Periodization is an important concept during a season of hard work towards a specific goal: your main competition. But what exactly is periodization?

Periodization is the organised division of the training year (annual cycle) into sub-periods in pursuit of three basic objectives:

  • To prepare an athlete for an optimal improvement in performance.
  • To prepare an athlete for the main competitions that are associated with the major event (like qualifying events).
  • To prepare an athlete for a his or her major event.

A season can be divided into three main periods, or macrocycles:

  • Preparation period: the focus of this period is on adaptation to training.
  • Competition period: the focus of this period is on application of the training.
  • Transition period: the focus of this period is on regeneration and recovery.

Each of the macrocycles consists of mesocycles. Each of the cycles builds upon the effects of the previous cycle, whilst preparing for the next one. It is important that the structure and details of the plan are flexible to move with the dynamics of the athlete, coach and situation. For this to be possible, it is important to know the demands of your main event and to bring your strengths and limiters into alignment with these demands.

Basically, the periodization is built upon the principle that your training should be more and more like your main event when you approach it. Therefore, your training could be divided into three main building blocks:

  • General training: establish and maintain physical competencies.
  • Related training: train individual components of a sport, specific techniques & fitness.
  • Specific training: progressive intensity and competitive situations.

Preparation Macrocycle:

Mesocycle 1:

This is the longest mesocycle and should cover 1/3th of the complete annual cycle. The main aim of this mesocycle is to prepare you for the increase in high intensity loading (quality) during mesocycle 2. This is done by increasing the extent of loading in mesocycle 1 (volume or quantity). There must be a gradual increase in training intensity during mesocycle 1, but the focus is on the basics. During this mesocycle a strong foundation will be created for the rest of your annual training plan and fitness.

Mesocycle 2:

During the 2nd mesocycle, the focus shifts to high intensity training – the trainings gets more like your main event. Therefore, the intensity of related and specific training both increase. There should be more open conditions and situations in the training, with an increased climate of competition. This means a plateau, or even a decrease in your training extent or volume.

Competition Macrocycle:

Mesocycle 3:

The main task of the 3rd mesocycle is to develop and stabilise competition performance in key competitions. The introduction of new levels of specific sport and event fitness is continued. This specific fitness should be maintained via specific loadings and competitions. This means a further reduction in general and related training (a decrease in training extent, while intensity increases). Nonetheless, strength, speed and mobility levels should be maintained. General training might be implemented as active recovery.

Trials and qualifying competitions should be in mesocycle 3.

Mesocycle 4

If an athlete achieved peak performance in mesocycle 3, mesocycle 4 should be used to aid recovery, to protect an athlete from injury and to prepare him or her for mesocycle 5. Therefore, the proportion of specific training should be reduced, and competitions should be eliminated, while general and related training loads both increase.

Mesocycle 5:

Again, in mesocycle 5, there should be an optimal blend of competition and specific training. The major event of the season should be within mesocycle 5.

Transition Macrocycle

Mesocycle 6:

During this macrocycle regeneration is key. This includes physical, emotional and intellectual regeneration. When the season was demanding, this macrocycle could be as long as 3-6 weeks. Full recovery is key! Training load should be reduced to light general training.

However, there are many variants of periodization and new concepts are introduced over the years. For example, some include a taper period as one of the mesocycles before the ‘main-event mesocycle’. In addition, which periodization model you choose, is of course dependent on the sport-specific demands. Conclusion: building an optimal training program isn’t a textbook exercise.

Dick FW. Sports Training Principles: an introduction to sports science. 6 ed: Bloomburry Publishing Plc; 2014.

Friel J. The Cyclist’s Training Bible. 5 ed: VeloPress; 2018.

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