Authors: Michael B. Phillips, Jake A. Lockert, and LaNise D. Rosemond

Corresponding Author:
Jake Lockert, MA
810 Quadrangle
TTU Box 5043
Cookeville, TN 38505
Jake Lockert works at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, TN as research assistant in the department of Exercise Science, Physical Education, and Wellness

Tools and Benefits of Periodization: Developing an Annual Training Plan and Promoting Performance Improvements in Athletes.

All teams and athletes have goals in mind with their prospective sports. They work hard and train in the off-season to achieve their goals. Most coaches and athletes change the intensity, volume, and exercises in their workouts to improve performance. In the past, the attempts at this have been from intuitive knowledge. But over the past 20 years, many coaches have learned and utilized the periodization theory. Although periodization has become more popular, coaches and athletes still appear to struggle with completely grasping the idea of periodization.

Many coaches periodize training without a full understanding of the many facets of this invaluable training method (10). A long term plan can periodize training in the weight room that will allow athletes to reach their full athletic potential, and, just as important become as strong as possible in the off-season right leading up to competition. The goal of this article is to give coaches and athletes a better understanding of a very relevant way to program for improvements in strength and performance. It will also provide specific ways of applying facets of periodization in setting goals for their athletes (11).

Keywords: periodization, strength training, performance training, preseason planning, improve athletes, coaching

What is Periodization?
Periodization was created by Russian physiologist Leo Matveyv in the 1960s. It has been further developed since then to focus on training strength and power in athletes. According to Issurin, periodization means “the subdivision of the seasonal program into smaller periods and training cycles (3, pg. 191).” Periodization is used to promote long-term training and performance improvements. It is a design strategy that includes preplanned, systematic variations in training specificity, intensity, and volume organized in periods or cycles within an overall program. It is encouraged to be used as a year-long plan that is broken into smaller time increments. The entirety of the schedule should include all aspects of an athlete’s program, including general conditioning, sport-specific activities, and resistance training (11).

Han Selye began developing general adaptive syndrome (GAS) close to 1928. The concept of periodization is based on GAS which was founded on the basis of progressive overloading (10, p.261). It implies that for optimal training adaptations to occur, training loads, volume, and bioenergetic specificity should be methodically interchanged. Training blocks should switch between high, moderate, and low training intensities so that recovery is allowed between training sessions (2). Periodization uses supercompensation. Which according to Bompa is “a relationship between work and regeneration that leads to superior physical adaptation as well as metabolic and neuropsychological arousal (2, p.14).”

Facets of Periodization
Intensity versus Volume
When deciding the amount of work and type of work to prescribe athletes, it is vital to understand the inverse relationship between intensity and volume. As the volume of workload increases for athletes, the intensity of the work will have a planned decrease. Athletes cannot maintain a high intensity over a high volume of work so coaches and athletes must adjust appropriately. This means the athletes can only have a high intensity, a high volume, or moderate amounts of both. The adjustments coaches and athletes make to intensity and volume of workload have a direct effect on volume load. The amount of total volume in resistance training is essentially repetitions multiplied by the load which can also be called volume load. The least amount of volume load to prescribe would be enough to cause strength and fitness gains. The greatest amount to prescribe is to the point of diminishing returns. Beyond this point, there are no more positive benefits, but instead they produce harmful side effects. The volume load should change as athletes improve in a program. The volume load can be viewed as one of the indicators for an athlete’s progress and should be manipulated as needed.

Advanced athletes usually place more significance on the intensity of training which can be measured as task execution power output. Variable programming strategies tend to yield better results than linear programming in this arena. Greater workload is often warranted for gains in endurance aspects of fitness. This higher work volume can help develop a base of work capacity as well as affect the duration and stability of related training effects. It is a favorable prerequisite for intense focus in special and technical preparation. Higher work volumes are usually achieved by doing more repetitions and/or doing more sets as well (10, p.268).

Macrocycles and Mesocycles
To fully understand periodization, it is imperative to discuss macrocycles and mesocycles. Macrocycles and mesocycles are fundamental organizational planning elements used throughout periodization. The larger period of training is considered a macrocycle and can range from multiple months to four years long. The mesocycle is what the macrocyle is broken up into and is numerous weeks to numerous months. There are also microcycles, which are the broken up periods of a mesocycle. The microcycle is focused more on daily and weekly specific training differences, whereas the macrocycle is the bigger picture of the overall training goals and styles. The traditional periodization system, the macrocycle is divided up into two major parts; the first is for more wide-ranging work in the preparatory period and the second is geared toward sport-specific work and getting ready for competition in the competition period (3). Periodization is simply devising a macrocycle that has specific mesocycles and microcycles for each planned period.

For the neuromuscular system to fully benefit from the training load or stress, it is imperative to vary the volume and intensity. If the system is allowed to adapt to stressors without associated changes in overload, the body will no longer need to adapt, and increases in the wanted results will stop in time. Planning changes in volume and intensity assists in avoiding this problem since the load on the neuromuscular system is constantly changing. Periodization is useful for adding variations to workouts, which helps athletes avoid boredom and/or training plateaus (8). The most common and beneficial way to utilize a periodization program is to manipulate the volume and intensity of the workouts.

In the off-season conditioning program, there will be more volume and less intense strength and conditioning training with less of a sport-specific focus. As the season approaches, the volume will continue to drop and the intensity will increase with more of a focus on sport-specific activities. “The conventional periodization model includes four distinct periods: preparatory, first transition, competition, and second transition (11, p.509).” These four periods make up an annual training plan and allow for progress to be made to help with overall performance in an athlete’s respective sport. Each phase will be distinctly different, but all have the goal of preparing athletes for optimal performance in their respective sports.

The preparatory phase is widely considered the off-season and involves no competitions. It is the longest of the four periods and has only a select few sport-specific activities. The purpose of this period is to get athletes ready for intense training and increase their strength and conditioning. The workouts in this period are longer and less intense than in other periods. There is not a large amount of sport-specific movements because the athletes will most likely be more fatigued from the high volume and would not improve as much from those movements during this time. The farther along a program gets into the preparatory phase, there will be less volume and more intensity in their workouts. Since Matevyev came up with the idea of periodization in the 1960’s, the preparatory phase has been broken down into more specific phases called hypertrophy/endurance phase, basic strength phase, and strength/power phase (11).

The hypertrophy/endurance phase occurs at the beginning stages of the preparatory period lasting one to six weeks. The goal of this phase is to develop more lean body mass and/or increase endurance capacity. The training starts at a rather low intensity and higher volume. As the phase progresses over the weeks, there are more sport-specific activities included in the training regimen. For example, basketball players may start this phase with slower endurance-based runs and a resistance training program geared towards high number of repetitions (reps) with lower loads. Before beginning the basic strength phase, a recovery week may be needed with lower intensity and volume to help prepare for optimal gains.

The basic strength phase concentrates on increasing the strength of the athlete’s muscles that will be needed most for their sport’s movements. With a basketball player, the training regime will include more jumping and plyometric drills that parallel with the sport. Also, the resistance training will begin to use heavier loads for fewer repetitions. These are usually 80-90% of the 1 repetition max (RM) for 3-5 sets of 4-8 repetitions.

The strength/power phase is the final stage of the preparatory period. It is the highest intensity of this period including resistance training of 75-95% of the 1RM for 3-5 sets of 2-5 repetitions. For example, the basketball team would begin to incorporate many more sport-specific drills (dribbling, shooting, passing, etc.) into the routine. As the season gets closer, players need to gear their training towards being ready for competition.

From a physiological standpoint, the importance of using the concept of periodized training cannot be denied. By using this model, one can avoid harming relevant physiological capabilities and traits. These could be negatively affected by the high number of competitions in the sport’s season, frequency of injuries, and catabolic responses if the training is not properly planned and structured (3).

The Competition Phase
As the season for different sports draws nearer, it is imperative to gear training toward being fully ready for the games or competitive periods of the sports’ respective season. It is best to progressively decrease the overall volume and increase intensity of the workouts as this time nears. As the athletes’ bodies adjust during this time, they will have more energy, achieve supercompensation, relax mentally, and be more motivated to perform their best on competition day. It is important during this transition to still keep strength training a priority. Sport specific strength programs can help prevent detraining during this period. Lack of strength training can result in decreased performance and losses in strength that were worked so hard for in the off-season (1). This is a graph example of the intensity and volume changing in relation to one another as training progresses. (12, p.510)

Figure 1 Matveyev Model of Periodization

Nonlinear Periodization
Over the years, periodization has been revised and improved in some ways, mainly by dividing it up into linear periodization and undulating or non-linear periodization. The traditional model of periodization signified a gradual increase in intensity as time progressed and can be termed a linear model. The non-linear model offers more drastic variations in intensity in the weekly and daily programming. According to Kramer and Fleck, “nonlinear programs may have originated in the late 1980’s with two-week training periods using various training zones to meet the needs of athletes (4, p.12).” The term non-linear is used more frequently than undulating. In non-linear periodization, volume and load are altered more frequently, which could range from every week to every day, to allow the neuromuscular system to frequently recover. With greatly shortened phases, there are more recurrent fluctuations in stimuli; this may be extremely favorable to strength gains (8). The traditional model still has variations in intensity within each microcycle, but there is more variability in the non-linear model (3).

Studies (5-7, 9) have shown that nonlinear periodization results in greater fitness gains and overall better results than other training models provide. These studies, which included Division III college football players and women Division I tennis players, proved that nonlinear training models produced significantly greater changes in body composition, strength, and power than nonvaried training models. These changes still continued to happen after months of training. It was evident that these benefits hold true for trained and untrained athletes (4, p.15-21).

Block Periodization
Block periodization became more popular in the early 1980’s and consisted of “a training cycle of highly concentrated specialized workloads (3, p.198).” These block cycles are made of a high number of exercises that focus on a low number of specific skills. One of the best known developers of the block periodization system is Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk. He coached the gold, silver, and bronze medalist at the 1998 and 1992 Olympic Games. He had created a system with three specialized mesocycle blocks. He implemented developmental blocks that steadily increased workload to maximum levels. Then, in competitive blocks, the work load is leveled off and the focus shifts to competition. Finally, in restorative blocks, athletes employ active recovery and get ready for the next bout of programming. The ways these blocks are implanted depends on the athlete’s sport and how the athlete respond to the programming (3, pp.198-199).

Through experiments with block periodization in other sports, the chief organizational loads of training were nearly indistinguishable. The overarching themes of block periodization remained constant. Training blocks have a high number of exercises that focus on a low number of specific skills. The projected number of training blocks is usually three to four. This is different from the traditional model which has a mesocycle taxonomy of 9-11 types; one mesocycle block can be from 2 to 4 weeks in length. This helps permit the beneficial biochemical, morphological, and directed changes to occur without unwarranted fatigue build up. The linking of one mesocycle creates a training phase. Putting mesocycles in the best order possible is valuable to competition and peaking (3, p.199).

Laying Out a Training Year
Planning is the most valuable resource a coach has at his/her disposal. By using a well-organized and proven process like periodization, the coach can construct a training timeline that allows each athlete to optimize performance at the optimal times. The coach has goals in mind for each season and it is of utmost importance to lay out the training year in a specifically planned manner to accomplish short and long-term goals (2, p.235). According to Bompa, “A long-term training plan is an essential component of the training process because it guides the athlete’s development. A major goal of long-term planning is to facilitate the progressive and continual development of the athlete’s skills and performance (2, p.237).” With all training programs and periodization in particular, the coach must monitor athletes’ training and performance results to ensure the athlete is adapting and improving consistently (2, p.237).

This is a yearlong example for a College Men’s Basketball team. It includes the preparatory, competitive, and transition phases. It also lays out the team goals which is can be sport specific and should look to improve the overall performance of the team. The coach’s objective was to develop a training program that would lead to his team’s success. A good plan includes both short and long-term goals. The plan should be structured, yet flexible and provide a roadmap for success for the individual and the team (2, p.237-239). Simply put, this coach ran his programming with the motto of “Plan the work and work the plan.”

Figure 2 Mens College Basketball

This is the same figure with emphasis on the month before Competitive Season, which was October for his team. As mentioned before, the time before competition should focus on maintaining fitness levels and gearing for competition.

Figure 3 Month Before Competitive Season

This is a weeklong excerpt of the strength training for a typical five-day training period for the basketball team. As you can see, there is a time set aside for warm up each day. The example also includes a six week strength program that the team adhered to.

Figure 5 Example Speed Quickness and Agility

This is a weeklong excerpt for the speed, quickness, and agility training of a typical five day training period for the basketball team. There is a planned time for both warm up and dynamic warm up each day. The example also includes a four week program that the team adhered to for improving speed.

Figure 5 Example Speed Quickness and Agility


Figure 1 Matveyev Model of Periodization to line 137
Figure 2 Men’s College Basketball to line 199
Figure 3 Month Before Competitive Season to line 203
Figure 4 Example Strength Training to line 207
Figure 5 Example Speed Quickness and Agility to line 212

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3. Issurin, V. (2010). New horizons for the methodology and physiology of training periodization. Sports Medicine, 40(3), 189-206.
4. Kraemer, W., & Fleck, S. (2007). Optimizing strength training designing nonlinear periodization workouts (1st ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
5. Kraemer, W. J., Hakkinen, K., Triplett-Mcbride, N., Fry, A., Koziris, L., Ratamess, N., & Knuttgen, H. (2003). Physiological changes with Periodized Resistance training in Women Tennis players. American College of Sports Medicine, 35(1), 157-168. doi:10.1249/01.MSS.0000043513.77296.3F
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9. Marx, J. O., Ratamess, N. A., Nindl, B. C., Gotshalk, L. A., Volek, J. S., Dohi, K., & Kraemer, W. J. (2001). Low-volume circuit versus high-volume periodized resistance training in women. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(4), 635-643.
10. Stone, M., Stone, M., & Sands, W. (2007). The concept of periodization. Principles and practice of resistance training (1st ed., pp. 259-286). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
11. Wathen, D., Baechle, T., & Earle, R. (2008). Periodization. In D. Wathen, T. Baechle &
R. Earle (Eds.), Essentials of strength training and conditioning (3rd ed., pp. 507-521)
Human Kinetics
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Mateyev’s model of periodization) Human KineticsFigure 4 Example Strength Training

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