What is periodisation and why is it important for our training activities?

Periodisation is a fundamental concept in sports training, particularly in track and field, that serves as a foundation for supporting the key principles of training. It can be a little complex to explain so this short Beagle Bites session is intended to provide a basic introduction covering what it is and why its important. It will help you to understand why there is variability in training loads and intensity and hopefully encourage you to work with your coaches to determine the best, individual plan for each of you.

Periodisation refers to the systematic planning of an athlete’s training programme, which is typically divided into specific cycles or phases, each with its own objectives, SMART goals, and training methods (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2018). Introducing and understanding periodisation allows our coaches and athletes to effectively structure their training and ensure that the principles of reversibility, the law of diminishing returns, the law of specificity, and athlete individuality are appropriately applied.

Cycles without Wheels!

Periodisation generally comprises three main cycles: macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles. A macrocycle is the longest cycle, often lasting several months to a year, and encompasses the overall training plan. Mesocycles are shorter cycles within the macrocycle, typically lasting several weeks, and are designed to target specific goals, such as building endurance, strength, or speed. We usually use an eight-week mesocycle.  Microcycles are the shortest cycles, lasting about a week, and include the day-to-day training activities that contribute to the mesocycle’s goals (Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2018).

Principle of Reversibility

Using periodisation allows our coaches to better address the principle of reversibility. This principle highlights the importance of maintaining consistent training stimuli to prevent athletes from reverting to previous levels of fitness (Mujika & Padilla, 2000). Periodisation allows coaches to structure training plans with appropriate rest, recovery and transition periods, ensuring that athletes maintain their progress while giving their bodies ample time to recover.

The Law of Diminishing Returns

Incorporating periodisation also supports the law of diminishing returns, which states that athletes will experience reduced levels of adaptation and performance improvements if they perform the same tasks or activities daily (Fry et al., 1994). Through periodisation, our coaches can vary training loads and activities across different cycles, ensuring that athletes continue to make progress by gradually increasing volume or intensity.

Law of Specificity

The law of specificity is another principle that can be effectively addressed through periodisation. This law states that adaptation only occurs in the muscles that are stressed during training (Sale, 1988). Designing mesocycles and microcycles with specific objectives, allows our coaches to create training plans that target the necessary movement patterns and energy systems for each event group or discipline. For example, a mesocycle might focus on developing a sprinter’s speed and acceleration, while another mesocycle could concentrate on a hurdler’s coordination and flexibility.

Athlete Individuality

Lastly, periodisation allows our coaches to cater to athlete individuality. Each athlete is unique in their physical and psychological makeup and training plans should be tailored to accommodate their specific needs and abilities (Issurin, 2017). Adjusting macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles, allows our coaches to create personalised training plans that consider factors such as an athlete’s current fitness level, technical needs, recovery and adaptation rates, nutritional requirements, and external factors like social or environmental influences (this includes school for younger athletes and work for our Senior/Master athletes) (Achten & Jeukendrup, 2003).

So, periodisation is a vital concept in track and field training that supports the application of the key principles of reversibility, the law of diminishing returns, the law of specificity, and athlete individuality. Incorporating periodisation into our coaching strategies, allows our coaches to help athletes achieve their full potential, improve performance, and minimise the risk of injury. With a comprehensive understanding of periodisation and these principles, coaches and athletes can work together to create effective training programmes that lead to continued progress and success in track and field.

Note: Coach Mark will be covering SMART Goals in a future Beagle Bites session to be published this month.