Structuring any intervention requires balancing a number of competing interests. We spoke in our last article about the idea that periodisation is essentially lining up our stress units to match the needs of the individual/s and the activity that that they are taking part in.
But how do you fit those units together?
There have been arguments back and forth in the literature about different structures of periodisation. Linear, undulating, block. Complex, vertically integrated etc etc. Look into the texts by Bompa for some clear understanding on how these structures fit together. The number of options is endless. The way in which you put together these units of intervention (or training) are like a jigsaw puzzle that have a unique shape that only that individual or group of individuals can influence. So to say that one type of periodisation structure is better than others is to miss the point.
As we have suggested we are organising stress. We are trying to maximise adaptation in the characteristic that the individual/s require to improve. So more aptly it is important to recognise from the outset that any and all periodisation approaches work. The more important question is what are you trying to achieve? how much stress tolerance capacity does that individual or group have? And how long do you have to achieve it?
To us the concept of stress tolerance is probably the most important question to answer before starting to design your structure. While we wont speak specifically to how you may go about doing this assessment, it is a combination of assessing the current values of that individual and the desired result. For example this could be hamstring strength or RFD as an injury risk measurement. If the assessment demonstrates that these measures are below a given normative range the stress tolerance in that domain may be considered low and requires concentrated application, if it is at the upper end or above that range then there may be much less need for application of concentrated loading in that area (in this instance concentrated hamstring loading).
The other way in which this can be viewed is through the lens of the overall individual. That is to say how much overall training/competition/exercise tolerance does that individual have? If someone has only ever played basketball one day per week for a total of 90 minutes. The stress tolerance to that overall task and the amount of physical activity that the individual completes in a given time period may require expansion before undertaking concentrated loading of their physical activity (basketball for instance). In this case we would suggest that the individual requires an expansion of there overall general tolerance to physical activity before you start very specific training application.
There are clearly other areas of assessment that will assist in these scenarios, but if you can answer these questions in your assessment, it will make it much easier to understand the organisation of the stress applied.
The general rules that appear to fit are that if overall stress tolerance to physical activity is low, high magnitude stress is unlikely to be well tolerated (see previous article for stress life curve discussion). This means that a periodisation plan that shifts from greater volume at lower intensity to intensity is likely to graduate the individual/s to a graded exposure to stress. It is not that you cannot use a more intense and concentrated loading structure, but the lack of capacity within this group towards higher magnitude stress is likely to push these individual/s closer to failure points. If we use our basketball example, and suggested that we have a 13 year old child who has played social basketball games for 60-90 minutes per week, but wants to get better at basketball. It would be playing with fire to get them to do 4 x 90 minute basketball games. You may be much better placed to build stress tolerance capacity by increasing application of more physical activity abilities needed for basketball. They may do some introduction to a general conditioning and resistance training session, a shoot around skills session, and the social game. You can see that although these may appear to be broad areas of their development, their current low tolerance will benefit from a graduated exposure to physical stressors.
And conversely if you have a highly trained athlete such as a world class triathlete with an enormous training history and very well developed skills and tolerances in the different areas of their training, it becomes much more important to drive the stress tolerance higher through specific and intense concentrated training. For this reason you may need to select a structure that is able to accommodate higher intensity loading and or concentrated structures to fit with the need of the individual and the time available.
As we have suggested the key factor on the selection of the program structure is having the ability to push the stress capacity of an individual entity or the overall entity beyond its previous capability. How you achieve this is based on the individual/s and their needs.
In our next discussion we will discuss how you may look to fit these types of loading into a week or similar microcycle structure and how does this fit within a unit of microcycles.