It’s the off-season. You have avidly consumed every training blog post, found a couple of workout buddies, and your nutrition has gone from fruit loops and beer to fresh fruit and protein shakes. Your body is ready. But let’s pump the brakes a bit. Before you can crank the Rocky music, don a sweet headband, and get to work, you should probably decide how you are going to approach your training. Enter periodization.
Periodization literally means planning to peak for the most important part of your season. There are a ton of ways to do this. And the proverbial rabbit hole on the topic requires an understanding of complex scientific principles, as well as the ability to read multiple languages. To save you from learning Russian or having to read the collected works of Yuri Verkhoshansky, Vladimir Issurin, Tudor Bompa and G. Gregory Haff, I’ll provide a general discussion of periodization.
Some will want to peak for tryouts while others with spots on lock will look to be in prime shape during the most important tournament of their season. With ultimate, this can get complicated if you are planning on playing Worlds, playing for a pro-team, partaking in the Triple Crown Tour, AND trying to defend your summer league championship. For the purpose of simplicity, we are going to examine a periodization model using a club team tryout
Peaking for a set time period requires breaking your training into various cycles, each focusing on a specific area in need of improvement. A diligently planned year of training is referred to as a macrocycle. The off-season, the lead up to tryouts, and the season itself is one macrocycle. Macrocycles are broken up into mesocycles. Mesocycles make up the meat of periodized training program, with each mesocycle representing a block of training. I write training programs for six week mesocycles. While there are a few scientific reasons for this approach, the best argument comes from Dan John who argues that “everything works for six weeks.”
My basic off-season training protocol is divided into four six week mesocycles. Each cycle focuses on developing an aspect of sport performance. I also have a fifth open-ended cycle designed to transition off-season training into field performance. Mesocyles build upon each other and result in you peaking athletically (i.e. You should be ready to go into beast mode when you need it). Assuming you want to peak at a spring tryout, let’s look at how you should be prioritizing your off-season training:
|Oct. 12 - Nov. 23||Nov. 23 - Jan.4||Jan. 4 - Feb. 15|
|Focuses on learning the primary lifts (squat, deadlift, presses) through controlled movement and strict tempo. |
Accessory work includes isometric holds and unilateral exercises.
|Continues the tempo of the previous cycle while introducing more complex variations of the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean and jerk) before transitioning to a typical linear progression. |
Accessory work includes high rep isolation exercises focused on building size and limiting weaknesses.
|Introduces a progressive overload to the primary lifts and includes days where bar speed is prioritized over weight.
Accessory work includes lower rep explosive movements, sprinting, and variations of the Olympic lifts that serve as teaching tools.
|Feb. 15 - March 28||March 28th - Tryout|
|Primary lifting is reduced to increase focus on speed development. The snatch and clean and jerk are the primary focus with squatting serving as a secondary movement. |
Accessory work includes change of direction drills, plyometrics with the goal of translating gym work into field performance.
|Heavy lifting is reduced as getting prepared for the season takes priority. |
Accessory work should consist of track workouts, change of direction and sport specific drills, and scrimmages.
Each mesocycle is broken down into multiple microcyles. Microcycles are blocks of training within a mesocycle and normally consist of a series of complementary exercises. Some training programs, such as the popular Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5, consist of cycles based around a push (squat, bench press, push ups) and a pull (deadlift, rows, pull ups) day. Other cycles have longer microcyles. This is quite common in programs for advanced athletes where exercise variation is required to drive adaptation. My off-season microcycle template combines these two models and focuses on sport performance. Here is the microcyle template from the strength macrocycle:
|Lift: Squat and Press|
Extra: Unilateral Exercises and Mid-Line Accessory Work
|Lift:Upper and Lower Pull|
Extra: Pull Volume and Conditioning
|Active Rest||Lift: Squat and Bench
Extra: Upper Isolation and Conditioning
|Lift: Posterior Chain Development|
Extra: Glute and Back Volume
|Sport Specific Conditioning||Full Rest|
|Lift: Unilateral Lower Exercise and Bench Press|
Extra: Squat Volume and Conditioning
|Lift: Upper and Lower Pull|
|Active Rest||Lift: Squat and Press
Extra: Mid-Line Accessory Work
|Focus: Speed Development and Upper Pull|
|Sport Specific Conditioning||Full Rest|
This template contains a variety of movements designed to complement strength development. The focus on the squat builds raw power while the extra work, such as the squat volume and isolation exercises, are rotated in a manner that encourages muscle growth. Exercises that target smaller muscle groups and require more recovery time, such as the press, are spaced out while movements that target larger muscles, like squats, appear more frequently. This strategy allows the needed recovery time for strength development.
The microcycle I have provided as an example encourages recovery by undulating the amount of barbell loading and managing fatigue. Heavy barbell loading strains muscles and taxes the body’s central nervous system, which can lead to overtraining. Overtraining causes feelings of fatigue and hinders athletic development. To counter the exertion of training, the second Monday focuses on single leg movements – which require less loading – while Tuesday focuses on plyometric exercises.
A periodized approach to training optimizes off-season efforts and ensures you are getting the most out of your gym sessions. Intelligent training programs focus on specific skill development and carefully guide athletes towards peak performance. For a periodized approach to your training, check out the offerings by authors on the training blog, including Ulty Results by Melissa Witmer, Tim Morrill’s offerings, and my own program Athlete.