Myths & Facts About Karate Training Periodization!!


Today, the term Periodization is frequently indiscriminately used to describe any form of training plan, regardless of the structure you use.

The Periodization of training was made popular by Matveyev, from Russia, and was later implemented in the United States by Stone, O’Bryant, & Garhammer.

It started as a hypothetical (100% unproved and theoretical) model for Strength Training and was initially intended for competitive weightlifters. Only was later adopted by athletes of other sports.

There are several Periodization models proposed by several authors: Linear, Nonlinear, Block, Fractal, Conjugate Sequence, etc.

Those models differ in terms of structure but they all have some common basic ideas (or should we call it beliefs and myths?!?)!

Let’s see what those ideas/myths are:

1. There are established time frames for the development and retention of specific fitness adaptations.

2. A sequential hierarchy is best for developing fitness qualities (eg, Strength before Power, Endurance before Speed, etc.).

3. We can generalize and adapt training plans, time frames, and progression structures across several subgroups of athletes.

A fully complete Periodization structure includes more than Training Periodization (physical conditioning):

  • Periodization of Recovery – highly-related and inseparable from Training Periodization, but I highlighted it here, to make a call to its importance.
  • Dietary Periodization
  • Periodization of Psychological Skills
  • Skills Periodization – more related to Technique and Tactics

But the next sub-chapters are mostly dedicated to understanding the Periodization models related to Training, Recovery, and Skills.

Dietary and Psychological Skills Periodization are far from my scope of knowledge!

The Philosophy of Periodization and What is the “General Adaptation Syndrome”?

The concept of Periodization is based on Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome model.

General Adaptation Syndrome consists of three different stages and describes how an organism will respond to stress:

STAGE 1: Alarm Reaction (AR) – The first stage of the General Adaptation Syndrome is the Alarm Reaction. In this initial phase, humans exhibit a “fight or flight” response, which prepares the body for physical activity. However, this initial response can also decrease the effectiveness of the immune system, making persons more susceptible to illness during this phase.

STAGE 2: Stage of Resistance (SR) – This stage can also be named as Stage of Adaptation. During this phase, if the stress continues, the body adapts to the stressors it is exposed to. Those changes take place in order to reduce the effect of the stressor.

STAGE 3: Stage of Exhaustion (SE) – At this stage, the stress has continued for some time. The body’s resistance to the stress may be gradually reduced or may collapse quickly. This means the immune system and the body’s ability to resist disease/injury is partially or totally eliminated.

As you can see, this model states that chronic exposure to a particular stressor may lead to an Exhaustion Phase in which adaptation is lost.

For example, if you make your Karate students or athletes train High-Intensity Plyometric exercises every day, they won’t be able to develop Muscle Power, properly. And that will be especially true during Competition’s performance.

The main goal of Karate Training Periodization is to change Volume, Intensity, and training Frequency to maximize performance and reduce the probability of Overtraining.

Scientific Support for the Periodization Principles

Well, the first and more relevant scientific evidence about Periodization is the following one…

Periodized Training is significantly superior in performance improvements when compared with constant-repetition or random programs.

Reinforcing this is the evidence that Strength Training Periodization leads to greater results, in comparison with non-periodized models.

This is true for men and women, various training levels, and a range of age groups!

Evidence also shows that a more generic Periodization Training program can have positive effects on Karate students with low fitness levels.

Of course, when you have sedentary new students coming into your Dojo every type of training plan will help them to develop more Strength, Coordination, and Endurance!

The challenge is to plan your Karate classes to all the other students and athletes…

Apart from that, the truth is that Science has shown us, until today, there are no significant differences between the several Periodization models!!

The Main Key of Periodization? Training Variation!!

What scientific studies showed until now is that Variation is a critical aspect of effective training…
… it did NOT show that this or that Periodization model is the best and ultimate guide to increase performance!

There are several studies advocating the superiority of some Periodization structures. But that is an illusion, until any scientific evidence in contrary.

To understand the importance of Training Variation you need to look to the opposite side of the coin: Training Monotony!

Research shows that high levels of Training Monotony lead to a lack of motivation, poorer performance, over-training syndrome, and more frequent banal infections/injuries…

Don’t massacre your athletes, please!!!

Dedication cannot be confused with the ability to do 1000 Oi-Zuki every single class or the same Kata for 6 months in a row. If you think repetition is the only key to improve your Karate…


Repetition is an important factor for mastery but you need to manage it well…

… Because “More is NOT always Better”!!

One of the most difficult tasks you’ll have as a Karate Sensei is to manage how much Variation should you implement in your classes.

Think with me…

… Training Variation is a critical component of long-term planning, BUT if you’re always changing the content of your training sessions, gains will be very slow or nonexistent…

… If Training Variation is smaller and the program focus, most of the time, in a smaller number of skills, your athletes may experience quick improvements, BUT if that concentrated focus is too prolonged, they will be exposed to the negative effects of Monotony.

Man, Why Can’t My Students All Be Equal?!?

How This Affects Periodization?

Let’s start with a Karate Science Academy statement…

“The problem of means and averages is that they are means and averages”

Well, when you read a scientific-based training intervention, generally, you look for the mean values of the results.

The studies have a sample of 20 or 50 subjects.

Meta-analyses get together several pieces of research on the same theme. That allows to have much bigger samples and calculate more robust and significant effect of the training protocols.

But the final results are often presented with mean values!

That’s a good practical solution that helps you improve your work as a Karate Coaches.

And it’s enough, if you are talking about generic Karate classes, like children, recreational students, etc. or if you don’t individualize your Kumite/Kata athletes.

It gives you guidelines to manage heterogeneous groups.

But if you train athletes or more advanced Karate students that train 4-5 times per week (or even more) and want to be the best Karateka they can, mean values are not enough!


I’m going to give you a few examples…

… the Heritage Family Study (2001) tried to understand the training-induced changes in maximal oxygen up-take (VO2max). The average increase in Vo2max was 19%. However, 5% of participants had little or no change in VO2max and 5% had an increase of 40% to +50%. And they all did the same training protocol!!

… similar diversity among individuals was reported after Strength-Training interventions. For example, when 585 young men and women Strength-trained for 12 weeks the average strength gain was 54%. However, there were individuals that had 0% of results and other ones had 250% in Strength gains!!

What are the reasons for this?

There are several variables working together when you train your Karate athletes:
o Initial Strength Status
o Acute Response to Training Protocol
o Long-term development of trained skills is regulated by differing molecular pathways and gene networks.
o Testosterone releases are affected by the time of day, week, and month
o Cycles of light and dark
o Motivational levels
o Training stress
o Nutrition and Hydration conditions and habits
o Sleep
o And so on…

Pre-existing levels of Strength and/or Endurance don’t tell you reliably what are going to be the future responses of your athletes.

Don’t understand me wrong, because evidence-based average protocols are to be followed for each skill!!! Unless you have a hi-tech lab and gym with all the instruments to measure, in real-time, your athletes’ physiological responses to training, the best tools you have in your hands are evidence-based average training protocols…

But the way you manage all those protocols together… The way you manage your athletes’ individual response to each training session… The way you manage your athletes’ readiness for training and competition…

…will always force you to look at each athlete, individually! And adapt certain things, along the season.

On a macro level, let’s suppose you dedicate two weeks, at the beginning of the season, where you focus on skills like Flexibility, Stamina, and Maximal Strength. You start with a group of 10 Kumite athletes.

After those two weeks, you evaluate all your athletes and 3 of them show insufficient levels of Active Flexibility to execute a Jodan Ura-Mawashi Geri in the close distance; 2 others aren’t able to keep good levels of intensity in a 3-minute Kumite bout; and 5 are ready to go forward to the next level of physical training.

What should you do?!? Right…

You should Periodize different programs for those 10 athletes, in the next 2 weeks, adapted to their individual needs!

But always, always, always based on evidence-based average protocols for each skill… Please, don’t forget this!

The only thing you can do, in a micro level, is to adapt the number of reps or sets per exercise according to your athletes’ readiness…


Imagine that you included Horizontal Jumps to develop lower-limbs Power… You based on the average protocol of 3-5 sets of 3-6 maximal reps each. But in that session, 2 of your athletes made 3 jumps near their maximal capacity (250cm, for example) and the 4th had decreased significantly (they reached 230cm). They stop that set, if you observed the decrease was to due to fatigue…

… you make rest for 3 minutes… when they go to the 2nd set they make the two initial reps with the same 230cm! What should you do here?

You have 2 options: they don’t make that exercise again in that training session; or you let them rest a little more and try again!

Respect your Athletes’ response to training.

But let suppose that your main goal with that exercise is different: you want to increase their Stamina (if you aren’t familiarized with the real meaning of Stamina, please read my PDF about Rest Intervals, available in our Telegram community).

There, you give your athletes’ a more flexible range of jumping length they must accomplish in each rep. Let’s suppose you consider that a range between 230cm and 250cm (or more) is acceptable in a context where fatigue starts to install (in a Kumite or Kata round your athletes will experience that and they must keep good levels of intensity until the end)…

You’ll ask your athletes to perform as many jumps as possible inside that range. If they start jumping below the 230cm, they stop and rest until the next set.

What you must keep in mind is that with this strategy you’re developing their Stamina, but not their Power!

BUT (there always has to be a “but”)…

… the protocols of certain skills are slightly different between well-trained athletes and those who are giving their first steps!

That’s Why You Shouldn’t Try to Copy-Paste the Training Methods of the Big Stars: Aghayev, Kiyuna, Terliuga, Sanchez!!!

If you had access to the training plans of the 20 Top Karate Athletes Kumite and Kata, female and male, you would see they follow the same principles but not the same structure!!


Because they are individuals!! Not clones…

And your athletes aren’t clones of them, as well.

You must know WHY, HOW, and WHEN to apply each training method to each one of your Karate athletes.

You can even pick examples of exercises from the videos of Ivan Leal, Junior Lefevre, Anzhelika Terliuga, Douglas Brose, Sandra Sanchez, Antonio Oliva, Damian Quintero, Ryo Kiyuna, and so on…

That’s a great idea for keeping Training Variation!!

But you need to know WHY, HOW, and WHEN to use each one of those exercises with each Kumite or Kata athlete…


That’s what makes you a real Karate professional…

Right now, I know what you are thinking:

“That’s great, but how can I do it in my daily Karate classes with 20 kids with ages between 5 and 9 years old?”; or even worse “You are insane, how can I manage all these things in a class where I have kids with 8 years old and adults with 40 years old. Besides that, I have White Belts and Brown Belts in the same class!!!”

Well, first of all, you really shouldn’t have kids and adults in the same group. Even if they have the same belt levels!!!

Because they are physiological and psychologically too different and have completely unique responses and needs…

If you tell me that you have one or more Karate instructors helping you and that you can split the groups, that’s another story. Because it’s like you had different classes, but training in the same room…

Of course, if you are talking about general classes that practice Karate for recreation (2 or 3 times per week), you have to plan more generic sessions that fit the majority. Although I think you must have the flexibility to adapt some of the exercises to specific students, whenever it’s possible.

Now you already know what’s myth and fact about Training Periodization, please read the article “The 5 Key-Stones of Training Periodization”… With both articles, you’ll develop a solid base for higher levels of knowledge about Karate Training Periodization!

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