In general, the term periodization refers to the process of dividing an activity into blocks of time that repeat at regular intervals. In sports, athletics, and exercise, the term refers to a method of training in which a variety of training exercises are organized into a regular program that a person follows over extended periods of time, usually a year.
Periodization training is used for a variety of reasons including to increase a person's muscle mass, to improve one's speed, to improve strength, and to build endurance strength. The program is devised to avoid overtraining.
Proponents of periodization training claim that the program has beneficial effects on individuals of virtually any age or level of fitness, from “stay-athome” moms to professional athletes. There appear to be no scientific data on the number of individuals who participate in periodization training programs. The program has, however, been adopted by and adapted to virtually every form of sporting activity from body-building to bicycling to rugby to fencing.
The second phase of the macrocycle includes the actual time of competition, when one has supposedly reached his or her maximum level of general physical strength and specific sports skills. In most sports, this period of the macrocycle lasts for a relatively short period of time, normally only a few months out of the year, although that pattern differs significantly for various sports. The third phase of the macrocycle is the rest and restorative period, during which time the body is allowed to recuperate from the training and competition that has gone on for the greater part of the year. At the end of this period, the macrocycle begins once again with a new period of preparation.
Each macrocycle in a periodization training program is subdivided into some number of mesocycles (meso=“mid-range”) that, in turn, are further divided into a number of microcycles (micro=“very small”). Each microcycle typically lasts about a week in length, and each mesocycle consists of a small number (usually four to six) microcycles. Each microcycle is designed specifically to achieve some limited objective that fits into the overall scheme of the macrocycle program, promoting improvement in both general physical skills and skills associated with some specific sport. As an example, the schedule for the first microcycle in a mesocycle might consist of a variety of strength exercises, such as bicep curls, tricep push-downs, hamstring curls, dumbbell flat presses, and barbell squats, repeated a certain number of times at a given level of intensity in a certain pattern of repetitions. By contrast, the second week might employ some or all of the same exercises in a different pattern, with or without the addition of new exercises. The specific pattern of exercises selected for a microcycle is determined by a number of factors, including an individual's current physical condition, his or her short- and long-term goals, and the sport or activity for which one is training.
Athletes and trainers have been thinking about issues of periodization training for more than a century. As early as the 1910s, some coaches had observed that athletes that trained on the same exercises for extended periods of time actually became less skillful than those who had trained for shorter periods of time and/or in a greater variety of exercises. For a half century, however, these observations remained largely anecdotal in nature, with relatively little scientific research to see how various types of training programs affected skill level. Many (but not all) historians suggest that the modern era of periodization training originated with the studies of Russian weightlifting coach Lev Pavlovich Matveev, who first proposed the general outlines of macro-, meso-, and microcycles in his 1965 book, Fundamentals of Sports Training. The book contains a graph showing the progress of events in a periodization macrocycle that has now become famous (although often much-altered) in the sport training world.
The training philosophy espoused by Matveev dominated much of athletic training in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc during the 1950s and 1960s and is generally credited with the dominance of Soviet sports teams and individuals in international competitions such as the Olympic Games. That philosophy was popularized by Hungarian Olympic rower and trainer Tudor Bompa in his 1983 book Theory and Methodology of Training, which is still popular and currently in its fifth edition. Because of Bompa's impact on the program, he is often called the Father of Periodization. Bompa is currently emeritus professor at York University in Toronto, Canada.
The concept of periodization has also been extended to nutritional planning. Nutrition periodization is simply a program for providing athletes with the nutritional elements they need for each phase of a periodization training program. As an example, one expert in the field, Bob Seebohar, has devised a nutritional program for each of the three stages of a periodization macrocycle. In that program, participants should aim for a diet that includes 3–7 grams/kilogram of body weight of carbohydrates per day, 1.2–2.5 grams/kilogram of body weight of protein per day, and 0.8–1.3 grams/kilogram of body weight of fat per day during the preparatory stage of the macrocycle. He then makes similar recommendations for the competition and recuperative parts of the macrocycle.
Selecting the duration and repetition patterns for specific exercises in all phases of the periodization training program are critical to the program's success. Literally hundreds of different combinations are possible, depending on the cycle involved, the needs of a specific individual, the level of competency of the individual, the sport involved, and a number of other factors.
Anyone wanting to engage in a program of periodization training has a very large supply of print and electronic sources to which to turn for further information. In addition, professional trainers are available to design and supervise individual periodization training programs. Finally, most amateur and professional sports teams now employ trainers who are familiar with the general principles and specific applications of periodization training for competitors in a wide variety of sports.
Relatively little research has been conducted on the potential risks of periodization training. Indeed, most proponents of periodization point to data that suggest that this form of training results in fewer injuries to athletes than do more traditional, nonperiodized forms of training. The most important factor in that pattern appears to be the reduced number of injuries that occur as a result of overuse that occur in nonperiodized, but not in periodized, training programs.
Most research on periodization training focuses on highly specific issues, such as the effects of various forms of periodization on selected skills among participants in a particular sport. Reviews of research on the topic, however, tend to conclude that periodization training is more effective at improving strength, speed, and endurance compared to nonperiodized training. Another topic of research has been the relative effectiveness of various types of periodization training, such as the comparison of undulating and linear periodization. The majority of that research appears to show that there is little difference in the effectiveness of any one kind of periodization compared to other types.
Bompa, Tudor, and Michael Carrera. Periodization Training for Sports, 3rd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2015.
Bompa, Tudor O., and G. Gregory Haff. Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2009.
Kraemer, William J., and Steven J. Fleck. Optimizing Strength Training: Designing Nonlinear Periodization Workouts. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2007.
Seebohar, Bob. Nutrition Periodization for Athletes: Taking Traditional Sports Nutrition to the Next Level. Chicago: Bull Publications, 2011.
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Tate, Dave. “The Periodization Bible—Part 1.” T Nation. 2000. https://www.t-nation.com/training/theperiodization-bible-part-1 (accessed January 22, 2017).
“What Does ‘Periodization’ Mean and How Does It Work?” D3 Multisport. January 25, 2005. http://www.trifuel.com/training/triathlon-training/what-does-periodization-mean-and-how-does-it-work (accessed January 22, 2017).
National Athletic Trainers' Association, 1620 Valwood Pkwy., Ste. 115, Carrollton, TX, (214) 637-6282, # http://www.nata.org/# .
National Strength and Conditioning Association, 1885 Bob Johnson Dr., Colorado Springs, CO, 80906, (719) 632-6722, (800) 815-6826, Fax: (719) 632-6367, firstname.lastname@example.org, https://www.nsca.com .
David E. Newton, AB, MA, EdD