CXC Takes Innovative Approach to Periodization

Nathaniel HerzJuly 14, 2010
Caitlin Compton is a fan of a high-low approach to periodicity, as opposed to the more traditional four-week progression

Bryan Fish is the former CXC Team Vertical Limit head coach, and now coaches for the U.S. Ski Team. FasterSkier approached Fish about CXC’s unique approach to periodicity–the sequencing of hard and easy blocks in a training plan–and this was his response.

We got an e-mail from a reader with a story idea—he mentioned that CXC takes a different approach to periodicity, alternating hard weeks with easy weeks rather than doing the typical three-week progression.

A majority of the CXC Team Vertical Limit athletes have selected a monthly progression with alternating harder then easier weeks, although it is not the only periodization model that CXC athletes use. A couple of the CXC athletes have a low-high-high-low plan (similar to the typical model), because this allows them to train more in camps and work/recover more out of camp.

The alternating high-low weekly training plan aligns well with the principle of super compensation. The general premise of super compensation is that the body needs a slight elevation in effort and then recovery for positive adaptation to occur. This logic is used by virtually everyone with the implementation of hard days followed by easy days.  We expand that out to our 4 week progression. (A better explanation is at

Personally, I had grown up and trained under the typical model of 23%-26%-29%-22%.  It was successful, but I was certainly willing to try something different.  The 28%-22%-35%-15% periodization plan was selected in 2006 due to three reasons:

1. It made common sense, for it aligned with the principle of super compensation & we wanted to start with a plan that included more stress and recovery cycling then the typical plan prescribed.

2. This periodization model was a published method, although practical application trumps print.

3. Igor Badamshin (CXC High Performance Advisor – at the time) had personal experience of a number of periodization models, and he thought this progression was the best in practical application.

Personally, I think there is a great deal more discovery that can be done on this topic.  The “typical” periodization plan was made popular in the US by Rob Sleamaker’s book – Serious Training for Serious Athletes, and Dr. Tim Noakes references this periodization from Sleamaker in his informative book–The Lore of Running.  I have yet to witness factual data on the “best” practice for monthly periodization other than these books and the Russian text that required translation.

I also think it is important to apply general training principle theory with scrutiny.  Every athlete responds differently, so individual athlete experience is important.  We start with the 28-22-35-15 as a base line and tweak it a bit to fit an athlete’s training and lifestyle.  We actually work backwards, sometimes, with the most seasoned CXC Team Vertical Limit athletes.  For example, Caitlin Compton likes this high-low periodization process very much, but I actually asked her what number of hours per week over a 4-week-cycle she would think would be best.  The flow remained identical, but the percentages changed about two percent each week (plus and minus).

I think the most important point I could convey on CXC’s search and discovery of our own 4-week periodization process is developing a comprehensive planning process:

1. Sets up a baseline (evaluate athlete fitness level and training history).

2. Records the data (execution of the plan, feedback from the athletes and success in competition).

3. Evaluates the plan versus the actual execution of the plan.

CXC creates training plans from a four-step process. The year is built into 13 periods of 28 days, making for equity between periods rather than periodizing off of the calendar, where some months have more days and more weeks.  The four-step training plan process is as follows:

1. Overall yearly overview – outlining the general flow of the whole year

2. Month and weekly – general monthly goals and weekly/daily objectives – every training session should have a purpose.

3. Athlete training logging – there is a plan and there is what the athlete ultimately executes.  Sometimes the plan is executed 100 percent in hours, but often there are subtle differences.  Successful athletes are mindful in their training and deliberately execute.  They also make modifications on the fly when necessary.  The “what” and “why” of the training modifications should be recognized by the athlete and communicated to the coach.  The log is a great means of tracking and communication.  Sometimes modifications are subtle from day to day, yet consistent throughout the year.  The logging process helps point those out.

4. Evaluation – It is always good to evaluate the planning design to the actual execution, so that the training plan for the upcoming year is continually tailored to the individual athlete.  This “tailoring” is often a result of how a specific athlete adapts to training, the general emphasis of the upcoming year, as well as daily habits like their work/school schedule.

Nathaniel Herz

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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