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Understanding Periodization

Understanding Periodization

By Jason Tremblay PFT Certificate Program


Periodization can be defined as the systematic manipulation of training variables to elicit specific adaptations. The purpose of this article is to help you understand how to structure your training to maximize gains for whatever your goals may be. Let us start at the most basic level, understanding the cycles of periodization:


Microcycle – training phase that lasts 1 – 2 weeks.

Mesocycle – a summation of various microcycles, usually lasts 4 – 6 weeks.

Macrocycle – a summation of microcycles and mesocycles that lasts 1 – 4 years.


Now lets look at the various types of macrocycle structures:


“Mono”cycle – 1 major competitive period.

“Bi”cycle – 2 major competitive periods.

“Tri”cycle – 3 major competitive periods.


During these competitive periods the goal is to have the athlete “peak” for competition. Peaking is defined as, “the absolute zenith of competitive condition achieved by an athlete”. To peak for a competitive period, training phases need to be planned to allow the athlete to peak physically, mentally, technically and tactically for the date(s) of competition.


Next lets examine the acute training variables so you can start to identify the rationale behind certain training phases.


Choice of Exercise:

  • Depends on demands of sport or goals.
  • What equipment is available?
  • Primary exercises vs Assistance exercises.
  • Primary exercises should be multi-joint, transferability to sport.
  • Assistance exercises normally isolation movements.
  • Does the benefit outweigh the risk?
  • Is there a more efficient movement towards the goal?


Order of Exercise:

  • Compound before Isolation.
  • Exercises that require highest amount of coordination first.
  • Depends on demands of sport or goals.
  • Most intense to least intense movements.


Number of Sets, Reps and Set Structure:

  • Multiple set approach more beneficial.
  • Single set approach works well for beginners.
  • Depending on type of training total number of sets can vary from 10 – 40.
  • Cluster training? Dropsets? Forced Reps? Negatives? They all have their place.



  • Manipulated at submaximal loads.
  • Important for Hypertrophy, can control time under tension.
  • Ability to control which contractile phases are being trained (Isometric, Concentric, Eccentric).
  • Directly proportional to % of 1RM.
  • Longer reps can be used to enhance strength and size gains, not thoroughly researched but research is positive.



  • Depends on current phase of training.
  • Maximum Strength 3 – 5 minutes for ATP-PC repletion and CNS recovery.
  • Power 3 – 5 minutes for ATP-PC repletion and CNS recovery, 4 minutes for lactate removal if higher rep submaximal power being trained.
  • Muscular Endurance 30 – 60 seconds, want fatigue and its byproducts to enhance tolerance and clearance ability.
  • Hypertrophy 1 – 2 min, lower rest times as well as higher reps increases lactate buildup. Strong relationship between lactate levels and levels of GH and Testosterone are associated with a higher anabolic response.



  • Intensity of exercise dependent on training phase
  • Intensity is inversely proportional to repetitions performed.
  • Intensity of load dictates how much or how little CNS is fatigued. Important concept for periodization.
  • Strength 85% 1RM or greater
  • Power 75 – 85% 1RM multi-effort and 80 – 90% 1RM single-effort
  • Hypertrophy 67 – 85% of 1RM
  • Muscular Endurance Less than 67% of 1RM


Training Frequency (not considered acute programming variable but important)

  • How many times per week can you train?
  • Study was done doing same amount of volume on a body part in one workout, or dividing the same amount of volume across 3 separate workouts. Splitting training up works best.3
  • Skill based movements can be trained daily.
  • What phase of training are you in?


Now that you understand some basic programming considerations, lets examine some basic guidelines on the 4 main foundational phases of training:


Variable Strength Power Hypertrophy Endurance
Load (% of 1RM) 80 – 100 70 – 100 60  – 80 40 – 60
Repetitions per set 1 – 5 1- 5 8 – 15 25 – 60
Sets per exercise 4 – 7 3 – 5 4 – 8 2 – 4
Rest between sets (mins) 2 – 6 2 – 6 2 – 5  1 – 2
Duration (secs per set) 5 – 10 4 – 8 20 – 60 80 – 150
Speed per rep (% of max) 60 – 100% 90 – 100% 60 – 90% 6 – 80%
Training sessions per week 3 – 6 3 – 6 5 – 7 8 – 14

 Adopted from Supertraining.


Okay so by now you should understand at a very basic level why these guidelines exist, and how to create programs for strength, power, hypertrophy and endurance. This is the foundation of periodization, knowing how to create a program that will elicit specific adaptations. Now we can start to look at what happens to the body during training by examining a theoretical fatigue curve.


Heavy resistance training without adequate recovery time results in progressive fatigue (depletion) of the central nervous system. Now on an acute basis this is not a bad thing, depletion actually creates a stimulus for supercompensation. However, if progressive fatigue keeps occurring without adequate recovery time, overreaching or overtraining will occur.  This is why periodization is so important for safety as well as for maximizing performance. Without any plans for stress management (regeneration microcycles) you can chronically mess yourself up with overtraining.


To plan training phases its quite simple, what is your goal? If you are a speed athlete you should allocate more training phases (mesocycles) to power, speed and strength phases. If you are a bodybuilder you should allocate mesocycles to hypertrophy, strength and endurance.  There is no perfect way to organize training phases, there are pros and cons to each periodization system. Even though there have been incredible advances in sports science over the last 3 decades, there is still no 100% right way to train.  Don’t make the mistakes of failing to plan, create a periodization model, play around with training variables in your programs, and most importantly find out what works best for you.


Did you like the article? Did you hate the article? Send me an email TheStrengthGuys@Gmail.Com or you can follow me on Twitter @TheStrengthGuys




1. Candow, DG. Burke, DG. (2007) Effect of short-term equal-volume resistance training with different workout frequency on muscle mass and strength in untrained men and women. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

2. Comfort P, Haigh A, Matthews MJ. (2012) Are Changes in Maximal Squat Strength During Preseason Training Reflected in Changes in Sprint Performance in Rugby League Players? Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

3. Bompa, Tudor. Haff, Gregory. (2009) Periodization 5th edition.

4. McArdle, William. Katch, Frank., Katch, Victor. (2008) Exercise Physiology 7th edition.

5. McLester, John R. JR.; Bishop, E; Guillams, M. E. (2000). Comparison of 1 Day and 3 Days Per Week of Equal-Volume Resistance Training in Experienced Subjects. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

6. Siff, Mel. (2004). Supertraining.

7. Souster, Mike. (2011). Periodization.

8. Stopanni, Jim. (2006). Encyclopedia of Muscle & Strength.

The Big Picture

Editors Note: Be watching out for more of Jason on, he has a lot of knowledge on training and is going to become more involved in the near future.  -Kyle


The Big Picture – My Philosophy on Training Structure

By Jason Tremblay PFT Certificate Program


A good program should not be judged by how hard one session is. It should be judged by the accumulative training effect of all sessions. Training structure is the single most important aspect of training. It also wouldn’t be a reach to say that training structure is the single most neglected aspect of training. I don’t know what it is about the fitness industry, as soon as somebody steps foot into the gym, they are an expert. It has been my experience that when I approach one of these ‘experts’ and ask for their opinion on something, they describe to me the most barbaric workout that comes to mind. I would walk away from these conversations thinking, “Wait a minute… What would that workout accomplish?” I like to call this, ‘The Crossfit Phenomenon”. It entails a trainer designing a workout that leaves their client vomiting from lactate buildup, having delayed onset muscle soreness for an entire week afterwards, and last but not least, neglecting any sort of periodization model whatsoever! Lets end this nonsense about who can build the toughest workout on the planet. Anybody can devise a workout that would make a Navy SEAL cry if they tried hard enough. However only good trainers can design a series of workouts that will lead to a specific adaptation that will help that Navy SEAL do his job. Which leads right into my training philosophy…


My training philosophy is that an individual workout is not nearly as important as how these individual workouts flow together to elicit specific adaptations. My programs are classified into 4 basic phases of training:


  • Muscular Endurance – training to enhance lactate clearance, involves lower rest times, higher reps.
  • Hypertrophy – training for muscle size, time under tension, low to moderate rest times, volume.
  • Maximum Strength – training to move the most amount of weight possible.
  • Power – training to increase rate of force production.


Depending on my client goals, these phases are pre-planned into an annual training plan. They are arranged in a manner that allows the adaptations from one phase to carry over into the next, or to specialize towards a specific goal and enhance performance at competitions. So why am I coining extreme conditioning programs as “The Crossfit Phenomenon”? Because it is a system that is much more focused on how extreme the “Workout of the Day” can be, rather than how good the accumulative training effect is.  It is a system implemented to improve muscular endurance and work capacity, with little to no focus on maximal strength or power output.1 There is a place for hard workouts, but one hard training session won’t make an athlete, and one hard training session can psychologically break an athlete. Every session must be purposeful and every session must be planned. By responsibly planning training the whole will become greater then the sum of its parts, that is how I view training.


Did you like the article? Did you hate the article? Send me an email TheStrengthGuys@Gmail.Com or you can follow me on Twitter @TheStrengthGuys



1. Glassman, Greg. (2007) Understanding Crossfit. Retrieved January 31st, 2012 from: