Reverse periodization...worth a shot? Any experiences?

In my latest attempt to overthink my training this year, I stumbled across some stuff on reverse periodization. The general theme seems to be harder, shorter work during the winter moving to lower intensity and more volume into the season. My events this year are primarily longer gravel rides (60+ miles) and a 2 day charity ride covering 190 miles.

In principle, this seems like a good approach for my situation…

  • I can do shorter, intense rides on the trainer since it’s too cold (for me) to ride outside. I’m not a fan of riding much below 35F. I’d then increase volume as the weather improves.
  • I could likely raise my FTP some even if TTE suffers now, and work on extending TTE closer to my events.
  • Less time of the bike allows more time to devote to weight training this winter with the same overall time commitment to training.

I’m thinking 2 or 3 VO2/threshold 1 hr workouts during the week, with some 2 hr endurance rides on the weekend. Maybe 6-7 hours per week through March moving up to 10-12 per week when I can do longer rides outside. My butt (and attention span :rofl:) can’t handle much more than that on the trainer.

Am I on to something or nuts?

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It would be great wouldnt it - train indoors with lots of intensity and structure over the cold dark days of winter and then get outside in spring for enjoyable volume.

Dylan Johnson did a video about it and in one of his more recent vlogs suggested the reseacrh said it less effective for the vast majority of us.

I think one of the key points is that the gains from high intensity come fast, and are lost fast, so need to be done right before ‘race’ time, while the gains from lower intensity take longer to be seen, but last longer, so need to be started a lot further out from the races. Sadly that usually means winter for us in the northern hemisphere.


I’ll check that out … thanks!

“Reverse Periodization” works great for me… I’ve done this the past few years, but my riding style is Randonneuring (Audax). Zero racing, zero sprints, zero attacks, zero breakaways, zero five man pacelines, and absolutely minimal efforts at threshold or above if I can help it. This is the opposite of 99% of riders.

I do a crap ton of VO2 and threshold work in the off-season and then switch to sweet spot / high tempo as warmer weather approaches. With my six month riding season including 10-40 hours per week of endurance riding, it might as well be called “traditional base” anyway. :slight_smile:


I’ve done this for a few years now and it seems to work. However my events in the summer are all 200-1000k. There is not much sprinting or threshold work there. It seems to be a relatively common practice among ultra endurance riders.

It works because my “specialty” is long rides at z2 or maybe tempo for the 200ish rides. So you build over winter, then move into “specialty” by doing lots of long z2 work… which acts to consolidate what you did during your winter build.

By mid summer though my ability to work at VO2 and threshold has significantly impaired, though it doesn’t really matter to me because my ability to ride at z2 forever has still improved from before.

If you’re doing events where you need your higher end, then it’s probably not for you.

Edit: as an example. Starting spring 2021 coming off the winter, I set a bunch of PRs and “Strava records” for short 3-10min long segments. By the end of the summer I was 10-20w lower on these rides. BUT, my 4 hour power had increased to 250w from ~220 the year before.


Also do randonneuring. This is basically exactly what I do.

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I might be in that 1% with you :thinking:

I don’t race, though I’m not ruling it out down the road. With my target events being 4-8 hours on the bike, I really can’t do lots of super hard efforts without burning out from my experience thus far. I have a 5 day, 500 mile dream ride I want to do in the next year or so too so much of my focus when it’s nice out is longer rides.

@cnidos 1000k sounds epic!!! High end power for me is getting up long climbs without falling over :rofl: I’m never going to beat anyone up a hill or in a sprint.


There’s tons of merit to this depending on your goals. Most coaches would suggest that your periodization should match your planned race intensity as those events grow closer. This year my #1 A race is Unbound XL so I am doing something similar - threshold progression now, then tons of SS and long rides leading up to the event. I’m going to do a Vo2 block in the spring because I have one “shorter” race that I expect to be pretty intense at the start, and because mixing it up is nice.

Personally, I also MUCH prefer doing more intensive work inside vs. long boring rides inside, and LOVE lots of long outside rides and hate doing workouts outside. So this works for me mentally too.

If you’re racing crits and CX this is probably the wrong strategy. Randos and ultra racing, sure.


@FrankTuna what you are proposing is exactly what I do. All rides other than the 2 hard are below LT1. My undiagnosed ADHD keeps me from sitting on the trainer for for more than 90 minutes. I can motivate myself for a 2 hour session only a couple of times over the winter. The emotional cost is just too high to go to the well too often.

Then when the weather turns nice, I just ride. More hours is more better. So far my FTP went up 30 watts in the past 18 months or power meter ownership.

TR us a great product; but, I only use it seasonally. I ride to get out of the house!

During my first season with TR, I mentally blew a head gasket mid way through build and walked away from the bike for a couple weeks. I made a deal with myself that I learned my lesson and will not do that again.

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I’ve been thinking about this same thing.

You folks that have used it, are you doing totally custom plans? Or are you just doing phases in a different order?

E.g. instead of doing Base → Build → Specialty, are you doing, errr, Specialty → Build → Base?
I.e. doing full phases as set up by TR?

Or just picking and choosing?


I haven’t given it much though until you asked about it. I think it is an interesting question. If i had a race to prepare for I think it makes sense to finish off with a specialty phase - Build - Base - Specialty then. If there isn’t any specific event I would fucus on just Build and Base. I would change things up a bit depending on my weaknesses going into next phase. Hope this makes any sense.:flushed:

You could argue that for you, it’s not reverse periodisation, as your riding is getting more like your events the closer you get.

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Yep, absolutely. That’s pretty much exactly how the godfather describes it as well…

Keep in mind I have no idea what I’m doing.

What I’m doing this year is… longer build over the winter months starting in November (when the roads snow over). To date this has been the 8wk HV pol build plan followed immediately by SPB HV which I am in the middle of now.

Once that is over, the plan is to work on increasing TTE at SS a bit. This is a weakness of mine, and something that never seems to last more than a month or two once I build it, so I am trying doing it last this year. This means a new custom at least 4wk block of like 25% of training hours per week at SS, focused on increasing TiZ at SS each week. One VO2 float set a week to maintain high end, one long z2 ride a week (4-5h weather permitting, otherwise ~3h on the trainer).

Once winter is over and most riding can be outside, move into more specific riding, so one long ride a week (>8h time permitting, at least >6h), plus one vo2 and one threshold a week to maintain high end - this is typical in-season riding for me, and resembles the 6-wk polarized base… just much longer.

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This is the issue w/ “reverse periodization”…many years ago when I was juggling young kids, int’l and domestic travel, etc. my trianing primarily consisted of our lunch time rides. We had some great riders in the office at the time, and the the rides were tough. I was still able to compete as pack fill in Cat 3 crits, but any time off the bike meant a rapid loss of fitness. I referred to it as “surface” fitness…I had fitness, but it was not deep-seated and easily lost. I think Coach Chad refers to it as “brittle fitness”, which is also a good term.

Others, especially long course triathletes, have good success with it since their primary race efforts were long, steady distances…so build up your FTP during the off-season and then add volume later. The overall concept is to have your training more closely resemble your race efforts the closer you get to your A event.

In that regard, if gravel is your primary focus, there is a sound argument that reverse periodization would be a viable option.

Training is often about experimentation and seeing what works for you…if you find the approach interesting and appealing, give it a shot. You can always adjust later.

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Some relatable stuff from Jason Koop’s most recent podcast on periodization. Polarized vs Pyramidal Training with Luca Filipas PhD | Koopcast Episode 113 — KoopCast — Overcast

Basically, increasing specificity closer to your event works.

I do reverse periodisation for long distance TT and audax, for a lot of the reasons above. I start in Oct with something like Trad Base, and this year that allowed me to add in strength work in the gym. Then I moved onto a VO2 max phase for 3 months, then finally into long, long, race-like sweetspot workouts for 3 months.
The base has the effect of improving VT1, and essentially closing the gap between VO2, FTP and VT1.
The VO2 max phase then opens this gap up again, by dragging VO2 up. The last phase works on the area between VT1 and FTP. I can cope with a small loss of VO2 max during this phase - its not a good determinant of race success for me!


One more thing; I’m all for science, but in this area we are not served well, because virtually no pro sport (anyone?) relies on exclusively long sub-threshold efforts. The way pros ride Unbound at the pointy end (ie with a lot of surges and selections above FTP) is not how many of us would ride it. So its not surprising there is very little evidence for this when you look at pro sport. Even the XC skiing studies that Dylan cites are not terribly applicable.

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Full distance triathlon the 112 mile bike portion target is typically 65-80% ftp.

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