Periodisation Part 2

HARARE - Last week's column covered the general overview of what periodisation essentially is, and this week the objective is to deconstruct the phases that make up the "big picture" or macrocycle.

Just to recap the terminology these phases are referred to as mesocycles and generally make up anywhere from a 2-6 week time frame depending on what the athlete or team objectives are, as well as the sporting discipline.

The phases include:

General preparation phase - a period characterised by the volume of training, which aims to develop working capacity, general physical preparation and targets improvements in technical aspects and basic tactical skills the sport requires.

The main focus is to develop a high level of general physical conditioning to facilitate future training as well as to protect an athlete's central nervous system (CNS) from being bombarded by high intensity training later in the training programme or in the following phase.

In essence, this phase is commonly referred to as the off season and is the perfect opportunity for athletes to work on weaknesses.

Take a rugby player for example: he/she is deemed to be too light in body mass at the conclusion of his/her regular season, therefore the Key Focus Area (in the gym) would be weight gain and he/she would follow a programme centred around hypertrophy to stimulate an increase in muscle mass.

Providing he/she is injury free he/she will be able to fully invest in the programme during this phase.

Special preparation phase - this is a transition phase from gross movements to specific sport movements. This phase still uses a high level of aerobic movement (70-80%) but the movements are specific exercises related to the skills or technical patterns of the sport.

Improving and perfecting technique and tactics with the use of various aids are the main goals of this phase. In the gym, athletes and teams would pay attention to a more direct development of strength through using a combination of compound based movements and functional based movements that continue to develop general body strength.

The objective here is to solidify the foundations of strength that are required to allow the athlete to develop speed and power (should their sport require it), and in doing so begin to train much of the lifting patterns and techniques that will allow them to transition into the next phase. This phase is often referred to as The Pre-Season phase.

Competition phase - the main task should be the consolidation of all training factors, which allow the athlete to compete successfully in the main competition.

During this phase, 90 percent of the movement is direct action (related to sport-specific movements), while the other 10 percent is indirect action (gross motor work/general conditioning).

With regards to the gym work, there is a transition from general body strength to more specific components being targeted such as speed, power, agility and quickness in most cases relating to sports that require an element of explosiveness to them.

Technique and efficiency of movement is vital during this phase. With regards to variables that can be manipulated within this phase the programme generally decreases in volume and duration but increases in specificity and intensity.

Athletes will begin to perform various Olympic lifts and plyometric-based exercises and combinations of these to achieve their training targets.

Transition phase - this phase is characterised by non-competitive activities. The importance of this is that while muscular fatigue will disappear in a week or so for most highly trained athletes, CNS fatigue can remain for a much longer period of time. The transition phase incorporates rehabilitation (to allow recovery from any injuries), regeneration (including massage, health spas etc) and psychological relaxation.

Most athletes neglect this phase or coaches do not factor it into their yearly plan for the following season.

This time frame is the perfect opportunity to address all issues that the athlete is experiencing physically, physiologically and psychologically and factor them into the phase to allow for full or as to close to full recovery as possible prior to the start of the new general preparation phase.

By designing and strategically managing a periodised plan, your ability as a coach to efficiently manage the workloads and health of your athlete increases, and in doing so, you are creating opportunities whereby performance is significantly enhanced.

*Ex-Zimbabwe rugby international Grant Mitchell is High Performance Director at Innovate High Performance Centre in Harare and a top strength and conditioning coach.

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