The periodization of training consists in the programming of training sessions to be carried out throughout the competitive season, which is divided into periods and sub-periods, based on the achievement of maximum performance during the most important races.

This is a practice used by all high-level athletes.

The periodization of training is based on principles of training theory valid for all endurance sports, and therefore the way of planning the season is exactly the same for all types of sports, at least as regards the variables volume, frequency

The language of periodization

Training periodization has its own specific language, which includes some words with a very specific meaning.
We begin by considering the various periods, each of which focuses on specific characteristics.

GENERAL PERIOD:it is a period characterized by quantity, that is, by a high volume of training, but of low intensity. In this period, technical exercises are important, which must be carried out at low intensity, focusing above all on the technical gesture. The aim of this period is to restore and develop aerobic capacity, with exercises at A1 and A2 pace; to build strength, especially dry exercises with overloads (in the gym); and to analyze and improve the technique in the various styles.

Added to this are speed coordination workouts (C3 exercises), i.e. short sprints to maintain the ability to swim at a high pace without losing efficiency, but without these exercises having a significant metabolic involvement (they must not lead to a accumulation of lactic acid, this is not the time).

SPECIAL PERIOD: in this period intensity is preferred, but always maintaining high training volumes. The aim is to train the specific characteristics needed to express maximum performance in the race, to maintain the general qualities and to adapt the technique to the race pace. Alongside the A2 workouts, we introduce the B1, B2, C1 and C2 workouts and the D workouts, i.e. the race pace. The A2 workouts remain, indeed they still represent the most numerous sessions, but they are recovery workouts.

SPECIFIC PERIOD:in this period the intensity increases again, but the volume decreases, in this way the athlete can concentrate all his energies in search of maximum performance. Drills A1 and A2 decrease, leaving room for more intense workouts. We begin to take specific care of the various phases of the race (start, turns, final sprint, etc.).

TAPERING: this is the unloading period close to the race, usually two weeks. The intensity is kept high by significantly decreasing the volume, in this way the athlete will experience a notable increase in physical and mental energy, to be concentrated in the search for maximum performance in the race.

Let us now consider macroperiods: macrocycle, mesocycle, week.

MACROCYCLE:it is a period that lasts several months (usually from 12 to 24 weeks), and consists of a complete training cycle, during which all periods are consumed, from general to tapering, and ends with an important race. The macrocycle at the beginning of the season will include a rather long general period (6-8 weeks), in the second and third macrocycle, since the athlete is already trained, the general period can be shortened, but always depending on the length of the total duration of the macrocycle.

If the macrocycle is long, the general period must still be lengthened, because the special and specific periods cannot be continued for too many weeks, as there would be a risk of overtraining.

MESOCYCLE: it is a period of one month, therefore divided into four weeks. Usually the mesocycle is used to divide the macrocycles, inserting a deload week (where the training volume is drastically reduced) every 4.

WEEK: it is the basic unit of a training cycle, the training and rest days are described in the week.

Periodization in practice
Periodization is based on the physiological principle of supercompensation, which, as we said at the beginning of the article, is the basis of training planning in all endurance sports. I remind you once again that intensity represents swimming speed, while volume represents training km.

Classic periodization requires the athlete to start the season (or macrocycle) with increasing training volumes and low intensities, with short high intensity sessions to still keep the competitive technical gesture alive at race speed; this (the GENERAL PERIOD described above) sit is used to build a sufficiently solid aerobic base to be able to tackle the tougher workouts that will come later.

The following period involves a substantial increase in intensity, where initially the volume remains almost constant (SPECIAL PERIOD), and then decreases as the competition period approaches (SPECIFIC PERIOD AND TAPERING).

It is important to understand that the intensity of the training that the athlete will be able to endure in the special and specific periods is proportional to the volume of training carried out in the general period! For this reason the general period, where essentially the training sessions are very long, but of low intensity (i.e. they might seem not very productive), is so important, representing in the example, 16 weeks out of 49 (i.e. one week out of 3).

Let's then take an example of a special period

From week 21 to 23, the workouts are distributed like this:

  • A2 12 training sessions
  • B1 9 training sessions
  • B2 6 training sessions
  • C1 10 training sessions
  • C2 3 training sessions

We see that also in this case low intensity training sessions (A2) represent as much as 30% of the athlete's training sessions..

Here, however, this type of training has a different meaning compared to those of the general period, in this case the slow pace training serves to maintain aerobic capacity, to refine the technique and as recovery training.

We must consider that this athlete trains five days a week, twice a day, and only rests on Sunday: it is obvious that he cannot always do intense training, and for this reason a good portion of these are aerobic and technical.