Periodization is a big word. However it’s a simple concept. When an athlete uses a periodized schedule, he/she simply breaks up the training cycle into “blocks” of training which focus on different intensities and durations. The last week of each of these blocks is usually a recovery week, where overall duration of training is cut to 50% to 75% of the prior week’s usual volume. These blocks of training may be three or four weeks long depending on the athlete’s age, experience, and ability to recover.
A great way to create such a periodized schedule is to count the weeks backwards from a key event an athlete is training for. For instance, an individual’s most important race of the season may be 16 weeks in the future. So an ideal schedule would contain 5 x 3 week blocks of training, with 1 week of a taper (depending on your race distance) before the race. This would cover all 16 weeks. These blocks should first focus on base / aerobic training, then shift to greater intensity / race pace training closer to the event.
For the example above, the first three blocks (or 9 weeks) would be dedicated to aerobic training, focusing on getting muscles used to training and gaining cardiovascular fitness. This would then leave two blocks (6 weeks) to train at a faster-paced level which is close to a level the athlete is capable of racing at. Ideally, during the faster paced training, two to three of the weekly training bouts should be close to race pace, which will get the body used to dealing with faster paces as well and mentally acknowledging what it feels like at race pace. It is imperative to remember the 3rd week of each training block is a recovery week. This is necessary to allow for repair of the body as well as taking a mental break from vigorous training.
This season, don’t slog through miles of training with no set plan and no goals for each workout. Create a periodized schedule by breaking the pre-race weeks into blocks of training. This way, each workout will have a specific purpose and the guesswork will be taken out of training. Complete the early blocks of training focused on developing the aerobic engine and the final blocks of training developing speed / intensity.