Achieving A New Personal Best (PB)

The benchmark of improved performance is most often measured against your previous best – a new personal best (PB) in a race or a new heaviest bench press or fastest WOD.

Achieving peak conditioning to post a new PB requires a deeper understanding of the importance of training periodisation, particularly in terms of balancing rest, training and competitions or races.

But if you get it right it’s possible to keep achieving PBs and churning out top performances, season after season.

Powerful Periodisation

Periodised or cycled training is a practise used by professional athletes the world over as it is scientifically proven to yield the best results. Periodisation is an organised approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various phases of a training programme, during a specific period of time. It should incorporate sufficient periods of rest and recovery to optimise your adaptations to exercise, be it increased strength or stamina, or improved endurance.

According to pioneering endocrinologist Hans Selye, who is considered one of the pioneers of modern periodisation theory, physiological systems respond to changes in the ‘stressors’ that are imposed on them. These systems will eventually adapt to cope with a specific stressor more readily.

Once the adaptive response is complete the physiological system will stop changing and new stressors are required to produce a further response. If stressors are uniquely and properly periodised, an organism can continue to adapt until the absolute upper limit of that genetic potential is reached.

Periodised exercise programmes are therefore designed to include a variety of exercises done at specific intensities and volumes, in different phases, to achieve a desired goal. The priority and sequence of each training cycle or set of cycles is established based on the goals of the individual.

How to break your training up into microcycles

To effectively periodise your training you need to break your exercise routine into small units, measured in days or weeks, called microcycles. Initial microcycles generally consist of volume-based training and, possibly, skills development, which develops a strong physiological base from which to build on. This could last for 1-4 weeks, depending on your goals.

The second microcycle would involve an increase in training intensity and volume as you work to build specific areas of your fitness, such as strength, power, speed or endurance. This would normally be followed by a ‘down’ microcycle, which usually consists of 1-2 weeks of lowered volume and intensity. Depending on your goal, you may also include a tapering microcycle two weeks out from a big event, to give your body enough time to recover before the big day.

Meso- and Macrocycles

These microcycles would be combined to make up a 4-8 week mesocycle, and two or more mesocycles would be combined to make a macrocycle. A macrocycle generally lasts between three and six months, but can be up to a year in length, and it is ultimately the entire period of time you will need to achieve your overall goal – in this case a new PB.

As an example, here is a basic framework for a periodised plan to prepare to run a marathon (42.2km):

Week 1
Microcycle 1
Build up to base training
Low volume & intensity
Mesocycle 1
Mini-goal: Develop the physiological capacity to run non-stop for the duration of time needed to complete the marathon distance.
Goal: Compete in the target marathon in 16 weeks and complete it in the target time.
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Microcycle 2
Base training and time on the legs
Low volume & intensity
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Microcycle 3
Active rest
Low volume & intensity
Week 10
Microcycle 4
Endurance and strength – hill training and/or speed work
High intensity and volume
Mesocycle 2
Mini-goal: Build on your fitness base to improve specific aspects of your running to improve performance. Ensure adaptation occurs with the taper period.
Week 11
Week 12
Week 13
Week 14
Week 15
Microcycle 5
Training taper before event
Active rest and recovery
Week 16

The total of these cycles would be a 16 week macrocycle that should get you across the finish line of your first race within your desired time – and with as little suffering on the route as possible.

A periodised programme aimed at achieving a new PB therefore takes a holistic view of your training and works to develop each of the individual components required to achieve your goal over the entire macrocycle phase.

Once that is achieved, a period of complete rest and active recovery with some cross-training and strength development should be taken before starting the cycle again to improve on your new PB.