Thursday, 26 September 2013

PERIODISATION - "If you fail to plan you plan to fail!"


“If you fail to plan you plan to fail” 

In short what I hope to have explained by the end of this blog post is the "WHAT, WHY & HOW?" of periodisation and leave you feeling better prepared with how to go ahead and plan either your own or your client's training programme. 


Periodisation is a way or organising your training over a period of weeks, months or even years to ensure that you gain optimal results and peak your performance at the specific times when you need to. The idea is that you break down the overall training process into smaller chunks or cycles, you establish your desired adaptive response for that “chunk” and then move on before it gets old. 

MACROCYCLE – The Big One – The Long Term Objective

The macrocycle is essentially the "grand scheme" that typically spans 12 months or even potentially more if you're an Olympic athlete for example who's biggest event rolls around every 4 years. It's the big picture that's ensuring you're on track to peak at the time you need to. 

MESOCYCLE – The Training Phase/Cycle 

The mesocycle is a smaller division of the macrocycle and is said to span weeks to months (Wathen et al, 2000) generally 4 - 8 weeks in duration. This time span will vary due to different factors, mainly the experience level of the athlete which we'll look into later on. 

If a macrocycle is the overall goal then a mesocycle can be thought of as individual mini-goals that build logically upon each other to achieve the ultimate objective. So a good question to ask yourself when designing each meso or training cycle is: 

"What is my objective for this cycle?" 

If you don't have a clear focus or objective for each cycle e.g. "increase my strength", "increase my endurance"* you're likely to get lost, confused and demotivated that you're not achieving your goals or improving...well what did you think was going to happen?

*I've cited umbrella goals but you'll want to have some specific SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound) goals within these. 


This is the smallest unit of periodisation and is what the mesocycles are further broken down into. Again the above question needs to be asked to ensure you're steering your boat in the right direction and not heading off course. Always keep in mind what you want to achieve from each session, each week, each cycle etc and you won't go far wrong. 


I believe for someone to buy into any concept there needs to be a big enough "WHY?" And I think a good place to start is by looking at the GAS principle...

Hans Seyle’s 'General Adaptation Syndrome' (GAS) helps to explain the need for constant variety in a training programme, a notion that CrossFitters will be very familiar with. 


1)     STIMULUS INTRODUCTION  (e.g a new training cycle) 

2) ALARM PHASE (your body’s not used to it, it’s hard and a shock to the system, you might not feel like you’re performing well)

3) ADAPTATION PHASE (your body starts to get used to it, you show improvements in performance)

4) PLATEAU (eventually after prolonged exposure to the same stimulus the rate of adaption will drop off and you’ll start to get no more progression. In other words "you’ve squeezed all the juice out of that orange!" This varies with each individual in the same way you put a bunch of people out on a sunny day, some take longer to tan than others but eventually they’ll all get burnt if they stay out too long).

 5) EXHAUSTION PHASE ("burning out" when your performance starts to go to absolute shit, you feel tired, lethargic, drowning in DOMS and if you keep pushing the same cycle on an athlete in this state it will be a disaster i.e. acute overtraining, injury, illness leading to large amount of forced time off training and subsequent deconditioning. 


·        1)  Maximise the adaptive phase
·         2) Avoid the exhaustion phase

In other words...

"Get a nice tan and get out before you burn" 



Exercise is a stressor 

Scheduled rest/active recovery MUST be planned into the program to avoid the adverse effects of prolonged exposure. In other words at the end of each training cycle there should be a deload or easy week (a dip in the shade). This is to allow the body to settle down, recover and be ready and fresh for the next training cycle to obtain optimal results (Kraemer, 2004). 


     Change the stimulus (training zone) on a regular basis 

     For example if you have an athlete doing 5 x 5 linear progression for 1 mesocycle, even if you include your scheduled deload week, if you start the next cycle 5 x 5 again it's very unlikely you'll get much of an adaptive response. Everyone reaches a point where they can’t adapt anymore to the same stimulus (Hoffman, 2012). To come back to my point at the start of the post "why the experience level of an athlete affects the duration of a mesocycle" it's because beginners tend to be able to "ride the wave" longer and still yield adaptive responses, sometimes for as much as 8 weeks. Advances athletes on the other hand adapt very quickly and will invariably need there training stimulus changes every 4 weeks. Poliquin (2012) states that it only takes between 4 - 6 strength training sessions before adaptation gains are lost.


Make sure the stimulus is enough to set off the alarm phase

If an athlete is not showing signs on entering the alarm phase it might mean it’s not hard enough for them.
Some people are deep sleepers and giving them a prod won’t be enough to wake them. Other people you walk in the room and they jump out of bed!



Now that we've looked at the "WHY" the next question is "HOW?" This could quite easily be a blog post on its own and there are many different methods and variables that can be manipulated and played around with to periodise for an individual. So what I'm going to do is show you a few examples and try and explain "in a nutshell" style. 


In short linear periodisation is divided into mesocycles each focusing on one area of exercise that build upon each other logically 

  • Changes the objective from phase (cycle) to phase 

The main criticism: The problem most frequently highlighted with linear periodisation is that there's too long between each focus area. For example if you start off in your 1st mesocycle weeks 1-8 with a general conditioning phase (metcon/endurance) and your 2nd mesocycle you hit hypertrophy from weeks 8 - 16 you've gone 2 months without doing any conditioning and may have lost a large amount if not all of those endurance gains (Kraemer, 2004). 



Ben Bergeron, coach of the renowned CrossFit New England, runs a blog site (please see web site links below) called CompetitorsWod, a comprehensive and easily digestible resource for athletes with an intention of competing be it a game’s athlete or novice competitor.

Below is a brief/basic summary of how Bergeron periodises the year for his athletes based upon the CrossFit season.

NB: This is dependent on a what stage the athlete wishes to peak for. If it’s a “guaranteed games athlete” you don’t want to peak for the open whereas if you have an athlete who’s never qualified for regionals but wants a shot then you would program to peak at the open around March time. 

August Rest & Recovery 
  • Don’t go to gym more than 3 days a week
  • Chill out 
  • Have a few cheat meals here and there 
  • Plays sports and do something other than CrossFit

  • "Get big, get huge let your metcon suffer"
  • Slow strength moves (deadlift, squat, press, bench etc) 

Nov/DecSpeed Strength 
  • Olympic lifting 4 x pw

JanFocus work 
  • Goat killing i.e. work your weaknesses 
  • Try and kill 2 goats (your two worst movements) e.g. overhead squat and muscle ups 

Feb/March Engine building 
  • Metabolic conditioning bias 
  • Get a massive gas tank 
  • Introduction of double days 

April/MayRegional prep 
  • 3-5 days a week specific movement specialisation (training the moves you know are coming up)
  • 1 day GPP (general physical preparedness) 

June/JulyGames prep 
  • Beast Mode 
  • Work broad array of skills “what could they throw at me?"


Non-linear periodisation permits far greater variation during each training week (or microcycle). Instead of each month having to focus on just olympic lifting or just metcons you would include all the required focus areas within each week. Louis Simmon's 'Conjugate System' is an example of non-linear periodisation.

  • Changes the objective from workout to workout 
  • Allows you to focus and work on each component of fitness to a 



The Conjugate system, designed by Louis Simmons of Westide Barbell, is a non-linear training method that is a prime example of manipulating the microcycle as opposed to the mesocycle.

1. Quickness
2. Explosiveness
3. Speed-strength (between 75 - 85% of 1rm)
4. Absolute strength

The manipulation of volume and intensity is conducted via 2 main pathways:

(Please note describing the Conjugate Method in full is beyond the scope of this post)

1. Maximal Effort: High intensity / Low volume 

These days would be focused on point 4 from the above list, developing absolute strength. High intensity in this instance refers to heavy weights. To lift heavy weights you need to produce maximal effort, but, if you combine max efforts with high volume you're likely to burn out your nervous system. I'm not going to go into CNS and action potential physiology here etc but think of it this way: if you open shit load of applications on your phone, turn the flash light on it, make a call at the same time, how long do you think the battery is going to last before you have to recharge it. Having to recharge for ages without being able to do anything else means time off training and stunting progress.

2. Dynamic Effort: Low - Mod intensity / High volume 

Moving sub-maximal loads as quickly and explosively as possible with minimal rest periods. Because the loads are lighter you can move them quicker 50 - 60 % of 1rm (rest usually between 30 - 45 seconds) generally 12 x 2 reps. In contrast to the max effort method, the fact you're lifting sub-maximal loads (mod intensity) means you can increase the volume.

(Table sourced from

High Intensity/Low Volume
High Intensity/Low Volume
Low-Moderate Intensity/High Volume
Low-Moderate Intensity/High Volume
Squat or Deadlift variation: Work up to a 1-3RM

Bench Press variation: Work up to a 1-3RM

Squat variation: 12 x 2 @ 55% 1RM (as explosively as possible)Bench Press variation: 9 x 3 @ 50% 1RM (as explosively as possible)
Rack Pull: 3 x 5

Incline Bench Press: 3 x 3

Deadlift variation: 8 x 2 @ 75% 1RM (as explosively as possible)D-bell Bench Press: 3 x 20

Glute Ham Raises: 3 x 6

Dips: 3 x 6

Good Mornings: 3 x 12

Tate Press: 3 x 12

Chin-ups: 3 x 8

Seated Cable Row: 3 x 5

Reverse Hyper: 3 x 15

D-Bell Row: 4 x 15

Ab Wheel: 3 x 10

Lat Pull Downs: 3 x 8

Standing Abs: 3 x 20

Lat Pull Down: 3 x 15

Shoulder Raises: 3 x 15


I hope this has gone some way in explaining at least the general concept of periodisation and makes your journey in planning your own programs or your client's a bit easier. Biggest take home message is to have a plan. "If you fail to plan you're planning to fail" 


  • Haff, G., Haff, E (2012) 'Training Integration and Periodization', In: Hoffman, J (Ed.), NSCA's Guide to Program Design, Chapter 11. 
  •  Kraemer, W (2004) Roundtable discussion: periodization of training part 1, 26 (1), Strength and conditioning journal. 
    • Wathen, D., Bacechle, T., Earle, R (2000) Training variation: Periodisation, Strength training and conditioning, Human Kinetics. 

    Website links 

    J.Glover BSc (Hons) Physiotherapist MCSP

    1 comment:

    1. Good work mate - like the point about over-training that is often missed.

      Saying that, think I've taken the rest days to the extreme recently :)