Fractal periodisation

As a young coach and thinking about periodisation, I had a few questions, like: why do all periodisation models come from the former USSR, having in mind the models of Matwejew, Werchoshansky, and Bondartchuk.  In other words, why didn’t the Western sports coaches come up with their models or was that all there was? And, thinking about training as a process of change, is there a common factor in all change processes, like e.g. the process of innovation?

I started reading and thinking more about this, and I came up with a very simple and practical model that I called “fractal periodisation” and published a small article in a Dutch sports journal.

I took four well-known phases of these processes and applied these to all levels of periodisation. This sounds abstract, but here is the example.

The four phases I called:





Athlete’s career

First we can look at the highest level of planning: an athlete’s career in sports and we can distinguish these four phases: (the age and time frame depends on the sports you are looking at), Of course, this can hardly be called a “cycle” becouse it seldom repeats again.

Preparation: when entering sport, learning the basic of the sport, building the foundation in conditioning, technical and tactical aspects, often in a playful way: learning to train – 8-14 years of age.

Adaptation: training to train in order to win competitions, often more frequent training than in the preparation phase, building on top of the foundation from the preparation phase: training to compete – 15-20 years of age

Application: optimizing, refining and applying all the qualities, (conditional, technical, mental, tactical)  with the goal to win competitions, this is the phase in with the athlete performs at his/her best: training to win – 21-28 years of age

Regeneration: after his/her career ended, there should be a period in which the athlete specifically detrains as a transition to life without high-level sports, but this can last  for a life span: training for health. over 28 years of age

Does this sound logical? I bet it does.

Olympic cycle (4 years)

Now we take the same four phases and apply these to the Olympic cycle of 4 years, assuming the athlete participates there, but if not, the same principles are valid. 

Preparation: two years before the Olympic year: building the Olympic foundation, understanding  what is need to participate successfully there

Adaptation: one year before the Olympic year: often the year in which the training is the hardest and the perfect time to try out new materials, training methods, etc.

Application: the Olympic year, apply what you have learned and trained in the years before, specifically targeted to peak at the Olympic games.

Regeneration: the year after the Olympic year, the athlete often has to recover from the many stressors that accumulated over the years before, physically (injuries), mentally (boredom or motions) and socially (relations with family, friends). Also time to think about the future.

Year cycle or Macro-cycle (12 months)

The well-known year plan, but again nothing new here, we know this from for example Lydiard and Matwejew.

Preparation: General Preparation period

Adaptation: Specific Preparation period

Application: Competition period

Regeneration: Transition period

Month cycle or Meso-cycle (4 weeks)

And we quickly go back to a shorter cycle: the month–cycle, or meso-cycle, since most year cycle are designed in months. In  a month we find four weeks and the four phases can be applied here as well.

Preparation: general exercises

Adaptation: more specific exercises

Application: competition week: specifically preparing the competition (tapering), travelling and competing

Regeneration: passive and actively recovering from the competition

In these cycles there is often a smooth transition from one phase to another and the phase to not have to be 7 days exactly e.g. Preparation: 9 days – Adaptation: 9 days – Competition: 6 days, Regeneration: 4 days, and many other variations are possible dependent on the sports, the level and the period.   Competition could also be a time trial or test.

Week cycle or Micro-cycle

Even within a week or micro-cycle we can apply the four phases:

Preparation: basic or general exercises (3 days)

Adaptation: specific exercises (2 days)

Application: competition (1 day)

Regeneration: recovery (passive or active) or resting day (1 day)

And in the end we have the smallest of these cycles which is the workout itself which can be divided into:

Preparation: general warming-up; jog and stretch

Adaptation: specific warming-up

Application: the core of the workout

Regeneration: cooling-down (active) or applying other recovery methods)

 I called this concept fractal, because fractals are self-similar patterns that repeat on different levels and look the same, from far (athlete’s career) to near when zooming in (workout). So when we look at an athlete’s career we see a pattern (Preparation-Adaptation-Application-Regeneration) but when we zooming in within an athlete’s career we find that same pattern and this process continues until the last smallest single unit of training, the workout.

This simple concept gives you a lot of flexibility to work with, but maintains its logical structure.

Have fun planning!

 Original article (in Dutch):  H.Kraaijenhof: De VATH-cyclus, Sportgericht, Vol.12, No.5, september 1990, pg.236-237.