Periodisation isn’t a new concept, with its origins going all the way back to Ancient Greek times and the preparation of athletes for the Olympic Games. In more recent times periodisation has evolved with the demands of modern day sport, sport science, and coaching practice.
Traditional periodisation methods focused mainly on the cycling of volume and intensity in order to bring athletes to a peak for competition. As we mentioned in our previous post, athletes would work through phases of accumulation, transmutation and realisation, timed to bring them to a peak. As the modern sporting calendar has evolved into a multipeak season this method of periodisation also evolved, and two common methods of periodisation used today are the undulating method, or block method. In this post we will take a look at each method and consider the pro’s and con’s. The key think to remember throughout the post is that specificity is key, and you should use the method that fits best with your athletes and their sport.
Undulating periodisation works around the idea that the training stimulus is changed on a weekly or daily basis, allowing a relatively large number of adaptations to training to be achieved at once, whilst still working through periods of high volume and low intensity and periods of low volume and high intensity. The change in training stimulus can be done on a weekly (weekly undulating periodisation) or daily (daily undulating periodisation) basis. So how might this look? Here’s a basic example of how a weekly undulating periodisation (WUP) mesocycle might look.
Week 1 – 5x8-10 reps @65-75%1RM
Week 2 – 5x5-6 reps @75-85%1RM
Week 3 – 5x3-4 reps @85-95% 1RM
Week 4 – 5x2-3 reps @50-60% 1RM
Week 5 – Deload/recovery week.
The mesocycle is therefore covering all aspects of developing strength and power, from hypertrophy on week 1, strength on week 2 and 3 and then power on week 4. Daily undulating periodisation (DUP) works in the same way, however changes in stimulus occur on a daily instead of weekly basis. DUP can also be manipulated in a way that a wider range of training stimulus can be trained within the week, for example as opposed to just focusing on strength, day 1 may have a strength focus, day 2 may focus on aerobic capacity and day 3 may focus on anaerobic capacity. When you think about that for a second, it doesn’t all sound to dissimilar to CrossFit does it?
In a team sport setting, where athletes need to peak on a weekly basis and maintain a level of performance across a large range of performance metrics, DUP done properly is a great tool. Taking rugby for example, where players need to maintain a level of strength, speed, power, aerobic capacity and anaerobic capacity for anywhere up to 9 months of the year, using DUP in season makes perfect sense. The downside of WUP or DUP, is that in elite athletes with a high level of training experience, the frequent changing of training method may not provide enough of a stimulus to cause adaptation, and in some cases may even lead to a decline in performance.
Now lets apply that to CrossFit. The average man or women starts CrossFit having had little to no exposure to high intensity exercise, the Olympic lifts, or gymnastics and enter a setting where they rotate between the various methods of training on a daily basis. The upside of this is it minimises the risk of injury, as if the programming is thought through there isn’t enough of one thing to lead to overuse injuries or burn out, as well as providing enough of a stimulus that consistent adaptations occur across the board. The same is true for beginner athletes in all sports, or young athletes who are beginning to use strength and conditioning methods to boost their sports performance.
The downside of this comes 1-2 years down the line, when the body has got used too and can tolerate doing 5x5 back squats once every 10 days, and the gains train begins to grind to a halt. Enter the block method.
The block method involves much more concentrated training stimulus, each with a specific goal. As opposed to changing the training stimulus on a daily or weekly basis, 1-2 training stimuli will be focused on for a 4-6 week period before moving onto the next. For an example of this see below –
Week 1-4 – 5x8-10 @65-75% 1RM
Week 5 – deload
Week 6-10 – 5x3-4 @85-95% 1RM
Week 11 – deload
Week 12-16 – 5x2-3 @50-60% 1RM
As you can see, we are still working through hypertrophy, strength and then power, but we a focusing on each stimulus for a longer period of time. Again taking this back to a CrossFit setting we may work through periods where we focus on strength, aerobic capacity or anaerobic capacity but instead of trying to develop all of these things at once we do it one (or two) at a time.
The benefit of this is of course we are spending more time providing a specific stimulus for adaptation, whilst taking away any training that may conflict with what we are trying to achieve, in theory leading to greater adaptation. However just like WUP or DUP, there are downsides too.
Spending a prolonged period of time focusing on strength for example, may increase the risk of injury or burnout. Hence why it is important to make sure the athlete has the physical capacity to follow this kind of programme. Then there is “the fear”. Whilst focusing on one or two things can lead to great improvements, inevitably the areas that aren’t been worked on may start to slide a little. This is to be expected, but that doesn’t mean your athlete will like it! This is where having a clear season long or even multi season long plan can help, so you can show the athlete where they need to peak, and how they’re going to get there.
In team sports, or CrossFit, the athletes need to be at or close to their peak capabilities for a wide range of components of fitness all at the same time to perform at their best. The key to making block periodisation work in this setting, is to make sure the sequencing of the block is correct so that this can be achieved. The answer to that problem, lies in knowing the restitution period of each component of fitness.
Put simply, this refers to the length of time adaptations to each training stimulus will remain once training has stopped, and is different for each different adaptation. This is something we will talk about in more detail in our next blog post, so stay tuned!