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Optimize Periodization Training for Endurance Sports With AI

By Gaelle Abecassis | Feb 2, 2024

Periodization training has defined sports training since it was codified by the Russian Olympic coaches in the 1960s. In short, it features a progressive 2-6 week, period-by-period block of training that finishes with a rest period. An athlete repeats this schedule throughout the year, cycling through different fitness focuses (endurance, power, stamina, speed) depending on where they are in their training journey.

Figuring out what periodization plan works best for an athlete takes years, even decades of experience. And even then, the fine line between burnout or injury and falling short of one’s potential is always there. That’s where an AI-powered coach like Humango’s can step in. By leveraging sports coaching science and tracking your individual metabolism and availability, our app creates a customized training plan that propels your performance.

Periodization Training 101

Periodization works for three main reasons. First, it stops most athletes’ natural inclination to train moderately hard all the time. While that all-out approach can provide short-term boosts in fitness, speed, and power, it also leads to burnout and never allows an athlete to reach their true potential. They’re too exhausted to experience a full-power performance. And if they’re not careful, they injure their bodies from overuse since they never give themselves a chance to heal. 

A chance to heal leads to the second key benefit of periodization. It incorporates rest and recovery into each workout, training block, and training season. This time off is actually when the body adapts and grows stronger. When an athlete rests, mitochondria networks expand to move more blood through the muscles, protein synthesis goes to work to build stronger muscles, and neural pathways get a boost that translates into smoother, more efficient movement patterns.

The body needs to be “taught” what max effort or endurance feels like so it can adapt to the stress of that effort and be ready for it the next time. Because it’s prepared for it the next time, the body can then be pushed to a new max effort, which leads it to adapt to that new stress level. And so on, and so on in a progressive periodized cycle.

Third, over the course of a training program, periodization blocks will transition from longer, less intense workouts to shorter, high-intensity workouts and vice versa. For example, a marathoner might start her training with shorter, sprint-based workouts to build her speed, then transition to longer intervals that are run faster than her marathon pace. In the weeks leading up to the marathon, she’ll take that newly developed stamina to her long runs at race pace. Conversely, a runner training for a 10k race would start his training with longer, slower runs to build up a neuromuscular foundation that will be able to handle the progressively faster and shorter workouts leading up to the race.

The AI Advantage to Periodization Training

For a cyclist who wants to complete their first 100-mile century ride, a simple periodization training plan might go like this: 

  • Week 1: Ride 4 days a week with one long ride of 50 miles. 
  • Week 2: Ride 4 days a week with one long ride of 55 miles. 
  • Week 3: Ride 4 days a week with one long ride of 60 miles. 
  • Week 4: Ride 2 days a week for no more than 20-30 easy miles total.
  • Repeat the block, but add 10% more miles to each week. 

That 10% weekly increase in mileage is safe for most athletes — but it’s also arbitrary. A 20-year-old experienced athlete could have no problem increasing their workload by 12% each week. A former smoker who picked up triathlon at age 40 may struggle to keep up with a 5% increase in workload. This variable is what makes a coach so valuable. They can spot and tweak an athlete’s plan to better accommodate their current fitness level.

Humango’s AI coach can do that, using its intelligence to notice when someone needs an extra day off or maybe one less interval than planned so they can recover, grow stronger, and keep progressing. The same goes for the athlete who’s adapting ahead of schedule. Based on fatigue, resting heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV), and efficiency factor (EF), Humango can tweak a training block to ask more of the athlete because it knows they can handle it. As Humango gathers more and more training data on an individual, the smarter and more individualized the plan becomes. And the chances of pulling off a personal best increase along the way.

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Posted by Gaelle Abecassis