A Periodization Primer for Cyclists

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Periodization is the process of dividing an annual training plan into specific time blocks, where each block has a particular goal and provides your body with different types of stress. Some periods of training are harder and some are easier to allow for recovery. Periodization also develops different energy systems during various phases of training (e.g., aerobic, anaerobic, creatine phosphate). Most importantly, periodization is the best way to promote the training effect, which consists of changes in your cardiopulmonary and musculoskeletal systems that result in greater speed and endurance on the bike. There are 3 basic principles of periodization:

1. The primary goal of periodization is to prepare your body for peak performance at a designated time of year. Want to ride a fast century? Finish in the top 10 at a local road race? Perhaps your goal is to set a personal best in your state time trial championships. A periodized training program is the most effective way to achieve your goals because it allows you to gradually enhance your cycling performance so that you peak for your most important events. For example, if your key event is in late June, you can develop a training plan that allows you to peak at the beginning of summer. If you have several key events during the season, you can design a plan that allows for multiple peaks over a period of several months.

2. Training should progress from the general to the specific through a series of stages. Each stage has a specific purpose. For example, training programs for competitive cyclists are typically divided into four stages: endurance, intensity, competition and recovery. The endurance period is the most general of these stages. It typically lasts 12 to 16 weeks and enhances your aerobic and muscular endurance. The endurance phase often includes off-the-bike activities such as weight training and long, low-to-moderate intensity rides. The intensity phase, which also lasts from 12 to 16 weeks, incorporates workouts that simulate race conditions. The primary goal of this phase is to develop your lactate threshold and aerobic capacity (i.e., VO2 max), so you spend more time performing high-intensity workouts such as intervals. The competition phase involves racing, the most specific element of training. High intensity workouts continue, often in the form of race participation. Effective management of the peaking process is critical to ensure you enter key races in top form. Once the competitive season has ended, you enter the recovery phase where training activities once again become more general (e.g., cross-training workouts such as running or swimming that aid recovery).

3. The key to successful periodization is to develop specific aspects of fitness during a given phase, while maintaining others developed in earlier phases. For example, the main goal during the endurance phase is to increase aerobic endurance. Therefore, you perform many long, steady rides at a low-to-moderate intensity. The intensity phase consists of higher intensity rides, but it does no good to do short, hard workouts if your aerobic endurance suffers. Therefore, a well-designed training plan will build upon and enhance your development from earlier stages. While much of the intensity stage focuses on speed development and the ability to ride at a relatively high intensity, it also includes some long, steady rides at lower intensities to maintain the aerobic fitness developed in the endurance stage. Conversely, the training performed in later stages is possible because of the foundation created in earlier stages. Without the aerobic training of the endurance stage, the high-intensity training of the intensity and competition stages would be ineffective. This pyramid approach is what allows you to gradually build to a peak at the most desirable time of the year.