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Periodisation: what it is and how to use it

Hadyn Luke posted this on Friday 15th of March 2013 Hadyn Luke 15/03/2013

Tags: Training methods


Periodisation – what it is and how to use it.

The subject of today’s blog is Periodisation, a method of planning and implementing a training programme over time used by many personal trainers and other professionals within the health and fitness industry.

(For an example of a macrocyle please follow one of the following links: annual athlete macro; annual client macro)

A good definition of Periodisation can be found in an article by Nick Chadd “An approach to the periodisation of training during the in-season for team sports”, which appeared in the UK Strength and Conditioning Association (UKSCA) periodical (Issue 18/Summer 2010):

“Periodisation is a form of structuring training to achieve performance results, and involves dividing the annual training plan into phases and training units.”

Periodisation can be broken down into different phases.


This is a long-term goal, for example a personal trainer may have a client who is planning a holiday in six months’ time and has an ideal goal for weight loss and toning their body. Equally, it could be a year-long or 18-month goal for a client planning their wedding. A sports trainer working with an Olympic athlete would likely work to a four-year plan.


A macrocycle can be further divided up into mesocycles, smaller phases of around four to eight weeks’ long, for example:

  • general preparation phase
  • specific preparation phase
  • pre-competition phase
  • competition phase
  • transition phase

Each mesocycle is likely to have a specific goal and training phase, for example, a personal trainer could set a mesocycle of six weeks’ endurance training, followed by a second mesocyle of six weeks hypertrophy training, followed by a final mesocycle of strength training. If the overall goal is strength, a client may remain in the strength training period for two meoscycles in a row in order to achieve their macrocycle.

Within each mesocycle there will be different principles of FITT – Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type. For example, an individual might start by training for a 30-minute session, three days a week, using machine weights and working at 70%. They might then progress to a mesocycle of 45-minute sessions, five days a week, using free weights and working at 85%.


A microcycle is a short period of training within a mesocycle: this might include a gym programme or workout performed on a day-to-day basis during these four to eight weeks.

So essentially, mesocycles and microcycles are a useful way to break down a long-term goal or macrocycle into manageable, planned training sessions.

The benefits of using Periodisation

There are several benefits for the personal trainer and for the client in using Periodisation.

Professionally, Periodisation is a useful tool to show the client that their training programme is carefully planned and to allow their progress to be monitored and assessed.

By providing a print out or online version of the Periodisation schedule, the fitness professional can easily and quickly show the client the structure and detail of their training programme. This allows the client to clearly see what lies ahead, how many days they will be training and what sort of sessions they will be undertaking. As well as making it easier for the personal trainer to monitor progress, this is a good motivational tool for the client.

At the end of each set of mesocycle, the client can be tested and the personal trainer can analyse what kind of training gives the client the most adaptation and, from this, decide whether any of the training variables need changing.

By doing this the personal trainer is taking into account Seyle’s General Adaptation Syndrome and is showing an understanding that as their client becomes fitter they will need to adapt the training stimulus to ensure their fitness does not plateau.

How Periodisation is carried out

Periodisation usually begins with a general preparation phase. The start of the macrocycle is likely to be low intensity and high volume. As the mesocycles progress (normally from endurance into hypertrophy then strength), the client will lift heavier weights, increasing the intensity of the work out, but the volume will decrease.

However, each client will have a bespoke Periodisation cycle planned for them depending on their fitness levels and goals. For example, a client who is already highly trained for strength may continue within the strength bracket but at a different intensity.

In this instance, the fitness professional would need to understand how to manipulate the variables within a smaller range, such as frequency, intensity, time, type, training methods, rest periods. So even if the range remains within one to five reps, each session will be different and the client will see progress.

The progression of training will also go from general to specific. A client might begin by carrying out a wide variety of different exercises, but as they progress towards their goal, the exercises will tend to become more specific to their end goal.

Within Periodisation there are several different models, including:

Linear Periodisation – focusing on one particular aspect of fitness, for example working on strength training for four weeks.

Non-linear Periodisation – focusing on several particular attributes at once, for example strength, power and muscular endurance fitness.

Step Loading Periodisation- a method of increasing intensity on a daily basis with the final week of the mesocycle being a recovery/download week (lower volume).

Conjugate Sequence System – a method of cycling intensities from high, to low, to medium on a daily basis, over a period of a week, to try and prevent accumulative fatigue and a deterioration in performance.

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