Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Real World Periodization: Loading Patterns

After hitting a wall on my maintenance ride today, after a pretty fatiguing weekend (6hrs Saturday w/2.5hrs steady-mod and 2:20 long run on Sunday with 1:30 steady), it got me thinking about how infrequently I have experienced this level of fatigue in this season versus my previous 10+ years in the sport. Feeling this level of fatigue has now become a rarity for me, as I have begun to fully embrace Gordo’s key principle that moderation (i.e. always leaving a little in the tank) leads to consistency.

An interesting # related to the above: I am at 17 zeroes (days without training) so far this year (8 months in). Last year I had a grand total of 87 for the 12 months. There’s something to this moderation thing!!!

It is my sense, based on my own experience as both a coach and athlete, that the level of fatigue that I am feeling right now is almost “the norm” for serious working athletes. This is a big mistake and in my opinion is one of the key factors that separate good age group athletes and neo-pros from the very best in the sport. As in most things, there is a time and a season to challenge yourself. However, doing it every week will seriously limit your development as an athlete. I thought it might be useful to self coached athletes out there if I outlined the approach I use with my own athletes in developing a sensible, progressive loading protocol.

Those of you familiar with Bompa’s traditional weekly loading pattern, will recognize the chart below:

The workload (volume or intensity) is increased progressively for 3 weeks followed by 1 unloading week.

In my opinion, for all but the most elite, consistent athletes, it is a mistake to use any loading protocol during the early preparatory period, as the cumulative fatigue of repeating the basic week is sufficient stimulus to elicit improvement in the early season. For this reason, I typically use a 2:1 or 3:1 flat loading protocol with my athletes in the early season:

AFTER the athlete has their basic week dialled in (and repeated several cycles, while not compromising their aerobic maintenance/test sessions during their recovery weeks), it is possible to include a more challenging session during the last loading week.

In the middle part of the season, these “challenge sessions” will be challenging from an endurance perspective, thus the volume pattern over the course of the mesocycle will look like:

In the latter part of the season, these sessions will be more challenging from an intensity perspective (with respect to the athlete’s race intensity). So, while the volume (and the weekly pattern) may stay constant, the addition of harder main sets to the key weekend session may result in a mesocyclic loading pattern that looks more like:

It is important to note that, while these sessions can be slightly more challenging than the hardest session of the current basic week, they are not so challenging that they compromise the recovery week. For the recovery week, I like to try a maintenance session midweek and a test session at the end of the week. If the maintenance session is completed without incident, I will consider making the ‘challenge session’ a regular ‘key session’ for the athlete’s basic week in the coming cycle. If the mid-week maintenance session is compromised (as it was for me this week), it provides clear feedback that the session was too much. In any event, it is imperative that the athlete is fresh enough for their test session at the end of the week.

This form of “real world periodization” does not require any complicated mathematical forecasting of what the athlete ‘should’ be able to tolerate by a given date. Rather, it meets the athlete where they are currently and asks them to try just a little more. I have found this to be a very reasonable, realistic approach that, most importantly works long term.

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