Here is an interesting article.
THE END OF “PERIODIZATION” IN
THE TRAINING OF HIGH
By Yuri Verhoshansky
Russian sport science expert, Prof. Yuri Verhoshansky, questions the validity of
Matveyev’s theory of periodization, considers it outdated and provides detailed
criticism on why the concept is supposed to be unacceptable for contemporary
training. The article appeared originally in Leistungssport, Germany, Vol. 28, No.
5, September 1998. This abbreviated translation is reprinted from SA Sports
Institute’s documentation services. Re-printed here with permission from Modern
Athlete and Coach.
“PERIODISATION” FACES CRITICISM
The methodical principles of contemporary training systems are frequently based
on the work of Russian coaches in the early 1950’swhen the former Soviet
Union prepared for the first participation in the Helsinki Olympic Games (1952).
The preparation followed the information collected by L.P. Matveyev at the
Moscow Institute of Physical Culture, generalized, and published as a theoretical
concept known as “periodization” in 1965. Matveyev’s concept attracted attention
outside the Soviet Union, because training theories had at this stage not yet
involved scientists and the successes of Soviet coaches and athletes on the
world stage were exceptional.
The periodization concept became gradually a synonym for “planning of training”.
Many specialists use even today this concept in progressive presentations of the
organization of training. However, the majority has found in practice that the
theory of periodization is not acceptable and it has been criticized at home, as
well as internationally.
Many experts today consider that the theory of periodization does not meet the
requirements of contemporary sport and can have a negative influence on
performance development. It also appears that periodization does not present a
model training system for elite athletes within the demands of modern
competition calendars and other international development tendencies. Only
some of the thesis of the periodization concepts can somehow be applied to the
training phases of young athletes.
It has been stressed that a formal, mechanical division of a training year into
periods and mesocycles is not practical. Further, the principles of periodization
are not really reliable because they are based on a relatively short study and
from experiences assembled in the early days of the Soviet training system in the
Many publications draw attention to the fact that the methodical
recommendations in the concept of periodization are not sufficiently concrete and
fail to meet the demands of contemporary high performance sports. This applies
in particular to team games, endurance sports, speed events in track and field
etc. Periodization also fails to provide acceptable methodical recommendations
for the improvement of specific conditioning and final competition preparations.
Endurance sports experts are most critical about Matveyev’s periodization
theory. A very dynamic organization of training loads has been in these sports
gradually eliminated. Coaches still following the outdated elements of
periodization find it extremely difficult to keep their athletes in top form throughout
the competition season. Attention should also be paid to the fact that the
successes of African athletes (particularly Kenyans) can be explained not only
because they live at altitude, but also because they have rejected the theory of
periodization in the planning of training.
British coach, Frank Horwell, in an article titled “Periodization — Plausible or
Piffle?” claims that the theory of periodization is unacceptable for modern running
training. He also states that neither the former Soviet, nor the West European
runners (male), have broken world records in middle distance running or won
Olympic gold medals over the last 30 years.
Zanon of Italy, a well known expert of the Soviet Union’s training doctrine from
1960 to 1980, has rejected Matveyev’s periodization principles, because “when a
training concept is not based on biological facts — as it happened in the Soviet
theory — but on theoretical understandings without a correlation to realistic
condition, it can be expected that the corresponding training programs will lead to
a loss of sporting talent”.
Tschiene (Germany), in an analysis of several training concepts (1985), comes to
the conclusion that Matveyev’s periodization theory has, since its publication in
1965 remained unchanged, although enormous changes have meanwhile taken
place in high performance sport. He recommended that the theory of
periodization of a yearly training cycle must be reformed and changed to a
modern concept based on substantiated principles that take into consideration
the role of the competition exercise and individualization.
The rejection of the periodization concept was even more categorical in Russia,
where the former Vice-President of the State Committee of Sport, Kolessov,
declared that participants in high performance sports “should not continue to
follow the outdated system of Prof. Matveyev (Sovietsky Sport 1991)”.
REASONS FOR THE BREAK-UP OF PERIODIZATION
It hardly makes much sense today to analyze the theoretical weaknesses and
clearly senseless methodology of the periodization concept. We will therefore
follow only the major scientific factors involved to avoid a repetition of similar
attempts in the future.
Disregard of new biological understandings.
It is a grave mistake to overlook the biological knowledge and achievements of
sport sciences. In these days it is not necessary to convince anybody about the
value of the “biological components” in the theory of training (Verhoshansky
1993, 1996, 1998). However, Matveyev maintains that the biological laws do not
determine the macro structure of training and the development of form is rather
guided by other laws.
Matveyev agrees in the reference to the theory of adaptation that “adaptive
processes play a certain role in the reconstruction of the organism through
sporting activities,” but claims that “adaptation is only one aspect in the
improvement of performances”. The priority in the interpretation of the processes
involved in the perfection of sporting performances and the related phenomena
should not be regarded as the theory of adaptation but the theory of
development” (Matveyev 1991).
Missing Legalities in Training Concepts
The methodological and scientific untenabilities of periodization become obvious
in the terminological chaos of scientific legalities, principles, directions, principle
thesis, etc. This chaos occurred from a strange and uncompromising search for
legalities in the concept of Matveyev’s theory of periodization.
Matveyev claims that periodization principles “express the biological legalities of
adaptation in training” (Matveyev/Meerson 1984). This was a strange declaration
because it is known that training processes have so far been based on subjective
concepts of their contents, structure and temporal sequence. There are no
“legalities”. At the best we can only talk about methodical rules in training, which
are formulated according to empirical data.
The logically speculative presentation of training and competition without an
objective evaluation led the concept of periodization to an “inseparable
correlation between general and specific preparation of an athlete” (Matveyev
1991). To this were added other similar “legalities”, such as the “cyclic character
of training, a wave-like formation of training” etc. At this time it was already
known that progress in international high performance sports was tied to more far
reaching and complex factors than in the periodization theory. (Jakovlev 1976,
1993; Kassil et al 1978; Sergeyev 1980; Verhoshansky 1988; Viru 1994; Booth
Disregard of Biological Adaptation Processes
Matveyev’s speculative conception was based on a phasic development of top
form. A dynamic development of sporting form was introduced by Letunov (1950)
and Prokop (1959). They were the first sports medicine specialists who
formulated ideas that the improvement of the training state of an athlete is based
on the biological laws responsible for the development of adaptation processes in
training. They arranged these processes into three phases:
1. Ascent of the training state;
2. Sporting form;
3. Drop in the training state (according to Letunov).
2. The highest practical performance capacity;
3. Re-adaptation (according to Prokop).
However, it appears that Matveyev failed to understand the biological ideas of
Letunov and Prokop. This appears to be the reason for his primitive
“pedagogical” interpretation of the nature oftraining. Matveyev merely changed
the nature of training phases and maintained that his phasic development of form
is the natural assumption for the periodization of training. It is easy to recognize
that this concept of training gives from the viewpoint of the “dynamics of the
sporting form” only a superficial picture and is today regarded as naive.
Lack of Scientism
Matveyev’s methods in “The Concept of Periodization”, as well as in “The
Foundation of Training in Sport”, are rather primitive. They cover the so called
pedagogical observations and aged analytical-synthetical principles. In an
attempt to counteract the lack of scientific principles in these methods, Matveyev
presented in 1991 a careful analysis to support his concepts. The analysis
showed a lower limit of 1.5 of 2% in the range of top performances. Deviations
from personal best performances were calculated to be 3 to 5% in cyclic speedstrength
events. Athletes were regarded to be out of form under these limits.
The calculations followed a simple graph of performances (fixed by points) which
was based on a percent time system. The absolute personal best performances
were set at 100%. By the way, from this developed his concept of a “wave-like
format” of sporting form. Somehow Matveyev failed to take notice that a large
part of the top form performances were below his critical range (see Fig. 1).
PERIODISATION LACKS REALITY
The first obvious criticism by specialists and practitioners concerns the essence
of periodization in the formal and mechanical formation of the training processes
into subjectively formed parts, cycles, phases, periods etc.). This, according to
Matveyev, is the essence of periodization. His argument is very simple in that the
development of performance can’t be acquiredand maintained outside these, nor
can optimal training processes be constructed for development of form. Any
other approach would contradict the objectiveness of the construction of training.
The mechanical formation of training processes and their later reunification to
some adaptive entirety has, first of all, nothing in common with a realistic
organization of training in most sports. Secondly, this formation neglects
objective adaptation processes. It simply does not even replace training control
through different trial and error methods because periodization offers no
objective confirmation for the choice of an optimal variation.
A formal observation of the so called “laws of the development of sporting form”
was responsible for an incorrect introduction of preparation and competition
periods. This linear logic of first training and then competitions simply failed to
compile with objective realities. The preparation period served for “the
construction of sporting form” through exhaustive preparation work, while the
competition period was expected to “stabilize” and “maintain” form by using
corresponding mesocycles for the realization of form without any further
development. Such a primitive understanding of the periodization of training
absolutely fails to correspond to reality.
In several cyclic events the achieved training state must not only be maintained
but also further developed. Following the theory of adaptation, the main task
during the competition period is to improve long term adaptation of the organism
in order to bring it to a new stable level of specific functional capacity
It should be noted that in contemporary sport the competition period, with an
increased number of important (international) competitions, has been
considerably extended. This means that the preparation period is not sufficiently
long for a “fundamental preparation” and the development of sporting form must
take place mainly within the long competition period. A formal demarcation of
preparation and competition periods is therefore unacceptable.
Arbitrary Division of Training Processes
The poorest part in the concept of periodization appears to be the construction of
training. According to Matveyev, periodization is based on a simple sequence of
single training units in the training processes. The basic structural unit is the
microcycle. Different direction microcycles in turn make up a larger unit in the
training process in mesocycles and finally the mesocycles are combined into a
Matveyev (1971 and 1977) recommends in the realization of such a linear
principle the use of different direction mesocycles, such as familiarization, basic,
preparation, control, competition, maintenance, restoration etc. Each mesocycle
is made up from three to six microcycles. It is unknown how this is substantiated
and how the speculative recommendations in periodization can be applied to
Adaptation Principles are ignored
Another considerable fault in the concept of periodization is the intensity and
volume of the training loads. This was the reason (overlooking the naive ideas of
wave-like total volume of the load) for a massive increase of load volumes to
increase the training effect during the years when the principle of periodization
was followed (Tschiene 1990 and 1991).
The most important peculiarity of adaptation, the conversion of qualitative
characteristics from external developments into internal characteristics of the
organism was not taken into consideration in the theory of periodization
(Jakovlev 1976; Verhoshansky 1988; Verhoshansky/Viru 1990; Viru 1994). The
ignorance, or misunderstanding, of the specific character of adaptive changes in
the organism was responsible for Matveyev’s (1991) explanation in claiming the
so called “transfer” of performance capacities. This phenomenon exists, but not
in high performance sport.
For example, it is today not acceptable to state that “there are several cyclic locomotor
exercises that clearly differ in their form (running, swimming, cross-country
skiing, cycling etc), but are still close as far as their endurance and other physical
qualities are concerned”. (Matveyev 1971).
This concept of Matveyev’s is unacceptable because the specific nature of
adaptational reactions of the organism depend on the type of training involved.
This fact has been known for some time and is accepted as a very important
criterion in the choice and organization of training loads. Load volumes have
presently reached reasonable limits and the possibilities to develop new specific
conditioning exercises have diminished. The so called “transfers” and the
importance of large volumes of conditioning exercises in the preparation period
belong to the 1950’s.
Ignorance of the numerous statements available on the physiological
mechanisms on specific training influences is yet another fault in the concept of
periodization. This is unfortunately responsible for an enormous time and energy
expenditure in a less effective training volume.
Four cardinal errors have robbed the concept of periodization of training from its
theoretical and practical significance:
1. A poor understanding of sporting activities and technology of the
preparation of elite athletes and the professional know-how of the
2. A primitive evaluation of the methodological concept which is only
theoretical and without an objective foundation, purely speculative and
lacks of objectively confirmed practical recommendations.
3. Ignorance of the biological knowledge.
4. Limited acceptance of allied sciences and experimental results on training