A successful training program requires systematic, logical and meticulous planning. The coach's ability lies right here, in identifying the athlete's short- and long-term goals, and planning a training program bearing in mind that things may not go as planned.
The term periodization was used for the first time by the Russian scientist Matveyev in 1965 to refer to the stages of human development.
When planning a training program, it's essential to stick to the principle of variation and apply it to the choice of exercises, intensity, load, recovery times and other factors. The aim is to avoid the plateau, a situation where the training becomes too repetitive and the athlete doesn't improve.
Periodization is, therefore, a planned and systematic process of changes to the training plan during the different phases of the athlete's competition program.
Periodization in cycles
The individual components of periodization are referred to as "cycles" and their duration can be variable. Cycles can be classified into macrocycle, mesocycle and microcycle.
It is the longest cycle in terms of duration, it usually refers to the annual training plan, but it can also be biennial or four-yearly, as in the case of athletes preparing for the Olympics.
The set of mesocycles forms the macrocycle and their duration depends on the competition programme. Mesocycles lasting about a month are very common.
It usually lasts a week, but it's not a fixed rule. For example, if you consider 3 training days and 1 recovery day, your microcycle will be 4 days.
As seen in a previous article, periodization can be linear, in blocks, or wavy (non-linear).
It is the classic periodization characterized by a gradual increase in intensity between successive mesocycles, with a simultaneous reduction in training volume. This progression continues through competition day and is designed to lead the athletes to the top physical condition for the upcoming competition. There isn't much variation in this classic version, so it may not be suitable for experienced athletes.
This model is widely used in team sports. Its main purpose is to work specifically on parameters and skills in which athletes are deficient for the duration of the micro or mesocycle. For example, a powerlifting coach might initially focus on developing strength in a lifter for three microcycles and then developing power for another three microcycles. The positive side of this approach is the possibility to work on the deficiencies of the athlete. However, not everyone agrees to use this model as every sport involves "integrated" movements that require a combination of physical skills that should be trained together in order to improve the transfer and achieve faster gains.
Wavy (non-linear) periodization
This periodization allows for variation in terms of intensity and volume within a training microcycle. For example, it makes it possible to change the volume or intensity or type of exercise on a daily or weekly basis. This approach suits the high-level athletes very well as it allow to set multiple training goals. On the positive side, it provides greater freedom for coaches to adjust workouts based on the outcome of competitions, athlete feedback, or concerns about injury and illness. The risk with this approach, however, is that too often there may be a deviation from the original training plan resulting in the athlete losing focus on goals. Therefore, this is a periodization that requires constant communication between the coach and the athlete.
Fleck, S. J. (1999) ‘Periodized strength training: a critical review.’
Stone, M. H. et al. (2000) ‘Comparison of the effects of three different weight-training programs on the one repetition maximum squat.’
Willouhby, D. (1993) ‘The effects of mesocycle-length weight training programs involving periodization and partially equated volumes on upper and lower body strength.’
Zatskiorsky, V. and Kraemer, W. (2006) ‘Science and practiceof strength training.’