by Thomas Kurz
There are three methods of gradually increasing loads: the ascending rectilinear (straight-line) method, the stepped method, and the wavelike method.
Three methods of gradually increasing training loads
In the ascending straight-line method, loads are continuously and uniformly increased within a mesocycle (an approximately monthly cycle of workouts) or a macrocycle (several mesocycles).
In the stepped method, the load is sharply increased in some workouts or microcycles (weekly or shorter cycles of workouts) and then remains unchanged in the following workouts or microcycles. The stepped method allows an athlete to master higher loads than the rectilinear method (Bompa 1983).
In the wavelike method, loads are gradually increased in the first microcycles of a mesocycle. This is then followed by microcycles with a lower load. The waves of increasing, and then of relatively decreasing loads (the long-term trend is toward an increase of the load), depend on the rhythm of biological processes in the athlete’s body and also on the life regimen accepted by the society, i.e., weekly, monthly, and longer rhythms that also have a biological basis.
The first two methods, rectilinear and stepped, are occasionally used in training with low-intensity loads when the reactions of the body justify doing so. When this is done, the wavelike method still serves as the main framework of training.
Only when workouts are infrequent and the intensity and the volume of training work are low is it possible to increase loads in an ascending straight-line fashion. As soon as volume and intensity reach values that are necessary for developing competitive form, the character of the work must follow waves of increasing, stabilizing, and decreasing values to prevent overtraining (Matveev 1999). The duration of these waves is decided on the basis of the athlete’s reactions to the effort and depends on the overall training load (mostly intensity) and the training level of the athlete.
These are the general rules for changing the dynamics of training loads (work):
—the lower the frequency and intensity of workouts, the longer may be the ascending phase of the wave, but the amount of improvement from workout to workout is very small;
—the higher the intensity of the workouts and of the means of recovery used in the interval between them, the more frequent are the waves; and
—the volume of training load is inversely proportional to its intensity. A great volume of training loads, necessary to cause lasting morphological and functional changes, and a high intensity of work, necessary for accelerating the development of the sport-specific form, are mutually exclusive. To avoid overtraining or injury, an increase of intensity of work must be based on sufficiently great morphological changes, resulting from long training with a high volume of work.
The wavelike method, if correctly applied, takes advantage of the natural rhythm at which adaptive changes occur in the body’s organs and systems (Matveev 1999), so it is the most rational. This method of increasing training loads applies to all the time units into which the training is divided (microcycle, mesocycle, macrocycle). Actually, the division of athletic training into microcycles, mesocycles, and macrocycles is a result of the cyclic character of the processes of adaptation. Loads should be changed in response to symptoms of adaptation, not only for the sake of change. Symptoms of good and bad effects of training, and therefore of adaptation, are described in chapters 17 and 18 of Science of Sports Training.
There are several reasons for periodic lowering of the training loads—which gives a wave-like appearance to graphs of load changes—within mesocycles and macrocycles. The obvious reasons are giving the time to restore energy, to rest the mind, and to rebuild and heal tissues that were damaged by hard training. The less obvious reason is that periods of reduced training renew athletes’ ability to adapt to training (adaptability) and so permit further improvement of athletes’ form.
Observations of thousands of high-level athletes, over decades, have revealed that after about a year of training, their progress stops and training harder does not help. It is as if after a year or so of hard training athletes’ adaptability or responsiveness to training is exhausted. To restore it, athletes need to reduce training or detrain themselves over a few weeks at the end of each macrocycle, and for much shorter periods during some mesocycles.
It is not known yet what causes this temporary loss of adaptability. There are several hypotheses for this loss (Viru 2001):
- Fatigue in the cellular genetic apparatus
- A regulatory mechanism that lowers protein synthesis after prolonged stimulation by exercise
- Exhaustion of some elements of nervous system
- Alteration in endocrine function
Whatever its cause or causes, the loss of adaptability can be detected without sophisticated laboratory techniques. Everyday observations, measurements and tests of athletes’ physical and mental states, like those described in Science of Sports Training will do. The loss of adaptability shows itself in a lack of improvement of athletes’ form in spite of an increasing training load and in early signs of overtraining.
References are listed in Science of Sports Training (Kurz 2001).
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