Periodization is the systematic organization of all aspects of an athlete's or a team's training for an extended period of time. It is used a means to plan for and facilitate peak performance at the most important competitions, as well as planned decreases in training volume to facilitate recovery and mitigate risk of overtraining.
There are different approaches to periodizing a training plan. It needs to be understood that no one approach is inherently superior to another, but rather that it is dependent on the specific needs of the athlete, the athletes biological and training age, the specific needs of their sport, and the competitive layout of their sport. As well, different authors have different classification names for the cycles, however, the overall concept of a periodized plan remains the same.
Breaking the Year into Blocks
Periodization breaks down the training year, or for some athletes, four training years for an Olympic cycle, into blocks. These blocks are referred to as macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles. Macrocycles and mesocycles can further be classified into phases of training, based on the goals of the overall phase.
A macrocycle refers either to the overall year/annual plan, or to the largest portions of the breakdown of an annual plan lasting several weeks up to a full year. Within an annual plan, the macrocycles can include the off season, the pre-season, and the competitive season, as well as training breaks/vacations.
Within each macrocycle, mesocycles are smaller blocks of time with a general training goal, such as increasing strength, or increasing strength and power, or peaking for a competition. Mesocycles consist of microcycles that are 2-7 day periods of training, within which individual workouts and practices are planned. Often, the last microcycle within a mesocycle will have a lighter intensity, facilitating a deload, and allowing both the neurological system and the musculoskeletal system to recover. Rest/tapered intensity should be planned as well into each microcycle.
In the off-season, after a period of recovery, the goal should be to rebuild the athlete's tolerance to training. Varied high volume and low intensity exercise is best for this block which aims to increase the athlete's lean mass, and to develop their base metabolic and muscular endurance. Towards the end of the off season and into the pre-season, we move from this general preparation phase into a specific training phase, where intensity and specificity of exercise increases while total volume decreases. This is where we start to prepare the body for the demands of the athlete's specific sport and competition season.
Follow this link to download your free Periodization Template for the Artistic Athlete, a printable resource to help you plan your training to prioritize recovery and optimize performance!
In the competitive season macrocycle, mesocycles tend to have goals of maintaining or increasing strength and power developed in the off and pre-seasons, or peaking (1-2wk period), and accomplish this by using higher intensities but lower volumes of resistance training. After the competitive season, a period of rest should be scheduled prior to starting off season training.
Different Approaches for Different Goals
Periodization can be done using either a blocked/sequential approach or a complex approach.
Blocked approaches focus on one or two aspects of fitness in a given mesocycle. For example, workouts will be tailored specifically to increasing strength or power each training day. In the next mesocycle, another aspect of fitness will be focused on, such as increasing speed or endurance. The argument for this approach is that certain aspects of fitness cannot be optimized without a base in another aspect. For example, without strength, power output cannot be maximized; without power, speed cannot be maximized, etc. However, it is argued that by only focusing on one aspect at a time, then there will be losses in the other aspects of fitness when they are not being trained.
A complex approach trains several aspects of fitness within each mesocycle and microcycles, and separates mesocycles with deloading microcyles. In this approach, if an athlete does strength training 3 times a week, one day may be focused to strength, one to power, and one to speed. This approach can result in a higher volume of training, but the variation in training helps facilitate neuromuscular recovery.
Both approaches have pros and cons, and both are shown to be beneficial. Deciding which approach to use depends on your athlete, their training age, and the competitive set up of your sport.
How Do We Periodize When There is No Off Season?
For contract performers who don't get an off season, how can we apply the concept of periodization and its uses for maximizing performance and recovery?
A consistent feature of all periodization approaches is a deloading phase that is used in between meso and macrocycles. This deload allows for recovery and adaptation to the stress of exercise. While there may be no specific off-season for professional circus performers and dancers, for example, it is important to incorporate this concept into their training.
This can be done by taking a relative rest week after a self-created meso-cycle, e.g. every 6-8 weeks, and at least one rest day within each microcycle (usually about 7 days). During this period of relative rest, the athlete should refrain as much as possible (understanding that contract requirements may make this difficult) from their sport-specific training.
That doesn’t mean completely stop! Low intensity activity is still encouraged in this period so as mitigate losses in overall fitness. Activities such as yoga or low intensity pilates, and low intensity aerobic activities, e.g. cycling, jogging, barre, easy hiking, are all good options.
To allow for peak performance when it matters most, in the few days to a week leading up to a weekend of gigs, show run, festival or competition, training should be kept to a low intensity and recovery prioritized. For example, in a training session, warm up, run your act one, two, or three times, then cool down focusing on mobility drills.
Curious about how to use periodization for you or your team? Contact me here and lets chat!
Russell J. A. (2013). Preventing dance injuries: current perspectives. Open access journal of sports medicine, 4, 199–210. https://doi.org/10.2147/OAJSM.S36529
Buzzichelli, C., Bompa, T. O. (2015). Periodization Training for Sports. United Kingdom: Human Kinetics.
Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. (2016). United Kingdom: Human Kinetics.
Wyon M. (2010). Preparing to perform: periodization and dance. Journal of dance medicine & science : official publication of the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, 14(2), 67–72.