By: Coach Joe Zambito
Periodization is a term that is thrown around a lot in the strength and conditioning world. Basically, in the most simple form, what that means is the creation of a long term plan that develops all of the physical aspects needed for an athlete to achieve a higher level of performance in their sport. After that, how that is actually done can get quite complicated and messy. There are many different ways to break down a long term plan, and everyone will argue that their way is the best way to do that. Like with most things, this is a shortsighted argument that does not take into consideration that there are positives and negatives to all forms of training.
Okay, my rant is over. Now let's actually get into what we came here for. Before we get into what the Long Term Delayed Training Effect is we have to establish a basic understanding of how periodization works and why it is important to strength and conditioning (which hopefully will justify my rant at the start). In order to do that we need to have a discussion about what stress is and how our body responds to it. Stress is basically how your body reacts to what is happening in the world around you. That could be to multiple different types of stimuli and can be physical, mental, or emotional stimuli which would require a response from the systems of the body. Our body then goes through a cycle of sensation of the stimulus and response to that stimulus which is best portrayed by the model of General Adaptation Syndrome proposed by Dr. Hans Selye.
This model establishes a basic understanding of how to design a workout program. The first phase, the alarm phase, is the actual workout. Your body needs to mobilize resources, energy substrates, in order to actually get the workout done. Phase two is the resistance phase. This is what happens during the recovery process after the workout is over. “Coping with the stressor” in our case is the reconstruction process that the body undergoes in order to adapt to better be able to handle that stressor again if seen in the future. This means developing stronger tissue structures, like muscle, tendons, ligaments, or bone etc, or developing the functional processes of the nervous system to develop higher levels of coordination. Phase three only really happens if the stressor persists for too long and exhausts the body’s ability to mobilize energy for either the handling of the stressor or the adaptation process. Practically, this all makes sense. The workout that we are going to do is what tells the body that our performance needs to improve, but this performance enhancement only happens after we recover from the workout.
As you can see by the picture, after the alarm phase is over, the body’s ability to resist stress is actually decreased for a period of time. This leads to an acute performance decrease that is dependent on the type of workout that is done (not all workouts lead to an acute performance decrease, but that is a discussion for another time). This is also called the Immediate Training Effect (what happens in the body immediately after the workout is done). However, this is also the stimulus that is required to start the resistance phase which allows the body to adapt to a higher level of performance that we want. This increase in performance that happens after we recover from the workout is called the Delayed Training Effect. The specific nature of the Delayed Training Effect will be determined by what the nature of the workout was. For example, if we did a workout to increase our max strength levels then the Delayed Training Effect will manifest this, but if we did a workout that was intended to increase our endurance levels then this will be what happens during the period of the Delayed Training Effect. Either way, the performance benefits that are acquired from a workout are actually not seen until a certain period of time after the workout ends. Periodization is then what we do in order to take advantage of the summation of all the delayed training effects that we need within a certain time period.
Keep in mind phase three of the GAS, exhaustion. This is what happens when a specific stress, in our case hard workouts, persists for long enough that it exhausts the body's energy systems. This is overtraining, and ultimately what leads to a more permanent performance decrease. However, this is not to paint a picture of gloom and doom. Our body’s are very resilient, and when given enough time, can adapt to almost anything. With a proper plan in place, you can layer multiple alarm phases (lots of workouts in a row) on top of each other. As long as there is eventually a plan to reduce the amount of training stress in the future, you can dig a pretty deep hole and force your body to climb its way out of it as long as you do not reach the exhaustion phase. This planned pushing of your physiological limits is called overreaching. It is different from overtraining in that we push the alarm phase really hard, but not so hard that we cannot recover from it. This overreaching period still leads to a performance decrease that can last for a little longer than the immediate training effect seen from one workout. However, it makes sense then that if we push the alarm phase further (while staying in the overreaching amount of stress not the overtraining amount of stress), that we will recover to an even greater performance level during the resistance phase then if we had a minor alarm phase (an easier workout, or less frequent workout). This is what the Long Term Delayed Training Effect is. The Long Term Delayed Training Effect is the more drastic performance increase that lasts for a specific period of time after we reduce our training volume, and therefore stress levels. It is the summation of the Delayed Training Effects that occur after experiencing time periods of high stress. This new performance level increase will last for a certain amount of time that is dependent on how long and intense the alarm phase was, and the type of performance parameter that was actually being trained for.
To sum up, the workout is the alarm phase of the GAS. This promotes an Immediate Training Effect which leads to an acute performance decrease. However, after we recover our body adapts to a new higher level of performance, which is the Delayed Training Effect. If we dig ourselves a deeper hole by stringing multiple alarm phases together, we can get a greater Delayed Training Effect benefit when we reduce the amount of alarm phases we are sending the body. This removal of a high level of stress allows our body to actually go through the resistance phase. The greater the alarm phases were, the higher level of performance we can get to, and the longer this new level of performance lasts. This new level of performance that exists for a certain period of time after training is the Long Term Delayed Training Effect. This understanding is what strength coaches use to develop different types of periodization models. All of the different types can work well as long as they are developed with a basic understanding of how the adaptation process occurs through the General Adaptation Syndrome model.