What the Heck Is Periodization Anyway? - Complementary Training
What the Heck Is Periodization Anyway?

What the Heck Is Periodization Anyway?

 So, I was watching this extremely good lecture on Biology and Human Behavior by Robert Sapolsky (author of the famous book Why Zebras don’t get ulcer?) and the author goes into the problem of categorical thinking. He showed that categorical thinking (Sapolsky mentioned light continuum as an example, and how we humans mark certain parts of the continuum as separate colors, although the borders are fuzzy) improves memory (classifying and categorizing things is what I usually do the best and helps me put the things at their own place), but at the same time it reduces the ability to recognize similarities between different categories and differences within categories. In other words, it reduces your ability to see the forest from the trees.

I am not saying categorical thinking is bad (“Sorry officer, but the light was greenish, not reddish!”), but it has some flaws during some specific situations (everything is about the context).  I guess we should be more pragmatic and not dogmatic, and use categorical thinking when appropriate and/or fuzzy thinking (the truth is a matter of a degree) when that is more appropriate.

People usually ask me whether I use linear periodization, linear progression, or conjugate periodization with my athletes. I don’t know. In real life it is hard to put things into categories, and the truth is very context dependent and usually in the shades of gray. What I do is pick up a pragmatic solution to a particular problem (athletes characteristics, performance/outcome goals, context) based on the knowledge and previous experience. I am trying to use my brain instead of being dogmatic and/or use certain dogmatic categorical solution. I guess, it is similar to learning how to fish compared to getting a fish.

So, instead of just getting/buying the fish, I get a decent lure, so to speak. That means being pragmatic – finding a solution to a problem by analyzing what you have, what you want to reach and within what context, taking into account knowledge of  management, theory of training, biomechanics, physiology, motor learning, psychology, training effects and previous experience and other 100 dangerous words.

Even if I said that people need to be more pragmatic I will again return to categorical thinking and try to explain my thoughts on periodization. So, what the heck is that word that my Word spell checker keeps marking as typo? Yes, I am talking about periodization.

I know some coaches who love to coach about coaching and they are 21. If you really want to know about coaching go to someone who has coached for 30+ years under  the following criteria that make him good coach:

1. Consistently produced champions over years with the same athlete pool and within same environment as his fellow coaches

2. Consistently improved average performance of all of his athletes with the same athlete pool and within same environment as his fellow coaches

3. Consistently doesn’t screw up the athletes, their mental health and health in general (it is easy to succeed as athlete/meat grinder  when you have huge pool of talents – somebody just have to succeed no matter how much of them you destroy; some athletes continue to dominate in spite of their training)

I am not that kind of coach. Hopefully, I may become that kind of coach one day if God is righteous. So, honestly, what do I have to offer? Yes, I read a bunch of books, finished Faculty, worked with some Olympians (which were Olympians before I realized that strength training doesn’t make you slow and bulky), but I am at least honest here. There was a time during my faculty years where I thought I knew something and I wanted to write about it. Now, the more I know, the more I know I don’t know. Sounds confusing? Try reading Socrates. What I want to say, it that now, compared to before, instead of trying to hunt fame by writing on internet message board and forums about what I have read, I now seek experience and fulfillment working with real athletes and seeing them improve. I guess I am getting older and wiser.

Basically, what I want to cover in this article is categories I use in my pragmatic solutions. Yes, complementarities between pragmatism and dogmatism, categorical thinking and fuzzy logic. This is called squiggle sense and there is a book about it called Complementary Nature.

The goal of the coach is to manage the Athlete Preparation System, a technological process so to speak that brings the athlete from point A to point B under certain amount of time and under a given context. This Preparation System can further divided to (1) Training, (2) Competition and (3) Recovery.




Coach needs to juggle with much more components (like budget planning, recruitment, assessment and evaluation, talent identification, legislative issues, etc), yet these three are the most crucial for the discussion on periodization.

In my opinion, there are three separate, yet connected phases in organizing of the Athlete Preparation System (APS): (1) periodization, (2) planning and (3) programming.




You can look at this as Zoom Levels to the problem, like a Google Earth: Globe, USA, New York. This way we can see the forest from the trees.

Periodization level

Periodization level compromises of defining what you have, where you want to be and when (goals) and context. Basically, periodization level of organization is seeing the big picture. Defining competition dates and competition calendar, number of peaks and their durations, basic evaluation of athletes, amount of performance increases (performance goals), outcome goals, analysis of previous seasons, tests, meets and everything else that precedes more concrete planning. It is also important to take into account weather, available facilities, training camps, available budget, etc.

To keep this achievable, it is necessary to have training theory knowledge and experience (well, duh!). Knowing the athletes, discipline and analysis of previous season, along with the knowledge of theory of sport form and having realistic goals in term of performance increase will guide you to devising optimal number of peaks and their durations and/or optimal competition calendar.

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Author Info: Mladen Jovanovic

I am a physical preparation coach from Belgrade, Serbia, grew up in Pula, Croatia (which I consider my home town). I was involved in physical preparation of professional, amateur and recreational athletes of various ages in sports such as basketball, soccer, volleyball, martial arts and tennis. Read More »