Focus: To learn how to design a periodized training program and what the different types of periodized plans are.
What You'll Learn In this lesson, you'll learn what periodization is, how you structure a periodized training plan and the different types of it.
Why is This Important?
An Introduction to Periodization
There are various cycles that are created through a periodized program, namely macrocycle (annual), mesocycle (weeks/months) and microcycle (workouts/daily/weekly). We will look at what these are, and then talk about the different types of periodization, namely linear, alternating, conjugate and undulating - and when you should use each type with a client - and then show you how to properly plan periodization.
Macro, Meso and Microcycle
We will first break down the 3 cycles of a periodized training program.
The macrocycle is the overview of the program. A mesocycle can typically last a full year, but it could also be less. It may be geared towards a competition or a time where the client wants to be at their best - for example, a wedding. For some kind of athletic competition, a macrocycle is usually broken down into 4 further periods:
For example, a powerlifter that has a big competition in December would have all their training geared toward peaking their strength for this meet. They would have a preparation phase where they’d aim to get progressively stronger, a pre-competition de-load phase, the competition, and then further de-loading in their recovery phase. Each of the section of a macrocycle is broken down further by mesocycles and microcycles.
The mesocycle is also referred to as a training block. A mesocycle is designed to achieve a specific goal - helping the client with the overall macrocycle. For example, if a beginner client that was trying to lose fat had never lifted weights before, you may start with a mesocycle where the client get accustomed to exercise and raised heart rates. You may just focus on using resistance machines, before entering the second mesocycle, where you move to free weights. Mesocycles are typically four weeks in length. This all contributes to their macrocycle goal of fat loss.
The microcycle typically refers to the shortest training cycle - and usually lasts one week. Generally speaking, a mesocycle is made up of 3 to 4 microcycles. Each of those microcycles would typically progress in load, intensity and volume. For example, when training for a powerlifting competition, your client may do their working sets at a percentage of their 1RM in each lift, and increase that percentage each microcycle to make up a complete a 4 week mesocycle.
Why is this important to understand when designing a program? Well a periodized program is always created with macro, meso and microcycles. A PT that isn’t using periodized training may be more spontaneous, however you will be able to explain to your client why their training progresses the way it does, and how each 4 week block (mesocycle) is adding to their longer term goal (macrocycle).
Linear periodization (LP) is the most common form of periodization. LP is a matter of gradually adding weight to a bar in the hope of getting stronger. The idea is to start with moderate weight and high reps. Then simply keep adding weight to the bar each week and try not to lose reps as the weight increases. Eventually, you will reach a point where you can’t keep adding weight on the bar and maintaining the same rep range, so the volume will decrease.
When designing a program for your client, almost all beginners and some intermediate lifters will benefit from linear periodization.
If someone was training for their first powerlifting meet, and didn’t have a lot of weight training experience, a basic linear periodisation program may look something like: Macrocycle: First powerlifting meet
Mesocycle 4 - Power 5 Sets of 1-3 Reps 2 Week Block
This would be effective in most beginners and intermediates, however there will be a point where the client may plateau and not be able to progress as fast as previously. That is where non-linear or undulating periodization may become beneficial.
Non-Linear/Undulating Periodisation (UP)
Non-linear/undulating periodization refers to training volume and intensity that both go up and down repeatedly. There are two main categories of UP - weekly undulating periodization (WUP) and daily undulating periodization (DUP). This can also be referred to as Alternating Periodization (AP).
How does this differ to linear periodization? Whereas linear progression may see you progress something like:
Week 1 at 60% of 1RM Week 2 at 65% of 1RM Week 3 at 70% of 1RM Week 4 at 75% of 1RM
Weekly undulating periodization may look something more like:
Week 1 at 60% of 1RM Week 2 at 70% of 1RM Week 3 at 65% of 1RM Week 4 at 75% of 1RM
So in this instance, rather than intensity going up every week, it goes up, then down, up and then down.
Whereas WUP is based on changing the intensity during an entire week, DUP on the other hand changes the intensity throughout each session. So for example, if you are following WUP and you are bench pressing twice in your first week of training at 60% of your 1RM, DUP may mean you do 50% one session and 70% another session. It undulates daily and does not follow a linear fashion.
An argument for the use of undulating periodization is that is can help reduce the risk of overtraining as an intense, heavy week/day may be followed by a lighter day. UP something better suited for more advanced trainees and/or more experienced athletes.
Conjugate / Concurrent Periodization
Conjugate is a form of training that utilises different methods designed to improve numerous athletic qualities, such as strength, explosiveness, speed and agility simultaneously. Conjugate training would take place over the course of a microcycle or a week. The most popular form of conjugate training was created by Louie Simmons, founder of Westside Barbell and it typically involves some days doing maximum strength work and other days doing variations and speed work.
Typically, the lifts performed in a competition are not performed on max effort days. A sample week for conjugate training may look something like:
Max Effort Lower Day
Box squat - work up to 1RM
Anderson squat - 3 x 8
Leg Raises - 3 x 15-20
Max Effort Upper Day
Floor press - work up to 1RM
JM Press - 4 x 8
Bent Over Row - 4 x 12
Dynamic Lower Day
Speed Squat - 60% - 8 x 1
Speed Deadlifts - 70% - 6 x 1
Stiff Leg Deadlifts - 4 x 8
Weighted Crunches - 4 x 12
Dynamic Upper Day
Speed Bench - 60% - 7 x 1
Overhead Press - 4 x 8
T-Bar Row - 4 x 8
This would change each week - so the following week, you may change the variations. Bear in mind, this style of training is typically not recommended for beginners. It often requires a variety of equipment that only specialist gyms may stock, such as special bars, chains and bands. In addition to this, there are many new movements, i.e. accessory work, that you will need to coach a client - so unless they have mastered the basics, conjugate is not necessary. However, it is highly effective in advanced lifters that are struggling that have hit plateaus.
So how do you determine what style of periodization to put your client through? In your initial consultation, you would ask your new client about their training experience and their goals. From there, you can create a macrocycle - a goal of the training program. You would them determine what style of periodization you may choose to use. Unless you are a specialised strength trainer, training people for powerlifting meets, it is likely that most people that hire you will be general population clients that will benefit from linear periodization for many months. There is nothing wrong with simplicity in programming. That being said, if your client has a very specific goal in mind, they are well experienced and they don’t need coaching on specific movement patterns each session, you may choose to use some undulating periodization or conjugate periodization.
I will now share with you a 16-week periodized training program, for a beginner weightlifter that is looking to achieve fat loss and “muscle toning” for their wedding in 16 weeks time and wants to learn how to lift weights. This program is assuming that the client has no injuries to work around.
Macrocycle: Fat Loss and Muscle Toning for a Wedding in 16 weeks.
Microcycles: Weeks 1-3: 2 Days Weightlifting Per Week - 4 Exercises Per Session (Full Body A/ Full Body B) Weeks 4-6: 3 Days Weightlifting Per Week - 5 Exercises per session (Full Body A/ Full Body B/Full Body A)
Week 5 - Full Body A Machine Leg Press: 15 - 20 reps x 3 Hamstring Curl: 15 - 20 reps x 3 Assisted Pull-Up: 15 - 20 reps x 3 Machine Chest Press: 15 - 20 reps x 3 Machine Shoulder Press: 15 - 20 reps x 3
Mesocycle 2: Movement Patterns (Learn squat, deadlift, free-weight press, free-weight pull) Length of time: 4 Weeks Rep Range: 12-15 Reps
Microcycles: Weeks 7-10: 3 Days Weightlifting Per Week - 4 Exercises Per Session (Full Body A, Full Body B, Full Body C) - Compound Lifts progress each week (e.g. squat would go from bodyweight squats, goblet squats, box squats, and finally progressing to barbell back squats)
Week 7: Full Body A Goblet Squat: 12-15 reps x 3 Leg Press: 12-15 reps x 3 Dumbbell Chest Press: 12-15 reps x 3 Dumbbell Bent Over Row: 12-15 reps x 3
Microcycles: Weeks 10-16: Spend time doing free weight compound movements - 5 Exercises Per Session
Week 12: Full Body B Barbell Deadlift: 8-12 reps x 3 Leg Extension: 8-12 reps x 3 Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 8-12 reps x 3 Wide Grip Lat Pulldown: 8-12 reps x 3 Lateral Raise: 8-12 reps x 3
Bringing it all together
Periodization is a basic term that is often overlooked by most personal trainers. Periodizing your programs will bring better results than the PT that arrives to the gym to “beast” their clients. A correctly written periodized program will allow you to work on specific goals, and also show your client how the day-to-day training goes towards their long term goal.