Periodization: The 4 Phases of Training

Specific Preparation

The goal of this phase is to move toward sport-specific training, reducing or eliminating crosstraining. There is more race-paced training added in this phase, but the race-paced work segments tend to be short with ample recovery at the beginning of the phase.

The intention is to build neuromuscular movement patterns. As this phase continues, a greater percentage of the training resembles race pace. There can be several blocks within this phase such as specific preparation 1, 2 and 3.

Pre-Competitive Preparation

The goal of this phase is to prepare the athlete for his or her specific race requirements. These requirements, race time and intensity, are quite different for a sprint-distance triathlon than for an Ironman-distance triathlon and the phase particulars varies between individual athletes.

An athlete that has minimal conditioning has different requirements than an athlete that is highly conditioned. There can be several blocks within this phase such as pre-competitive 1, 2 and 3. This phase can also include low-priority events, used as training races.

More: How to Maximize the Benefits of Training Races


This phase may include a series of races over the course of six to eight weeks, such as in a sprint-distance race series. Or, this phase may be a three to four month period of building, then tapering volume to a single race—such as for a half-Ironman (70.3) or an Ironman-distance event.

For athletes in race-survival mode, preparing for a race may include only pre-competitive and competitive preparation. These athletes will have a much shallower level of fitness than athletes that have been training for a year or more. Those with shallow levels of fitness won't be able to compete anywhere near their personal potential.

More: A 12-month Overview of Long-Distance Racing

Some athletes will complete all of the phases over the course of six to twelve months. These athletes will be capable of holding higher paces for longer periods of time. Of course athletes that have been consistently training for years have deep levels of fitness and can produce race results at their personal potential.


By understanding the basics of periodization, you can give design and structure to your own training if you are self-coached. If you have hired a coach, understanding periodization can help you ask good questions about your current and future training.

In either case, meeting or exceeding your race expectations is the goal.

More: How to Measure Your Triathlon Race Results

*Segments of this column are reproduced, with permission, from the text Training Plans for Multisport Athletes, 2nd Edition.

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