Periodization and the Systematic Sport Development Process – Part Three

Periodization is a viable concept that certainly will help improve our sport development system, but we also need trained coaches to plan and then implement the plan. A productive sport development system is coach driven and athlete centered. The solution lies in educating our coaching in the principles of planning in order to optimize resources and time. To achieve athletic success in any kind of systematic manner, certain principles must be observed. The principles are the same regardless of the sport. The plan is the means to execute the principles.

The principles are:

Principle of Progression – This is the most often violated principle. Progression in its simplest form moves from simple to complex, easy to hard and general work to specific work. These simple steps give way to complex interactions. All training variables do not progress at the same rate nor do all individuals progress at the same rate.

To insure proper progression we must clearly define each step. Begin by articulating specific goals and objectives for each step. Then develop evaluative criteria to assess the achievement of each of the goals and objectives of each step. I would go so far as to say that at certain levels of development it should be necessary to show mastery before moving on to the next step. This is especially true in refinement of technical development.

Progression is not linear. We need to begin with a clear picture of what we want the athlete to achieve or look like at the end of a training program as a goal. But we must remember that progression toward that ultimate objective will proceed in a staircase like progression. Constant progress should be made toward the goal, but some of the incremental steps along the way will be smaller than others.

The Principle of Accumulation – Adaptation to the stress of training is a cumulative process. You do not do a workout and gain an immediate positive training response, unless it is a relatively small technical adjustment. Often times you will see the true results of a significant investment in training up to a year after the initial training stimulus.

The effect of training accumulates over time, provided training has been consistent and the athlete has been able to stay injury free. Adaptation to different training demands occurs at different rates and the ultimate training adaptation is the synergistic accumulation of the collective training responses. Remember one workout cannot make an athlete, but one workout can break an athlete. Be patient, wait for training to take effect.

Principle of Variation – The variables of training volume, intensity, frequency and exercise selection must be constantly manipulated in a systematic manner. Because the body adapts to training stress so quickly it is important to vary training in order to insure continued adaptation. This variation should not be random, but systematically planned in order to measure the effect of the variation. If training is not varied the body will adapt quite quickly and the training effect will be dulled. If no variation is incorporated there is a significant risk of staleness and eventual overtraining.

Principle of Context – Before we incorporate something into training we need to see where it fits into the context of what is already being done and what is planned. Perhaps the biggest violation of the principle of context is to take one component, for example speed or strength and train those to the exclusion of all other physical qualities. This is fundamentally unsound. It is possible to design program where a component is emphasized for a phase, but it should be kept in proportion to the other components and put into the context of the whole training plan.

Principle of Overload – In order for the athlete to progress they must be subjected to a load at a level beyond which they have adapted. Overload is achieved through manipulation of the training variables of volume, the amount of work, intensity, the quality of the work, and frequency of application of the training stimulus. Because there is a reciprocal relationship between volume and intensity it is important to be careful about increasing both at the same time. It is easy to fall into a trap of overload through volume. This happens because it is easier to quantify training in terms of volume, more runs, more jumps or more throws. This quickly becomes a trap because you cannot keep adding volume without quickly reaching the point of diminishing returns. It also happens because at the start of the athletic development process volume loading results in rapid and sometime spectacular gains. Remember that volume is not a biomotor quality. In essence the more you do the better you get. As training age advances that paradigm has to shift and the overload has to come more from intensity.

Principle of Recoverability – The ability to recover both short term and long term from a workload is crucial to positive adaptation to the training stimulus. If the athlete is unable to recover form the training stress then it is not an appropriate load. Different athletes have different abilities to recover. No two athletes are the same in ability, nor are they the same in the ability to recover. Of all the training principles this is the one that is most easy to overlook because it is so easy to get caught up in the work and ignore the ability to recover.

Ultimately all of this is an educated attempt at prediction of future performance based on evaluation of previous competition and training results. It is achieved through planning and organization of training into a cyclic structure to develop all biomotor qualities in a systematic, sequential and progressive manner. The goal is optimum development of the individual’s performance capabilities. Traditionally the focus has been on periodization as a model, in order to be more effectively applied I believe we should focus more on the process and the concepts.

The traditional emphasis in planning has been on the long term plan. It has been my experience that the longer the period of time for the plan the less accurate the plan will be. In order to be more effective the emphasis in long term planning should be on global themes and training priorities based on competition performance, training results, and testing and evaluation data from previous years performance. A shift in focus to the detailed planning of shorter more immediate time periods is more effective and will better serve to meet the needs of the athletes.

Periodization literature is rife with terminology and jargon. We need to make terminology exact and consistent in order to facilitate understanding and communication. I propose that we use the term Planned Performance Training (PPT) instead of periodization, which is foreign term left over from the old eastern bloc training schemes. Planned Performance Training is defined as thetiming, sequence, and interaction of the training stimuli to allow optimum adaptive response in pursuit of specific competitive goals. It is essentially why you do, what you do, in relation to when you do it. This could serve as a step toward updating and revising the concept to fit current sport demands and more accurately reflect current ongoing sport science research.


  • Study the applications of the concepts of Planned Performance Training to team sport training
  • Reconciliation and organization of the competitive calendar to allow more thorough planning
  • Agreement on a unified terminology to facilitate effective communication for improved coaching education in the application of the concepts
  • Educate sport administrators on the necessity and value of planning
  • Research methods of monitoring training to better guide planning of training
  • Apply a multidisciplinary approach to planning that draws on history, sociology, anthropology, psychology, biomechanics, physiology and statistics
  • Study successful training programs from the past to further validate and refine the concept
  • Hopefully this overview will help to create further awareness of the necessity of planning and the various influences and ingredients that go into formulating a viable plan as part the whole sport development process.


  • Counsilman, James E. Competitive Swimming Manual for Coaches and Swimmers. Bloomington, Indiana. Counsilman Co., INC. 1977
  • Franke, Werner W. and Berendonk, Brigitte. Hormonal Doping and androgenization of athletes: a secret program of the German Democratic Republic government. Clinical Chemistry. 43: 1262-1279. 1997
  • Goralski, Robert. World War II Almanac 1931 – 1945 – A Political and Military Record. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. 1981 pp. 425 – 428
  • Rowbottom, David G. Periodization of Training. In: Exercise and Sport Science. Garrett, William E. and Kirkendall, Donald T. Philadelphia, USA. Lippincot  Williams & Wilkins. 2000
  • Smith, Dean with John Kilgo and Sally Jenkins. A Coach’s Life. New York, New York. Random House. 1999
  • Walsh, Chris. The Bowerman System. Los Altos, CA. Tafnews Press. 1983
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