In Fitness, what is Periodization?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2019
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Periodization is a controlled approach to fitness training that emphasizes progressive variation and cycling. Usually formulated to suit an competitive athlete's schedule, periodization schedules diversified training over a specific period of time in order to avoid monotony and a plateau effect. Developed during the 1950s in Eastern Europe, periodization has become a widely employed approach to successful training.

The formulation of periodization is based on a model developed by endocrinologist Hans Selye, who first confirmed the reality of biological stress. His model, general adaptation syndrome (GAS), describes three stages a biological organism undergoes when exposed to stress. Initially, the organism will enter the alarm stage in which it experiences the primary shock the existing stress places on its system. Once the shock subsides, the organism will progress into the adaptation stage where the biological system begins compensating to better deal with the stress. During the third stage, known as exhaustion, adaptation will waver and start to decline.

According to Selye, stress that is beneficial is known as eustress and negative stress is distress. During periodization, it is essential to keep eustress at a healthy level in order for the training to be beneficial. When training becomes excessive, creating distress, its toll on the individual can lead to physical, emotional, and psychological damage and disease.


The principle of periodization is to maintain the momentum acquired during the adaptation stage without allowing the body to experience the exhaustion stage. An individual's training needs to be planned ahead of time and diversified as to avoid monotony. When a training regimen becomes predictable, the body is no longer challenged and a plateau is reached where no further progress is made. Similarly, if the body is not allowed sufficient time to recuperate following a training session, the same type of stagnation will occur.

The application of periodization is designed around an individual's competition calendar. Performance history and individual potential play a pivotal role in the development of an appropriate training schedule. The cycling of training is goal-specific and involves a balanced rotation of power, strength, and maintenance oriented exercise followed by sufficient active recovery time. Exercise rotation can be either linear or random in variation depending on necessity of volume and intensity. The training regimen itself is generally simplistic and flexible allowing for easy modification when needed.

An individual's overall annual training plan, called a macrocycle, is divided into three phases, each focusing on preparation, competition, and transition respectively. The preparatory and competitive phases serve to ready the individual for peak performance at competition. The transition phase provides the individual with a psychological and physical respite, allowing the body sufficient time to recuperate.

The macrocycle is divided into mesocycles, each lasting nearly two months, which are designed to emphasize a specific training type, intensity, and repetition. The duration and content of each mesocycle is dependent on macrocycle phase. Within each mesocycle are microcycles which last one week. Each microcycle concentrates on a particular aspect of the overall goal of the phase-specific mesocycle as it fits into the macrocycle training plan. The ultimate goal of the mesocycle is for the individual's peak performance to coincide with scheduled competitions that occur throughout the macrocycle.


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