You may have heard of periodisation, but what is it?

It simply means varying the emphasis of your training to help you reach a particular goal, with speed, strength and endurance being important qualities of any successful sport.

Periodisation works by gradually manipulating the training variables of intensity, volume, sets, repetitions, exercises, training frequency and the amount of rest between sets as you progress towards your goals – depending what these are.  The progressions generally fall under three headings – I feel these should be adhered to not matter what the goal is, as they keep programming simple and easy.

Preparatory / off-season Competitive / in-season Transition / off-season

Under these three main headings fall the mesocycles, which are the phase of strength being worked on – Anatomical Adaptation, Maximum Strength, Power, Power-Endurance and Muscle Endurance.

These are then split into microcycles – which is the weekly plan stating the repetitions and sets. This also works the aerobic and anaerobic systems – where we can work on our lactic acid, alactic and aerobic energy system.
Periodised plans can follow three methods of planning:

Linear  – training follows a linear progression where not a lot varies.  This generally works for a beginner or a sport where you have a season you need to maintain strength/speed/endurance for.

Undulating – looks to make changes weekly or daily – as opposed to monthly.  So your Monday session could be 12-15 repetitions, Wednesday’s session 8-10 repetitions and Friday’s session 5-7 repetitions, for instance.

Conjugate – this looks to overlap various phases of training, so you don’t just work on one area at time the same time (as with linear and undulating). Using conjugate methods, you overlap various phases of training. For example, if you are working on a strength phase, and the next phase is power, you would perform two sessions a week on strength training and one session on power. Then, when you move into the power phase, you perform two power sessions and one strength session during the week.

* A study by Rhea et al. (2002) looked at Linear and daily undulating periodised programs on improved performance on the bench press and leg press. The mean percentage increase using the linear method was 14.37% for the bench and 25.61% for the leg press. The daily undulating groups reported mean percentage improvements of 28.78% improvements on the bench and 55.78% improvements in the leg press. This shows that it may be necessary to vary the periodised plan depending on the muscles being targeted as different muscles are made up from different fibre types and have different favorable loading patterns.

No matter what your goal, whether for a sport, for fat loss or for muscle building, periodisation is important, as it gives the training plan a structure for us to follow.  It means we can build a training plan for the year, simply by using various blocks of training together.

Running plans always have a strong element of periodisation, as they progress as the plan goes on: you may run more hills sprints and the long run would be a mile further that the previous week, for example.  All good plans, however, have a de-load week, where every third or fourth week the load/volume decreases to give the body time to rest and repair from the previous training load, and get it ready to push on for the next phase.

Building blocks you might want to consider when putting a training plan together include:

Anatomical Adaptation
60-75% 1 repetition maximum
2-4 sets
10-15 repetitions
8-12 exercises
*usually in circuit form
70-85% 1 repetition maximum
2-5 sets
8-12 repetitions
6-8 exercises
3-6 sets
5-8 repetitions
5-6 exercises
40-80% or 80-100
3-6 sets
2-5 repetitions
5-6 exercises
Muscular Endurance Short
50-60% 1 repetition maximum
3-6 sets
30-60 seconds set duration
3-6 exercises
Muscle Endurance Medium
30-50% 1 repetition maximum
2-4 sets
45-90 seconds set duration
4-8 exercises
Muscle Endurance Long
30-40% 1 repetition maximum
2-4 sets
90-240 seconds set duration
4-6 exercises

Table 1: Types of training and their parameters when considering your periodised training plan.

These are guidelines and can be manipulated depending on your sport and your goals. Not many people will need to perform the muscle endurance phase, I would even think before adding them to a plan for an elite sport performer – as a Strength and Conditioning coach you have to consider the individual when designing any plan. What do they actually need? Have they got any injuries? Sets and repetitions for various phases can also be manipulated, but then loading patterns are for a whole other article!

If you are starting a periodised program I would suggest to start using a linear plan and then look to progress to a undulating program. This is because the neuromuscular system may be used to the loading pattern and therefore reach a plateau, which may be avoided using the undulating program.

Bompa, T. O., and Carrera, M.C. (2005). Periodiazation Training For Sports: Science-Based Strength and Conditioning Plans For 20 Sports.
Rhea, M. R., Ball, S. D., Phillips, W.T., and Burkett, L. N. (2002). A Comparison of Linear and Daily Undulating Periodized Programs with Equated Volume and Intensity for Strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 16 (2), pp250-255.

Mark Beresford is a personal trainer who specialises in strength and conditioning training. He works at the University of Sussex

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