Periodization is the systematic planning of athletic or physical training. The aim is to reach the best possible performance in the most important competition of the year. It involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period.1 Most of the bros who go to the gym have zero ideas what they are even going to do until they show up and start holding a dumbbell. Have a plan is always a good idea, no matter the level that you train, setting a goal, and designing a program around it will be beneficial. Tudor Bompa is thought of as the father of periodization, developed by the Soviets, where he coached “11 medalists in various Olympics (2 gold medals) and World championships in 2 sport disciplines: track and field and rowing. He was himself an Olympic rower, and he later revolutionized the training concepts in cross country skiing”.2
Periodization programs are broken into three parts, macrocycles, mesocycles & microcycles. Macrocycles are the short training cycle, mesocycles represents a specific block of training that is designed to accomplish a particular goal, and microcycles is the full plan. If you were to show this as an Olympic athlete you could say that the four years between games is the macrocycles, each year is a mesocycles, and every three months are macrocycles. This would just be an example of how it can be used. If you wanted to work Strength, Hypertrophy, and then power, you could break that down into three microcycles.
The load progression is one of the key compounds to periodization. You’ll see people talk about linear or non-linear progressions when it comes to program design. The load progression is one of the basics of periodization when it comes to programming microcycles. The training load is a combination of intensity, duration, and frequency of training. The goal of any training program is to better oneself and adapt to the stimulation so that the workload can be increased. “The inability to adapt to a workload can bring fatigue or overtrain. A goal for any training plan would be to bring adaptions so that performance goes up. Increasing stimulus (load) -> adaption -> performance improvement if the stimulus did not change there will be no improvement. Lack of improvement -> plateau -> lack of improvement if the load is too much there will be no and performance will go down.”3 So what are the different kinds of ways to program the load of a workout? There is Standard Loading, Linear Loading, Step Loading, Concentrated Loading, Conjugated Sequence Loading Paradigm, and Flat Loading:
Standard loading uses similar training loads and densities throughout the first phase of training. The preparatory phase is the first phase of training. It comes before the competitive phase and normally improvements happen during the early part of this phase. If the training load is not increased as time goes on, you can find yourself plateauing.
Linear Loading doesn’t follow all the rules of periodization, however, this type of periodization is extremely popular. In this type of training, the training load will only increase if the athlete trains at the maximal capacity along with workloads that gradually increase and are progressively higher than normal workouts. This can be useful for a short amount of time, but in the long run, if this does continue the athlete can become overtrained. Linear loading in not an optimal way to train because it does not give enough time for recovery could cause potential burning out, and injury chances can increases.
Step Loading model of training allows progressive overloading that comes with a period of unloading. This is known as the classic or traditional way of periodization. Using this style of training allows for regeneration, a better physiological adaptation, and time for psychological restoration. One common way is to train with the same characteristics for an entire microcycle and then increase the training load in the next microcycle. This would be a 3:1 loading paradigm, where the load is increased gradually in the first three microcycles and then reduced in the fourth (sometimes repeating the second microcycle). Normally you will see this being used with two to six-week blocks of training; four weeks in the most common. Along with the 3:1, there is a 4:2 where four weeks of increasing load, and two weeks are unloading. Younger athletes might use a 2:1 style of step loading. Another variation to this would be for each block of training is allocated with a performance attribute, strength endurance, speed-strength, maximal strength, etc.… the pros of this allow a large difference between microcycles while decreasing the potential for overtraining. Step loading is normally best for intermediate and advanced athletes.
Concentrated Loading is short term overloading or overreaching. Recovery from this type of periodization is fairly quick when used right. Concentrated Loading is broken into three parts: Concentrated loading block, normal training load, taper. The main rule is the longer the magnitude and duration of the concentrated loading block, the more time is needed for normal training load and taper. Performance gains come 4 to 12 weeks after the concentrated loading block is completed. The concentrated loading block can be one to over three weeks in time, followed by two to five weeks of recovery. This would be used to peak an athlete for an event or game. With each of the three blocks, the training load is lowered, and while the starting strength, explosive strength, and absolute strength will at first drop, the end result will be greater than when started.
Conjugated Sequence Loading Paradigm is also known as the coupled successive system and a block of concentrated loading, or overreaching, followed by a block of restitution. It is common for this style to be used with four microcycles that the primary goal is to give the athlete periods that train specific areas, during which fatigue will be high and performance may decrease. This would be like an athlete going through a concentrated loading block where strength is the major emphasis; then during the unloading block, the strong emphasis is decreased and speed emphasis is slightly increased. Doing this kind of loading will result in a super-compensation effect where the performance will be increased dramatically. After completing this block, the athlete would go through a block that works on a progressively stronger stimulus to allow the athlete to improve strength levels. Conjugated loading block 1 -> recovery block 1 -> conjugated loading block 2 -> recovery block 2 is how the program would layout. This type of programming is only for advanced athletes because the athlete must have a high tolerance to large training loads. A time span of the blocks would be a Conjugated loading block at three weeks and recovery block at four weeks. The Conjugated loading block would have four days for strength and power training and two days a week for speed work; the recovery block would have three days for strength and power training and three days a week for speed work. Different training loads can be used without having to change the basic intensity and volume of the program.
Flat Loading is only used for the externally advanced or expert level athletes. During flat loading, the first three microcycles will have similar loads and followed by a recovery microcycle. To write a program, the microcycles would represent weeks; three weeks of workload microcycles, followed by one week of restitution microcycle. Advanced athletes can tolerate this type of loading only if they have been training for many years and have developed a physiological base that allows them to handle such high volumes and intensities. After 9 to 11 weeks, there are two weeks of restitution microcycles. If you were going to program this, it would look like, 3:1 (workload: restitution), 3:1, and 3:2. It is not uncommon to see the restitution microcycles of the last two weeks be the same load volumes as to the first block of workload microcycles. This type of periodization is suggested for pre-season only. Step loading has been used with flat loading to progressively increase the athlete’s training load. Step loading would become the general preparation and pre-competitive phases. This is because prior to major competitions, the training load would be decreased to allow the athlete to recover and super compensate, giving a maximal performance.
Periodization, when done right, can bring amazing performances. It is far from a basic way of training when you want to really start tuning it for a certain sport, content, and athlete. Learning the basics of periodization can help with any goal. While we might not have the same goal, Periodization can help everyone become better, faster, and stronger.
3.Haff, G. Bompa, T. “Basis For Training.” Periodization – Theory and Methodology of Training. 5th ed. Print.