For those who are not familiar with it, periodization training might seem like a workout program that takes your menstrual cycle into consideration, but in reality, it is a method that involves structuring your training in a way that allows you to maximize gains and minimize risk at the same time. It’s a win-win situation!
Individuals who take their exercise sessions very seriously, such as marathon runners, triathletes, CrossFitters, and Olympians, often incorporate periodization training into their routines. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t utilize it for your everyday workouts as well. In fact, periodization training is a fitness approach that anyone with a specific goal can use to reach their desired outcome faster and safer. Exercise physiologist Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., who hosts the All About Fitness podcast, confirms that it is a method that can be utilized by anyone.
According to McCall, this training method is recommended for individuals who enjoy various types of exercise and for those who have specific goals in terms of strength, aesthetics, or speed. Melody Schoenfeld, C.S.C.S., the founder of Flawless Fitness in Pasadena, CA, agrees, stating that periodization training can be beneficial for anyone who wants to improve in any aspect, whether it be strength, endurance, or speed.
However, it’s important to note that people with a history of exercise addiction may not benefit from periodization training. Additionally, individuals who feel overwhelmed by having a structured plan or have an unpredictable schedule may not find this training method ideal. This could include new parents, for example.
If you have goals that you want to achieve, keep reading as fitness experts below explain everything you need to know about implementing periodization training into your life.
Periodization Training, Explained
Periodization training is a method of organizing your workouts that intentionally breaks your long-term training plan into shorter-term blocks. Sharon Gam, Ph.D., C.S.C.S, an exercise physiologist and certified strength and conditioning coach, describes it as training with a roadmap.
Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., an exercise physiologist and host of the All About Fitness podcast
Periodization training is a fitness approach that can be used by anyone with a specific goal to reach their desired outcome faster and safely.
— physical fitness expert Pete McCall, M.S., C.S.C.S., C.P.T., host of the All About Fitness podcast
Each of these blocks — which are known as phases or cycles — has a specific emphasis. Common emphases include goals to gain muscle (aka “bulk”), increase intensity (aka “peak”), or prepare for a competition or test. “Each block systematically prioritizes slightly different variables,” explains Gam. That variable could be the specific exercises you perform, the weights you utilize, the number of sets and reps you complete, or your rest period between sets, to mention just a few. (
The objective of utilizing periodization in training, ultimately, is to assist you in achieving your fitness goals while also keeping you free from injuries. “It’s a training plan that gives you an opportunity to push yourself to the limit, while also reducing the risk of overtraining and exercise burn-out,” says Gam.
Periodization Training Cycles
The duration of a periodization program as well as the focus of the blocks it comprises will vary from individual to individual, and will depend on their injury history, sport or chosen modality, and their specific fitness objectives. Regardless of modality, though, a periodized training plan is typically divided into three cycles — essentially the nesting dolls of a periodization training plan.
- Microcycles: the shortest cycle of a periodization training plan; typically lasting a week and designed to make your longer-term goal feel more manageable
- Mesocycles: medium-length phases generally lasting four to six weeks
- Macrocycles: long-term cycles that span a year or more
“Each of these cycles fit within each other,” explains Gam. “So there might be four microcycles in each mesocycle and 12 mesocycles in each macrocycle, for instance,” she says.
The Advantages of Periodization Training
The advantage of periodization training, in essence, is that it equips you with the means to become stronger as efficiently as possible while reducing the risk of injury and overtraining along the way.
To comprehend exactly how the periodization of training accomplishes such a formidable task, you need to understand a bit about muscle growth. “In order to become stronger, you need to exert enough effort to cause damage to the muscle fibers,” explains McCall. Following your workout, your body initiates a process of muscle repair, calling upon something referred to as “satellite cells” to come in and repair the torn muscle fibers, he explains. Once these cells have completed their task, your muscle fibers (and consequently your muscles as a whole) are stronger and more resilient than they were before, he explains.
Prevents a Fitness Plateau
In order to continue this process of damage > repair > become stronger — and avoid reaching a plateau — you need to continually challenge your muscles by moving faster, lifting heavier, and intensifying your efforts, says Gam.
Why? Because your body adjusts to what you throw at it. Inability to make your workouts progressively more challenging through some factor (intensity, weight, etc.), will lead to reduced micro-damage, and thus diminished gains. “Periodization assists in preventing plateau by strategically modifying various elements of your workouts to motivate you to gradually do more and enhance various facets of your fitness,” states Gam.
One 2017 analysis on periodization training published in the Sports Medicine journal discovered that periodization training develops strength more efficiently compared to non-periodized, more-irregular programming models.
Prioritizes Intelligent Recovery
“It also includes strategic recovery periods to ensure your body adjusts properly,” remarks Gam. What these recovery periods resemble will vary, but many plans include intentional “deloading” weeks, which are light on volume, intensity, and overall exertion, she says. These deloading weeks are designed to allow you to safely maximize intensity when you’re exerting a lot of effort, without overdoing it.
Prevents Workout Monotony
Another advantage of training periodization is that it prevents monotony. “Most periodization programs include a lot of variety, so training never gets boring,” says Gam. “But these programs incorporate variety in a structured way, rather than just doing random workouts that won’t help you achieve your goals.” (
How to Implement Periodization Training
Think a periodization training framework might be beneficial? Follow these steps to create a periodization training model that works for you.
1. Develop a goal.
Periodization training is all about gradually progressing toward your goal(s) with deliberate stepping stones, says Gam. Your move: Determine what on earth you wish to achieve — and get specific. Inquire yourself the following questions to get started:
- Are there any fitness events (Spartan Races, CrossFit Comps, run races, etc.) that I want to participate in this year? How about next year?
- Are there specific skills I desire to learn?
- What would “gym success” or fitness accomplishment look like to me?
2. Dedicate to a workout schedule.
“For periodization to be effective, you have to be training consistently,” says Gam. Think, at least three times a week.
To set yourself up for success, allocate time in your daily schedule for movement. Then, treat your gym time as if it were as non-negotiable as a meeting with your boss. Heck, put ‘Meeting with my muscles’ right into your Google calendar.
“If you’re struggling to show up for your workouts, don’t get too hung up on creating the perfect periodized program,” advises Gam. “Instead focus on establishing some simple exercise habits…because there are still advantages to just showing up.”
3. Construct your periodization program.
Next, you’ll employ periodization to devise a plan, but TBH this step is difficult to break down without having a paper calendar on tap. However, hypotheticals may make this whole thing easier to grasp.
Suppose that after watching the Boston Marathon, you concluded that you want to participate. First, you’d need to establish a (realistic) timeline of when you’d like to achieve that goal — i.e.
But, in English, rewrite the English text content thoroughly and creatively by replacing every expression, wording, or grammatical construct with its synonym or equivalent. Keep any foreign language, technical terminology, acronyms, or names the same. Ensure that the information remains the same and the English text remains fluent and idiomatic English. Remember to keep the HTML tags and their content exactly as they are. DO NOT WRITE ANY NOTES OR DISCLAIMERS. Rewrite the text while keeping the HTML the same: “upcoming year’s competition or the subsequent. “You must be aware of your desired destination before you can sketch out the chart, so you must possess a long-range objective in mind and a timeline for when you wish to arrive,” states Gam. “That’s your major training cycle.
Next, you (and your coach!) sit down and strategize smaller segments (mesocycles), each of which focuses on a particular short-term objective that would aid in achieving your long-term goal, explains Gam.
Lastly, you’ll divide your mesocycles into microcycles. If long-distance running paces are one of your weaknesses, you might create a series of microcycles centered around that concern. One week you might solely focus on comprehending your base pace, for instance, while the following week you might concentrate on your running form as it tends to diminish with distance. Meanwhile, if there’s a hill on the course, you might design a hill training mesocycle, comprised of microcycles each with a distinct emphasis (power, strength, gait).
Yes, a strategic periodization training plan can become very intricate and elaborate. That’s precisely why exercise experts recommend enlisting the assistance of a trainer or exercise physiologist. At the very minimum, McCall suggests hiring a trainer for one to two months. If you don’t have the financial resources to work with an expert for more sessions than that, “inform the trainer that you are hoping to learn how to write your own programming (if you are),” he suggests.
4. Don’t disregard the built-in rest.
Periodization training programs include scheduled lower-intensity days and lower-intensity weeks (known as taper weeks). Don’t overlook these portions of the programming.
“Rest is not merely a meaningless four-letter word,” says McCall. “It is an indispensable part of the process of becoming stronger and faster.” Without rest, your muscles, joints, and other supporting structures will not have adequate time to rebuild, he says. Instead, they will continuously break down. The outcome? Your progress levels off. In extreme cases, you might even drift further away from your goals as you’re plagued by injury, overtraining syndrome, and immune system damage.
The amount of rest incorporated into your program will vary based on the time you commit to training. However, typically, you’ll have two rest or recovery days per week and a designated rest (taper) week every few months, according to McCall. And when these rest periods arise? Stick to them.
“You can still engage in movement on those days, but that movement should consist of a walk or hike, not a HIIT workout,” says McCall.
Ultimately, periodization is a workout structure that can benefit almost any fitness enthusiast with a goal. If you believe you’re a suitable candidate, seek the guidance of a fitness professional you trust, and you’ll be on your way to safe, effective #gains in no time.