Friday, January 23, 2009

Periodization has no scientific validation??

I get the Heart Zones newsletter and the November issue had a short blurb that really caught my eye. Carl Foster, PhD was quoted as saying:

Periodization of training has no scientific validation. There is no research that shows that periodizing your training is of any benefit. According to Carl Foster, Ph. D,. and past president of the American College of Sports Medicin (ACSM), "Periodization is how to mix various types of training to get optimal competitive result at the desired time. There are virtually no controlled data addressing the value of periodization." Additionally, Foster suggests that some of the originators of the periodization training system developed the program to match the cycle of steroid and other performance enhancing drugs to both conceal their use and to give their athletes the stress-strain cycle they needed to maximize their illegal use.

I don't know about you, but with so many educated and experienced coaches out there who have used periodization for so many years with great results, this blew my mind.

Another Spinning MI, Lisa Mona, was also confused by this and emailed me, wondering what we were missing. We went back and forth on it and she had the great idea to email Joe Friel and see what his response would be. This is what he responded to her:
Hi Lisa,
Thanks for your note. There is some truth to the fact that there is very little in the way of research to support periodization. But the few studies that have been done generally support it. This is kind of like saying there is no research proving that breathing helps performance. That would also be true but doesn’t mean you shouldn’t breathe while exercising.
Periodization has its roots in the early 1900s before steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs were known of.

Best wishes,

I for one am very pleased with his answer (and grateful to Lisa for seeking him out). He says it all in just a few short sentences, doesn't he?! To be honest, aside from a few other "controversies" about periodization and base building, I cannot find anything else that backs up what Carl Foster is saying (if any of you find anything, please let me know).

It's not that I'm not open to new ideas about established methods or techniques of training. I mean, look at how long the fitness and training world said that lactic acid was the cause of acidosis and fatigue? Or that 220-Age is your Maximum heart rate? (ugh, we'll be dealing with that one for awhile I'm afraid). There is new science all the time that refutes conventional wisdom and beliefs. 

But there are so many successful trainers and athletes who use periodization with great results, I don't think it will go away any time soon. However, it is safe to say that there is still a large amount that we do not know about how the body responds to training, or why. Scientists still do not know the mechanism for increased capillarization, one of the great benefits of training aerobically that helps increase endurance.

It used to be believed that during the base building period, athletes should do no high intensity training whatsoever. One of the culprits fueling this belief was the "exploding capillary theory", which assumed that high intensity efforts will push too much blood too quickly through the newly forming capillaries, hindering their production. This fueled the idea that you should only work the low end during this base training. 

I knew an athlete here in Vail a few years ago (a professional mountain bike racer) who trained with Rick Crawford, a well-known cycling coach (he trained Lance Armstrong years ago. His current professional cyclist client is Tom Danielson, once on the Discovery team, he now races for Garmin Chipotle). Crawford told this athlete that he should not even run upstairs during his two months of base training (and of course, forbade him from skiing) for fear he might hamper his capillarization! I went to a presentation by Rick at my club about 6 or 7 years ago (Tom Danielson was there too) where he explained this "exploding capillary" theory. 

[Note: As far as I know, Crawford didn't title it that - the coaching and scientific community labeled it "exploding capillary theory" after the fact.]

Now, it is generally accepted that during the base building phase of a periodized program, in order not to let the "ceiling drop" too much, an occasional effort to threshold should be performed. This way, while focusing on the lower end, you don't lose as much of the high end. Different coaches preach differing amounts of this higher intensity, but it makes sense to me. For the most part, it is generally accepted that 80-90% of one's efforts should be in the aerobic range during this first phase of a periodized program.

I stuck to the "No HIT" during base building belief for years, but have recently altered my views about base building, and encourage my clients and students to ride at threshold once every 10 days or so. 

We train like athletes in my Spinning classes, and that includes spending 6-8 weeks each winter in a periodized base building program.  And I consider all my students "athletes", even the out-of-shape, newbies! If an athlete will benefit from base training, then why should someone in the fitness realm not benefit as well?


Shannon said...

I totally don't can be smarter than me with tons of letters past your name but the proof is in the pudding. I've actually seen it work. I respectfully disagree with the Doctor.

Jennifer Sage said...

You are directing that towards Dr. Foster, right??

Just Spinning Your Wheels? said...

What about the mountain of anectdotal evidence out there on periodization? I love what Joe Friel said. There are many things that we know to be true that don't have "controlled data". I've tried both ways and periodization works for me. I looks at it as trying to build the foundation before you build the house. You can do it but it won't be a strong house.

Shannon said...

Yes babe, Dr. Foster, not you.

Julie said...

So - does Foster suggest that athletes train the same way all year? It is hard to know what he is saying based on this short quote. Jen, do you know?

Thanks for putting this out there - it's exactly what I hoped to find on the forum I frequent - hope we see more input from others.

In my town this is the battle that is going on right now among cyclists and coaches. Everybody is talking about it.

Jennifer Sage said...

I don't really know what he thinks. This is the only thing I can find on his quote. Apparently he said this at the Heart Zones conference in Denver. I might follow up and contact Sally Edwards and see what she thinks (it was her conference). She works with CycleOps now, so I think she would believe in Periodization.

I'm curious, what is the battle between coaches and cyclists in your town. Are coaches saying it and cyclists not believing it? Or vice versa? Or is it between Spinning coaches and cyclists?

Julie said...

The debate is going on among cyclists and coaches. There are some in both camps. However, a few of the more successful coaches and competitors are talking about training harder over less time - say 400-500 hours a year - with less LSD and more tempo and higher end intervals. A little tighter fitness to freshness ratio, perhaps?

This is the first year that power training is becoming more common here - every shop is doing a series of power training sessions with various coaches and there is a new training facility opening up - so coaches, bike shops, trainers are all looking to publicize and this is the hot topic that is getting people's attention.

People are pretty excited about the technology and how they can use it - shops want to sell it - and coaches want clients. Touting the latest greatest secrets to getting faster in less time is going to get you noticed.

This is an interesting time.

Jennifer Sage said...

Very interesting Julie. It coincides with that American need to have MORE SOONER! It's infiltrated the fitness world, now it's in the coaching community.

I wonder if in a few years this will fizzle out when they find out that old saw of taking time to build a base really was the right way to do it!

Or maybe....we'll find out there's something to it.

Might take a few years to come out in the wash.

For now, I'm just finishing up 8 weeks of Base at the end of this month. Feeling pretty strong, ready for intervals (although I did do a Race Day class last week at my other club - for me it was one of those "allowed" days at LT for an extended period of 25 min).

Julie said...

Good point - "more, sooner" is what we are suckers for in this country. That and Zumba!

Robert said...

So science is finding out that we should focus 70-80% of our efforts on LSD-type training? Hmmm... isn't that what the French and Italians have been doing since the late 1800s? Absence of scientific evidence doesn't mean it's evidence of absence of truth. A true scientist will presume he knows little and seeks to find out more; others will bend the truth to suit their own theories. Does Dr Foster, by any chance, have a book/DVD promoting an alternative training method? Wouldn't surprise me, as this happens often in the diet market!

I'll stick to what a gazillion cyclists have been doing for over a century and what Ed Burke, Lance Armstrong, Chris Carmichael and Johan Bruyneel have proven to be a watertight method... periodisation and peaking for your main events.