Goal Based Versus Need Based Periodization

By Rick Morris

When you pick your most efficient and performance enhancing periodization scheme you probably first think of linear periodization versus non-linear or undulating periodization. Next you may consider whether to go with forward periodization where you begin with easier workouts and progress to more intense training runs or start with reverse periodization in which you start with strength and speed before increasing your mileage. Are those two decisions the only ones you need to make? I don’t think so.

Another area of periodization that you may forget to consider is goal based versus need based periodization. A goal based periodization scheme is one in which your workout types, paces and recovery intervals are based upon your goal distance and pace. A need based periodization plan also takes into consideration your specific running goal but instead of focusing completely on your goal it concentrates on your specific needs. Your workouts are tailored more towards improving the areas of your running that need improvement. You actually have a couple of choices when it comes to needs based periodization. The first is the already mentioned scheme that focuses on improving your weaker phases of running. That is the most commonly used needs based periodization scheme but another less common, but still valuable type is strength needs based periodization. A strength needs based scheme concentrates on taking advantage of and building running phases that you are very strong in.

Which of these periodization schemes is best for you? They all are! There are times when each of these periodization schemes will be a worthwhile training tool for maximizing your running performance.

Goal Based Periodization

A goal based periodization scheme is the most commonly used in long distance running. When using a goal based plan, most of your workouts are specifically designed and intended to improve your running performance for your goal race and pace.

Most goal based plans do include some need based running. For example the fourth phase of many linear periodization plans are intended to provide a strong peak before your race. As such they often include a series of workouts that are intended to improve areas that you are currently weak in.

Goal based periodization schemes are a good choice when you are trying to run a specific pace or finishing time. Goal based periodization plans can be either linear or non-linear in nature.

Improvement Need Based Periodization

Of the two types of need based periodization schemes an improvement based needs plan is by far the most commonly used and generally results in the greatest improvements in running performance for most distance runners.

An improvement needs plan will focus on training the phases of your running that need to be enhanced. For example, if you have problems maintaining a strong pace you may include a phase that concentrates on tempo and lactate threshold training. If your VO2 max is somewhat lacking you should probably focus on high intensity running for a period of time.

This type of scheme can also be either liner or non-linear. With a linear plan your training phases would be like blocks where the majority of your workouts are focused on a specific need or non-liner (undulating) where each phase includes multi pace running with an emphasis on one specific need. An improvement needs based periodization scheme will concentrate on improving your weaknesses but will usually also include some goal based workouts.

An improvement needs based periodization plan can be used for many running goals but tends to work particularly well for competitive runners and is usually most effective with a non-linear multi pace scheme.

Strength Need Based Periodization

While the improvement based plan in more common, a strength needs based periodization scheme can also be  great way to maximize your running performance. The strength needs based plan is very similar to the needs based scheme except your workouts focus on further improving your strengths while putting less emphasis on your weaknesses.

While this may seem to be counterproductive, it can be a very effective scheme for some athletes. For example, may top level distance runners have a very high percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers with very few fast twitch fibers. That is in essence what makes them so successful at long distance running. While even athletes with very few slow twitch fibers can still improve their top speed, the improvements gained from those type of workouts may not be the most efficient use of their training time. This type of runner may instead focus on maximizing the phases of running that they excel in.

As with the other periodization schemes this one can be either liner or non-linear based and will also include some goal based workouts as well as a small number of improvement needs based workouts. After all, you can’t completely ignore any of the phases of running if you’re going to reach your peak performance potential.

The strength need based periodization plan is best for highly competitive runners that know where their genetic strengths and weaknesses are and are able to work with a rather complex periodization scheme.

So what’s the bottom line? Which plan is best for you? As I already mentioned, each of these plans hold a valuable place in your training arsenal. You need to analyze your specific needs, goals and abilities. Then choose the periodization plan that works best for you at the time.