Periodizaton again: Non-linear options

Whoa! Back when I started this discussion I never realized how many questions and comments I would have to field. In the interest of time, I am going to keep this post pretty off-cuff and light on references. In truth, though, there are few references to applying a non-linear plan to endurance training. I have largely applied modified approaches from Zatsiorsky, and work by Kraemer and Fleck for resistance training. I’ve also posted some of my own training log info detailing this approach, and discussed an approach similar to the one Zatsiorsky outlined in his book. However, many athletes want to know how this approach works, so what I hope to do here is provide some more detail on the undulating approach that Kraemer and Fleck discuss in their book, and is similar to Greg Lemond’s approach presented in his Complete Book of Cycling.

Two issues that many part-time athletes have are limited time and disruptions in training. Non-linear (NL) periodization alleviates both these problems, particularly when an undulating (NLU) model is utilized. Here, a larger training block is set-up using a 10 or 12 week mesocycle. Like with Block Periodization, the end of the cycle culminates with a goal. However, unlike block, where only a few abilities are trained, NLU trains many abilities, typically all in one week; i.e., you might do 1 or 2 power/speed workouts, an endurance workout, and some strength work. Total volume is determined as much by how often you train, as it is how long. In my opinion, frequency trumps volume for athletes with limited schedules, because the consistency yields more stable fitness gains and reduces the likelihood of doing too much in one day. Furthermore, you could break the Mesocycle down to have smaller chunks that are more specific to certain abilities, whereas other Mesocycles could look more like long blocks of maintenance; this is one reason why this model is used by professional team sports who compete weekly or more. This approach can be very helpful to cyclists competing weekly in the summer and trying to maintain a high level of fitness.

Applying NLU

So how would you utilize this type of periodization in your training? To start, all your planning, goal setting, etc… is largely the same. What is different is your weekly approach. One way is to have a 4-6 week plan that incorporates lots of variation each week, but largely hits most of your training targets like this:

4 weeks Power and Speed, SAMPLE week:


T- 5 x 30 sec sprints uphill with 4 min rest, plus about an extra 30 min

W- 2.5 hrs of endurance riding

Th – 1 hr recovery

F –  3X 2 min intervals w/ 4 min recovery, then 2 x 30 sec with 4 min rest.

S – 90 min recovery endurance ride.

S – 50 mile ROAD RACE

Here the emphasis is on power with a little bit of endurance mixed in. Now let’s take it a step further and say that the following week looked the same (to keep things simple), that on Tuesday you’re not feeling well, or maybe tired. In this case there’s no point and doing a sub-par workout. We can just slide things back and then pick up the schedule later in the week, PERHAPS (i.e., optional) switching the workouts around a bit like so:

M- Recovery ride

T- 5 x 30 sec sprints uphill with 4 min rest, plus about an extra 30 min

Recovery ride again, or perhaps rest today.

W- TWO options: either keep the 2.5 hrs of endurance riding, or try Tuesday’s ride here. I prefer the former, not the latter. Just keep moving forward!

Th – 1 hr recovery

F –  3X 2 min intervals w/ 4 min recovery, then 2 x 30 sec with 4 min rest.

I’m going to actually drop the planned workout and put in Tuesday’s 5X30 sec here.

S – 90 min recovery endurance ride.

S – Fast 20 mile criterium

As you can see there’s not much mysticism here. It’s just dropping a work or two and moving on. I am not a fan of trying to go back in time or squeezing workouts in; more often it just makes a mess of things. If for some reason you miss several workouts (e.g., you get the flu and are knocked out for a week), then you might want to rejigger the schedule to push everything back 10-14 days. This allows you to recover a week, then insert a week to get back into things, then pick up the training again. Likewise, for you business travelers, you can easily plan around your travel, or adjust for those last minute trips.

The essence of this type of model is FLEXIBILITY. The planning accounts for flexible needs, and the execution allows for easy changes. And, with goals 10-12 weeks off, you can easily plan for a target number of key workouts prior to you event, anticipating that you’ll miss a couple; so if I’ve 10 weeks, and I want to improve power, I should plan for at least 8-10 power specific sessions, which allows me plenty of room to make up for mixed sessions and offers enough stimulus to hit my performance objectives. Hopefully this helps clear up some of the confusion on NLU periodization. However, we welcome your comments, especially if you have utilized any of the models discussed.

Thanks for reading!

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