Cycles are the various segments of a properly structured training program. Periodization is the organization of variation (change) into these different cycles over a specific time period. These periods are broken down from large to small time cycles:
- Yearly (macrocycle).
- Phase: off-season, pre-season, and competition.
- Block (mesocycle): 3-6 weeks.
- Weekly (microcycle).
Periodization was introduced to overcome plateauing of progress which is inherent to constant non-varied programs. It also aims to reach peak performance for a set particular time, such as a competition. Periodization has been proven to produce gains greater than constant non-varied exercise, especially over more extended time spent training.
TYPES OF PERIODIZATION
There are a few different types of periodization; linear, nonlinear (or daily undulating) and flexible nonlinear.
- Linear periodization generally involves gradually increasing intensity while inversely reducing the volume. This usually translates into increasing the weight you lift and performing fewer reps.
- Nonlinear periodization involves planned variation in intensity and volume. It was developed to improve and maintain fitness continually over a longer time rather than to peak performance for a particular time.
- Flexible nonlinear periodization involves taking a nonlinear periodized program and choosing how you train on the day. How you train each day depends on your state of recovery and preparedness. Studies indicate that there may be a benefit to this type of periodization, but it isn’t conclusive. Some may favor this type of training because it leaves you to decide when you are up for high intensity and when you need to ease off.
THE APPLICATION OF PERIODIZATION
Many periodized programs for general strength and fitness start with linear periodization for beginners. These usually undulate through each block by increasing in intensity until a new block starts. When a new block starts the intensity is tapered back ready to build up again. You can stick with this for a long time, slowly making progress over the years. Programs may then transition into nonlinear periodization, which usually involves continuously cycling through differing training blocks with undulations in intensity.
I have a linear program setup but apply a flexible nonlinear approach to it to suit the way life rolls and to keep it interesting. Despite this flexible approach, there are some days where I feel low on energy and not really up for it yet manage to push out some PB’s, which is surprising.
Periodization has become an essential principle for continuing progression, and to ward off stagnation, boredom, and burn-out. It is a science that is primarily the domain of the sporting world, and given the number of variables and unknowns, it can get very complicated.
1. A meta-analysis of periodized versus nonperiodized strength and power training programs. Rhea MR, Alderman BL. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2004 Dec; 75(4):413-22. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15673040
2. Comparison of powerlifting performance in trained men using traditional and flexible daily undulating periodization. Colquhoun RJ, et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Feb;31(2):283-291. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28129275
3. Flexible nonlinear periodization in a beginner college weight training class. McNamara JM, Stearne DJ. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jan;24(1):17-22. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20042923