Periodization – A Need for Change


Periodization is a concept not a model! Unfortunately over the years it has been portrayed as a strict model, it is not. As a concept periodization is an educated attempt to predict future performance based on evaluation of previous competition and training results. It brings the future into the present so that we can do something about it. It is achieved through planning and organization of training into a cyclic structure to develop all global motor qualities in a systematic, sequential and progressive manner for optimum development of the individual’s performance capabilities. We need to get away from the traditional focus on the models of periodization that were developed and refined in socialist/communist societies that had strict control over every aspect of the athlete’s lives, including systematic doping. That is not our sport culture. In order to be more effective and applicable the focus should shift to the process of adaptation and the underlying concepts to achieve optimum adaptation by applying a systems approach to planning training. This implies that everything must fit into the context of a larger whole. A system is an integrated whole. Changing one part of the system changes the whole system. Everything is interconnected. The elements of the system are only viable because of the relationship between the parts. Planning is essential to sport performance regardless of the level of competition. The traditional focus has been on the long term plan. It has been my experience that the longer the period of time for the plan the less applicable the plan will be. To be more effective the long term planning should focus on global themes and training priorities based on competition performance, training, and testing data from previous years. The detailed planning of the microcycle and the individual training sessions is where focus needs to be for planning to be more effective and practical. There are contemporary issues that necessitate re-evaluation of the traditional concepts of periodization:

  1. There is a serious decline of basic physical fitness levels and fundamental movement skills at the developmental level. Even elite athletes do not have the broad base of movement skills that the athletes had when I began coaching in the late sixties. This necessitates a remedial emphasis throughout the athlete’s career because this was not incorporated in a foundation.
  2. The reality and demands of the extended competitive schedule that exists today. In classical periodization competition was strictly controlled. This is not a reality today. It is not unusual for a professional soccer player to play 70 matches in a season. At the youth level it is the norm for a baseball player to play 100 games in a year. This reality forces a revision of the classical ideas of periodization. This competitive schedule will not change so we must adapt the planning to this reality.
  3. The drug influence/bias in traditional periodization models developed in the former eastern bloc nations. The revelations from the former GDR exposed the reality of their planning was the cyclical application of systematic doping. This has a profound effect on the frequency and intensity of training and most importantly on the ability to recover. To base training methodologies on information derived from this system is fundamentally flawed, yet this is what has been done and is continued today. The majority of the traditional literature on periodization has been written by people who were part of this system. We must take this into account in planning for our system which does not have the strict control of the former eastern bloc nations.
  4. There has been an overemphasis on volume loading relating to previous point. Systematic doping enables the athlete to tolerate significantly higher work loads. The published programs from the former eastern European countries always emphasized the periodic increase of tons lifter, meters run etc; linked to incremental performance improvement from year to year. It turns out that the volume loading increases in those programs was closely linked to changes in dosages of anabolic substances. For the non drug athlete volume has to be increased gradually and in many sports it should not be the primary emphasis.
  5. Applying the improved understanding of human adaptive response to various training stimuli, especially in terms of neural and endocrine/hormonal system response. From current research our knowledge of the adaptive response has increased significantly. This needs to be applied in order to devise more exact training plans based on what we know of the science of adaptation.
Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
RT @GreatestQuotes: Your aspirations are your possibilities. - Samuel Johnson - 4 years ago
Vern Gambetta

Latest posts by Vern Gambetta (see all)