The Truth About Traditional Periodisation Models

We need to stop playing along with traditional ideas of periodisation because we don’t want to appear stupid.

What if I told you all the “successful” periodisation models we believe in are driven by tradition rather than evidence?

Athletes and trainers have sleepwalked into believing traditional training periodisation and the various iterations it’s gone through over the decades is the key to success. Jump online or hang around a gym long enough and someone’ll tell you about their linear, blocked, semi-undulating programme with a transition into wave loaded concurrently conjugated patterns. Just like the Emperor in the classic tale The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen, they’re playing along with traditional ideas of periodisation because they don’t want to appear stupid.

For a number of years, John Kiely has been the little boy shouting from the rooftops that we need to take a more critical look at periodisation. He believes we shouldn’t accept periodisation models as fact because a bunch of coaches back in the day figured out a few training systems that worked for their athletes. Kiely has also shown substantial evidence to challenge the appropriateness of applying generic methodologies, believing many of the periodisation models out there apply overly simplistic decision making to the planning problems posed by inherently complex biological systems.1

In other words – they’ve got no clothes on.

3 Problems with the Traditional Model

Traditional models believe that established time frames exist for the development and retention of specific fitness adaptations. At best, these time frames are a consensus opinion that can only be applied in general terms. I don’t work in general terms – I work with specific athletes.

Traditional models suggest that various fitness attributes are best developed sequentially (for example: strength before power, endurance before speed). But what if I wanted to flip everything on its head and develop speed first, then add volume to improve endurance performance?

Traditional models believe established training structures work across a wide range of sports, athletes, and competition structures. Really? Will the same structure work for a professional golfer playing twenty-four tournaments a year and a centrally funded and trained gymnast peaking for the Olympic Games?

The Alternative Model: Flexibility and Adaptability

I’d rather write a plan that works for the athlete or team I’m working with, not one that was knocking around Eastern Europe in the 1960s. I’d rather develop structured plans that have continuity running through them whilst incorporating enough variation to elicit performance gains. I’d rather allow time for the athletes I’m working with to recover from the day-to-day demands of training and life, progressively overloading my athletes and not continuously kicking the crap out of them every session – keeping in mind that if we don’t use it, we’ll lose it.

I have no idea if this is a conjugated, semi-blocked, linear periodisation model. But it is a fluid, flexible, and adaptable plan that will result in improved performance. I’m not suggesting we forget all of the pioneering work by Matveyev, Bompa, Verkoshansky, and Issurin. But we must not be constrained by it.

Systems and models developed in Eastern Europe fifty years ago may not be applicable in 2016, so stop blindly believing they are. Rather than wearing the straightjacket of traditional periodisation models, we need to cast a critical eye and figure out what really works.


1. John Kiely, “Periodization Paradigms in the 21st Century: Evidence-Led or Tradition-Driven”, International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 7 (2012) 242-250

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