Read time: 3min.
By Coach Yan Busset
This is why I don’t use a classic training plan periodization
The genesis of the concept.
When it comes to preparing for triathlons, you've probably heard about the "periodization" concept, which is like a roadmap for your training. The classic periodization plan, with a base, a build, and a peak period, was born in the ex-Soviet Union, where conformity to a fixed system was paramount. Long story short, their athletes performed very well, and training methods were copied worldwide. History shows that their success was not only due to a structured plan but also because their "chemistry department" played a significant role…
I have never been a big fan of this classic periodization. On paper, it looks nice to have a gradual plan with these long phases, but my experience as a coach shows that things rarely go according to plan, and life isn't always so predictable, especially for busy age-groupers who have family and jobs in the mix. In that case, a plan that is too strict can cause demotivation and anxiety when the athlete is no longer on track with the initial plan.
Other radical methods have shown some successes, like reverse periodization. With that approach, you start with more intense sessions and then transition to easier aerobic sessions later on. This at least proves a point: the order may not be the most crucial aspect of the structure. So, if I don’t believe in strict periodization, it’s because my methods have been shaped by the learning curves of the time. I prescribe sessions when and where needed, not just because they would look good on a chart.
One of my teachers at the French Triathlon Federation coaching program was a national conditioning coach in cycling and boxing. During one of his work trips to Cuba, he had a meeting at the office of a local coach and he noticed a big board on the wall with the names of his boxers and columns with periodization periods. He asked him, "Are you using periodization?" and the local coach smiled and replied: "Nooo, I have this in case I have a control from the government!" QED.
So rather than a classic periodization, I would define the type of training plan structure I use as "block periodization," where the training program is divided into smaller blocks, each with a specific focus. These blocks usually have a main theme that can be dedicated to a specific skill or a targeted fitness improvement. Concretely, it could be a swimming block where the focus is on this discipline, or an Aerobic/LV1 block to put emphasise that aspect of fitness. When you add the common-sense principles of progressivity and specificity to these blocks, you have a recipe for success.
The great thing about this approach is its flexibility. These blocks act like Lego bricks that can be easily rearranged to accommodate changes. If life throws you a challenge, you can adjust the blocks without giving up the overall plan. Additionally, these themed blocks help you improve step by step. Let's say you need to enhance your swimming. You concentrate on that for a block. Then, when you're ready, you shift your focus to the next one.
Here's an example of a 4-months winter preparation using block periodization:
3 weeks of a Swim block with less biking and running but up to 4-5 swims per week
6 weeks of Aerobic LV1 threshold with 3 key sessions per week targeting aerobic metabolic adaptations
2 weeks of a VO2max block with one key session per discipline per week
3 weeks of a bike power block, with higher volume and low cadence/high resistance key sessions
2 weeks of LV2, with one key session per discipline of anaerobic threshold work
Each of these blocks also have sub-goals, but you get the big picture.
In a nutshell, the classic periodization way of tackling triathlon training might not suit everyone. I have achieved better results with an adaptable approach – using blocks – that embraces life's surprises. This method allows you to become proficient in one skill before tackling the next. So, if you're gearing up for a triathlon, give it a try; this fresh perspective could help you achieve your personal goals.
Thank you for reading and see you next week!
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1. If you are looking for support for your triathlon journey, I recommend you book a 30min 1on1 video consultation with me here.
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