Step 3: Periodize

To get the most out of your body, put it on a schedule built for you

Periodization: You've seen the term in magazines. A typical plan involves blocking out a month or so for easy endurance training (the foundation or base period), followed by a few weeks adapting to more structured work (the build period), then a few weeks of high-intensity training (the performance period), followed by recovery.

Fair enough, but that's a periodization plan for people who focus on only one sport and possibly just one peak a year. Maybe you spent the past two months nordic skiing. Maybe you've been to spinning class twice a week and snowshoed on the weekends. Why spend time building a base you already have?

"It's OK to get some intensity training in during the foundation period," says Henderson. "Folks who revert back to some idea of base fitness are throwing away the gains they made."

Periodization plans work best when they're customized. That begins with figuring out lactate threshold (LT)—the point at which the body shifts from aerobic to anaerobic. This number tells you exactly how hard to train. Lab tests are the most accurate, but it's possible to estimate this yourself (see "Field Test").

Build.Stress. Rest. Repeat.

The following is a six-month periodization outline for multisport athletes. After the final phase, simply start over, timing your peaks to your most important events.

Period
MAINTENANCE 1
Length
Four weeks of 6 (run) to 10 (bike) hours per week
Goals
Hold baseline fitness while honing strength and skills for harder work
Exercise Guidelines
Moderate intensity and volume plus stretching and strength work. Break up endurance workouts with tempo training and intervals midweek.

Period
OVERLOAD 1
Length
Four weeks of varied volume and intensity, with a sharp reduction in volume for week 4.
Goals
Overreaching and resting to get yourself back to near-peak form
Exercise Guidelines
Increase volume (time) and intensity by 40 percent over Maintenance 1 in week 1. Decrease volume by about 20 percent in week 2 and again in week 3 while upping intensity. Week-4 volume should be half of what you did in week 3.

Period
MAINTENANCE 2
Length
Four weeks with a bit more intensity than Maintenance 1
Goals
Active recovery that allows you to continue exercising at a high level without burning out
Exercise Guidelines
Remember to work on skills and do massage and dynamic stretching between hard days.

Period
TRANSITION/REST
Length
One week with only a few hours of easy endurance work
Goals
Reap the benefits of the past three months by resting
Exercise Guidelines
Stretch, soak, eat, drink. Catch up on reading and chores. Acknowledge spouse.

Period
OVERLOAD 2
Length
Three weeks at your highest intensity and volume
Goals
Using new fitness and refreshed will to go harder than ever
Exercise Guidelines
Race at will. Take time off from work for long, hard efforts. Finish endurance workouts at threshold pace. Ignore spouse at own peril.

Period
MAINTENANCE 3
Length
Three weeks of 8 to 10 hours per week
Goals
Backing off to Maintenance 2 levels so you can recover and prepare to peak
Exercise Guidelines
Focus on quality instead of quantity—mix in intervals, hill climbs, and sprints.

Period
REST TO PEAK
Length
One week tapering with just a few hours of exercise
Goals
Recovering ahead of your biggest goal
Exercise Guidelines
Easy spins, jogging, stretching, and rest. Fire up your system in the days before your event with short bursts of intensity sprints and intervals.

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