As coaches, the timing of Covid-19 has been far from ideal. The racing season was starting to get into full swing for pros and amateurs alike and all A races have been cancelled. Now we have had to make sudden adjustments to align with the constantly changing lockdown protocols.
We are now in the position where we are recalibrating and refocusing on new races in 6 months time. We have many limitations to our training due to the lockdown and as coaches we are having to remain creative and flexible to keep our athletes motivated and fit. This gets me onto the main point of the article, reverse periodisation. Instead of traditional periodisation, perhaps we ought to be thinking about alternative ways to train for an event during isolation.
This is not a new concept and there are a lot of misconceptions around it. I want to explain briefly what it is, why it’s different and possible advantages it has at this time.
Periodisation is the process of dividing an annual training plan into specific time blocks, where each block has a particular goal and provides your body with different types of stress, such as cardiovascular or strength endurance.
Figure 1, the Matveyev Model of cycles
What is traditional periodisation?
Traditional periodisation is the training phases that prepare you for your A race. These phases are broken down into ‘macro’ (typically a year or your race season), ‘meso’ (4 to 6 weeks or a training block) and ‘micro’ (a day to one week) cycles see figure 1. Usually the meso phases consist of low intensity preparation and base to higher intensity build and peak phases. The micro phases are the stepping stones to achieving the targets of the meso phases. The length and number of phases is dictated by the time you have until your event, the macro phase. Traditional periodisation systematically moves through from general fitness to training sessions that mimic and target the demands and intensities of your race.
What is reverse periodisation?
Reverse periodisation is as you would expect, it is the reverse of the traditional method. Using the start or the macro cycle to focus on more intense efforts to increase power and speed. The next phase would then be to add more duration at a lower intensity. This is particularly interesting for 70.3 or Ironman athletes. By reversing the training, having the less intense and higher duration training closer to your event, it actually mimics the demands of these types of events more than the traditional periodisation model. Therefore is it more beneficial to build on a reverse periodisation model?
Studies and anecdotal evidence trying to prove which methodology is the most effective remains inconclusive. A recent study by Clemente-Suárez and Ramos-Campo (2019) Looking at the Effectiveness of Reverse vs. Traditional Linear Training Periodization in Triathlon
This showed that both traditional and reverse periodisation had similar training effect for swimming and running times in amatuer triathletes. It concluded that both were effective and efficient modes of training. Although the study in question did not measure cycling performance and the participant numbers weren’t super high, the validity of the results are questionable, you can find a lot of literature with similar conclusions.
Why are we even talking about it then?
As I mentioned at the beginning, as coaches we need to be adaptable and sensitive to the current situations. With limited time and ability to train, should we look to maintain the current fitness level? Take a bit of time off? Or is reverse periodisation an opportunity to improve your top end power and speed and ultimately make the best of a bad situation?
What are the pitfalls with reverse periodisation?
If you are a beginner it would not be recommended to look at adding intensity, before you have developed your base phase. You should focus on building up your aerobic base and improving your form, so that when you have higher intensity work in your program, you are both efficient and capable of handling it.
You will have a lot more time on your hands, especially at the start of your training. There will be less training hours of lower intensity work, therefore you might find yourself a bit bored and could be demotivated to continue training.
If you have already established a really good
routine during lockdown, which is so important to your mental and general well
being. Is it worth disrupting that for something that may not work out well for
What are Foster’s thoughts on this?
I think that opting to change your training structure has to be considered as a case by case situation. We don’t have access to ride in Al Qudra or swim in open water at the moment so our ability to add volume in a way that won’t send us crazy is limited or non existent at the moment.
Therefore and bearing in mind I have not written a thesis on this so this is not a proven fact, you’ve got limited time to realisticallytrain. If you look forward 6 months and say I want to be ready for Salalah 70.3 for example, you can start the process now and come out in flying form by having adopted full or partial reverse periodisation.
Physiologically you can improve. By increasing your power, you are develop your neuromuscular efficiency, buffering capacity and perfecting form, especially for running..
There is also aerobic work knitted within these training blocks. With less time on a treadmill and bike you can also spend more time addressing your weaknesses. On paper it looks a pretty interesting alternative to traditional periodisation.
Changing how you structure your training is not for everyone and above all, respect your coaches opinion and be honest when thinking if adapting your training will work for you! Are you prepared for the rigours of intense training in the current situation? Or is it going to prove a turn off?
There is a lot to consider here and I’ve briefly touched upon numerous subjects, if you have any questions about the studies, or anything I have talked about, email into firstname.lastname@example.org
More than anything, I hope I’ve made you think about the bigger picture of your training and how science is constantly asking what we can do better. Read up, critically analyse and then ask your coach :).
- Clemente V.J., Ramos-Campo D.J., (2019), Effectiveness of Reverse vs. Traditional Linear Training Periodization in Triathlon, Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Aug; 16(15): 2807. Full Article here
- Arroyo-Toledo J.J., Clemente V.J., Gonzalez-Rave J.M., Ramos Campo D.J., Sortwell A. (2013) Comparison between traditional and reverse periodization: Swimming performance and specific strength values. Int. J. Swim. Kinet ;2:87–96.
- Gibala M.J., Little J.P., Van Essen M., Wilkin G.P., Burgomaster K.A., Safdar A., Raha S., Tarnopolsky M.A. (2006) Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: Similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance. J. Physiol ;575:901–911