Wednesday, May 23, 2012


This is the first, in maybe several, articles on the science behind training, as I understand it.  I think alot of coaches and athletes get periodization wrong, and make it too hard.  I'm as guilty of this as anyone.  So, lets take a shot at making this a bit easier.

I'm not an exercise physiologist, or a coach, or even an especially fast athlete.  I read alot and I'm an engineer/researcher (computer science) so I do have an analytical mind but that's my only real qualification.

Quick Terminology
In this article I'm going to be talking alot about Endurance, Threshold/FTP and VO2max.  While defining those three terms could and has filled a book, here's the cliff notes:

Endurance - Your ability to ride for a really long time

Threshold/FTP  - FTP is functional threshold power.  Threshold refers to Lactate Threshold.  In both cases this refers to the fastest you can go for a "relatively long time."  In running this is 10k pace, in cycling it's roughly a 1 hour, all out time trial.

VO2max - Really what I'm talking about when I say VO2max is your velocity at VO2 max, or vVO2max.  This is your pace when you're consuming oxygen as quickly as you possibly can. 

Working at all three of these intensities is beneficial.  Which are most important depends on your goal races, and your limiters. 

What is Periodizaiton
Periodizaiton is the practice of progressing your yearly training so that you're in peak shape for your most important race or races.  The concept was invented by Tudor Bompa, as a way to vary the training stress placed on olympic athletes.  Basically, the concept was to not do the same thing every day, of every month, of every year. Joe Friel applied it to triathlon, and built some specific recommendations for base, build, and peak mesocycles. 

It all gets really complicated though, and not incredibly practical for the average age group athlete.  So, I'm going to deconstruct it a bit and tell you what I think.

Periodization Deconstructed

Rule 1:  Training Should Go From General to Specific
I'm going to make two assumptions here:
1.  Variation in training is good. 
2.  Your body adapts to the specific stressors you put on it:
-If you want to ride fast, you have to train to ride fast. 
-If you want to ride for a long time, you have to train to ride for a long time. 

Based on these assumptions, your training should be very general in the beginning of your season, addressing improving all areas of fitness.  As your race nears, your training should more resemble your race. 

Rule 2:  Keep It Real

 If you're an age grouper, like I am, this is my one caveat.  You've gotta work inside your box.  Example:  I'd benefit from training my bike endurance during the winter.  I'd be a better cyclist if I got in a 3-4 hour ride at least once per week in February. 

But I don't.  That's stupid.  I'm not going to ride the trainer, or in -20 degree weather with 30 mph winds, in the middle of winter.  So, I let my endurnace go a little.  Optimal?  No.  Real?  Yep.

Rule 4:  All Blocks Should Include SOME VO2max, Theshold, and Endurance work.  The quantity of each is determined by the previous rules and how far away your races are. 

That's really it.  Periodization means adjusting the "mix" of threshold, endurance, and VO2max work in different quantities, based on where you are in the season.

A Periodization Example

Based on my current best understanding, this is how I would (and do) peridoize training:

Mike finished an Ironman last year in September and took Oct/Nov/Dec easy.  It's January and he's ready to start training.  His plan is to do several half ironman races in 2012, with the key races being in Sept of 2012.  So, this is how I'd build his cycling year. 

Block 0  (Survive Winter) 8-12 Weeks
Mike is stuck indoors in the winter.  He's willing to rid the trainer for 60-90 minutes before he becomes homocidal.  So, we'll do the best we can with that situation by writing lots of intervals to break up the monotony.  Those intervals will target mostly FTP power, but also VO2.  We'll throw in some sufferfest videos for variety.

Block 1 (Get Endurance Back) 6 Weeks
Mike is finally able to get outside, but where he lives the wind sucks.  So, we'll work in some longer rides to build back the endurance Mike lost, but we'll train by hours, not miles, because plenty of his time will be spent riding 7 mph into a 30 mph headwind. 

At the end of May, Mike field tested at 3.4 W/Kg FTP, up from 3.2 last season, which is a nice gain.  Mike's 3 minute power looks like 4 W/Kg, which, is going to limit further FTP development, so that's a limiter.

Block 2 (General Race Prep) 4-6 Weeks
So, now the weather is nice, Mike has his durability back, and he has some short triathlons in his future.  In this general block, Mike is going to do workouts to address VO2max power, FTP power, and Endurance.  He's going to focus in on VO2max power, because he knows that's his weakest point. 

Block 3 (Race Build) 4-6 Weeks
Hopefully, Mike has made some improvements to VO2max power at this point.  He will have field tested again.  As his race gets closer his training will start looking more like his racing.  He will continue to do a little work in this area, and a little FTP work, but the focus will shift to getting ready to race the fitness he has.  He will start doing more workouts with race pace interval added. 

Block 4 (Peak) 4-6 Weeks including taper

At this point, Mike is going to field test one last time and use this information to set his power zones for racing.  The vast majority of the work in this block will be based on race pace efforts, with a SMALL amount of VO2 and FTP still mixed in.  One other note, when doing race pace work, is to break it up.  It's really easy to do so much race prep, that you leave your race on the training course.  Don't do that.


So, my take on periodization isn't the same as the other stuff you might read.  Some coaches recommend only low intensity work during certain phases, for example.  Others recommend only high intensity.  I'm preaching the middle road. 

So, said simply...
  • Training Should Go From General to Specific
  • Keep it Simple
  • Do what you can and want to do, and don't burn yourself out if this is a hobby
  • All phases should contain VO2max, Threshold, and Endurance components, in varying quantities, based on how far away your races are.