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Periodization Analysis
A Challenge to Researchers
By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Winter 1996

Last June, I attended the NSCA Convention in Atlanta. I was particularly interested in listening to Dr. Michael Stone's two-hour presentation on periodization. He really knows his stuff and I greatly respect his research and knowledge. 

Some coaches have expressed that BFS is fine for high school but periodization is for college. Some have even said that standard periodization models are best for high school. My position is that the BFS Set-Rep System/Program is also periodization in form and will produce the best possible results in both high school and college team sports. 

Dr. Stone has used Hans Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome as a rationale for some of the components of his periodization model. I am not sure about the history of Selye's influence on variation schemes with Set-Rep Systems. I can tell you I lectured and wrote about Hans Selye and the importance of variation schemes with Set-Rep Systems. I can tell you I lectured and wrote about Hans Selye and the importance of variation with sets and reps in strength gains over a long period of time as far back as 1967. One of my professors at the University of Oregon taught about Selye and the body's adaptation to stress. I used these theories in developing systems of changing sets and reps by experimenting with variation. Eventually, this turned into the BFS Set-Rep System and BFS Total Program. 

Whoever thought of using Selye's theories first is not important. What is important is that variation is the key to sustaining progress over a year or career of training. Dr. Stone uses variation in his periodization model which is influenced by Russian/East European research. Bigger Faster Stronger uses variation in a more compact periodization form which is constructed to meet the needs of American team sport situations with psychological considerations. Dr. Stone began by speaking in terms of world championships and also very elite advanced athletes.  I believe we should consider what works best from a world wide perspective especially when it comes to individual performance that can be accurately measured with a tape or stop watch. Too often, for example, we try to measure what's best by what team wins in a particular year. 

Dr. Stone stated, "Volume and intensity increase with age." This is true up to a point. Being involved with the Utah Jazz since 1981, I continually observe that volume and intensity should be decreased as the players get past twenty-five to thirty years of age. I would suspect this would also be true with aging throwers particularly with volume. Dr. Stone's statement is true in respect in going from high school to college. 

One interesting idea that I had not considered before was Dr. Stone's off-season volumes of strength and speed training. He suggested to vary these against each other. For example, increase speed training intensity while decreasing strength training and then do the reverse for a period. This is smart. It is in keeping with Selye's guidelines of sustaining the "Stage of Resistance." 

I also liked Dr. Stone's following statement, "When you are tired, do not do a lot of technique work." The logic here, of course, is that a tired athlete may not be able to execute perfect form in whatever activity. Therefore, if he is forced to work on technique when tired, a glitch or two may occur and then possibly be incorporated in the athlete's technique when fresh. Coaching is an art. You need to be aware of cycles or in other words be perceptive in recognizing fatigue. 

Standard periodization has terms which confuse many coaches. This may help. A Macrocycle is your overall plan which could be as long as a year. Mesocycles are smaller cycles within the Macrocycle. Microcycles are tiny cycles within Mesoscycles. BFS incorporates these different cycles but we have chosen not to label them to avoid confusion. 

Standard periodization typically uses a year long Macrocycle which includes maintaining in-season and culminating in a single peak performance. BFS has used, for over 15 years, a yearly cycle divided into in-season and off-season periods which are further divided into 4-week cycles. Within these 4-week cycles are four different weeks which one could call Mesocycles. Dr. Stone has stated, "Periodization models depend on the training level of an athlete. The less trained athlete's periodization model can be less complex." This is what we have done with the BFS program for both junior high and high school athlete. 

I have always had two problems with a standard periodization model espoused by Dr. Stone for team sports. First, the maintaining in-season cycle is absolutely foolish in high school sports. What about the three-sport athlete? Are you going to maintain him/her all year long? I also submit that you should not maintain college football players in-season who are red-shirting or those who are not on the top two teams offensively or defensively. Why should a guy sitting on the bench maintain? Why not maximize his potential and build for the future? This is also our concept with the Utah Jazz. 

The Russian/East European periodization model was usually meant for individual athletes peaking for a specific event like the European or World Championships. When do you peak in football? Is it game #5 or #10? If you lose #5, you might not have any post-season games. In football every game is important. Dr. Stone, too, has wrestled with this problem. Our BFS attainable goal is to continually get stronger throughout the season. We are always stronger as a team at the end of the season than at the beginning. I feel this has its advantages come play-off time. 

As Dr. Stone finished his first hour of his periodization discussion, he made a statement which shocked me. The discussion centered around seasonal sports like football. Dr. Stone stated, "So a typical periodization program may not work." The Standard periodization model must have adjustments made if it is to help athletes in team sports reach their potential. I have thought about these adjustments and implemented them with tens of thousands of athletes over the last 15 years. It is now fool-proof. I'm not saying it is the only way to adjust a Standard periodization model for team school sports. However, I do want you, the reader, to know I have not seen anything come close to the BFS system for multi-sport athletes in a high school environment over a one year or career span of time. 

I believe standard periodization models can be great for mature college athletes engaged in an individual sport such as track. With a few adjustments, it should also be great for athletes who are starters in a team sport like football. Adjustments and fine tuning is the "art" of coaching. 

The second half of Dr. Stone's presentation was centered on the results of research studies on periodization. This was quite frustrating. The studies were those which showed periodization was better than systems using 3 sets of 6 reps, 5 sets of 6, or one set to failure. Well of course it is. Anytime you vary your workout you are going to have better results than if you do the same thing day after day and week after week. I present this in a form of a question at BFS Clinics. Every time, every kid says that variation is better. I guess that was what was so frustrating. Why do research on something everyone knows? I want to see research done on different adjustment possiblities within periodization. Dr. Stone answered, "There is still a lot of people that don't know variation is best. That's why I presented those particular studies." The studies presented were fine and interesting but we in 1996 should be way beyond that. Dr. Stone concluded, "It's not the work that is important but how you manipulate the variables." The studies presented found out that multiple sets work better than one set. Variation groups do better than non-variation groups and that volume work is good up to only five weeks. 

Dr. Stone concluded with two principles that BFS has preached for years. First, training sessions should not last more than one hour. Second, people use too many exercises. You need more variation in the major exercises than the minor exercises. 

Now, I would like to present a challenge to researchers interested in periodization. We should be finding out which kinds of variation are best or which variations of a particular major exercise are best. Here is one suggestion: 

A typical standardization model will have athletes Parallel Squat twice per week. On Monday, heavy poundage with lower reps are done while on Thursday lighter weight with higher reps are done. We know that if an athlete were to do heavy Parallel Squats with great intensity involving a capacity workload two or three times per week, it would be too much to handle over an extended period. The body just can't recover properly. Plateaus are likely. The bodies of many athletes would just give out. Therefore, standard periodization recommends to go heavy one day and lighter the next. These two different Squat workouts or variations are known as Microcycles. 

Bigger Faster Stronger also Squats twice a week. The difference in our Microcycle is that in addition to one heavy Parallel Squat workout, we use a Squat Variation for the second workout. This variation could be a Box Squat, Front Squat or a Snatch Grip Overhead Squat for example. As a football coach, I hated to tell my players, "Okay, men, I want you focused and intense. Oh, by the way, today is your light Squat day." Our system seems to be consistent with Dr. Stone's principle of "Variation in a major exercise." 

I want to work hard, with great intensity. I can do that by using a Squat Variation. Now, since I have used both the Standard periodization model and the BFS Squat Variation model with thousands of athletes, I pretty much know how my proposed study will turn out. However, I would be thrilled if a study were done on it.  

Take one group and do the Standard Periodization Squat routine. Take another group and do heavy Parallel Squats on one day like the first group but then on the second workout do heavy Box Squats. I would stipulate that the Box Squats be done as prescribed by BFS and with great technique. Do a pre and post test on a variety of measurable components such as a Parallel Squat Max, Vertical Jump, 40-yard Dash, Standing Long Jump and someway measure or get an idea of recovery time. The study should be tested at several intervals and should be at least 12 weeks in length but preferably a semester or a school year. 

Now, if it turns out different than I suspect, BFS would change its course in an instant. We exist and always will exist to help athletes reach their absolute potential. We want to give every team and every athlete the best possible chance of winning. 

Dr. Stone has done studies in the past and anticipated doing more studies in the future on different kinds of variations within periodization models. "However, it is difficult to do periodization studies," said Dr. Stone, "because you need more than 10 weeks and you need trained athletes. I believe coaches should team up with the sport scientist and help with research." 

If you would like to correspond with Dr. Michael Stone, his address is: Exercise Science, Varsity Gym, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608.



I. Year Long Plan (Macrocycle)
A.  Football Two-a Days: No weight training for this two week period.
    B.  Fall: Football In-Season; begin BFS Set-Rep Log
    C.  Winter: Off-Season
    D.  Spring: Baseball In-Season
    E.  Summer: Off-Season or Baseball In-Season
    F. Year ends at the beginning of two-a-days.  BFS Set-Rep Log Book is completed for the year.

II. In-Season Plan (Mesocycle)
A.  Week I: 3-3-3+ with all Core Lifts
    B.  Week II: 5-5-5+ with all Core Lifts
    C.  Week III: 5-3-1+ with all Core Lifts
    D.  Week IV: 10-8-6+ or 4-4-2+  Depending on the Core Lift
    E.  Repeat this 4-week cycle until season's end
    F.  Auxiliaries very limited and sport specific

III. Off-Season Plan (Mesocycle)
    A.  Week I: 3-3-3+ with all Core Lifts
    B.  Week II: can extend to 5-5-5-5-5+ with all Core Lifts
    C.  Week III: can extend to 5-4-3-2-1+ with all Core Lifts
    D.  Week IV: 10-8-6+ or 4-4-2+ Depending on the Core Lift
    E.  Repeat this 4-week cycle until Baseball starts.
    F.  Auxiliaries are more extensive
    G.  Daily agility  and Flexibility training
    H.  Speed, Plyometric and Sport Skill Training twice per week.

IV. In-Season Workout Schedule (Microcycle)
Monday: Parallel Squats, Bench Press, Trap Bar and limited Auxiliaries.
    *Thursday: Box Squats, Towel Bench Power Cleans and limited Auxiliaries.

   *These days are only suggested for football.
    Baseball would fit these two workouts in on non-game or rainy days.

V. Off-Season Workout Schedule (Microcycle)
Monday: Squat Variation and Bench Variation plus auxiliaries like the Power Snatch, Straight-Leg-Dead-Lifts and Lunges.
    Tuesdays and Thursdays: Speed, Plyometric and Sport Skill Workouts
    Wednesday: Power Clean and Trap Bar plus auxiliaries like the Incline and Jerk Press
    Friday: Parallel Squat and Bench Press and auxiliaries like the Glute -Ham Raise







Return to Winter 1996 Articles

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