Periodization 101 — For “Dummies”

I know many cyclists feel confused when thinking about the complexities of periodization. It does not need to be difficult. It just means don’t do the same intensity all year long. There are two parts to this. The first one is very few people, including pros, can go hard or consistently increasing time or intensity for too many months in a row without seeing the negative effects. Second is, if you are highly consistent, you need some longer “down time” periods during the season.


One problem is this sounds like what many people consider “the dreaded base period.” I hear things like “No one does base period anymore.” “I don’t have time for super long aerobic workouts and don’t want to do them indoors.” In talking with pro-coach Andrea Morelli, for most of us “regular riders” or non-pros, a base period is less about building a large aerobic base and more about recovering from a lot of built up cycling fatigue. Just another form of recovery.

In the North, you have your main cycling season outdoors where you ride as much as possible from March to September, then you need a period of preparation to do it again. If you do this preparation correctly, you set yourself up for gains in the next build period, if you do it incorrectly… well, let’s just stay. You’re likely to stay at the same FTP “forever.”

One of the worst experiences is to do some super hard training from October to February, only to be burned out by the time June rolls around. You want to feel amazing from April-June. This should be an incredible period of cycling followed by a great summer. Most riders can only build up for about ~4 months in a row before hitting their seasonal or bi-seasonal peak both mentally and physically. Don’t start this 4–6 months too early. Does that mean you can’t do any hard training in the winter? No, and no, a traditional base period is not a requirement. So what am I suggestion?

Recovery 101

Consistency is the most critical component of success. The downside is, if you are consistent, you need to build in recovery periods at many levels.

You need a daily recovery period (good sleep). Most of us need a weekly recovery period (days off), if we are building up or doing a lot of intensity we need a monthly recovery pattern (3/1 or 2/1, meaning 3 hard weeks 1 easy) and we need seasonal or some type of “macro recovery.” Each of these recoveries are a little rest to let your body move ahead. There are many ways to do this and people are unique. We all need some forms or recovery. Even genetically exceptional pros have many levels of recovery.

So you need rest, recovery, and consistency. You need to find patterns that work best for you. If you are going medium hard all year round, you are going to stop improving, might burn out, or even become over-trained. If your FTP has not been hitting new peaks in recent years, something is likely wrong.

Starting your build season on the easier end of the spectrum means you can train more often with less risk/recovery. As you get later in your season, things get harder. This sets you up for a great spring where you are highly motivated to perform. This might mean starting out with 95% of your rides easy (less than your aerobic threshold) and 5% of your TIME around your lactate threshold (FTP) or harder and then slowly increasing the duration of harder efforts as your season progresses.

If you are highly consistent, then following a traditional annual training plan, in early winter you should focus on recovery and holding on to most of your fitness but losing a little is totally fine, you will gain it back and some. Your intensity session could be a once a week short HIIT session just so you don’t feel you are losing it all, and to make you feel better, but you should try to do some cross training and/or become more balanced. While cycling is very enjoyable, it is not a very balanced sport. Rowing machines and strength training can help in the offseason.

If you really want to go hard in the late fall and very early winter, you need to be smart. You can experiment with mini build / recovery periods, but it is very easy to overdo it. It’s better to error on the side of a little too little than a little too much. Taking time off because of injury, illness or burnout during peak season does not lead to your best cycling seasons. If you are feeling slightly undertrained, you can make that up with some end of the season hard efforts and make last-minute gains.

Find what works for you. Think of periodization as Base (recovery + minimizing loss), Build (regain and improve), and Peak (hardest focused period to maximize your goal performance). A peak period of 4–8 weeks can cause great anaerobic improvements but it can’t last much longer than that and you won’t continue to improve.

I hope this helps. Find what works for you. You might have 1,2,3 or possibly even 4 of these periodizations throughout the year, although 1 or 2 is most common.


During these easy periods, if you are consistent your FTP will drop a little and your anaerobic power will drop even more but this is something you can gain back quickly and then go beyond previous levels. Don’t try to keep building FTP all year round. Your plan can be totally different then the above, just follow the concept of varied intensity levels and getting plenty of recovery at multiple levels and you will be good to go for those seasonal FTP gains.

In Conclusion

Whether it is recovery weeks or recovery months, you need recovery. At the end of recovery periods you should feel hungry for “real training.” Self-control is the difference between a fitness athlete that does not improve and a performance athlete that reaches the moon. Learn to feel hungry!!! Again, Learn to feel hungry!!! Learn to ease into a build period. Learn to become the best, smartest athlete you can be.

Click to learn more. Let Coach Jack help build the perfect plan for you.

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