Periodization is the cycling of training variables — volume and intensity — in order to achieve a specific goal in training. It is an extremely important principle in preparing athletes to peak for competition, as well as directing workout programming to maximize results while minimizing the risk of over-training and burnout. Periodization is widely used for a number of purposes, which include improvements in areas of strength, endurance, and hypertrophy. Because development in strength and endurance activities usually does not occur in a completely linear fashion, varying the intensity, volume and frequency of workouts helps to maximize performance and progress.
Variation in the form of periodization is necessary to continue progress past the point where the body adapts to the challenges placed upon it.
The concept of periodization is attributed to Russian sports scientists — Tudor Bompa in particular — who, decades ago, conducted much research on athletes with the benefit of government funding.
One of the earliest periodization models was introduced in 1964 by Leonid Matveyev…
Here is an example of his methodology:
Weeks 1-6 (Hypertrophy): 6-12 reps x 3-5 sets, using 67-85% of 1 Rep Maximum
Weeks 7-11 (Basic Strength): 4-6 reps x 3-5 sets, using 85% of 1 Rep Maximum
Weeks 12-16 (Strength and Power): 3-5 reps x 3-5 sets, using 75-90% of 1 Rep Maximum
Week 17 (Peaking/Maintenance): 1-2 reps x 1-3 sets, using varying high to low intensity, depending on goals.
Periodization is broken down into the microcycle, mesocycle, and macrocycle. These refer to periods of training time. A microcycle usually refers to a short period of time – about a week or two. A mesocycle generally lasts 1-4 months, and a macrocycle is longer in duration, lasting up to a year or more in time.
A few different examples of when periodization can be utilized include:
- When an athlete is peaking for an event. An example of this would be a weightlifting competition. As the event approaches, volume and intensity are tapered to ensure the athlete is fully prepared and rested for peak performance.
- To help a trainee achieve long-term personal goals, such as muscle mass gain. Periodization is utilized to ensure the total training volume progresses without over-training, and planned cycling waves of heavy lifting and higher volume advances both myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
- To prepare a sports team for a season. An example of this would be a football team engaging in intense pre-season training, maintenance in-season training, and post-season recovery. The taper of training volume during the season allows them proper recuperation between games.
Basic types of periodization:
Linear — Increase resistance each session.
Example: Session 1 — 5 sets x 5 reps @ 225 lbs | Session 2 — 5 sets x 5 reps @ 235 lbs | Session 3 — 5 sets x 5 reps @ 245 lbs | Session 4 — 5 sets x 5 reps @ 255 lbs | Session 5 — 5 sets x 5 reps @ 265 lbs
Waved — Fluctuate increased and decreased resistance to elicit long-term upward movement.
Example: Session 1 — 3 sets x 5 reps @ 225 lbs | Session 2 — 4 sets x 6 reps @ 205 lbs | Session 3 — 3 sets x 5 reps @ 235 lbs | Session 4 — 4 sets x 6 reps @ 215 lbs | Session 5 — 5 sets x 5 reps @ 245 lbs
Step — Increase resistance once set benchmarks are reached.
Example: Session 1 — 5 sets x 5 reps reps @ 225 lbs | Session 2 — 5 sets x 5 reps reps @ 225 lbs | Session 3 — 5 sets x 5 reps reps @ 235 lbs | Session 4 — 5 sets x 5 reps reps @ 235 lbs | Session 5 — 5 sets x 5 reps reps @ 245 lbs
Whether peaking for a sport or just adding muscle for aesthetics, the basic principle of periodization remains the same: Ramp up gradually to a heavy workload, then scale back and give the body a chance to recuperate before beginning another intense cycle. Move incrementally forward to as high a level as possible, then cut volume/intensity to recuperate, then begin another cycle with the intention of moving farther forward than the first time. Lather, rinse, repeat.
When long term progress is the goal, plan intelligently to achieve it.
Hatfield, Frederick. Fitness: The Complete Guide, Edition 8.6.6. Carpinteria, CA. International Sports Sciences Association. 2011
Tsatsouline, Pavel. “Power To The People.” Dragon Door Publications. 1999.
Verkhoshansky, Yuri. “Supertraining, 6th edition.” 2009.