Periodization For Your Target Event Can Help You Arrive in Peak Condition

Your goal event is in a few months.

How do you prepare? How do you organize your training so that you’re at your peak for the event?

One way to prepare is to organize your training with a tool called “Periodization.”

Periodization for your target event starts with general fitness-building training and gradually builds to a peak prior to your event.

The idea is that you gradually add more training stress to your system, and that builds additional adaptation.

Then you add more and more as you adapt until you’re ready to bust out your best performance!

Photo by Karl Hendriske

You Can’t Maintain Your Peak All Year

The biggest challenge for endurance athletes is that we simply can’t peak for an entire season.

Physiologically, we are able to hold a peak for about a week, maybe two.

The idea of a peak is that we build up as much training stress as our body will handle, then reduce volume, recover more, and have the peak amount of fitness with just the right amount of recovery time.

I’ve been doing periodization for years, worked with coaches for years, and peaks are still a challenge.

So why try to create a peak for your target event through periodization?

Planning for increasing and decreasing training stress loads means you are less likely to plateau in your fitness and therefore get everything you can out of your body!

Get Ready for Your Target Event with Periodization

When you periodize your training, you prepare your body and mind for a specific event by planning to build for a top performance through just the right combination of training stress.

Typically, I start from the target event and work backward.

I look at the demands of the event, expected paces, and finish times.

You can think of this kind of periodization as a triangle.

(There are other models of periodization with similar outcomes in the research.)

Triangles of Power and Specificity

Periodization for an endurance sport is best understood with a triangle that sharpens at the top.

At the bottom is your base work. This is the miles and time you put in at an endurance pace.

The goal for this base work is to build aerobic capacity.

You want your aerobic system to become as large and efficient as possible.

You do this by putting in a lot of base miles and increasing your aerobic capacity through moderate intervals.

The middle is building more intensity in your intervals to build your general fitness while you start working on the specifics of your target event.

Finally, the peak of the triangle is doing the specific work you need for your event, while reducing the overall training volume, and building in more rest.

Peaking for Endurance Sport is an Art

While planning out the triangle is not complicated, there’s a Goldilocks principle at play here: You need to find just the right amount of really hard stress and just the right amount of recovery to create the adaptation demands on your system.

Periodizing your training for a target event requires understanding the demands of your event.

And while the physiology is pretty complicated and doing the planning can be a little daunting, the actual work itself is pretty straightforward.

Start from your target event and work backward, planning long and short-duration workouts, strength training, and mobility work through yoga.

Coaching Helps with Short and Long-Term Planning

You don’t have to have a coach to do your best performance in an endurance sport.

With the right knowledge and planning, you can set up a workout calendar to help you peak.

And you can always buy a training plan or a book that will help you get ready for your event or season.

The trick — and the magic — comes in planning the right workouts at the right time and with the right amount of recovery.

Training for an endurance sports event or season is all about building fatigue and then recovering to adapt muscles to the training stress.

Go too hard, and you won’t be able to recover enough for a good performance. Go too easy, and you’ll never reach your potential.

Endurance Sports Training Requires a Long View

Most people who have some level of athletic ability or fitness can finish a 5k or a 20-mile bike ride.

But if your goal is to break 22 minutes in that 5k or finish 50 miles in three hours or finish your first cyclocross race, you’ll need to think backward to periodize for your target event.

And the longer or more difficult your event is, the further out you’ll have to plan for success.

The other issue is planning for a whole season of events rather than just one state championship, for example.

That means that events prior to your goal will need to take a back seat.

For example, cyclocross nationals are on December 10 and my state championships are before Thanksgiving.

I’m not going to be able to peak for both, so I’ll need to treat one of them as just a race, not a target.

Downsides of Periodization

For me, peaking has mental challenges: If I specify a single event as my priority, I start to build up a whole bunch of nervous tension.

I’ve done that for state championships and nationals in cyclocross several times, and my body just shuts down due to the stress I put on myself.

So none of my races this year are top-level events, even nationals.

I’m looking at periodization purely in terms of specificity and recovery.

So I’ll come into the cross season with a huge base of fitness and some speed.

I’ll build specificity by doing workouts that benefit cyclocross speed and skills.

And I’ll use HRV to monitor my recovery.

Three Things to Know about Periodization For Your Target Event

  1. Start with your target event and plan backward.
  2. Use a triangle approach of doing lots of base work months out, moderate intervals to build fitness, and peak with specific event workouts.
  3. Be patient with yourself while doing events that are not your peak. If you are periodizing to peak for a specific event, your other races are going to be training races.

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Paul Warloski, Simple Endurance Coaching

Paul Warloski, Simple Endurance Coaching

I help everyday endurance athletes reach their adventure and challenge goals through personalized, holistic training, strength work, and yoga.

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