This can mean many things to many people. It’s a multi-faceted, multi-levelled idea that has a lot of different alleyways to go down. In short, periodisation is the way in which we progress around plateaus, utilizing various training specificities, intensities and volume organized around a period or cycle within the overall program.
We will start by discussing the basic nuts and bolts of periodisation and programming, and how the two are intertwined within all aspects of health and fitness from rehab to high performance.
Periodisation is a way in which we can develop a person or program from the baseline fundamentals of strength endurance and capacity, all the way through to maximum strength and power. This looks at developing their workload capacity, lean mass, strength, power, and speed - ultimately driving them towards their goal within an allotted timeframe. Periodisation is the gold standard approach.
Periodisation is broken down into 3 main constructs: Macrocycles (often years), Mesocycles (training blocks) and Microcycles (sessions or weeks). This provides a linear approach to exercise, whether the exerciser has a rehab goal, general population goal, or high-performance objective. Yes, the components within these will change, but the structures will remain the same.
In this article, we look at these mechanisms and delve deeper into what they mean and what they look like.
Strength Endurance (SE): this is the building block of our triangle; our base from which everything else is built. It is a fundamental key stage, as starting to develop increased oxygenated red blood cell count under fatigue and high volume can have a direct crossover and direct follow-on throughout the rest of any periodised program. This phase may have no intended specificity within an athletic environment, however as this phase continues and as we develop, our activities will become more specific and progressive towards our common goal. SE is characterised by high volume, low weight and minimal rest periods. This allows for increased BMR for longer sustained periods, post training. We also look to utilise SE when working within the rehab realm by designing a program aimed at getting maximum volume and loading into a muscle whilst looking to develop and build upon the stability and surrounding structure, in preparation for the next level of adaptation: hypertrophy.
Hypertrophy is the stage that will give most people the largest initial adaptation effects. Upon completion of an SE phase, and with newfound ability to tolerate load, we begin to build upon this by increasing lean mass (LMM). This is achieved through increased load, decreased volume (8-12 reps), and energy surplus. In short, train with enough intensity and eat enough food and you will be able to build LMM, before intensifying through the next level of adaptation.
Strength: we now start to look at true relative strength and how we start to express this. This is primarily expressed through major compound lifts – such as the squat and bench-press – and aims to increase our LMM density by physiologically changing the make-up of our muscle fibres. This is a basic physical characteristic that determines the efficiency of how humans move - the stronger you are, the more efficient you are. Naturally, there is then a cross-over between sport-specific and rehab-specific programming with regards to strength.
Similar to Relative Strength is Maximal Strength. This is defined as the greatest force the neuromuscular system is able to create within a single maximum voluntary contraction – your true one-repetition-maximum (1RM). In short, it is your body’s body to overcome maximal load. We will start to look at how you can include maximal strength into your programming and what it would look like from a macrocycle, mesocycle, and microcycle standpoint, in addition to power.
Power: the top of the triangle and the pinnacle that is rarely addressed within everyday gym programming. Power has a clever relationship with the above adaptations. Although all of the above adaptations are a prerequisite for programming power, this adaptation can likewise improve the effects of hypertrophy and strength. Increasing Rate of Force Development (RFD) and RFV through powerful movement results in increased mitochondrial density within muscle fibres, thereby lending to the efficiency and recovery of other phases of training. As such, utilising power to further strength and hypertrophy is a logical step.
Above is a diagram displaying a linear model for programming, aiming for a gradual and progressive increase in intensity over a specific timeframe. For example: we have twelve weeks available to prepare an athlete for rugby preseason. We would be required to develop their LMM, Strength, and Power. An appropriate mesocycle might include a five-week hypertrophy phase, four-week strength phase, and a three-week power phase. This would give them a strong foundation for a return to the club for pre-season training. In addition, including gradual and graduated work on their running and change of direction would ensure the athlete doesn’t suffer overuse injuries such as bone stress further down the line, despite likely being heavier from resistance training. Again, capacity and time to allow for adaptation are key. When designing and building a periodised model for ourselves or athletes, we will adapt and shift the programming around mesocycles by manipulating rep ranges, time-under-tension (TUT), and velocity to specifically address the designed outcomes of that phase – whether these outcomes exist in the rehab spectrum, high performance, or general healthy populations.
An alternative model is non-linear periodisation (Undulating/ Waves/Conjugate, etc.). This is a protocol within which we have large daily undulating or fluctuating loading within the session based on the outcomes of the session and the mesocycle. This means that we start to utilise Strength/ Power/Hypertrophy/SE all within the same session in some way, shape, or form. Studies have shown that this undulating model has greater effect on improving mass and strength when compared with linear programming due to the reduction of accumulative Central Nervous System (CNS) fatigue that occurs within a program. This fatigue usually occurs noticeably within the last week or so of a program as one begins to plateau. However, non-linear periodisation does mean training intensities are up session-to-session, so as coaches we need to be aware, not only of their training age, but also their ability to tolerate this modality of training. I generally implement this method within a program once an athlete has gone through at least one full phase of the linear model to its completion.
When utilising both models of training, one of the key factors that requires unwavering attention is the Force : Velocity curve, particularly the curve’s relationship with each phase of training as pictured below. This allows us to generate expectations around how an individual’s body will perform, adapt and respond.
Now within both phases of training we will look to utilise all aspects of the continuum, however again Linear will go phase-phase, Non-Linear will go session to session.
Very Much Like the phase of training being broken into 3 specific aspects, how you get there is similar also: Paradigm, Process and Planning.
Paradigm, this starts with the coaches and athletes involved, bringing together their own philosophical believes, personal perspectives, critical analysis and experience of previous success.
Process, This in itself is the Macro, Meso and Micro but also starts to look at the psychosocial aspects of the relationship between coach and athlete/ client, the communication, the extended support networks that will be in the sphere of the athlete.
Last but by no means least; The Plan. This is the combined focus of the process outputs and focuses integrated with that of the coaches paradigm, thus creating the full, holistic, integrated periodized performance or treatment plan.