Making Sense of Bondarchuk: Periodization Models

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Check out the previous installments of this series: Exercise ClassificationTransfer of TrainingAthlete Adaptation Profiles.

Right off the bat, I want to make the reader aware of one critical fact; Dr. Bondarchuk has 32; yes, 32 defined periodization models. I wanted to put that out there because this essay is intended to be only a primer on a select few of Dr. B’s periodization models. I will by no means attempt due justice for all of these schemes in anything less than a full book. So as you proceed here, be aware of several facts in relationship to these 32 models of periodization.

  1. Yes, 32 is a ton. In many cases, only slight differences distinguish one model from another.
  2. The reason for all of these models is simple; training at an elite level is highly nuanced.
  3. Individualized preparation models are inherent in any sport, not only track and field.
  4. We will tackle only 3 of his most commonly used periodization models.

With that out of the way, let’s proceed with a description and some examples of Dr. Bondarchuk’s most commonly used methods.

Complex Method –

This is one of the foundational periodization schemes in the Bondarchuk system. What you get with the complex method is a vanilla, purely Bondarchuk*, repetitive system of training. One system or complex of exercises is implemented and used until the athlete has entered sports form. Period. There is little to no change in any of the exercises or training means. As a coach looking at this model you are trying to get the athlete to enter sports form in the fewest number of training sessions as possible. From a scientific point of view, this set-up is beneficial for several reasons;

  1. Limiting the amount of change during the training block helps to more accurately determine the effects of the means used. For example, if you as a coach change the weight on an exercise every session (as in progressive overload) and then change out the exercises every week, it’s pretty much impossible to know whether the load selection or exercise selection contributed more to the results you see. It could be, indeed is likely to be, any number of factors. When only one thing changes however, as in the Bondarchuk system, it is much easier to ascribe success in training to a specific factor. In statistics this is known as reducing the “noisiness” of a data set to avoid making inaccurate or false assumptions.
  2. In the Bondarchuk system, exercises in the special development stage of training are selected with the intent of honing sport skill. When the athlete performs these types of specialized, specific, highly technical movements repeatedly with no change in load or volume, profound gains in sport performance are observed. Work on the subject of motor learning by Bernstein in the 1900’s was a profound influence on Dr. Bondarchuk in this regard and helped shape the idea behind the complex method

* When I say purely Bondarchuk, what I mean is this. Dr. B doesn’t subscribe to the traditional model of eastern bloc periodization in the form of waving volume and intensity. He believes that volume and intensity should remain constant throughout the training cycle. The only variable that changes is the exercise complex. This makes the training monotonous, repetitive, and vanilla in comparison to the revolving accumulation, intensification, and peaking phases in traditional eastern bloc periodization.

You may be thinking at this point, “What if the athlete looks like garbage at the end of the cycle and I’ve wasted the whole 8 weeks?” Therein lies the gamble, and in my opinion, the main drawback of the complex method. You really don’t know how the athlete will adapt. But isn’t that true of any training program? At least with this one, you know exactly what you’re getting, and you are not randomly flinging shit at the wall and hoping something sticks. As would be the case with the idea that you have to change training every week or so to “confuse” the muscles into adapting.

There are ways to mitigate the risk of wasting a complex cycle. These come in the form of knowing where in your calendar of competition you are, knowing the athlete’s specific needs (speed, strength, balance, coordination, etc.), and planning accordingly with test exercises to monitor progress.

Below I have included a basic example of a general strength directed Complex Method program for a speed strength athlete (football/basketball player).


Special Preparatory Period – Strength Speed Emphasis

Indicates Test Exercises

Exercise Intensity Reps Sets Rest
Squat Jump 50 kg. 6 (check Velocity) 3 3-5 min.
Short Sprints High 1 (15 yds.) 3 3-5 min.
Quarter Squats 80% 1RM 5 3 3-5 min.
Bench Press 100 kg. 12 3 1-2 min.
Back Extension 20 kg. 10 2 1 min.
Glute Ham Raise Low 10 2 1 min.
Shoulder Press 60 kg. 10 3 1 min.
Bicep Curl Low 20 2 1 min.
Dips (weighted) 20 kg. 20 2 1 min.
Sit Ups (Russian) Low 20 5 1 min.



Mon. – Session 1

Tues. – Session 2

Wed. – Session 3

Thurs. – Session 4

Fri. – Session 5

Sat. – Session 6

Sun. – Rest day

Variation Method –

In contrast to the complex method (or in addition to it, depending on how you look at them) the variation method prolongs or extends the period of developing sports form. As in the complex method, the means of training do not change (sets, reps, intensity), but the actual system of exercises DOES change. Meaning that an additional complex of exercises is added. There must be at least two complexes, but there can be more than two as well. This means that the total number of sessions required to reach sports form doubles. A basic math example is instructive;

Variation method: 100 sessions to reach sports form

Complex 1 = 50 sessions to sports form

Complex 2 = 50 sessions to sports form

Total time to peak condition = 100 sessions

So you may be asking yourself, “What’s the difference between the variation method and just doing 2 complex methods back to back?” An excellent question. The difference is that half way through training each complex of exercises, the complex switches. So below I have illustrated an example of how this is to be carried out on a session to session basis.

Variation Method: 100 sessions to reach sports form

Sess. 1-25              Complex 1 (part a) – 25 sessions

Sess. 26-50           Complex 2 (part a) – 25 sessions

Sess. 51-75           Complex 1 (part b) – 25 sessions

Sess. 76-100        Complex 2 (part b) – 25 sessions

So as you can see the training takes a total of 100 sessions, but you get the combined effect of the two complexes of exercises. As a general rule, the variation method is used when entering sports form is not imperative in the short term. For example, during periods of general preparation or maintaining fitness during the competitive season. This makes it a valuable tool for team sport coaches and those who work in track and field as the competition calendar can be very long and peaking frequently could lead to decreased results in a meet. For team sport athletes, this model is a great fit. Being able to improve and perfect tactical skill is the priority through the majority of the calendar year in many team sports. This means that in terms of “stress balance”, tactical work takes priority in selecting loads. Pushing physical capacities too hard in-season will take away from adaptive reserves needed to improve sport skill. With the variation method, you maintain the previously obtained level of fitness from the off-season, and are able to focus on acquiring higher levels of skill.

Combined Methods –

In many of Dr. Bondarchuk’s books, the reader will find combined methods of periodization such as the “Variation-Complex Combined Method”. Inevitably a reader will see this and be left dumbfounded as to what this even means. Allow me to guide you through making sense of these combined methods. The reader should look at the name and follow through a calendar year of training in suite. For example, with the above method the first part of the calendar year would begin with training in the variation method. Once the athlete reaches sports form in all of the exercise complexes selected, the next evolution of training will utilize the complex method. This can be applied to team sports quite readily. Take American football for example. During the off-season, long term adaptations are being built and worked on using the variation method. Once spring ball begins, the complex method is used to achieve peak condition before the athletes leave for the summer. Or in baseball, the athletes use the variation method during the off-season and then the complex method during spring training.

This type of thinking is to be used for comprehending other, more nuanced, periodization models in Dr. Bondarchuk’s work. For example, the “Stage Combined Complex-Variation Method”. The reader would understand that for each stage (general prep and special prep) there is a complex method and a variation method.

Conclusion –

This concludes the article series on making sense of Bondarchuk. I hope the reader found this brief series helpful in digesting some of the main points in the system of one of history’s greatest coaches. As I have said before, by all means feel free to contact me with any questions you have. I have said before and I’ll say again, if I don’t know the answer to your question I can call Dr. Bondarchuk directly or reach out to one of many other resources available to dig up the answers you seek. Thank you for reading and best of luck in your sport pursuits.

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