Whatever your sport of choice, the smartest way to change involves periodization. Whether you know it or not, you are likely using periodization training in at least some capacity.
What Is Periodization Training?
What is periodization training? Speaking broadly, it is when training structure is cycled around periods of intense training followed by rest or less intense training, In other words, you are organizing the training into blocks with different yet very specific purposes each block.
The Three Cycles
There are three cycles of periodization training: macrocycle, mesocycle and microcycle. What are the main characteristics of each cycle?
✓ The macrocycle is the largest segment and it is made up of all of the mesocycles. This is your entire training plan.
✓ The mesocycle is a portion of the macrocycle that focuses on specific skills or goals within the macrocycle.
✓ The microcycle is where the plan is broken down even smaller and typically consists of one week.
Before we investigate the various cycles, it’s important to also understand the types of periodization training out there for distance runners.
Types of Periodization Training
1. Linear or Traditional
The linear or traditional type of training is most typical. The athlete picks a timeframe from the race for which they are training and works backward. If you are training for a marathon, this is typically five to six months. If you have a decent running base and are training for a shorter goal race, like a 5K or 10K, the training cycle might be closer to 10-12 weeks.
In distance training such as the half or full marathon, you typically increase mileage throughout the training. Especially true of beginners, you will not only add distance but incorporate more intense workouts as time passes and fitness level increases.
2. Reverse Linear
In this model, the runner starts out doing very challenging workouts at the beginning of the training plan but does not build mileage. As you get much closer to the race date, the athlete will add mileage. This type of training is typically used by people who are accustomed to running high mileage and are always in marathon shape, for example.
Another example is a person who trains for ultra running all of the time. There will only be a noticeable increase in mileage or “time on feet” directly prior to the race.
3. Non-Linear Block Periodization
This training will have the athlete focusing on one specific physical ability at a time. This model is widely popular with bodybuilders. It is also used by some triathletes where they cyclically focus on one aspect of the three parts of the race.
4. Non-Linear Undulating Periodization
Most used by experienced athletes with a history of hard training, this method involves a constant change in the training. Training is typically laid out in blocks of varying degrees of intensity.
Stages of the Macrocycle
There are very specific phases of the macrocycle, starting with the base phase, build phase, and peak phase. This makes it to anyone who is familiar with distance running. If you are new to the running world, think of it like constructing a house.
When you are new to running it is important to build a base. It doesn’t happen overnight, but as you gradually run more regularly and frequently your base improves. You are working on building cardiovascular fitness, musculature strength and aerobic capacity. Back to the house analogy: you need a strong foundation on which your house will stand,
After your base is established you can enter the build phase. Of course, you are building mileage, but you are also building strength and speed as you progress through the training program. It’s only after you have constructed a strong foundation that you can begin to frame in your house. Once you have done that, you are ready to add walls and details.
Next is the peak phase, also known as the speed phase. If you have checked all of the other boxes, it’s time to work toward that race day goal. This is where it all comes together and the quality work gets done. These are the speed and tempo workouts that get you to the starting line ready to PR. Here is where you add the trusses and roof on your house,
The tapering phase is where you ease back on training before race day to ensure you get to the starting line healthy and itching to perform. During taper, you will still do some speed work, but the overall mileage will decrease. You should focus strongly on the actual logistics of your goal race as well as mental aspects.
Getting yourself ready for race day is physical and mental. You guessed it, this is where your house is build and you get to do the fun stuff: add paint and pretty details!
At this point, you are ready to race.
Post-race you have the recovery phase. Equally as important as the other stages, you need to give your body adequate time to rest and recovery before jumping into another training cycle. Many runners stand by the idea that you need one easy day for every mile you raced, while others say that is more rest than they need. Time and experience will teach you what you need for your body.
Transferring This To Training
Depending on your (or your coaches) philosophy, your training plan will vary accordingly. If you’re new to the running world and distance training, likely your plan will be relatively generic and linear in nature. You will start out in lower mileage and work your way up. As you get through the plan your speed workouts will become somewhat more challenging. You will train hard, slowly increase mileage, perhaps do some strength training, experience a taper plan as described above and (hopefully) toe the line ready to roll.
If you are more experienced you may choose an intermediate plan that will have a nonlinear plan. In this such instance, you will have intense sessions throughout the training. Specific aspects such as speed, strength, etc. are sprinkled throughout the entire training cycle.
Looking at a 12-week half-marathon training cycle, the entire 12-week plan is your macrocycle. In a more challenging plan, you might have two more intense weeks followed by a slight step back week where your workout intensity and mileage is slightly scaled back. This three-week portion is a mesocycle. If your coach (or plan) has you layout your workouts by week, that is your microcycle.
See that? You’re periodization training and you didn’t even know it!
Why Periodization Training Matters For Your Running
Four Rules of Periodization To Help You Reach Your Peak
Training Periodization for Long Distance Runners