Training – Periodization

This will be the first of a series of articles detailing some basic ideas on training methods and principles. Generally these are the concepts on which I have based my own training for skiing from high school, racing on an NCAA team, coaching other skiers, and competing in ski mountaineering races.

What is periodization and why have a plan?

Periodization is one of the primary Principles of Training. It should be used in conjunction with the other principles to develop a proper training plan. The training year can be broken into phases. While a one spot athlete might have the three phases spread over a year, multi-sport athletes (for example a ski racer in winter and mountain bike racer in summer) might have the year split into six phases. The phases are then broken into cycles to structure the training plan.
Annual Training Plan Phases:
  • Preparatory – The preparatory phase is the meat of the training year. This is the time you get into shape,  build your base, and ramp up your intensity. Competitions may take place during the preparatory phase but not important ones.
  • Competition – The switch to a competition phase is marked by discontinuing training to improve and moving into a maintenance phase. The competition phase is primarily composed of cycles of tapering, racing, and maintenance training. The phase should cover the majority of important competitions in the season.
  • Transition – The transition phase provides a chance for chronic rest and recovery after the stress of competition. This usually falls at the end of the season and allows a chance to switch to the new activities of the season. 
Typically my phases fall with the seasons. Ski competition season is December-April. Transition is May-June. Preparatory is July – December.
Planning Structure:
  • Macrocycle – This is the training year and contains all of the three phases. In the case of the multi-sport athlete, there may be two marcrocycles in the calendar year. Not much emphasis is placed on the Macrocycle as it is usually just “the year”.
  • Mesocycle – Mesocycles typically correspond with a month – usually there are 4-6 microcycles per mesocycle depending on how you split things up. Mesocycles are structured to fit within each of the phases. Depending on the length of the phase, it may contain one or more mesocycle (The preparatory phase may contain six mesocycles while the transition phase may just contain one). Each mesocycle should have a focus or goal. 
  • Microcycle – The training year is grouped on the smallest level by the week – also called the microcycle. Just like the mesocycle, the microcycle should have an overall focus or goal that drives the training during that period.
The macrocycle, mesocycle, and microcycle can also be called the training year, block, and week respectively. Many other terms exist for grouping the training year but the concepts of phases and planning structure are almost universally accepted by elite coaches and athletes.

This is an example of my plan broken into mesocycles (corresponding to spring, summer, fall, and winter). Each has training goals assigned below it. 

A written training plan is an important tool in the athletes toolbox. The plan exists to break up the year into goals and develop plans to reach those goals. A plan also helps prevent overtraining by ensuring planned rest periods. Finally, it is helpful to highlight important competitions throughout the year. Whether you have a coach write your plan or you write it yourself – get it done and use it. Varying levels of detail are permissible from a short list of goals to a detailed, daily plan. Stay accountable to your goals and keep training!

How to start your own plan.
Begin by making two lists. The first list should be your planned competitions for the year, include every competition, even the little ones. Also include major tests and time trials. With each of these events include your goal time, placing, or score. Last, include any other season goals. My list for this year looks something like this:
  • Dogtooth Dash Skimo Race – Top 3
  • Lake Louise Skimo Race – Top 3
  • Nelson Skimo Race – Top 3
  • Jackson Wy Skimo Race Day 1 – Top 5
  • Jackson Wy Skimo Race Day 2 – Top 5
  • Spearhead Traverse – 3hrs 45 min
  • Rubble Creek Classic Trail Run – Top 3
  • No more soda
The second list is one or two training focuses to address each of the races/goals in the first list. For my list above, I needed to address skimo training, trail running and nutrition and my second list looked like this:
  • Leg strength
  • Steep climbing speed/cadence
  • Rollerskiing time
  • Downhill running
  • Stop the soda
These goals are going to drive your planning. Next its time to build your calendar – I like to use Microsoft Excel. First you need to identify your phases. Your primary/important competitions are the keystone so first mark your competition phase. Next, your transition phase should immediately follow your final competition. I like to leave a fuzzy boundary between the transition and preparatory phase. It is hard to predict how much rest is necessary at the end of the season so a set in stone start to the training year is tough. Plan on taking it easy for a while, then slowly working your way back into the preparatory phase. 
The preparatory phase should be broken into 4-6 week mesocycles. Each mesocycle should have a purpose; early in the phase will be building back up to normal training volume, mid-phase will likely be building volume (Progressive Overload Principle), later in the preparatory phase will be increases in intensity. These are my three mesocycles for the preparatory phase. Once they have been identified, you can plot individual weeks (microcycles) into your excel sheet. These should be tailored to the focus of the mesocycle using the other training principles.

Here is the beginning of my training plan – the mesocycle is marked in the first column (Period – F1 means the first period of fall). Week is the microcycle. Each week is given a goal (volume, intensity, etc…) and a goal number of hours. Then the week is broken into days which can be planned individually.

One thought on “Training – Periodization

  • Thanks Eric!!! Periodizing my training plan has been a daunting task- the amount of information more specific to skimo is pretty minimal. Your post has helped me get started and narrow down a few specifics.

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