An Intro to Training Periodization and How it Can Help You Get Faster
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As you begin your endurance journey, you might hear the term “periodization” in reference to a training schedule. Having an understanding of what periodization means will help you better execute the training your coach provides.
Put generally, periodization is used to describe the structure of the training plan you’re following. This includes a gradual loading of training intensity / volume / stress with a period of rest afterward. By better understanding the benefits of this training structure, you’ll be able to have an improved ability to execute your workouts and a greater appreciation for the training prescribed by your coaches.
What is a macrocycle vs. mesocycle vs. microcycle in my training plan?
When looking at a training plan, there are different time horizons in which you can break down periodization. There is the:
- “Macrocycle” (think big picture) which is going to be your entire training plan from the start of your training to race day.
- "Mesocycle” which is the middle building block. The mesocycle is usually going to last somewhere between 4 and 6 weeks, with the last week being a lighter volume / lower stress week. Each mesocycle generally has consistent workout ‘themes’ bringing the athlete towards a particular skill or sub-goal. A mesocycle will consist of:
- "Microcycles” are the smallest building blocks. Microcycles are going to usually be a week of workouts. During a mesocycle, these microcycles will gradually build volume/intensity/training stress week-over-week and the mesocycle will usually end with a rest (or recovery) week.
Why is periodization effective?
Whether your training goal is to build endurance or strength, training periodization is effective because it allows for cycles of rest and recovery. Every time you work out, the soreness you feel is a result of the stress you put on your body (generally in the form of your small muscle fibers tearing). When you give your body time to heal and recover, it is preparing itself for similar stresses in the future by healing these muscles to adapt and handle future stress. This is how an athlete improves. In a periodized training plan, rest and recovery are strategically placed to allow the athlete to perform key sessions at maximum rest, allowing for better performance and body adaptation.
How has training periodization helped me become a better athlete?
From personal experience, during my first few years of endurance training, my biggest mistake was misuse (and lack of use) of rest and recovery days + weeks. I thought the best way forward was to execute the maximum amount of volume my body could sustain until I needed a rest day due to extraordinary soreness or worse, injury and burnout. It wasn’t until I began working with a coach did I realize the importance of recovery. Rest days and recovery weeks would be pre-programmed weeks in advance due to the expected demands put on my body by the prior cycle’s workouts. This was absolutely game-changing for my performance, recovery, and overall health.
Based on my experience, I’d highly recommend consulting a coach prior to setting off on your endurance journey or upping your volume. They'll incorporate proper training periodization into your buildup to your race which will lead to an improved result and longer career.