Periodization: Phases to Success

Periodization is a way to set up structure to your workout. It includes the right exercises, intensities, loads to lift, frequency and duration of training, and more1. For an athlete this is the overall design of your training program for the year. It is important for you to use this to maximize performance throughout all your training seasons, especially competition time. It is an effective way to allow your body to prepare for the demands of sport.

While the best time to use periodization is during championship season it is also useful throughout the year. It is a systematic way to add power, strength, speed, and size to maximize your performance1. You are able to keep track and map out your progress as you train. This helps you increase success while minimizing the negative aspects of overreaching and/or overtraining.

You use periodization throughout the year when you design a training program that includes different phases of training. A macrocycle is a phase that repeats itself several times throughout the year and usually lasts 3-6 weeks. A microcycle is the individual weeks that make up a macrocycle. The simplest way to split up your year of training is through 3 phases (or macrocycles): preparatory, competitive, and transition.

Typically during a preparatory phase you work on general strength and conditioning exercises that are not sport specific. This includes weight lifting, with higher number of repetitions (12-20) during the first part of the phase for endurance. You want lower number of repetitions (8-12) during the last part of the phase to build strength. Also, include cardiovascular (cardio) training (30-60 minutes) throughout this phase both for endurance and to help recover from workouts. The idea is to train the body for overall fitness initially and then strengthen to prepare for performance during the competitive phase. Remember to always take time to rest and recover both during exercises and training sessions.

Next is the competitive phase that includes your games, meets, competitions, etc. During this phase the focus is on sport specific training with less time building strength and cardio endurance. Time spent in the weightroom should be with low repetitions (2-8) with high intensity to simulate competition. Long sets of cardio at the same pace should be avoided but instead include bursts of sprinting exercises with minimal rest in between. Rest and recovery is very important during this phase so your body can be fresh for intense training and competition.

The last phase is the transition phase; this is time for your body to recover from competition season. Choose exercises that are fun and work the body as a whole. Go for a bike ride, play soccer, or go swimming. You could also try a sport that is different than your usual, like hockey. Your body gets stuck in a pattern of the same routine during the season; you and your body need a break mentally and physically.

Now that you have an outline of the various phases here are some guidelines to consider:

  • First, never plan a stressful workout immediately after a competition.
  • Constantly vary the intensity of days (high, low, medium) throughout a week of training.
  • The step load method: one week low intensity, one week medium intensity, one week high intensity, repeat, gives time for your body to recover and replenish.
    – It is a good way to focus your intensity of the week on mainly one area (i.e. high intensity).
  • After your competitive phase, take a two week transition to replenish energy stores, remove fatigue, relax mentally, and regenerate from exhaustion.

Active rest should be built into your training routine. Include one day of rest each week so your body can recover from training and get ready for more. A cutback week can help you prepare for major competition. You incorporate it into a plan for 4-6 weeks out. This plan includes a cutback week, another 2 weeks of high intensity training, and then 2 weeks to taper (reduce volume) before the competition. During this cutback week your legs will rest from the stresses of training and continue to become fresh throughout the week as you approach the high intensity training. You are able to rehydrate and refuel more effectively when your training level is lower. And your mind will get a needed rest from the daily focus required to train at your best.

An additional way to design rest into your training program is to incorporate one or two "off seasons" per year. During this time (3-8 weeks) you cut back on the duration of training by about half (or more) from your longest routine. The intensity is also reduced by 30% (or more) from your peak. Remember to plan in at least 1-3 days per week totally off from exercise for rest and recovery during this time.

One of the hardest parts of the training process for you and your coach is finding a balance between general and specific training, rest, recovery, and competition. Unfortunately, it is difficult to truly recognize consistent markers that create the best training load for an athlete or that do not begin the process of overtraining2. Without effective application of periodization, it is hard to determine how much activity or intensity you receive over time. Remember, “it is best to prevent the negative aspects of overreaching and overtraining, because it can take several weeks, several months, "to never", to fully recover from overtraining”1.

Periodization is a systematic way to plan your training for the entire year. The 3 phases of preparatory, competitive, and transition divide the goals of training into seasons. By using the guidelines you and your coach can create an individual program that addresses strength, conditioning, and sport specific training goals. Active rest is always the most important part of this routine to maintain continuous mental and physical recovery throughout the year. Overall, remain consistent with using your periodization for all parts of your phases and success is in your reach.

1. Newsletter | SIRC. . Accessed 6/17/2008, 2008.
2. CCAA | SIRC. . Accessed 6/17/2008, 2008.
3. CCAA | SIRC. . Accessed 6/17/2008, 2008.

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