The concept of periodization is highly recognized and effectively used worldwide by competitive athletes to prevent the negative effects of overtraining and to maximize performance for key competitive events. Unfortunately, periodization is adopted rarely by recreational athletes and people focusing on general health and fitness, where the tendency is to lock on to a specific routine and follow it week after week after week.
Rooted in Hans Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome model (alarm, resistance, and exhaustion), the application of sports training periodization dates back to the 1950s and Russian physiologist Leo Matveyev. When Matveyev reviewed and analyzed the training and performance data of successful Soviet athletes, he noted that athletic performance was better in the athletes who had varying training stresses throughout the year as opposed to those following a constant training pattern. This insight led to the periodization system where the annual or biannual training program is segmented into varying cycles that focus on specific training objectives.
Periodization can be applied to both cardiorespiratory and strength training and can be used effectively to progress skill development and movement patterns associated with both recreational and competitive sport activities. The objective is to implement an exercise training progression that enhances skill and fitness development without pushing the athlete to an exhaustive state where fatigue levels counteract the achieved training gains. Generally, periodization is broken into three key stages or cycles:
- Macrocycle: represents the overall training program, often a period of 1 to 2 years, and consists of a number of different mesocycles.
- Mesocycle: typically lasts from a few weeks to a few months and represents a period where a specific developmental objective or type of activity is emphasized (base training; rest/recovery; specific type of activity; etc.). Each mesocycle encompasses a number of microcycles.
- Microcycle: generally periods of 7 to 14 days of training that focuses on specific variables and associated objectives (number of sets, number of repetitions, resistance/intensity, etc.)
The macrocycle period is staged in a way that workouts progress from general to specific (e.g., aerobic base conditioning to race pace intervals) based on individualized characteristics and responses to training. Mesocycles are oriented so that each level of fitness gained or skill achieved can be maintained while additional skills or fitness elements are addressed. Using a periodization program to guide a person’s general fitness/conditioning routine will provide variations in the exercise stimulus (e.g., exercise intensity, type of activity) and maximize skill development. Most importantly, a well-planned periodization format provides optimal rest/recovery to maximize fitness gains, reduce susceptibility to injury, and keep the overall program mentally stimulating.
Periodization can be applied to both cardiorespiratory and strength training and can be used effectively to progress skill development and movement patterns associated with both recreational and competitive sport activities.
There is a wide variety in periodization models, each having its advantages and disadvantages. One simple method demonstrated in the table is to base a year’s macrocycle on the seasons. Each season serves as a mesocycle and, within the mesocycle, there are specific training activities planned for each day of the week.
Periodization programs range from the simple format presented above to very detailed sophisticated programs. The best format for you really depends on your current level of fitness, past experiences, and goals. Regardless of whether you are an elite competitive athlete, a recreational focused athlete, or just training for general health/well-being, a periodization program can help you maximize your results and keep your program fresh and enjoyable. Consider seeking out an ACSM certified exercise physiologist or personal trainer who can assist you in developing your personalized periodization program.