest one known to be used in modern sports science.
- It was first used by Russian and German athletes in preparation for big events like the Olympics.
- Starts with low intensity doing general training and moves into higher intensity, race-like exercises the closer that the event gets.
- The purpose of this method of periodization is to try imitate the race environment over the time of the training plan.
- It has been found by different studies to be one of the most effective methods of training.
- Its biggest downside is that some athletes find this method of training very boring as exercises do not change much from week to week.
- Reverse Periodization
- Starts with high intensity and moves into longer volume lower intensity training
- This is a good periodization method for athletes that are participating in a Gran Fondo or in Endurance Races.
- It might not be the best way to train people that are just starting and are not in shape, they might overload and overtrain their bodies as they are not yet capable of sustaining such high-intensity efforts.
- Non-Linear Periodization
- Most commonly used by time-crunched athletes, as their schedule is changing constantly this is a good way of maintaining an exercise regimen.
- High variation of exercises, including one or more areas of improvement per Microcycle (normally a 1-week period).
- Can change the focus of training as often as daily.
- Variability does not mean random, exercise routines should still be focusing in achieving the athlete’s target goal.
- Good option for athletes that get bored very easily and need a constant variation of their routines in order to stay focused and motivated.
- Good option for areas where weather is regularly bad, it allows incorporating high-intensity short effort on bad days, and longer rides on good days. This without having a set structure which could or could not be followed due to the weather.
- Block Periodization
- Best suited for athletes close to their physiological wall, normally professional elite athletes will use this method to improve areas in which they need to focus.
- Emphasizes one improvement area per block
- Blocks of periodization usually include a dominant and a maintenance workout.
- Dominant workout:
- Exercises that focus primarily on the target area of improvement for the block
- Secondary / maintenance Workouts:
- Exercises that assist the athlete in maintaining the fitness he already has obtained by previous training sessions.
- Not recommended for most athletes
- Dominant workout:
As you can see each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. Which one is best suited for you can only be decided by you or your coach by trial and error. There is not a method that is the best for every type of athlete, remember that all bodies are different, and we have to find what stimulates each athlete the best. Some good questions to ask yourself are: What is the work you are trying to build best based upon? What are you focusing your training for? What forms or variables do you use for measuring? What is the primary goal of your training plan? The answer to this question will vary, but do not be afraid to give them a try. My suggestion is to pick one method and wait for at least one mesocycle before making any changes. If you do not see the improvements that you are looking for, try a different one and compare. Once you get a good grasp of what works for you the best follow-up method is to use it for a complete season, review your results at the end of the season and make small changes as necessary. Over time you will find what method is best for you, remember that marginal gains like finding the best method that works for you can make the difference between standing on the podium and just taking a picture of the winners.
I hope that I was able to explain this different cycling training periodization methods in a clear and extensive way. However, if you do have any questions or concerns please feel free to leave me a comment below or send me a message via my contact form.