Understanding Periodization

To understand one of the most important aspects of performance training I am going to use an analogy most of us can get around, BEER...
The Flexible Periodization Method: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?
First off, periodization is defined as systematic training to maximize performance and sports goals. It is clearly the superior way to effectively improve strength, performance, and body composition and has been used by nearly all professional athletes because of this.  

Periodization can get pretty complicated (linear, undulating, mesocycles,...) so I want to help explain the basic concepts in an easy to digest (or should I say drink) manner. This way athletes can implement periodization more effectively in their own lives.

To understand Periodization, through beer, we need to understand and go through three or four major components:
  1. BASE
  2. BUILD
  3. TAPER
1. Let’s start with BASE.
The Base is the foundation of your program and its arguable the most important. So to finally start our analogy, the base is the glass we are pouring our beer into.  The key, especially in the off season, is to establish a solid Base, meaning we need our training to make a larger glass.  What does it matter if you have the best beer if you only have a small shot glass to enjoy it from.  Likewise, many of your workouts will not be effective if you don't have a solid BASE. What's the point of running fast if you fall apart in the second half of the run.  How can you PR  a benchmark WOD if you don't have the ability to perform one of the movements.

How often does you form break down or you can't finish the race as strong as you started (ie positive splits) or you lose stamina during a workout. This is likely, because you do not have a solid Base to work from.

During the Base phase you’ll be turning your 4 oz shot glass into a larger pint glass with 2 specific training factors:
  1. Skill Acquisition
    1. having the ideal, authentic movement and the corresponding mobility, stability, and motor control to perform said movement
    2. whether this is a gymnastic movements, body weight movements, or swim technique, this is the time to master any movement needed for competition.
    3. This is where a movement expert/specialist is most needed and can assess and provide the appropriate plan to maximize your Base.  If you want to maximize your Output gains and thus success at ‘building a larger glass’, you need to ensure you have the best possible input (ie best possible movement).  This also ensures we don't allow a compensated movement to lead to an injury with the repetitive nature of your training.   
  2. Strength.
Nothing will make a bigger glass than strength. Strength is the royal flush, it trumps everything.
    1. for the strength athlete: muscular strength is needed.  A 5/3/1 Wendler lifting program is a great place to start.
    2. for the endurance athlete: cardiovascular fitness, or cardiovascular strength (aerobic capacity) is needed.  Cardiovascular strength is the ability to last longer when competing, training or exercising. Base training is the time for the development of your heart, lungs and blood vessels. All exercise no matter how moderate or intense will improve your Aerobic Capacities. Unfortunately, there seems to be a growing number of coaches and trainers that disregard the traditional time for developing Aerobic Capacity.  Maximizing your VO2 is not byproduct of other training.

If its the Off season, we need to listen to Meghan Trainor and be all about that Base, about that base, no testing.

The Base of a periodization program ensures you have all the adequate ability to perform and finish any fitness pursuit well.  Authentic Strength (be it muscular strength of cardiovascular endurance) is the way to do that.  Nothing will make your glass bigger.  There are several programs, coaches/trainers , and philiopshoes to improve strength and/or endurance but this is beyond the scope of this post (stop trying to get everything for free!)

2. Ok now that you have a good sized pint glass (or larger) now it’s time to start pouring, ie BUILDING.
The BUILD phase( or cycle) is when you start pouring quality workouts into your now large glass.  
This includes threshold and work capacity workouts.  Essentially, you are building up intensities and volume (that otherwise couldn’t be handled without a solid Base). You are making yourself race/competition ready.

3. Finally now that the beer is poured we need to let the beer foam settle.  This is called tapering.  This is very important because we want to go into competition fully prepared. And what we see is the neuromuscular system needs a quick week or two to calm down, just like the head of the beer needs to settle. This way we can ensure the best tasting (ie best performing) without worrying about beer running over ( ie fatigue).

So thats a simple way to understand periodization:
  1. BASE: build the glass
  2. BUILD: fill the glass
  3. TAPER: Let the foam settle down
  4. COMPETITION: DRINK YOUR BEER! (because, hey, you’ve earned it!)