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Periodization Breakdown?

by Mel C Siff, PhD

Periodization is a method of alternating training loads to produce peak performance for a specific competitive event. Its a well-established scheme adopted from Russia-it was one of the secrets that helped them dominate Olympic sport for so long. Recently, however, Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, a leading architect of the Russian sports training philosophy, wrote an article titled, The End of Periodization in High Performance Sport, and readers wondered why a leading advocate of periodization would be saying such things. Western coaches have been fixated for years on only one periodization (PD) model, that of Dr. Leonid Matveyev. In this model, the volume of general preparation decreases as intensity and emphasis on technical training for specific preparations increase, producing peak performance during a competition phase (see Fig. 1). The model becomes too limited, however, when rigidly applied by coaches unfamiliar with Matveyevs work. Such a simplified version of the model leads to an over-reliance on apparently objective measures of loading, such as numerical calculations, and does not consider the athletes subjective perception of the intensity and overall effects of the loading. The model does not give unfamiliar coaches any information about which exercises to include in measuring volume and intensity. It also does not consider the influence of different exercises on each other in a training program. The graphs unrealistically assume that any one component of a program can be measured independent of the others. But if a middle distance runner is concurrently doing running training and weight training, the stresses of distance work or sprints can impair strength performance. The graphs themselves do not allow for this. The model also does not consider the different training needs of the novice and the athlete. It requires initial high volumes of training, which may not be the best way to introduce a novice to a program, as it can prolong soreness, impair adaptation and reduce motivation. And the gradual emphasis on technique implies that its less important early on. But this isnt whats needed in practice. Beginners usually need far more emphasis on skills training and elite athletes far less.

Finally, the graphs smooth merging of training sessions and stages may be suitable for novices but not for more advanced athletes. For example, an increase in intensity while maintaining the same volume has been shown to enhance performance once an athlete has reached a certain level. It is this simplified version of Matveyevs original PD model that Dr. V. takes to task in his article, not the overall philosophy of periodization. Traditional PD can often prove to be as limited as non-periodized training, since all loading is traditionally based upon a fixed original input; hence the value of a modified form of periodization that I call Cybernetic Periodization. The term cybernetic describes the science of control and communication in which feedback from the output of any system is used to modify the input to the system. Any pre-planned PD scheme is affected by subjective and objective feedback obtained from the athletes current state. Consequently, it can be helpful to add a column to your training journal (RPE or Rating of Perceived Effort) which rates how strenuous a particular repetition, set or session feels on a scale of 1 to 5. Do not record an RPE after every repetition or exercise, but note it mentally and use it to guide you in your next set. At the end of the workout, record only the RPE for the heaviest or most demanding sets. Its also useful to rate reliability of technique for the most important exercises, by having a coach award points for the most demanding efforts on a Rating of Technique (RT) scale. Over-reliance on numerical computations in preparing a PD chart is a major reason why some coaches tend to dismiss their relevance; hence the value of using a combined objectivesubjective system. Theres no need to discard periodization; just a need to apply it more intelligently! For further reading on the science and practical art of periodization, the following books give many details: Siff, M C & Verkhoshansky, Y V Supertraining 1999 Siff, M C Facts and Fallacies of Fitness 2000