Periodization for the Young Athlete

Young Athlete

by Toby Brooks, PhD, ATC, CSCS, PES, YFS3


Periodization for Young Athletes Training Chart

Originally developed by Romanian exercise scientist Tudor Bompa for a number of Eastern Bloc countries in the early sixties, periodization involves the breakdown of the annual conditioning plan into specific training phases intended to maximize training effectiveness and sport-specific strength and skill acquisition. In practice, a periodized conditioning program might involve a strength phase followed by a power phase, then the power phase followed by an endurance phase. The model has been widely researched and the consistent positive benefits of periodized training programs are largely credited for the rise to prominence on the global athletic stage many Eastern Bloc countries enjoyed following implementation of Bompa’s methods.


The problem with the traditional periodized model with respect to young athlete is that typically one physical quality is emphasized at the expense of previously trained qualities. For instance, when transitioning from strength to power, there is very little focus on retaining loads to maintain the previously developed levels of strength. In contrast, Issurin has suggested a modified "block periodization" model that is crafted to place a specific emphasis on one focal quality per mesocycle (i.e. maximal strength, power, endurance, etc.) but always includes retaining loads for the non-focal qualities of the mesocycle as well. Simply put, block periodization is intended to prevent detraining in physical qualities developed in previous cycles.


While the block periodization method is preferred with high-level athletes, it is important to remember that novice athletes, particularly the young athlete with a high degree of neural plasticity, can and will adapt to almost any training stimulus. The IYCA Philosophy is clear: Most everything is effective, but not everything is optimal. Even concurrently training multiple competing physical qualities (such as maximal strength and anaerobic endurance) will result in a positive adaptation to both qualities to some extent. Over time, however, as the athlete becomes better developed, the quality and focus of programming must improve.


So what does that mean in practice? The truth is that the Youth Fitness Specialist should be as forward thinking as possible with respect to crafting training loads, volume, intensity, and other aspects of program design. However, the simple fact that the youth athlete is very much in a constant state of flux and controlled turmoil means that even the best laid plans may have to take a backseat to a bad day. A young athlete who reports for training in the afternoon after a long day of academic, social, and familial pressures, often coupled with inadequate nutrition and sleep patterns, is not an ideal candidate for heavy loading despite what the well-conceived periodized conditioning plan might say.


So what is the bottom line? Periodization is undoubtedly an effective means through which to craft effective programming designed to minimize the likelihood of overtraining and maximize the response to training. However, unlike more mature athletes, a young athlete is oftentimes even more sensitive to additional (i.e. "nontraining") stressors. As such, strict adherence to a periodized plan despite obvious evidences of potential overtraining is a recipe for diminished effectiveness, compromised performance, and increased risk for injury. As such the YFS should utilize periodization concepts in concert with a regular serial evaluation of the athlete’s response to training.



Dr. Toby Brooks serves at the Director of Research and Education for the IYCA. Brooks is currently an Assistant Professor in the Master of Athletic Training Program at the Texas Tech University Health Science Center in Lubbock Dr. Brooks has worked with numerous youth, collegiate, and professional athletes and previously owned and operated a youth athletic development business. He is also Co-Founder and Creative Director of NiTROHype Creative in Lubbock.



5 Responses

  1. Andrew McLean says:

    At the risk of being pedantic I would like to make a few points about the above article.

    1. Tudor Bompa is often referred to as the father of periodization but this greatly neglects the input from other seminal authors/coaches/scientists such as Matveyev and Verkoshansky to name only a couple. Bompa was responsible for presenting the concept of periodization to us in the West and has certainly played a large part in its development.

    2. I feel you have your periodization models the wrong way round. Bompas model typically focusses on a number of different motor abilities simultaneously whereas a block periodization model (of which Isuurin has proposed a detailed description – though not the only one) would focus on one motor skill at a time (such as maximal strength or speed strength). The basis of such a system is the use of long term lag in training effect. For example a maximal strength phase may last for 4 weeks and the strength may be maintained with minimal work for 2-4 weeks allowing an athlete to optimally train speed strength in this period.

    This is an important point as block periodization is typically reserved for the elite level and would be unsuitable for most youth athletes.

    In response to one of the comments above I think it would also be a large leap to propose the use of a “flexible non-linear model”. Much of the science behind these models is suspect at best. Besides all periodization is by definition non-linear and as discussed in the above article any periodisation model used with children would require flexibility and adaptability.

    As I said I don’t wish to come across pedantic and I agree with much of the sentiment in this article. I am merely concerned about the interpretation and application of various periodisation models.

  2. David says:

    Good stuff here; however, wasn’t Matveyev the first to introduce the concept of periodization?

  3. Toby B. says:

    David and Andrew-

    I concur with your assertion and concede the point…while Matveyev is generally credited with the idea, Bompa is widely regarded as the “Father of Periodization,” particularly in western countries. Others argue that Bompa wasn’t really the “father” so much as the “translator” based on Matveyev’s work. I meant no disrespect to others besides Bompa and the reality is that there seems to be a fair amount of debatable facts over who really is the “father.”

    Andrew, I am not sure I follow your second point.

    My take home message is this: firm and unyielding adherence to any periodized model for children is most likely a recipe for overtraining. We tend to be quite stubborn in our training philosophies, and the point at which that stubbornness leads us to “stick to the plan” rather than make necessary adjustments to best meet the athlete’s needs is the moment when we have failed them.

  4. Adam Lee says:

    Sorry, I did not mean to start a discussion on who created periodization (block, linear, non-linear, flexible, etc…)
    I believe I agree with everyone that flexibility is one important key to youth training. Depending on multiple factors (i.e. school exam time, family issues, time of day, nutritional issues, etc…) any program needs to be able to “flex” to meet the demands of outside influences.
    Programs need to be progressive, periodized, and flexible.
    Fun, discovery, et.al… are all AUTOMATICALLY part of that program.
    I am not promoting nor implying unyeilding adherence to any programs. I just condensed what I read and how it strongly parallels the overall thought process of flexible non-linear periodization theory published by Kraemer and Fleck.
    Regimented training is not what I program or how I train others. Laughter, fun, discovery (at any age) is the center of all programs. If something is “not right” with the clients, then questions are asked and the program is “flexed” to meet the needs of the client.

    Finally, structure does not negate fun and discovery. Without structure you get chaos.
    Structure and programming get long term results when used in parallel and conjunction with discovery, fun. Bottom line, if the kids are not having fun and getting results, then they will not continue with the programs.

  5. Andrew McLean says:

    Dr Brooks

    To clarify my second point:

    Whilst I completely agree with the sentiment that periodization for the youth athlete needs to be flexible and to yield to the day today requirements of the young athlete I cannot agree that block periodization is in any way a suitable model to achieve this flexibility, I know that advocating the use of the Block model with sub-elite athletes was not the main tenant of your article and I don’t wish to distract from your take-home message but the point is none the less important.

    By definition the Block model is less flexible and less adaptable. Contrary to what you state it actually has very little focus on retaining loads as it recognises that elite level athletes gain little from one session in isolation. The block model essentially relies on overreaching and intensively training one motor function at a time, as this is the only way highly trained athletes can improve their already impressive levels of performance.

    Bompas model on the other hand employs a number of different focuses throughout a training week. This could easily be adapted to the young athlete as a coach could recognise that on a particular day for example maximal strength would not be an appropriate focus but mobility might. This flexibility is not present in the block model.

    As I said I don’t want to distract from the message of your article which in essence I agree with but the block model is only for the elite athlete and would not deliver the required flexibility. I am stating this fact not to split hairs but to encourage further understanding in this important area.

Leave a Reply

Comment using: