Got a workout strategy? Or do you just exercise as hard and as often as you can, year-round? Although you score points for being dedicated, you'll probably get more out of your training if you use periodization techniques, like pro athletes do. Periodization is a training strategy in which workout and rest periods are scheduled long-range, targeting specific goals (like maximizing strength or speed) to achieve by the beginning of a playing season. Planning your workout cycles, or periods, effectively will result in increased recovery, thus allowing greater gains in strength, speed, and power. Another benefit: A varied workout plan helps battle boredom.
Activities need to be strategically timed in order to reach specific targets. "Someone who does a lot of heavy lifting for strength or power is not going to have sufficient muscle recovery to do quality speed or cardiovascular work," explains exercise physiologist Declan Connolly, Ph.D., director of the University of Vermont's Human Performance Laboratory. "Similarly, increased cardiovascular work will compromise strength gains." A sprinter, for example, must work on form, speed, cardiovascular fitness, strength, and power, plus fit in a rest period before a race. Few of these components can be done simultaneously without compromising one another: Cardiovascular and strength training aren't an effective combination. Nor are speed work and cardiovascular or power training. An athlete who spends a month doing heavy lifting for strength gains, for example, will need to cut back elsewhere (such as on speed training), because his muscles need to recover from the weight training.
How you budget your fitness time depends on your sport. Whether you're a team player an endurance athlete, get a game plan.
For Team Sports Players:
Although the time blocks in periodization can be as short as a week or a month, most team sports players map out their training segments on a year-long schedule. This way, they can achieve peak performance during playing season or for a particular event. Here's how you could divide your year.
Competitive Season: Play hard and win. Do only as much strength and cardiovascular training as you can without compromising your performance on the court or the field—you can't afford to be sore from lifting or long runs on game day. During a week when you have a game, try to fit in two weight workouts and two sport-specific workouts. You can do both on the same day, but do the sport-related drills first. According to Connolly, most athletes actually lose strength and cardiovascular fitness during the playing season as a result of decreased training.
Postseason: Relax. Either do nothing at all, or play a recreational sport (like golf or tennis) for two weeks. "This way you still get a little exercise, but you also get a rest from your usual routine," says Connolly. After two weeks, slowly return to training, exercising at minimal intensity.
Off-season Training: After a month of rest, it's time for serious strength and cardiovascular training. Since you don't need to save yourself for games, aim for five or six days of training per week, building in intensity until six to eight weeks before the competitive season begins. You should be at the peak of fitness as you go into the competitive season.
Preseason Skills Development and Tapering: Six to eight weeks before the season starts, gradually ease off the heavy weight and cardiovascular workouts and focus on honing the sport-specific skills you need to cream the competition. According to Connolly, "Your training load should be light enough so that you're fully rested in time for competition but high enough to maintain muscle mass and performance levels for the start of game season. " He suggests lifting 70 to 80 percent of your one-rep maximum. Aim to train four or five days per week. You can do sport-specific drills (i.e., a baseball player may field numerous ground balls and a soccer player may do sprints) and weight training on the same day, as long as you do your drills first.
For Endurance and Other Individual Sports Athletes:
Athletes in individual sports like running and swimming, whose competitive seasons are longer but who compete less frequently, may use microcycles between races as well as a year-long system.
Competitive Season: Redefine your season. Unlike team sports players, who are at their strength and fitness peak at the beginning of the season because they need to win every game, you can pick and choose your victories. Important meets and events are usually scheduled anywhere from the middle to the end of the competitive season. "You'll notice that very few marathon records are set early in the season, like April," says Connolly. "Records are broken toward the end of the race season, in September." If you think of the early events in the season as a continuation of your preseason training, you can still be lifting heavy weights early on. Between races, schedule time for rest, training, and tapering.
In the off-season: Take a couple of weeks off for rest before moving your training into high gear. Taper off two or three weeks before important races or events.