The Purpose of Periodization

Periodization is a popular term today, and used in many ways. Basically periodization is a term to refer to a strategy for designing a program focusing on differing short-term goals to achieve the long-term goal of optimal performance and health. Understanding the concepts behind the philosophy of periodization can help anyone maximize the benefits they receive from the time spent.

Exercise basically creates a stress to the body. The body’s responds to this stress via the General Adaptation Syndrome, which has three phases: Shock or Alarm phase; Resistance phase and Exhaustion phase. Each phase can last days to weeks. In shock phase, the body responds to a new or intense stress by demonstrating soreness and temporary drop in performance. Resistance phase follows in which the body adapts to the stress and returns to normal performance levels. This is the time for the body to compensate and gain strength, endurance, etc. However, if the stress continues to long, exhaustion phase occurs during which the body is no longer able to compensate for the stress. Decreased performance and tissue breakdown and weakness will begin to occur. It is important to note that compensation that occurs during resistance phase occurs while the body rests between each episode of exercise-induced stress. The actual gain occurs during the rest between, not during the activity itself. A proper periodization schedule is designed maximize the recovery during exhaustion phase while avoiding entering exhaustion phase. If one continuously does only the same routine or activities, it is inevitable that overuse strains and poor adaptive response will eventually occur.

General Annual Periodization Schedule
I. In Season (event participation) Period (May – October)
II. Post season Transition Period (October – November)
Recovery, Rest & Rehabilitation,
III. Preparatory Period
A. Strength / Hypertrophy / Endurance phase (December – February)
Add muscle mass & metabolic base
B. Mini-rest
C. Integration Phase (February – March)
Functional Strength Patterns / Core Work
IV. Skills Acquisition and Refinement Phase (March – April)
V. In Season – Event Participation & Maintenance (May – October)
Continue core, identified weaknesses, skills

Explanation of activities and reason for each phase of the cycle:

The In Season phase is when you are engaged in relatively high levels of your activity and/or participating in races if that is part of your objective.

The Post Season Transition period is rest, recreation activities at low volume and minimal to no participation in your main activities. This is also the time to rehabilitate any aches, pains or nagging injuries. By addressing the aches early on, you can incorporate that rehabilitation into your full off-season routine. Activities should be low volume, low intensity and non sport-specific. It can also be useful to insert an ‘unloading week’ in which minimal activity is performed during this phase.

The Preparatory Period is the time to add strength and work on areas you wish to improve for the next season. The initial portion focuses on exercise of low to moderate intensity but moderate to high volume. The purpose is to add muscle mass and improve endurance base. Basic strength work like squats, leg extensions and pull-ups are good examples of exercises for this phase. Another short rest period should occur at the end of this phase.

The next preparatory phase is designed to integrate the basic strength work into performance. The workout intensity should increase, but the volume of work done decreases (i.e. heavier weights, fewer repetitions). Exercise routines should become more focused on whole body movements that resemble the movements of ones primary activity. Examples would be standing exercises with cable columns, walking lunges and medicine ball work. This is also the time to incorporate core-focused exercises that use the whole body such as planks or push-ups on a ball. If one wishes to work on improved power, then the end of this phase is the appropriate time to do this. Power exercises such as plyometric work should be done at high intensities, but low volumes.

The final phase of a periodization plan is the incorporation of skills acquisition. These drills allow you to incorporate the physiological changes from the previous phases into your favorite activities. Skill focused drills also create a transition into the increased time you will spend performing your main activity ‘in-season’. Examples of skill-focused drills are hill repeats in cycling, or track work in running.

If you have a long season, of active participation, modifications to the maintenance program may need to occur. The maintenance program may need to contain mini-cycles of the above annual periodization schedule. Introducing ‘mini-periods’ in which you repeat the rest to strength to skills focused progressions can be helpful. It is also necessary to allow for sufficient build up to and recovery after targeted events that place a higher stress demand on your body.

As you can see, utilizing an intelligently designed and personalized periodization plan into one’s activities is a necessity. It matters not if you are competing to win or just casually jogging to stay healthy. Fortunately for us, there are many excellent coaching services available locally that can help designing the optimum periodization schedule. There is no substitute for good planning and individually tailored program that can be developed by personal interaction with a local coach.