A Brief Explanation of Periodization and the Autonomic Responses to Training.

Welcome back to another exciting edition of "Learning Out Loud" on our blog. 17 Readers of our last article can't be wrong! If you are new to this blog, welcome. I have been using this platform as a way to dissect the information I have been taking in for the past three years on the topic of strength and conditioning, the autonomic nervous system, and heart rate variability. Writing and publishing is helping me to keep my thoughts on the topic organized, as well to disseminate some of the stuff I'm learning as I prepare to develop a more formal means of publishing.

My wife and I are on vacation in the beautiful city of Savannah, Georgia this week and I have been spending time each morning preparing for my January 14 talk for the Illinois Prairie State Chiropractic Association in Champaign, IL. If you live in Illinois and need some more CE hours for license renewal come on down to Champaign, as there will be 5 hours available on the topic of training physiology, chiropractic, and the autonomic nervous system.

In the past two blog posts I began to introduce terms related to different phases of training, and I thought I would expand on some of those terms today.

First, it is important to understand program design. I always start my classes off teaching Chiropractors typic design features of training programs. I always give a hypothetical example of a patient in their 40's with a new years resolution of running a marathon, with very little prior training experience of any kind. That example is very relevant considering how often it happens and that tomorrow is NYE. If you are a practicing Chiropractor and you have never run a marathon or competed in any type of event that requires significant train up, it is important to understand how a simple program is developed and the goals of each program for the purposes of communicating the different phases with a patient who is undergoing training as well as understanding the changes the athlete's body will undergo as a result of a new training program.

In this example I will be referring to someone training for a marathon, as that is a pretty typical experience in a Chiropractic office this time of year. Understand that even though I'm referring to someone training for a marathon, this type of program design is relevant to nearly all forms of strength and conditioning training.

Program design is typically broken down into several different time frames referred to as periodization. The purpose of periodization in a well designed program is to gradually increase the physical stress to generate a response in the body known as super compensation. Super compensation is the period at the end of a training period where the athletes performance has improved beyond that of where they began.

The different time frames of a well periodized program are as follows: macrocycle, mesocycle, and microcycle. A macrocycle is the longest period of time in a training program. Usually a macrocycle takes into account the entire competition schedule. In our example of a patient running a marathon, the macrocycle will be the time period that they are training for one marathon, which is usually a 16 week period. For an elite level athlete, a macrocycle could be an an entire calendar year or more, and may include several different competitions that they will be attempting to "peak" for.

Macrocycles are made up of several different mesocycles. A mesocycle is a 3-6 week period where training load will be increased and then allow for a rest or "de-load" or "taper" period at the end.

Mesoocycles consist of several different microcycles. A microcycle is generally viewed as an individual week or sometimes individual training sessions. For our example we will view the microcycle as a week. Let's say our hypothetical patient who is training for their first marathon trains four times a week. That means that this person has four individual sessions which make up a microcycle (week). Many marathon programs consist of 16 weeks of training (16 week macrocycle), broken down into 4 mesocycles (4 week mesocycles), and those mesocycles will consist of 4 microcycles. Each week the athlete's training load (allostatic load) will increase gradually over the first three weeks of a mesocycle, then on the fourth week of the mesocycle they will typically have a "taper" or "de-load" week designed with less mileage and intensity to allow the body to recover. Each mesocycle will build upon the intensity of the previous one until the end of the 16 week macrocycle when the load has been increased to the point where the previously untrained athlete is now ready for a 26.2 mile race.

Each of the aforementioned training cycles is designed to elicit a physiologic response in the athlete. Microcycles are designed to elicit a response known as reaching. Reaching is the fatigue that is caused by short term training bouts. A simple example is when the patient goes for the first long run of 10 miles or so. For the 24-48 hours following the training session they will experience fatigue and soreness and decreased performance. Adequate rest and recovery allows the athlete to return to training within the next few days.

Reaching is the goal of microcycles and individual training sessions, but overreaching is the goal of longer cycles such as the mesocycle. Overreaching is a period of time where the athlete is adapting to the increase training load and is generally characterized by seemingly harmful symptoms such as lethargy, soreness, apathy towards training, soreness, etc. While these symptoms may sound disadvantageous they are part of the normal training response. A well developed training program is designed to elicit overreach. With adequate rest, the athlete will overcome this period and performance will improve as a result, because their body has adapted to the stress. A rudimentary example of this is the athletes resting heart rate. During a period of overreach it is not uncommon for an athlete to have an elevated resting heart rate. If the athlete's program allows for adequate taper and rest periods we generally see the resting HR drop below their previous resting HR. This is an autonomic adaptation to training load.

If the athlete is not allowed adequate recovery period, they run the risk of leading into a period of non-functional overreach, characterized by the symptoms of overreach persisting for long periods of time without a performance improvement. Or overtraining syndrome which is persistence and increased severity of the same symptoms for 4-6 weeks. I won't spend much time talking about overtraining because the simple fact is that in our offices we don't typically see a truly overtrained athlete. What we generally see is an under recovered athlete. Training loads that lead to overtraining are generally seen in high level athletes or people that have been pushing the envelope for a long time. Even though the new athlete in our example may experience some seemingly sever symptoms, chances are they are just acclimating to the training program. They are not overtrained necessarily, they are under recovered and simply not used to the type of stress they are placing on their body.

I first learned about the different cycles and responses from Bob Takano's book Weightlifting Programming: A Winning Coaches Guide , even though the book was written geared towards the sport of weightlifting, the principles apply to nearly all forms of strength and conditioning.

Of most interest to Chiropractors is the means of tracking reach and over reach during training periods. I will expand on these more in later posts but these are some interesting articles for further study, Training response is being measured in regards to the autonomic nervous system (which is why this is such an important topic to chiropractors). More on that later, but here are some links to additional reading on the topic:

1) Evidence of parasympathetic hyperactivity in functionally overreached athletes.

2) Training adaptation and heart rate variability in elite endurance athletes: opening the door to effective monitoring.

3) Monitoring Athletic Training Status Through Autonomic Heart Rate Regulation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.

These are only three examples of possible hundreds, but the examples I picked are articles I have recently read. I encourage chiropractors to begin to explore and understand the role of heart rate variability and the autonomic nervous system in training! More to come later........

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