ADVANCED MODEL OF PERIODIZATION
Again, as the athlete's S&C age advances and the windows of adaptation begin to diminish, more advanced strategies are required, which incorporate yet more variability and greater volume loads. The majority of the emphasis, however, is now placed on the prescription of volume loads through advanced strategies such as the conjugated system (also known as the coupled successive system; Figure 10) (82). Because this places the athlete dangerously close to the overtraining syndrome, athletes undertaking this system must be able to tolerate very-high-volume loads (64), and the S&C coaches applying these interventions must be highly skilled.
The conjugate system involves periods of planned overreaching followed by periods of restitution (64). Plisk and Stone (64) suggest that this is best implemented in the blocks of 4 microcycles with only one primary emphasis (e.g., strength), with maintenance loads allocated to other abilities (e.g., speed). This system aims to saturate the emphasized training stress, causing significant fatigue and concurrent decreases in performance. Then, during the following restitution blocks, the emphasis is reversed (Figure 2). For example, the volume load for strength training markedly drops, whereas that for speed work is moderately increased. By virtue of a delayed training effect phenomenon, the athlete's strength capabilities undergo supercompensation. A practical example of the conjugate system, adapted from the work of Plisk and Stone (64) and Stone et al. (74), is illustrated in Table 4. Here, it can be seen that volume load is manipulated by simply increasing (accumulation) or decreasing (restitution) the number of sessions in each block.
Significant support for the conjugate system may be gleaned from studies investigating the response of the endocrine system to prolonged (≥3 week) and severe increases in volume load (20,28,30,61,65). In general, these studies report significant decreases in resting/pre-exercise testosterone concentration and the testosterone to cortisol ratio, followed by supernormal levels and corresponding performance improvements upon returning to normal volume loads with a subsequent taper. These findings are considered significant as the testosterone concentration and the testosterone to cortisol ratio are considered indices of the anabolic/catabolic state of the body (19,64).
As a word of warning, however, practitioners should limit the duration of these concentrated blocks, so that an overtraining syndrome does not develop (64). In addition, S&C coaches should be attentive to the potential signs and symptoms of overtraining with each passing week (17,37,70). Finally, and significant to the former point, it should be noted that the hormones identified above are not indicative of the overtraining syndrome (37).
MAINTAINING PEAK PERFORMANCE FOR 35 WEEKS
The traditional periodization strategies above are concerned with the athletes who need to peak for a single or acute (<2 weeks) phase of competitions, for example, track athletes and martial artists. These athletes may engage in mono-, bi- or tricycled periodized programs depending on the multitude of significant competitions within that year. Some athletes, especially team sport athletes from rugby and soccer, for example, must reach their peak as part of the preseason training and then maintain it for periods of up to 35 weeks. In collision sports such as rugby and soccer, this maybe a thankless task (32,41) with success somewhat dependent on the ability to maintain strength levels (2,3).
For example, in a study by Kraemer et al. (43), it was shown that both starting and nonstarting soccer players experienced reductions in sport performance over an 11-week period. Although more pronounced in the starters, the fact that performance reductions were observed in all players indicates that performance adaptations may be independent of total match play and that the volume load of practices/S&C sessions should be carefully evaluated. Of significance, however, was the fact that a catabolic environment (↑ cortisol, ↓ testosterone) was initiated in the preseason and not obviated throughout the competition phase. This may, therefore, have determined the metabolic status of the players as they entered the competitive period. Although this may be exclusive to the training approach of collegiate soccer, or those that require athletes to get into shape quickly, the need for athlete restoration, particularly as they enter the competitive phase, can be noted.
Further challenges associated with the maintenance programs may be gleaned from studies undertaken by Kraemer et al. (40) and Aldercrentz et al. (1). These investigators reported that sprint running increases circulating concentrations of cortisol and decreased concentrations of plasma testosterone. For sports such as football, rugby, and soccer, which may be categorized as high-intensity intermittent exercise, with a prevalence of repeated bouts of maximal effort sprints (15,45,46), it is likely that an adverse metabolic environment will present itself if training programs are not appropriately periodized.
NONTRADITIONAL APPROACH TO PERIODIZATION
It has been suggested that although the classical form of periodization (discussed above) is appropriate during the off- and preseason, a nontraditional form of periodization is more viable to team sports during the in-season (23,33,42-44). At times, this may be out of necessity because of its suitability to the academic sports training calendar and its ease of administration within long seasons (33,42,44). This form of periodization involves changes in volume loads and biomotor emphasis on a session-to-session basis. An example of a nontraditional periodized program is illustrated in Table 5. One of the merits of this system is suggested to be the ease with which sessions can be quickly tailored to the competition schedule of the athlete (26). If, for example, a competition is suddenly cancelled or arranged, then the athlete can switch to the heavy or light training day, respectively. In addition, a microcycle and a mesocycle can be defined by the number of completed sessions or rotations, respectively, of the prescribed program.
It should also be noted that athletes are required to lift repetition maximum loads, which entails going to failure (with the exception of ballistic lifts e.g., plyometrics and weightlifting). This is in contradiction to several authors who suggest that consistently training to failure will result in neural fatigue and potential overtraining (25,62,68,70). However, Gamble (23) argues that although this may be the case for strength/power athletes, it appears to not be an issue for team sports athletes. For example, a yearlong mesocycle employing this form of periodization was successfully completed without noting any ill effects and increases in both strength and power among professional rugby players (23). Moreover, in a roundtable discussion of periodization (26), it was suggested that the variation in the recruitment of motor units (through the different volume load prescriptions) provided variation in neuromuscular recruitment. For example, on a light day, an athlete would not recruit the same motor units as on a heavy day, thus providing the higher motor units with active recovery (26). However, one may speculate that the lower threshold motor units will always be subjected to the training stress, an assumption supported by the size principle of the motor unit recruitment as described by Henneman et al. (31).
Finally, for the purposes of maintenance, a training frequency of 2 days per week is often recommended for training during the competitive phase (12,14,23,26,67). However, including even 2 S&C sessions a week to team sport players involved in regular competition may prove difficult. Gamble (23) suggests that the issue of limited training time may be addressed by combining S&C training into sport practice. For example, speed, agility, and plyometrics training can be included into team practices, and metabolic conditioning can be maintained through game-related conditioning methods. In addition, the skill element specific to each, particularly the latter, example encourages its use by the sports coaches (22). Furthermore, this tactical metabolic training approach can be structured according to work to rest ratios of the specific sport (24,63) and dominant energy systems.
The progressive increases in the volume load of periodized S&C programs are likely to accumulate excessive fatigue and overstress the neuroendocrine system. This will reduce the stimulus for adaptation (as previously discussed) and lead to adverse circulating hormonal concentrations (18). However, a reduction in training with a concomitant optimal anabolic environment (or reduced catabolic processes) induced by a taper could potentially enhance performance (36). The taper describes a reduction in the volume load (e.g., in the volume, intensity, and/or frequency) of training in the final days before important competition, with the aim of optimizing performance (6). It should be stressed, however, that the objective of the taper is to dissipate the accumulated fatigue (enabling performance-enhancing adaptations to become apparent) rather than advance the athletes level of fitness (56). Significant improvements after tapering have been reported for runners (35), rowers (39), triathletes (4,48) swimmers (10,38,58), cyclists (49,60), and weightlifters (52). Table 6 summarizes the possible performance gains after a taper (47,56,57,86) as summarized by the literature review of Wilson and Wilson (85).
There are principally 3 types of taper: a step taper, a linear taper, and an exponential taper (Figure 11). A step taper involves an immediate and abrupt decrease in training volume for example, decreasing the volume load by 50% on the first day of the taper and maintaining this throughout. A linear taper involves gradually decreasing the volume load in a linear fashion for example, by 5% of initial values every workout. The exponential taper decreases volume at a rate proportional to its current value (half-life), for example, by 5% of the previous session values every workout. In addition, exponential tapers can have fast or slow decay rates.
More recently, Bosquet et al. (6) suggested an additional taper, referred to as a “2-phase taper,” which involves a classical reduction in the training load, followed by a moderate increase during the last days of the taper (Figure 12). The objective of this strategy is to reduce the athlete's fatigue before the reintroduction of more prolonged or intense efforts. The efficacy of the 2-phase taper maybe gleaned from anecdotal observations of the progressive improvement in performance often observed in an athlete from the first round of a competition to the final (76). This form of taper, however, requires further investigation.
THE OPTIMAL TAPER STRATEGY
As previously mentioned, a taper involves a reduction in the volume load of either of (or a combination of) the moderators or training, that is, intensity, volume, and frequency. The optimal manipulation of these variables may be best evidenced from the meta-analysis conducted by Bosquet et al. (6), which examined 27 research articles investigating the adaptations in actual competition or field-based criterion performance of competitive athletes after a taper. Table 7 summarizes their findings (measured as effect sizes [an effect size is an objective way of identifying the meaningfulness of results and is commonly used within a meta-analysis because their values are standardized. The formula subtracts the mean of one group from the mean of another and divides the difference by the SD)], for which the scale proposed by Cohen (9) was used for their interpretation. Accordingly, the magnitude of the difference was considered small (0.2), moderate (0.5), or large (0.8).
The results of the study by Bosquet et al. (6) revealed that the optimal taper is 2 weeks in duration and consists of exponentially reducing the volume of training by 41-61%, while maintaining both the intensity and the frequency of sessions. This outcome is in agreement with the previous investigations (56) and confirmed the reports of others, which suggest that volume is the optimal variable to manipulate (34,56).
The reader should also note the large variability between studies, as suggested by 95% confidence intervals (Table 7). It is therefore likely that not all athletes will respond favorably to this taper prescription. For example, based on their review of research, Wilson and Wilson (85) concluded that the reduction in volume should be dependent on the accumulated fatigue gained through the preceding training program, that is, greater volume reductions are necessary when previous training durations are longer and more intense. For example, in trained athletes, Mujika and Padilla (56) found benefits from reducing the volume by 50-90% for aerobic events (49,60) and 50-70% for anaerobic events (55,77). However, Thomas and Busso (75) suggested an optimal volume reduction in the range of 30-40% for untrained athletes. The latter investigators attributed this lower percentage to the reduced capacity of untrained athletes to sustain greater volume loads (and therefore fatigue) during the preceding training program.
Moreover, Banister et al. (4) found a fast decay taper (which has the greatest reduction in volume) to be more beneficial than a slow decay taper. However, this again must be considered with respect to the preceding prescription of volume loads. Because the athletes in this study had previously engaged in very intense training and, therefore, were likely to have accumulated excessive fatigue, it may be the case that the necessity to induce a large drop in volume dictated that a fast decay taper would be more beneficial, especially given the time frame to do so, that is, 2 weeks. It is reasonable to further speculate that had the volume load of training been less, a slow decay or even a progressive taper (had the volume load been lower still) would have been more beneficial. Therefore, it may be hypothesized that the fatigue induced by training dictates both the duration and type of taper. For example, if the desired reduction in volume load is >60%, then taper durations in excess of 2 weeks may be justified. Similarly, smaller reductions (≤20%) in volume load may require less than 2 weeks. This hypothesis may be corroborated by the work of Mujika and Padilla (56) who found optimal results ranging from 1 to 4 weeks in duration for anaerobic and aerobic activities. Because of the significance of assessing fatigue when deciding on the most appropriate taper strategy, Bosquet et al. (6) suggest that the profile of mood states (53) can be considered as a viable tool. However, using this to formulate tapering strategies requires further investigation.
The need to maintain (and oftentimes increase) the intensity and frequency may be corroborated by the investigations of Hakkinen and Kallinen (29) and Kubukeli et al. (47). In the former investigation, it was found that when volume is held constant, elite strength athletes increase their strength and cross-sectional area to a greater extent when their volume was divided into 2 daily sessions, rather than a single session. In the latter study, the group that divided the 3 sets of each exercise across 3 sessions (on separate days) showed 38% greater increases in strength than performing the same 3 sets in a single training session. It may be concluded, therefore, that by distributing volume into smaller more frequent units, optimal conditions for muscular hypertrophy and strength and power gains are induced (85). One theoretical rationale is that higher frequencies maintain the feel of technical skills (47) and help maintain/increase intensity (85). The importance of maintaining training intensity during periods of a taper has also been underlined by other authors (34,54,55,56).
EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS
Although the review of Wilson and Wilson (85) highlighted the performance improvements after a taper well in excess of that reported by Bosquet et al. (6), it should be noted that the latter investigation was confined to competitive athletes only. Therefore, despite reporting only a mean improvement of 1.96% (and hence only moderate effect size), for elite level athletes, this represents a significant supercompensation. For example, Mujika et al. (58) reported that after a taper, swimming performance increased by 2.2%, and this was comparable to the difference between a gold medal and a fourth place (1.62%) or between a bronze medal and an eighth place at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
In summation, periodization represents an optimal strategy for organizing S&C programs. The selected strategy (i.e., basic, intermediate, advanced, and maintenance/nontraditional), however, should be based on the level of the athlete and the constraints of the competitive season. A common theme throughout all the periodization protocols is the need to manipulate volume loads, progress from general to sport-specific training, and dissipate fatigue. Significant to the latter moderator of enhanced performance, the use of summated microcycles and precompetition tapers seems evidently beneficial. Moreover, the use of a taper seems to produce an additional supercompensation effect after the rigors of its preceding training program.
Although enough anecdotal evidence exists to validate the use of periodization and its various systems of use, its critics are justified in demanding more scientific rigor to understand its use and limitations to elite level athletes across extended periods (e.g., >4 years). Until such time, however, its use is recommended and advocated by the research herein.
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Keywords:© 2011 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association
periodization; fitness; fatigue; recovery; preparedness; summated; undulating; conjugate; taper