Periodization: The Strategy
Failing to plan is planning to fail. As simple as this quote is, it is often neglected in many strength & conditioning programs. Periodization is defined by the NSCA as “a training plan, whereby peak performance is brought about through the potentiation of biomotors and the management of fatigue and accommodation.” In this article, I will explain how periodization differs from programming and how to strategically use periodization to get the best results.
Periodization can also be thought of as a long-term plan to achieve a specific physical goal or skill. Rotating through different phases of training like endurance, strength, power, or speed would be included in periodization. Programming is the smaller more specific details included in each of these phases, including sets, reps, rest times, and frequency. Understanding where we are going and when we have to be there is the most important question to be answered before we are to construct a plan to get there.
Off-seasons vary depending on the sport and the time the athlete has to train. If I have four years like an Olympian vs. four months like most professional team sport athletes, my periodization scheme for each will look much different. For the sake of this article, we will focus on a high school baseball player that has recently finished their season.
A long season has come to an end and we must address some common issues that a baseball season brings about. Sure, baseball doesn’t involve many collisions with another person, but the demands can still wreak havoc on the health of our bodies.
The goal of the first 1-2 blocks of training should be to restore physical qualities that may have been lost. Most of the time, baseball players will have mobility restrictions such as a loss of shoulder internal rotation, thoracic spine rotation, and hip rotation. Along with mobility, it is common for a young athlete to lose strength, endurance, and speed following a significant drop in training volume and intensity. The longer your training history the longer certain physical traits will stick with you.
A young athlete who hasn’t spent years on a strength and conditioning program can train his or her butt off over the off-season, and still lose nearly all of what they worked for if they don’t train throughout a 3-4 month high school season.
The first 1-2 blocks of training throughout the summer should be focused on regaining lost mobility and general physical preparedness (GPP). When people think of strength and conditioning, too many have in their heads that it should be sport-specific and mimic what is seen on the field. This is a mistake. Especially with young athletes – the less specific qualities build the base for the higher intensity and more specificity that will be trained just prior to a season starting. Baseball may not be a very aerobic sport, but if you’re out of shape you will not be able to recover from the higher intensity training. The goal should be to bring up all physiological qualities every year while emphasizing some over others at strategic times. GPP phases will emphasize two of the five physical principles here at DST: movement and stress.
Mobility is commonly lost after a baseball season, especially in the shoulder and hips. The goal of summer training is to get back to baseline and be able to express good quality movement through all movement patterns without compensation. Good quality movement is a must to ensure proper muscle function and limit wear and tear. Once we restore movement, it will be challenged first through increased workload.
Density training is a training method that will improve aerobic and anaerobic capacities of the athlete all while challenging their restored movement patterns. You may think that density or endurance training doesn’t match the energy systems seen in a baseball game, and you would be right. I am not trying to turn baseball players into marathon runners, but if an athlete has a well-developed aerobic system they are going to recover better from each explosive bout done in another phase, thus enhancing the training effect.
Stress is everything when it comes to training. Too little and you don’t get better, too much and you get worse. Stress is both physiological and psychological. A baseball player has stress when competing in games while simultaneity taking finals during the same week. Both stresses will have an impact on their recovery and performance in each activity. As strength and conditioning coaches, we can manage the stress placed on the athlete following a season based on a few things. Did they get a lot of playing time? Did they pitch? Did they catch? Did they deal with injuries or pain? Based on the answers to these questions, we can formulate the best plan to set the athlete up for a great off-season leading to an even better year in the future.
The workload on pitchers arms and catchers legs is unlike any other position. Fitness will probably be better retained in these positions in comparison to an outfielder that might get 3 plays per game. If an athlete wasn’t quite good enough to make a starting position they are going to be able to jump into harder training much quicker than someone who is physically beaten up from never receiving a break from week to week.
Following a good summer of training where different qualities are trained and restored, we can focus on the big rocks such as power, explosiveness, and speed. Only after a great foundation is built can you build a strong supported structure. After reading this article, I hope you have a new appreciation for the demands a season can have on the body, respect the training process, and respect how where you start can determine how you finish.