USA Wrestling Periodization: The K...

Periodization: The Key to Peak Performance

By Matt Krumrie | Jan. 04, 2017, 11:29 p.m. (ET)

There's a common theme in wrestling, especially come mid-season.

That’s when the focus turns to staying healthy or healing from injuries, and peaking at the right time. In this case, tournament time is when a wrestler wants to optimize peak performance.

To achieve this training goal, many top coaches and athletes use periodization to maintain a year-round training cycle that prepares an athlete to peak at the right time. Periodization involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period with the aim ofreaching the best possible performance in the most important competition of the year.

"The opportunity to peak at the right time and in the right condition is established by creating an evidence-based periodization plan," says Michael Favre, Director of Olympic Sports Strength and Conditioning at the University of Michigan.

Following that periodization plan—knowing there may be changes along the way—and building for various stages throughout the season is crucial to the plan working. For most programs this involves offseason training, fall workouts, in-season periodization, postseason preparation, spring workouts, followed by starting the plan all over again in the offseason. The bottom line: A training plan must be in place for an athlete to reach his or her best performance at the right time.

Periodization training has become a 12-month process for the Air Force Academy wrestling program, says head wrestling coach Sam Barber. "We focus on living a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and weight management 12 months a year," he notes.

In the summer, Air Force Academy wrestlers focus on strength and conditioning through weight training and cardio as developed by the Air Force Academy’s Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Drew Bodette. Without the daily stresses of school work and being a cadet at The Academy, summer is a great time to focus on making physical gains, and increasing knowledge of how to train properly, says Barber. In the fall, Air Force wrestlers devote their training to building a stronger aerobic base through longer runs and endurance-based workouts. This is also a great time to implement diverse workouts that challenge wrestlers mentally, adds Barber.

Once the season starts, Barber and Bodette implement the team's in-season periodization plan that factors in volume, intensity, and frequency for different training blocks based on the time leading up to the first competition, time between competitions, and finally, preparation for the Big 12 and NCAA Championships. In the spring, athletes and coaches look at what worked and identify the areas of improvement.

"For us, the most important component of periodization training is the balance of hard work to allow us to instill fatigue, while also allowing our cadet-athletes to mentally and physically rest and recover," Barber explains.

Randy Rager, head coach of the Rochester Community and Technical College wrestling program, breaks periodization training into three phases: conditioning, technique, and competition.

Phase I: Conditioning

This starts in advance of the pre-season/fall.

"We've all gone in and tried to wrestle hard when we have not been in shape," Rager says. "It's a horrible feeling. You can't do what you want to, technique suffers, and duration is low."

Athletes have to be in shape in order to advance through to the next phases.  The goal is get into shape to be able to work on technique and prepare for competition. You have to shock your system and push it hard to get the adaptation that is needed to get into shape, Rager explains. "During this time of year, we work on a lot of drilling—drill, drill, drill, and then drill some more," he notes. "As a coach, you have to have several different drill activities to keep practices from getting stale.  These practices tend to run a little longer as well and focus on go, go, go."

Phase II: Technique

As fall practices and early-season tournaments start, Rager and staff are constantly evaluating wrestlers. The focus is on basic fundamentals and technique—without completely changing the wrestler’s style. "There is a reason that each athlete enjoys the sport and is still wrestling in college," Rager says. "We don't want to change a wrestler, but want to improve technique to make him or her that much better."

Phase III: Competition

The focus changes notably by this point of the periodization plan. "When we get to the last few weeks of the season, it is time to focus on the final few competitions," Rager notes.

Practices begin to get shorter and are focused on live situational wrestling. This is when it’s key to acknowledge the grind of a season, where a wrestler deals with nagging or minor injuries, weight management, school work, and handling life off the mat. "Through each phase, there is a constant mental game that each wrestler plays with themselves," Rager says.

If strength and conditioning isn't maintained throughout the season, significant losses in all physical attribute—power, strength, endurance—will occur, resulting in the wrestler being less physically prepared at the most important competition time. "That's the opposite of what we want," Favre notes. "This loss occurs because these attributes are all perishable qualities, meaning you need to use it or lose it." 

However,  the strength and conditioning regimen shouldn’t be so demanding that it compromises the athletes' recovery, sport skill acquisition or performance at this point of the season. Usually this means reducing the overall volume from the off-season amount in the weeks leading up to tournament time, so to accommodate the increase in actual wrestling time.

"Our perishable qualities of power, strength and endurance will not be adversely affected due to the short time frame of the post-season," Favre points out. "The goal is for the wrestler to feel recharged and refreshed, relative to their competition, leading into postseason.”

Done right, periodization adds up to peak performance at the peak time—just what every wrestler wants to achieve.