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Applying Periodization Theory

…even if you do not have a major goal and just want to become generally fitter

by Coach Scott Johnston

When Steve and I wrote Training for the New Alpinism our focus was on telling people what we had done that had worked well for Steve and aided his climbing success. I have used those same principles with great success with world class cross country ski racers and so I understood the principles to apply to get top level results. This was what we hoped to impart in the book. Sort of a “best practices” methodology. What has become very apparent since the book came out is that the majority of people interested in employing the principles we extoll in the book are not looking to extract the last 1-2% of their potential in order to tackle their own personal 4 minute mile. Instead they are looking to make themselves stronger, have more endurance and would like to sustain this elevated state for months at a time.  

I hope I can they do this rather than peak for one climb, one race or one big hike?

The short answer to the many queries we get concerning this issue is that it is not possible to both achieve a personal maximum performance AND sustain it over a long term basis. The reason for this is that the higher the state of fitness you desire to achieve, the more components of that fitness state that have to come together at the same time in perfect synchronicity and the higher that each one of those components has to be developed to contribute significantly to the whole.


The good news for most people is that the inability to create this perfect storm of fitness is no impediment to still reaching far higher levels of fitness that we have had in the past. They can apply the sound and well proven principles that are included in the theory of periodization despite not having a single targeted “event” they are focused on.  

Some tools for this process:

  1. The dominate limitation in any endurance “event” lasting more than about 2 minutes is aerobic capacity. The longer the duration of the event the more important the the aerobic capacity becomes. Intensity is no substitute for duration when it comes to developing aerobic capacity.
  2. The base period of a periodized plan is largely devoted to increasing aerobic capacity and increasing strength. For long distance hiking this base period can be extended to most of the year with very good effect. I recommend this for 90% of folks who are not seeking to target some particular goal hike/climb. If these two qualities of aerobic capacity and strength are developed to high levels concurrently then you will be able to do more, more easily and for longer than you have done in your life (unless you were a well trained endurance athlete in your youth).
  3. For those that are so inclined to try a new twist to see if they can improve on top of this base fitness they can take a queue from the periodization formula and add in muscular endurance (ME) workouts into the mix. This need not represent a complete shift in focus. These ME workouts can be added in as supplemental work once a week for a few weeks at a time. But only after ayt least a 12 week base period has been undertaken. If done on top of a big base this stuff will put you in a new realm of fitness.

Sprinkling a few of these very taxing muscular endurance (ME) workouts over 4-6 weeks will really be noticeable. Be aware though that during the period when you are doing these workouts your legs will be very tired and you will need to back off on demanding more from your legs than they can deliver.  


WARNING: IF YOU COMBINE THIS TYPE OF ME WORKOUTS WITH OTHER DEMANDING TRAINING (ie, HEAVY HILL HIKING) CHANCES A RE VERY GOO THAT YOU WILL BECOME OVER TRAINED AND PERFORMANCE WILL DROP NOT IMPOVE.

NOTE: IF YOU DON’T SEE/FEEL GAINS FOMR WEEK TO WEEK YOU NEED MORE RECOVERY BETWEEN WORKOUTS!

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9 Dec 2014
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