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 th