It’s important to ensure that every training session you do is part of a grand plan. Without planning ahead, you’re unlikely to find the right blend of intensity, volume, recovery and progression that you need to reach your peak on race day.
Periodisation is the when you divide your training-year into several large chunks. During these chunks you can focus on improving different aspects of your fitness, rather than trying to do everything at once. Periodisation is the foundation upon which everything else is built.
Key Training Phases
1. Prep Phase
This is where everything begins. This period is all about preparing your body and mind for regular training. It should typically last around 4-8 weeks. During this time your aim is to get up off the couch and start building some training momentum. You don’t need to train too hard yet, but you do need to start racking up consistent, regular workouts. It’s also a good time to try new things out, like a different pool, a new running group or a new indoor bike-trainer.
2. Base Phase
The Base period (4-12 weeks) has been described as being like an Egyptian pyramid: The broader the base of the pyramid, the higher the peak that can be built on it. The focus here is on endurance training at low intensities as well as speed workouts involving just a few short high intensity efforts. You will also include some muscular endurance workouts, consisting of long efforts (5-20 mins) at around 1-hour race pace, with relatively short recovery periods. During the base phase you can focus on increasing your general fitness.
3. Build Phase
During this phase (4-12 weeks) your workouts become more race-specific and less general. Don’t worry about your weekly volume (hours or distance per week) at this stage, focus more on what you do specifically in a few key workouts. For example, if you’re a triathlete you might start including regular “brick” bike to run workouts, or doing sessions that mimic your target race. Of course you needn’t make every single session race-specific, otherwise you’ll be permanently exhausted. It’s also a good idea to include some lower-priority races into the Build phase, to freshen up your race skills.
4. Peak Phase
The aim is to get the right mix of intensity and rest to produce race-readiness at the right time. It involves doing broken-up race-simulations every third or fourth day, and then taking rest or doing easy sessions in between. These workouts should gradually get shorter as you progress through the first week or two. On the days between your race-simulation sessions you should rest or train at low intensities and these workouts should also get shorter as the Peak period progresses.
This involves the last 6 or 7 days before your big race. The main aims are to maintain your fitness, eliminate any traces of fatigue and to prepare mentally. Every athlete has their own way of tapering for a race, but research suggests that you should reduce the training volume and frequency, but not necessarily your intensity.
6. Off Season
1 week of total rest.
After your last race of the season, take a week off. This is to break the habit of daily training and to let your body catch up on itself. If you really want to exercise during this period, you can go for some long walks.
3-7 weeks of active recovery.
After the first week of rest is over, you should then do three to seven weeks of unscheduled, unstructured light cardiovascular exercise. It doesn't have to be your specific chosen sport. Workout duration should be one hour or less, and done mainly at an easy intensity. Take two rest days per week during this phase. After this you will be ready to recommence structured training.
The length of the various phases will be dependent upon on whether you choose a Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced Level plan and how many weeks you have to train for your event.