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Hi Steven & Will
Both the original post and Steven's response are certainly intriguing. I
suspect I am about to go off on a tangent, I hope not too far off-topic, and
would certainly value members thoughts, comments, and perspectives, it is a
complex area which I don't think the sports science community has adequately
explored as yet.
Firstly, it is interesting to note that eminent periodisation theorists have
tended to congregate (roughly) around a 4 week training block duration,
although the rationales provided by the 3 theorists for settling on a 4 week
phase duration are seemingly very different. Also, if we look at the
justifications offered for utilising 4 week blocks, they do seem
speculative, even unlikely, from a modern scientific perspective.
However, let's assume that there is an ideal (and stable) phase duration,
and let's assume it is 4 weeks, give or take a couple of days either side.
This knowledge is of little value unless training can be synchronised with
the key underpinning biological events. In other words, knowing the
duration of a critical biological cycle is of little practical use unless
'quality' training can be entrained with phases of 'high readiness', and
'easy' training, or rest, can be paired with phases of 'low readiness',
within the context of the overall cycle duration.
Although periodisation theorists have variously, and vigorously, championed
different planning structures this core problem persists, i.e. how do I know
when to commence training to coincide with the 'start' of the critical
biological cycle? Furthermore, as all the figures mentioned (in Steven's
quoting of the 3 periodisation experts) are 'rough' estimates, then surely
there will be substantial drift over the course of even a few weeks. You
may somehow manage to perfectly synchronise biological cycles and training
on day 1, but a short few weeks later there will have been substantial
divergence between biological readiness and the training prescription plan.
The end result being that, unless there is an effective means of regularly
re-calibrating biology and training, then the training process will
inevitably be sub-optimally efficient.
Also worth noting in relation to the original posting is that while it may
well be the case that there is an underpinning biological cycle of
predictable duration and stability, it is also feasible that there may have
been extrinsic environmental rhythms influencing training performance. For
example, female partners cycle, work-&/or academic stress, and cycles of
light and dark exposure, have all been demonstrated to effect testosterone
release in males*, with presumably a consequent effect on training
performance. Accordingly, there may have been a hidden, but subtly
influential, external cycle (of roughly 4 weeks in duration) that impacted
on 'psycho-socio-physiological' training readiness. Such findings may be
worth considering as illustrations that biological cycles are subject to
perturbation from multiple sources and will oscillate accordingly in a
chaotic fashion. Again, the relevance to the topic at hand is that it would
seem an impossible task to pre-plan a training scheme that would efficiently
marry training design to an underpinning biological cycle.
Another related thought; the example from the New Scientist question
outlines a relatively straight-forward training plan. The same basic
session performed on a consistent basis ad infinitum. The means of applying
overload, and whether or not there was a focus on progression (as opposed to
a focus solely on regular healthy activity), are unclear. In more complex
training schedules the periodic trends observed in the rhythmical
oscillation of training performance might not be so readily detectable.
For example, if training run distance, and intensity, vary regularly
throughout the training year then could you detect subtle periodic
fluctuations in training performance?
And so, one interpretation of the data presented in the New Scientist post
is as a re-affirmation of the criticality of collating training-related
data, and the regular, periodic review of this information. Are there
apparent trends? If so, how can training be best organised to take advantage
of periodic peaks and to off-set risk in periodic troughs? If such trends
can be identified, then such a route may offer a more insightful and
effective means of managing training programmes than is currently on offer
through the various 'pre-packaged' periodisation schemes.
Accordingly, for me at least, the critical issue does not relate to any
concept of an 'ideal' phase duration. As already mentioned, I would think
it unlikely that there is a universal 'best fit' for all individuals, for
all 'fitness' components, for all training histories, for all genetic
inheritances , and regardless of changing environmental stressors. Instead,
the key question that comes to mind when considering Will's original post
relates to traditional planning paradigms. Has the dominant Soviet training
planning legacy finally outlived its usefulness? Pedagogically-,
mathematically-derived training structures, while seemingly 'logical', and
perhaps providing psychological 'security', bear little relation to the
underpinning human biology, i.e. 'the map is not the territory'.
Alternatively, can data collection, appropriate use of new technology,
retrospective trend analysis, and enhanced conceptual understanding, lead to
newer, more effective means of controlling and prescribing physical
Just a thought.
John Kiely, UK Athletics, Birmingham, UK
*If anyone is interested in references, let me know.