The concept of periodization is very straightforward and can be effective if the basic principles are followed. The hard part is figuring out how long to space out the cycles and what type of periodization plan works best, considering that each one you design is different and specific for each individual or team you work with. Regarding periodization and training, there is no one “best” or “exactly right” periodization plan, each one will vary and rightly should.
Periodization is a method that uses varying levels of exercise frequency, training specificity, intensity, volume and duration to help you lose/gain weight, grow stronger and more powerful, or get better at your respective sport. Periodization takes specific cycles of training and periods of rest and recovery to optimize the adaptations of a resistance-training program. There are three time periods that the periodization model follows. The first is a macrocycle, which consists of an entire training year. For a college or high school athlete these time periods usually last an entire year, although the athletes’ macrocycle’s may last longer. When dealing with Olympic athletes their macrocycle will probably last up to four years because the Olympic games are held every four years. Encompassed into the macrocycle is generally two or more mesocycles that usually last several weeks to several months depending on the individual or team you are training. Once again, regarding Olympic athletes, there will be more mesocycles because of the length of the macrocycle and also because they have competitions that are considered pre-qualifiers for the Olympics. Each mesocycle is divided into two or more microcycles that can last from one to four weeks long. This short cycle focuses on daily and weekly training variations. All of the previously mentioned cycles have suggested timelines to follow but each is subject to vary depending on when and what the goal is. Although Olympic athletes tend to have extremely longer cycles, there are other groups such as two sports athletes who will have very small cycles because of the obvious fact that they go from one sport to the other.
The research that has been done with periodization demonstrates that there is nothing but positive attributes when an effective periodization plan is implemented. One crucial part of periodization that must be looked at is the implementation of active rest periods. While short and long-term periodization requires alternating periods of training load, it is essential that recovery must be incorporated between and after some of those periods. If the strength and conditioning professional does not have these active rest periods implemented into their mesocycle, overtraining will likely occur. Overtraining is considered long lasting performance incompetence due to an imbalance of training load, competition, non-training stressors and recovery. Although planned active rest periods are crucial, the athlete may reach the exhaustion phase sooner than was thought, improvements may drop off, and the appropriate recovery and rest may have to be implemented earlier. Depending on the athlete and sport, active rest periods can range from one to four weeks.
The major benefits of using periodization with any population, from elite athletes to the stay at home mom is that results can constantly be achieved. It must be pointed out that with untrained individuals, initial gains are much quicker and as the person becomes stronger and more athletic, the gains do not happen as rapidly. Various studies have found that muscle strength increases by approximately 40% in untrained individuals, 20% in the moderately trained, 16% in trained, 10% in advanced and just 2% in elite level athletes over periods ranging from 4 weeks to 2 years. The main way to utilize periodization is by progressively overloading the body by gradually increasing stress on the muscles. Some of the more common ways to achieve this are through weight increases of an exercise, adding more reps and sets, and increasing or decreasing the amount of rest between sets. One study that was done at the University of Connecticut included two groups of female athletes who lifted two to three times per week for nine months. One group performed the same exercises in conjunction with the number of reps and sets, while the other group performed the same exercises but cycled through periodized workouts of two to four sets. The periodized group performed 4-6 reps on one day, 8-10 reps on another day, and 12-15 reps on a third day. Although both groups were stronger after four months, the bench press test indicated that the periodized group made an impressive 27% gain while the other group only improved by 6%. The other interesting fact showed that the periodization group lost 3% body fat while the other group experienced no change in body fat percentage.
When dealing with individuals it is much easier to plan and change cycles during the periodization. When you notice that the person is reaching exhaustion quicker than expected changes can easily be made, where as with a team, some athletes may be reaching exhaustion while others are still in the resistance phase. This is where it gets tricky for teams. Overall, the implementation of a macro, meso, and micro cycled periodization plan is very effective and can be used to enhance performance for clients and teams.