Proper programming is crucial to sports progress. A vital component of adequate programming is periodization, which is simply defined as a “method by which training is divided into smaller, easy-to-manage segments that are typically referred to as phases of training”. This allows correct organization and adequate variation of training for you to reach your goals at the appropriate time.
The conventional periodization model is usually divided into three phases:
- The preparation phase
- The competition phase
- The transition phase
In the preparation phase, volume is high (set x reps) while intensity (average weight or percentage of effort) and specificity (how closely the exercises used relate to your sport) are low. The goal is to create a physiological foundation for future sport improvements. As a rule of thumb, in the first half of this phase, you should be working on physical qualities that won’t be trained much when you get into your more specific sports training (practice and drills). In the majority of cases, this will translate as developing general endurance as well as a good hypertrophy base in order to prevent injuries for upcoming intensive training. You should do this by working with a higher repetition range and a wide variety of exercises. In the second half of this phase, training should become slowly more specific, meaning you will begin working more extensively the muscles and physical attributes needed for your sport. Maximal strength should be worked here too if you aren’t involved in a power sport, as this quality will benefit you in the competitive phase but won’t be directly trained once training gets more specific. The preparation phase coincides with what is called the “off-season”.
In the competition phase, training, for the greater part, will be highly specific and intensive. This means the exercises performed should duplicate, in part or in full, the form and effort that will be used in competition. In the weight room, exercises should be done for low reps and higher sets, with maximal acceleration (and heavier weights, if maximal strength is one of the primary qualities used in your sport). These exercises should also be aimed at the prime movers used in competition (for example, barbell squats would be a key exercise to use in the weight room for a sprinter, as he will heavily rely on leg strength during a run). Otherwise, a lot of drills and actual sports practice should be done in this phase. As you probably guessed from the name, this phase is going to span from a couple weeks before the start of competition(s) right until the end of the season. Note that a small portion of training should also be dedicated to maintaining the general fitness developed in the preparation phase, especially if your competitive season is long, as it is often the case in team sports.
Finally, the transition phase comes right after the last competition. During this phase, the primary objective is recovery. The goal is to give the athlete a break from mental and physical stresses, which are usually at their highest at the end of the competitive season. As complete rest is acceptable for a couple of days, some training should still be done during this phase in order to prevent extensive detraining which would set back the athlete greatly coming into his next preparation phase. Training, however, should be kept fun, with lots of variety and a low level of volume and intensity. While providing recuperation from competition, this phase will also allow the athlete’s body to become once again responsive to serious training. The transition phase is usually the shortest of the three phases, lasting from 1 to 4 weeks.
Note that in the classical model, these three phases usually make up a full training year. Nowadays, lots of sports have several competitive phases during the year, which renders this use of the model somewhat problematic. However, these difficulties have since been addressed by several sports theoricians, whom came up with “block periodization”, a model widely used in modern sports preparation. I will address this subject in the near future as this is also the preferred model used by our team of coaches at Montreal Powerhouse.
 Bompa, Tudor. Periodization: Theory and methodology of training, 5th edition. 2009, Human Kinetics p.125