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Periodization in simple terms

Periodization?... Peri what?


Over the next few blogs I will try and break down the term periodization in simple terms. I will break down the phases and at the same time try and give some tips to nailing successful training blocks and ultimately the season.

Talking to not only the athletes I coach, but for those who know me. I am always happy to share information and have a chat. Most of the time I share “too much information” I get told!

What I notice is that there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding periodization. Even amongst some of the people who have some idea of periodization, it still seems that they are missing the point and objectives of each phase and end up in the deep dark grey pit areas… straddling the lines between pre-base, base 1,2,3, build 1,2 and peak / race prep. 

Insert: Snapshot of an actual annual training plan showing the plan with its periodization and races overlayed. Image taken from training peaks. 

It's all about that base!

In my opinion base is the cornerstone of your training for the season.

Think of this phase as the foundation from where you will build everything. Stop! Think about that! This is the phase where everything you do for the rest of the season and most likely the year will be impacted…if you get caught in that dark grey pit that I hear and see so many athletes fall into. They are out of their targeted training area, causing fractures in their base foundations that later in the year / season will have them wondering why they are injured or not seeing the results and outcomes they are looking for.

Pre-base: to get the all important base drum beating, we need to kick off with a pre-base phase. This is the phase that you might be in right now. You are in nowhere land, your training has almost no formal structure & you are doing what you pretty much feel like. You are just keeping moving and developing a regular movement routine. In pre-base you could be out wind surfing, in the gym, playing social touch footy, kayaking, taking long walks or doing almost anything that motivates you to keep moving. Really what I am saying is that it does not need to be directly related to all things triathlon (swim, bike, run). In fact, I encourage all the athletes I coach to try and do other outdoor activities that they enjoy outside of swim, bike, run in this phase. I do like to add a few gym sessions that focus on each athletes specific needs. This pre-base period is normally 4-8 weeks depending on the athlete’s background and goal race time frame.

Base is the time of year when you train to train (there is little to no race specificy), not train to race. This means in this base phase you are getting the body ready for the bigger stressors that will follow in the build phases. The build phase will proceed the base phase around 3 months out from your first 'A' race. But lets keep the build phase for the next blog.

So what should you do differently in base period workouts? The best way to answer this question is to divide the base period into three sub-periods of three to four weeks each – base 1, base 2 and base 3. The training stress in each of these periods gradually increases so that by the end of base 3 you are generally fitter and more ready than when you started base 1 and you are ready to begin training for the specific stressors of racing. Let’s take a look at the typical workouts for each of these three base periods.

Base 1: Will commence around 6 months from your first priority - 'A' race of the season. In base 1 your training moves to focus more on swim, bike, run training with functional strength and weight training continuing. During these sessions your resistance weights are increasing as your repetitions are decreasing. The purpose in this phase is to create a solid foundation of muscle strength to aid in the movements of swimming, biking and running.

For now you will focus on sport specific training made of only – aerobic endurance and speed skills sessions. Aerobic endurance sessions are longer sessions done mostly in your heart rate 2 zone or the equivalent power and pace. These long, aerobic sessions get longer by about 10 to 20 % each week until you reach your long workout goal durations based on the event for which you are training. It is important to nail the heart rate, power and pace targets here. What I am saying is slow and easy! No hills, No towel drag etc. These early sessions are very import not only to build strength but also to help your body tap into and navigate its way though to the correct energy systems to fuel your efficiency.

Speed / skill sessions are intended to improve your form and technique in each discipline. These sessions should include drills specific of your techniques that are in need of refinement, paying close attention to your movement patterns (bio mechanics), try using video recordings. You can review these videos in slow motion and seek comments and feedback from a coach and other knowledgeable athletes.

Base 2: The plan is to start base 2 around 5 months before your priority – 'A' race. The key difference between base 1 and 2 is: a) You will now reduce the frequency of weight training, not only the number of days assigned to it each week but also the stress you apply with loads, sets and reps. Strength maintenance is your new goal for now. Your functional strength training can remain unchanged. b) You will now introduce sport-specific muscular force training. This means you will introduce hill work incorporated into steady, moderate effort bike and run sessions. You can now add paddles and drag tools to the swimming mix that will help to create resistance and more force. The intensity of these workouts stays low, below your lactate threshold with the sweet spot to be primarily in heart rate zone 3. Your aerobic endurance and speed skill sessions continue as before.

Base 3: This final base phase begins about 4 months before your priority - 'A' race. Again in this phase we make 2 small changes to your training. Gym weight training sessions are cut back to just once a week or if you are time poor you can drop these sessions totally.

The other change sees the introduction of muscular endurance training. This means we will now introduce long intervals ranging from 5 to 15 minutes done at around lactate threshold on a very short recovery cycle of about 20-30% of the active interval duration. 1 session per week of approximately half an hour of interval, lactate threshold training works very well generally. This process is building in volume over a period of 3 weeks.

As for the rest, aerobic endurance, speed skills and force training carry on as they did in base 2.

The Wrap on Base:

Following this base program will set you up with great foundations and have you at the start of your first build phase around 3 months out from your priority – 'A' race with a good level of fitness ready for the first build phase. The next blog will kick off with the introduction to build.


By Brendan Cochrane, Triathlon Australia Accredited Performance Coach and Triathlete



P O Box 7833 Garbutt, Qld 4814 Australia +61 434 350 260

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