Saturday, December 25, 2010

Periodization Confusion?

I have recently been reading Transfer of Training  (Volume 2) by Dr Anatoly Bondarchuk and watching  video(s) by  Derek Evely. To understand their classification of training systems it is necessary to understand the classification of the exercises based on the specificity criteria. Thus, Bondarchuk identified four groups of exercises/methods:

Name of exercise/method
Competitive (CE)
Exercises that are identical or almost identical to competition event
developmental (SDE)
Exercise that repeat the competitive event in training but in its separate parts
preparatory (SPE)
Exercises that do not imitate the competitive event, but train the major muscle groups and physiological systems
preparatory (GPE)
Exercises that do not imitate the competitive event and do not train the specific systems.
Exercise classification based on work of Dr Anatoly Bondarchuk and UKA Exercise Classification Hierarchy

Based on the work of Christian Thibaudeau and Joe Kenn I have presented similar classification of the exercises in Concurrent strategies in Strength training article. The logic is similar, yet Bondarchuk classified based on exercise specificity, and Thibaudeau and Kenn classified based on importance of the exercises and this can be compatible in most cases. The logic behind it what it is important. Now let’s get back to training systems.

Based on the usage organization of the mentioned types of exercises/methods during the training process, Bondarchuk identified three basic training systems:  (1)stage system, (2) block system and (3) complex system. 

On the following picture stage training system is depicted. 

Some of the variations of this system include changing the complex of exercises for each group every 2-4 weeks. For example, exercises uses in SPE group might rotate every 2-4 weeks.

Based on the work by Anatoly Bondarchuk and Derek Evely block training system can be depicted by following two pictures: 

Same as with stage system, different variations could be applied by rotating complex of exercises for each group.  For example, in Bondarchuk version on block training, exercise complex for GPE and SPE groups might rotate every 2-4 weeks, while for SDE and CE same complex of exercises is used thorough preparatory period. Variations in complex of exercises influence the phases of sport form development and sport form maintenance, by prolonging or speeding up each.

Based on some theoretical info, the achievement of sport form is manipulated by the ratio between different groups of exercises, most notably with relative volume of CE group. During the sport form maintenance the performance results are ‘kinda’ stable and to further improve the performance one need to ‘break’ or ruin the state of sport form and to rebuild it again into the higher level of sport performance. More on the theory of sport form could be found here.  Thus during the phase of sport form development athlete’s performance might be variable (and progressive) while he increases the underlying factors and while ‘tuning’ all the sub-systems, but once he achieves the state of sport form his performance will be more stable at the certain (higher) level of performance.  I am not expert on this subject and I guess we need more info regarding this ‘phenomena’.

On the following picture the complex system is depicted: 

In complex training system all groups of exercises/methods are presented from the day one. As with other two training systems, variations of complex training might be induced by changing complex of exercises for each group every 2-4 weeks.

Each of the mentioned training system has pro’s and con’s based on the overall stress levels, injuries potential and sport form manipulations (based on competition schedule).  These training systems developed over the years as the both coaches and scientists identified their weak points.

Based on the video by Derek Evely, “traditional periodization” could be considered stage training system. Soon, certain problems with it were identified and new models were seeking, along with changes in competitions calendar and thus preparation needs. More interested readers could get a thorough analysis in late Charlie Francis’ Key Concepts e-book. 

Block training tried to utilize concentrated loading in each block so does residual training effects stays elevated during the next blocks. Again, certain problems were identified like great injury possibility by sudden switch in training emphasis. Carl Valle explained the concept of ‘adaptive stiffness’ (originally coined by late Charlie Francis) in his blog. Because of this we can identify smooth and sharp variations of block transitions.

Complex system is now the most utilized training system in track and field at the moment. One of the biggest shortcomings is the constant need for restorative means due high volume of training. Because of that during certain phases there is a different emphasis on certain groups of exercises/methods.

The point being taken here is that this classification system is based on the organization of the mentioned four groups of exercises/methods. As I always say in my articles training stimulus is compromised of (1) exercises (or means), (2) methods and (3) loads (or stress). Because of this, in my opinion grouping training systems based on the organization of exercises/methods based on the specificity criteria is too simplistic, due the fact that we don’t know the performance goals of each period and loads used.  There might be different emphasis on each group of exercise over the training period and that might be more important than simple presence of the exercises in the training program.

Overall preparation process could be split into the following components:
1.            Technical preparation
2.            Tactical preparation  and decision making
3.            Physical preparation
4.            Psychological preparation and mental toughness
5.            Athlete character, communicational skills and team building
6.            Strategy and game plan

Each sport demand different ratios between the mentioned components and the ratios between subcomponents. For example in physical preparation certain sport might demand more speed or strength, while other might demand more aerobic endurance. The goal setting is based on sport demands and weak and strong characteristic of the athlete.

But for each component of preparation process,  different methods, exercises and loads could be used during certain parts of the training stage. For example, to develop aerobic power in soccer, one can use intervals on bike, 4x4mins at 90-95% HRmax intervals with 3mins recovery or 15/15 intervals at vVO2max (Billat method), running, 4vs4 on 40X40m small sided games, etc. Thus to achieve a certain goal for certain training component all mentioned groups by Bondarchuk could be used (CE, SDE, SPE, GPE). Now the question is how to organize this.

As I mentioned in Planning the Strength Training , What the heck is periodization articles and what Carlo Buzzichelli outlined in Fix Your Periodization Knowledge  (which is maybe the best short article on periodization ever written) certain structure in planning and organizing training could be identified.

First level is periodization of the annual plan into smaller periods for easier management based on competition calendar, sport form concepts (peaking), weather and climatic, facilities available, opponents, training camps, etc. Another task could be said to be  defining/listing training goals based on the sport analysis and athletes evaluation and thus creating a strengths~weaknesses  analysis .

Second level compromises of organization of  development/reaching of the defined goals by the first level.  Carlo Buzzichelli calls this Motor Capacities Integration, but I just call it Second Level or Planning level since goals might be more than bio-motor abilities (see mentioned six training components). There is continuum of solutions how to approach organization of the goals development and  two extremes are parallel and serial. I expanded more on this in mentioned articles. For the sake of giving examples I have created the following graphs of some common solutions.

Traditional approach is to utilize complex-parallel approach to goal development. 

The problem with this approach is great volume of training and non-compatible mixing of certain goals which can decrease the training effects especially with advanced athletes.

The next option is sequential system, where goals are achieved in sequence.

Certain problems can be identified with this sequential approach, like loosing of the achieved training effects (since there is no maintenance loads for goals that are not developed in certain blocks), ‘adaptational stiffness’, monotony, etc.

Recently it is very popular block training concept by Vladimir Issurin where small amount of compatible training goals ( 1-3 goals) are being developed in small number of training blocks (accumulation, transmutation and realization). 

Certainly there are some pro’s and con’s of this system too, based on the sport and the context. Between these three examples there is a whole continuum of the solution which might include gradation of how much certain training goal is emphasized rather than yes-or-no logic (developed or not), which includes maintenance loads but this goes into the third level to a certain degree.

Third level describes how each goal is being developed (along with its sub-goals, for example in strength training how much do we do concentrics, eccentrics, isometrics) , specificity of the means (exercises) and methods used and load progression.  Like I have already mentioned, to develop aerobic power one may use different exercises and methods along with different loads and load progressions (increasing duration of the intervals or number of sets over time, increasing the intensity, frequency, decreasing rest periods, auto-regulating. Etc)
In the following table I provided a short summary of three levels of planning and programming.

First Level
Periodizing annual training plan based on context,  competition schedule and laws of sport form development

Defining/listing training goals based on the sport analysis and athletes evaluation and thus creating a strengths~weaknesses  analysis

Second Level
Organization of  development/reaching of the defined goals
Third Level
Development of sub-goals
Specificity of exercises/methods used
Load progressions and planning (concentrated~distributed)
Microcycle planning (fatigue management)
Tool of Three Levels ™ developed by yours truly, as a analyzing and planning/programming tool

On the following picture I tried to edit Carlo Buzzichelli’s classification chart from mentioned excellent article:

Based on the solutions in each mentioned level, different ‘periodization’ systems can be identified and analyzed. I have purposely bolded the “Specificity of exercises/methods used” in Third level since this is where Bondarchuk classification fits in.

How can we connect these “two worlds” of classifications? Bondarchuk’s classification based on the organization of four groups of exercises and classification based on the organization of goals development? Exercises/method vs. goals. What is first? Chicken or the egg?

In some weird situation, Bondarchuk classification might include training goals too (since certain goals are developed by certain set of exercises and methods), and thus provides a full classification system, but without that feature, it is only the way of classifying training systems based on exercises used and sport form development.

Take a look at ‘traditional system’: based on Bondarchuk it is a stage system, but based on organization of goals development it is complex-parallel. Is this compatible? IMHO, yes it is.
I may be wrong, but with my current knowledge both classifications are important and basically they should be used together. Classification based on the exercises used can tell us how the sport form is planned in the training stage and when  the athlete is peaking in Competition Exercises. Classification based on organization of goals development can tell us how we approached the development of the goals based on the level of the athlete and context.

I would need to agree with Derek Evely that periodization is a BAD word and I think we need to ditch it. Planning strategies is much better explanation of the overall process.

Anyway, the problem is that people are using names along with being dogmatic. Recently, we have been overloaded with words such as: linear periodization, non-linear periodization, daily undulating periodization, undulating periodization, block training, traditional, sequential, pendular, concurrent, conjugate, complex-parallel, Bompa, Matveyev, Verkhoshansky, Westside, Sheiko. What the hell do they all mean? Then we dig even bigger hole by trying to analyze them  without seeing the big picture, without using the Tool of Three Levels ™, without understanding the planning strategies. Most of the mentioned ‘periodizations’ are different types of organizing one or two level of planning.

The problem is that we cannot utilize them as a given pattern/template. We need to understand the problem we have, what we are trying to develop, with who we are working, what context at hand we have.  This is why planning and programming of training is a specific coaching skill, not just a copy-paste action. “Yes, we are using block system”, “and “No, I don’t believe in Westside, I use Sheiko”. Each system is built with specific problem at hand, and that doesn’t necessary need to be the same problem we have at hand.

I consider my approach, along with the approach of Carlo Buzzichelli to be “organic” approach to planning, rather than “mechanistic”.

What we need to do is to understand the concepts and principles of training planning and programming (and training theory in general) and find the pragmatic solution for our own problems and analysis of that problem. What is the competition demanding? What is the level of the athlete, his strong and weak points? How much time do we have? When is the competition? Are the goals of training compatible? What does it take to reach/develop certain goals? How can we maximize the training transfer? Etc, etc.

I am not here to proclaim myself as the training expert, yet rather as the student of training. I might be wrong in some cases here in this blog entry and I admit that I am still researching training theory, sport form phenomena, motor control and learning, physiology, psychology.  By putting this thoughts on “paper” I hope I steered further discussions into new questions and pragmatic solutions, along with providing an “organic” (ecological) viewpoint to training planning and programming. Critiques are welcomed.

Since I don’t want to finish this with pure theory, in the next couple of days I will provide a possible solution to a common preparation problem we have in soccer here in Serbia. Then I guess the info in this article (blog entry) will look more practical. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. 

Merry Christmas folks!


  1. "There might be different emphasis on each group of exercise over the training period and that might be more important than simple presence of the exercises in the training program."
    C - VERY important point

    "15/15 intervals at vVO2max (Billat method)"
    C - Short intervals are the first stage of Billat's method, she aims to use way longer intervals; in fact, I used 3'/90" intervals with my soccer players.

    Please note: my table is not a training planning/programming sequence, rather the organization of all the concepts involved in Periodization.

    "Certain problems can be identified with this sequential approach, like loosing of the achieved training effects (since there is no maintenance loads for goals that are not developed in certain blocks), ‘adaptational stiffness’, monotony, etc."
    C - I believe sequentiality (certainly not in a clear cut way) is needed to create, as Verkhoshansky said, the morpho-functional adaptations required for a higher level of development of the following, more specific, physical trait.

    "I may be wrong, but with my current knowledge both classifications are important and basically they should be used together."
    C - Very much agree. The exercise classification is a good tool for programming, and the exercises should be planned; sometime I plan the goal and then substitute it with the exercises at a later moment (on the same Excel spreadsheet).


    In team sport settings, or whenever the CP is very extended in the annual plan, I keep GPE/SPE in CP.

    Carlo Buzzichelli, TBI-MPS
    Technical Director of the Tudor Bompa Institute - International
    Adjunct Professor of "Planning and Programming of Training" at the Uinversity of Sport Science and Physical Culture of Camagüey (Cuba)

  2. Thanks for thorough analysis Carlo. I really appreciate it. Please note that I am by no means against 'sequentiality', I am just identifying some con's. I do agree that there is a BIOLOGICAL as well as LOGISTICAL reasons behind it, and as you will see in the soccer articles I will suggest certain 'sequential' model.
    Thank you one more time for your feedback Carlo!

  3. Hi Mladen,

    For your and your readers information there is a slight mistake in this article. Your diagram 'Block Training (Evely)' is pure block training where one classification is performed to the exclusion of all others. Your diagram 'Block Training (Bondarchuk)' is actually a Block Complex-Combination method and not a pure Block method. Your labels are misleading because Derek Evely uses Dr B's terminology and all of this work is actually Dr Bs. Dr B has used and discussed the Block Complex-Combination method of training organisation and Derek makes no claims that this is his method. In fact Derek rarely uses the Block Complex Combination (BCC) method himself.

    FYI, the BCC is made up of a Physical Preparatory Block (GPE and SPE) and a Technical Preparatory Block (SDE and CE). The key difference in your diagram over a Block Complex method is that the Technical Preparation block is divided into two parts. 1. the stage of Specific Preparation (when only SDE is used) and 2. the stage of Development of Sport Form where SDE and CE are done together.

    Please note that the exercise sets are not changed in either block so it is not a variation method. Also both the Physical and Technical blocks end with the condition of sports form and the time it takes to achieve this will be individual to the athlete in all cases.

    I know this is all very complicated, especially given the lack of good explanations available on the internet and in printed material, but hopefully it will be elucidated in Dr Bs upcoming publications in English. The information in this post should be correct as myself and Derek have worked together for some time and he has explained Dr Bs system to me in much depth.


    Tom Crick
    Coaching Professional Development Manager
    UKA (UK Athletics)

  4. Tom,

    Thanks for pointing to that issue and for explaining the difference. Looking forward to more info both from you and from Derek Evely.
    Thank you one more time.

  5. Mladen,

    Thanks a million for clarifying a bit, the water is still muddy for me, but this is pointing me in the right direction as I keep reading up on it and develop my own training program management and set up. I'am hooked and look forward to reading all your stuff.

    Thank you for putting your thoughts on "paper". I hope some of the Charlie Francis material recently purchased will aid in further understanding.