Training Periodization to Prevent Overtraining

The term ‘periodization’ is used in sport, health and fitness. It relates to program design and the whole process of manipulating a training program at regular intervals or cycles. Periodization is used predominantly by athletes in order to organise their training programs, so that they ‘peak’ at competition times. However, this good practice and it is now used by gym goers across the globe!

In simple terms, the training specificity, intensity and volume are adjusted (1) to match the goals of the individual. In order to achieve this, it is common practice to monitor your on-going performance, so that the program can be changed to match your fitness and physique goals.  This feedback approach does help you to keep on track when you are training hard at the gym.

Your training program should be organised into clearly defined ‘cycles’. Each cycle has different time durations and think of each one as your short, medium and long term goals. The cycles within periodization can be broken down as follows (2):

  • Microcycle: this is the shortest interval within a training program and normally refers to a seven-day period.  Any goals within such a short period of time need to be very achievable in relation to your overall training goals.


  • Mesocycle: this is a repeating series of ‘microcycles’ over a period of several weeks (medium term planning and goals). The goals within a mesocycle should be achievable yet flexible, as they can be manipulated following an analysis of your training outcomes. E.g. when bulking concentrate on working the major muscle groups using a split set model.


  • Macrocycle: this is a series of mesocycles, normally over a period of a few months to several years (long term planning and goals). Information gathered from the microcycles and mesocycles can be used to confirm or re-adjust the long term goals of this stage.

Why do we use periodization?

There are a number of benefits of using periodization in relation to your training goals and your planned progression. These are as follows (3):

  • It helps to manage fatigue, decreasing the risk of over- training by manipulating the load, intensity and recovery of your training program.
  • The structure of the cycles enables you to prepare properly for each stage of your training regime.
  • You can optimise your training performance over a specific period of time.
  • When planning each cycle you can take into consideration variables such as time constraints, age, fitness levels and environmental factors.


The Linear Model

There are different types of periodization models, but the linear model is the easiest to use and is less confusing than the other models. To be honest, it is a good approach for beginners. When you get used to this process of periodization, then you can tweak the linear model and use it to match your personal training goals and outcomes. Basically, it uses a classic approach that makes changes to the training volume and intensity throughout each of your mesocycles.

The linear model does provide a simultaneous development of your stage goals and an improvement in training technique throughout each of the mesocycles. This model can be used for general training and for specific training needs.


An Example of Periodization

Here is an example of a 36 week periodization training plan. There are some examples of training plans for the first ‘mesocycle’ for each stage (1-5), for the whole training program. You should be able to see a clear progression in terms of training volume and intensity, as they do specifically match the stage goals. The next 2 stages and goals could be competition and recovery, but again this is dependent on your individual goals. That is the beauty of the linear model is that it is flexible to match your individual goals, so that you peak when the time is right. Therefore, you could progress from improving your muscle mass, strength and power to competing on a bodybuilding stage. 

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  1. Verkhoshansky, Y.