How to use Periodisation in your training

If you have trained for an endurance event, or have been focused on strength training, the likely hood is that you will have heard about Periodisation as a way of organising a fitness training plan. The purpose of this post is to give you a better idea of what it is, why it is used…

If you have trained for an endurance event, or have been focused on strength training, the likely hood is that you will have heard about Periodisation as a way of organising a fitness training plan. The purpose of this post is to give you a better idea of what it is, why it is used and why it works. Most importantly if you are self-coached, then this might help you organise your training more effectively. So what is Periodisation?

Quite simply Periodisation is the long-term planning of training sessions towards a long-term goal. A Periodised training plan takes one of two forms; either linear or non-linear and is commonly broken into macrocycles, mesocycles and microcycles.

Linear periodisation is where the Coach keeps generally the same sessions through the duration of the long term programme, and only really progressively overloads via volume, or load. This obviously has benefits of being easy for both the Coach and Athlete to monitor progress over time in each of the sessions and is also the best way to develop specific movement patterns or energy systems. However, linear periodisation can have a negative in that some Athletes finds constantly doing the same sessions boring overtime, and can affect adherence, focus and effort. It can become a habit and sessions are completed without real drive. However, for some Athletes a linear approach can work, and where this is the case then some real gains can be achieved (through the consistency it offers) particularly for a moderate to experienced Endurance Sport Athlete (think Marathon or Ultra Runner). It is less likely to be effective in a gym setting with an Athlete seeking strength gains or muscle development. 

Linear vs Non-Linear Training

Non-linear periodisation is where the Coach will change the sessions prescribed for the Athlete on a regular basis, normally monthly but can be aligned to training phase. This method also has benefits, including that it is less likely that the Athlete will get bored of training as the sessions will change regularly, also it will help the athlete become a better mover and more rounded by introducing the body to different movement patterns and energy demands. This method does of course have negatives too, the main being that as the sessions / movements / demands are regularly changing, it makes it considerably more difficult to monitor progress overtime, real thought is required as to which markers are measured and more importantly (which is often overlooked) HOW / WHEN we expect to see these change. For instance for a cyclist, would you expect an FTP improvement after a four week block of Endurance Development? Or would a more meaningful measure be comparison of HR required to deliver a sustained FTP? 

Whether the Coach chooses linear or non-linear periodisation depends completely on the Athlete they are working with. The Coach should be asking questions such as, what are the Athletes training goals and what are the current performance inhibitors, do they have a certain performance goal in mind? Does the Athlete get bored easily doing solo training sessions? Does the Athlete value technical capability over specific output progress? Also what type of person is the Athlete psychologically, if they have a more analytical mind then linear periodisation may suit them best. Many things need to be taken into account for long term programming such as this and once again, it is very Athlete dependant. Which of course is the main issue with an inexperienced Athlete following a generic programme from the Web or a magazine.

As previously mentioned, periodisation, whether it is linear or non-linear, is broken down into macrocycles, mesocycles and microcycles.

The macrocycle is the end goal that the Coach will agree upon with the Athlete and the route to get there. In a gym / fitness setting this can be weight loss, muscle gain, or for runner cyclist or multisport athlete, more likely preparing for the next seasons agreed ‘A’ events. This can be anything from 3 months to 4 years in duration! You may have heard other training systems, such as TrainingPeaks reference the ATP (Annual Training Plan) which would be an example of macrocycle limited to one years racing.

Mesocycles are the medium term goals and training blocks that the Coaach will prescribe the Athlete. These normally last from a month to several months and there are normally 3-6 mesocycles within the macrocycle. These mesocycles are usually specific training blocks to work towards a shorter term goal, which will be each a step towards the macrocycle goal. For example, a Coach may use Base Fitness as a Mesocycle. Often in Endurance Sport a four week duration is chosen for a Mesocycle and it is given a predictable pattern (MMHL for instance). I want to stress that this is a CHOICE and often one taken because little thought has been given to the specifics of the individual being coached. It might be the right choice for a certain Athlete at a certain time; but sadly is more often the choice of a lazy Coach or one that is saving time / increase profit by simultaneously working with a squad of Athletes. 

The last time frame in a periodised plan is a microcycle, and these should be the week by week changes that the Coach will make to the Athelete’s programme to ensure they are moving towards each mesocycle goal and to ensure progressive overload. These will generally be load/intensity or volume based adaptions. Two points to stress here; Coaching is about responding to Athlete AHIEVED performance, therefore it is perfectly feasible that a microcycle could be a regression rather than a progression. And secondly these MUST be reviewed and written specifically each week. Again, too often we see generic templated plans masquerading as Coaching… If a periodised approach is to be successful, and the Athlete is to try and avoid injury / illness then each week must be planned specifically based on what has just been delivered in the preceding week. 


A further level of complexity arises with multi sport athletes and that is how to interweave training for different disciplines whilst also incorporating nutrition and S&C. The strategies for achieving this warrant a post of their own, so I will write that soon! 

In Conclusion

Coaching is about developing individual plans & programmes for the specific Athlete being coached. A formulaic templated approach is common, but the most effective way to coach. However there are some fundamentals to the structure of a plan; Linear or Non-Linear. Following by the use of Macro, Meso and Micro cycles as a skeleton.

If you are a self coached athlete, but would like a little support in writing your own plan then feel free to reach out by email or social media and I will be pleased to help you. Or to elaborate on any of the points discussed in this post. 

Good luck with your training and subscribe to my email updates to make sure you get to hear when more content becomes available.

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