Understanding Periodization

November 4, 2016
By Rich Zawack
Rich Zawack, BS, MA, CSCS-D, has served as president of Athletic Development Corporation for the last 10 years. Prior to that he was a high school teacher and coach for 36 years at Strongsville (Ohio) High School. He has coached 17 state champions, one NCAA champion, 18 NFL football players, and one NBA basketball player.

The last post I put up discussed SAID, Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand, which is the concept that the body adapts to stress, making changes on a variety of physiological levels in order to create homeostasis. 

Training causes disruption in the physiology of an individual, the body reacts as if this was an unbalanced situation, and therefore, attempts to redress that imbalance. There are a whole series of systems, everything from respiratory to nervous, that may attempt to rebalance themselves.

This adaptation process is how children grow athletically. This is an educational process if it is done properly. This is physical education.

The structuring of this process is dependent upon understanding how the body physiologically adapts. Planning based upon physiology is what is called periodization.

Periodization was created to avoid the errors made when we train and ignore the science behind the training. It was designed to overcome fatigue and the inevitable plateaus that can occur if one ignores how the body reacts to stress. The purpose was to make the process one of growth and freedom from injury.

Periodization involves planning. This is not setting up three days a week where we do four exercises times five sets of six. This involves variations in training based upon specificity, intensity, and volume. This is organizing a program with specific intentions or goals.

Periodization is a step-by-step process.

High school coaches need athletes. The question is: what is an athlete? An athlete is a person who has strength, power, speed, flexibility, balance, agility, endurance, and coordination. These qualities, when well developed, are transferable to almost any playing field.

Training specificity is about focusing on these types of qualities or characteristics. If I wanted to create an athlete this would be an area I would design my training to include.

Second, intensity refers to the type of effort. It is directly related to volume. They are inversely related. That is, the lower the intensity, the higher the volume; the higher the intensity, the lower the volume. There are a large number of physiological concepts underlying this principle.  Suffice it to say that this is a progression. Start with low effort and extensive exposure to exercise and move to high effort and limited exposure to exercise.

This is the process of physical education.

Periodization can be compared to our K-12 education system. Periodization breaks down physical development into stages or periods.  Each period focuses on specific attributes like speed or strength. These are building blocks. Each block is designed to create actual physical changes depending upon the volume and intensity level of the training.

Within this concept a coach should be moving his or her athletes from general development to specific performance. This means beginning with general physical preparation and moving to the specifics needed to play a particular game.

Periodization calls for general preparation and moves to competition and ends in recovery. These are the basic stages of any periodized program.

Children ages 9-18 require a lot of general preparation. They need to learn and adapt. They need a lot of variation. They need recovery. They need to be schooled in the areas of speed, strength, power, agility, balance, flexibility, endurance, and coordination. This is general, but subjective -- no two kids progress the same way. Every child needs to develop the same general characteristics, but they don’t progress at the same rate of speed.

The body of a high school coach’s training should be placed on the general adaptation of the athlete because this is where real progress can be made.

My next blog will focus on the types of progress a coach should be looking for in the context of general preparation. It is fundamental and educational. It involves specificity but should be comprehensive.

Competition and recovery are much easier to address if the athlete has a good base.

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