Periodization of Strength Training

Maximum Transition (MT) Phase

This is a brief phase at the end of the Prep period that occurs between the AA and MS phases with the purpose of preparing the body for the greater loads to follow. With only a few of these workouts with the loads increasing each time, you will be ready to begin MS. Be cautious with how rapidly you increase the loads during this phase in order to avoid injury.

Maximum Transition (MT) phase

Total sessions/Phase 3-5
Sessions/Week 2-3
Load Select loads that allow only 10-15 reps
Reps/Set 10-15
Speed of Lift Slow to moderate, emphasizing form
Recovery (in minutes) 1.5-3

Maximum Strength (MS) Phase

The purpose of the MS phase is to improve force generation. As resistance gradually increases and repetitions decrease, more force is generated. This phase, which is usually included during the Base 1 period, is necessary to teach the central nervous system to easily recruit high numbers of muscle fibers. Care must be taken not to cause injury in this phase, especially with free-weight exercises such as the squat. Some variety in the exercises will help to prevent this as will simultaneously working antagonistic muscle groups. It is also a good idea in the phase to limit the number of exercises done to six or fewer.

Select loads conservatively at the start of this phase, and in the first set of each workout. Loads are gradually increased throughout this phase.

Set upper end load-repetition goals for the primary exercises in this phase based on previous seasons' experiences and/or body weight. Keeping good records of your weight training will make this easier in the future. If the goals for certain exercises are achieved before the end of the phase, repetitions are increased and loads remain constant at the goal level.

For example, an athlete doing the leg press has a goal of 435 pounds. Once he can lift this weight six times in each of three sets he will increase the repetitions beyond six in subsequent workouts while keeping the load at 435 pounds. Also, once all of the goal weights are achieved, there is no reason to go beyond eight MS workouts. On the other hand, if the goal loads are not achieved even though 12 MS workouts have been completed, end the phase and go on to the next.

Some athletes will be tempted to do more than six exercises or to increase the loads a great deal beyond loads accomplished in previous seasons. Others will want to extend this phase beyond the recommended 12 workouts. Doing so is likely to result in muscle imbalances that may contribute to future injuries.

During the MS phase, endurance performance will suffer as the legs and arms may feel "heavy." As a result, your velocity for any given effort is slowed. These strength sessions are best scheduled the day after rather than before endurance workouts to ensure that aerobic work is not hampered.

Maximum Strength (MS) phase

Total sessions/Phase 8-12
Sessions/Week 2
Load Select loads that allow only 3-6 reps
Reps/Set 3-6
Speed of Lift Slow to moderate, emphasizing form
Recovery (in minutes) 2-4

Strength Maintenance (SM) Phase

This phase maintains the basic strength established in the previous phases while sprints, hills, intervals, open-water swims and steady-state efforts, depending on your sport, develop power, anaerobic endurance and muscular endurance. Stopping all resistance training at this point may cause a gradual loss of strength throughout the season. Maintenance of strength is particularly important for women and masters.

In the SM phase, only the last set is meant to stress the muscles. This set is done at about 80 percent of your one-repetition maximum. The one or two sets that provide warm up for this last set are accomplished at about 60 percent of one-repetition maximum.

As sport-specific training increases at this time of the season it may be necessary to cut back on strength training for the primary movers. For example, if working the legs only deepens your fatigue level when training on the bike then you must reduce or eliminate leg exercises done with weights. Continuing to work on core muscles and personal weakness areas will maintain your strength needs. Starting seven days before A-priority races, eliminate all strength training to allow for peaking.

Joe Friel is founder and president of Ultrafit Associates and author of the Training Bible book series and other books. For more information go to

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