The Rise of the ‘Big Red Sports Machine’ and the Advent of Modern-Day Periodization

By Nick Bourne

This paper will chronicle the rise of the Soviet “Big Red Sports Machine,” associated sport science and most significantly, the advent of modern day periodization. Periodization can be defined as the systematic, cyclical manipulation of training and competitive workload designed to achieve the relative balance between stress and recovery necessary to achieve optimal gains in human sporting performance. The origins of periodization can be traced to ancient Greece where the earliest written histories of athletes were recorded. Following World War II and the battle for world ideological supremacy, the Soviet Union utilised sport as a political tool in an attempt to demonstrate the superiority of its Communist system. Integral to achieving the best sporting results was the application of “cutting edge” sport science and the advent of modern day periodization. Instrumental in the genesis of training theory was Professor Lev Pavlovich Matveyev of the Central State Institute of Physical Culture in Moscow, the so-called “Father” of periodization. After introducing his research in 1962, Matveyev published The Fundamentals of Sports Training in 1965—a book that subsequently was translated into more than forty languages. To help formulate his ideas, Matveyev analysed the athletic performances and training profiles of several thousand top athletes in events that could be easily quantified such as track and field, swimming and weight lifting. From the gathered data he derived the theory of periodization that guided the training process and facilitated peaking at the right time. Periodization would go on to revolutionise athletic training and performance, so much so that by the turn of the 21st-century, periodization formed the foundation of most modern coaching theory and practice and the basis of every serious athlete’s training. With the use of primary research including an interview with Professor Matveyev the paper will chronicle the genesis, evolution and impact of periodization.


  • Periodization
  • Red sport
  • Matveyev
  • Soviet Union
  • Training
  • Coaching
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