Periodization is a very complex topic. It has diverse applications in numerous sports. Many accomplished sports authors had presented their versions of periodization in various publications. But still, it is a mind-numbing topic for most individuals. Today we’ll attempt to understand periodization from a layman’s view. We’ll try to eliminate as much technical jargon as possible to make it understandable even for the non-reader.

Let’s first define it.

What Is Periodization?

Siff states, “the overall long-term cyclic structuring of training and practice to maximise performance to coincide with important competitions is known as periodisation.” (Supertraining, Fourth edition 1999.)

According to Zatsiorsky, “The term periodization refers to a division of the training season, typically 1 year long, into smaller and more manageable intervals (periods of training, mesocycles, and microcycles) with the ultimate goal of reaching the best performance results during the primary competitions of the season.” (Science and Practice of Strength Training, 2nd edition 2006.)

Turner explains, “Periodisation may be most simply defined as the planning and organisation of training. The purpose of periodisation is to manage the training stimulus in order to maximise the desired neuromuscular adaptions and avoid excessive accumulation of fatigue.” (Turner A, 2011)

For a layperson, who doesn’t understand cyclic structuring or general adaptation syndrome, it is not easy to immediately grasp the point of discussion in above definitions. To make it a bit easier, we define periodization as:

“Planning to train systematically over a period of time to increase performance.”

Structure Of A Periodized Plan

Under periodization, the organisation of training depends upon the type of periodization or the specific demand of the sport. Thus there are lots of variations in the manner in which training is periodized. The most straightforward way to explain the structure of periodization is as below in the descending order of duration:

  • Quadrennial Cycle

This is the multi-year unit of a training plan. It is based on the rotational cycle of Olympic games. The span of a quadrennial cycle is four years.

  • Macro Cycle

It is an annual unit of training which is subdivided into shorter training periods to focus on different physical qualities. It typically spans over one entire competitive season, for most sports, it means one year of time.

  • Phase

It is the division of an annual plan. Usually, a macrocycle is divided into three phases:

  1. Preparatory Phase: This phase is used to develop basic physical qualities like strength, conditioning etc. required to build up a solid athletic base or general physical preparedness. It also aims to prepare an athlete for specific adaptations required to hone his/her skills for the competition or specific physical preparedness.
  2. Competitive Phase: It is the phase during which an athlete is expected to perform at its peak during the competition.
  3. Transition Phase: This phase aims at recovery and restoration for an athlete to get him ready for the next phase or macrocycle.
  • Meso Cycle

The training period of a phase is divided into mesocycles. The aim of a mesocycle is to attain a specific adaptation for which it is designed, like improving 1 Rep Max (RM). Usually, a mesocycle lasts for a period of 2 to 6 weeks. A number of mesocycles are bunched together in a phase which aims to improve a certain physical capacity.

  • Micro Cycle

A microcycle is one complete set of performance sessions arranged over a period of one week typically. In a micro cycle, an athlete attempts to train all the movement patterns required (for eg., bench press day, deadlift day & squat day for a powerlifter) to improve for the purpose of mesocycle.

  • Training Session

This is the lowest unit of a periodized training plan. It aims at training a part of the total weekly or micro cycle volume, like the squat day.

Types Of Periodization

Periodization can be broadly divided into two types with further subdivisions. Both types of periodization are not mutually exclusive, and they do share many components of training plan concurrently. It means that you don’t strictly follow one type of periodization but the aspects of other types too. The types of periodization are:

1. Linear Periodization

It is a type of training plan which focuses on improving the trainable qualities one by one separately. For eg., during a training phase, first few mesocycles may focus upon volume work and then proceed to intensity work for next few cycles and so on. Linear periodization can be subdivided into:

  • Block Periodization: In this type of periodization certain blocks or mesocycles are arranged in a manner so as to build upon the performance of each other in order to get effective outcomes. For eg., arranging blocks of volume and intensity alternatively.
  • Conjugated Periodization: Under this system, successive mesocycles aimed at achieving similar adaptation are arranged together in a concentrated manner so as to create an over-reaching effect in order to evoke a greater cumulative training effect.
2. Non-Linear or Undulating Periodization

In this approach, the training intensity and volume are focused simultaneously in an undulating fashion with the planned training variables within a mesocycle. Each training session focuses specifically on a particular quality. A variation of undulating periodization is:

  • Concurrent Periodization: This system seeks to develop multiple training qualities concurrently along with shifting training variables like exercise choices. For eg., training to improve strength, hypertrophy, and power simultaneously in the same micro cycle.
Putting It Together

So this was an overview of the major periodization models and concepts. The components of periodization should not be viewed in isolation. Instead, all of its elements flow seamlessly from one system to the other. Here’s a simple example to explain this further.

Let’s assume your goal is to specialize on the bench press, and you want to utilize undulating periodization training it two times a week. A simple way to set up a 7-day micro cycle is:

Monday-Workout 1: 75% of 1RM Load, 5 sets of 6 reps
Thursday-Workout 2: 85% of 1RM Load, 4 sets of 2 reps

With this arrangement you can set a 3-week mesocycle with the following progression:

Workout 1
Workout 2
Week 1
Week 2
75% + 2.5 Kg
85% + 2.5 Kg
Week 3
75% + 5 Kg
85% + 5 Kg

You can see that in the above example, your training volume is undulating within the micro cycle but load is increasing in linear fashion over the meso cycle. So all elements of periodization are working in synchrony.

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