Periodization Explained: How to use it to ensure optimal performance readiness

Ben Smalley

[4-minute read]

Periodization is a process of dividing a training plan into a series of manageable training phases. Each training phase can be designed to target specific attributes to be developed and include periods of appropriate loading and recovery in order to achieve the desired adaptations and ensure optimal readiness for competition.

”Training plan pursuing peak performance via the potentiation of bio-motors and the management of fatigue and accommodation”

(Turner et al, 2011)

When prescribing training cycles into your athlete’s program, these can be broken down into long and short periods of time. These include:

Macro-cycles /

Typically a yearly cycle, however this will be dependent on the sport, e.g. an Olympic cycle may be 4 years long. This is where you may lay out and structure the varying training emphasis across an entire season.

Meso-cycles /

Typically a monthly cycle, this is where you may switch your emphasis of training on a month to month basis.

Micro-cycles /

Typically a weekly cycle, allowing you to structure your emphasis on a day to day basis.

Figure 1: Training Cycles Explained

Periodization Team Sport Example /

When working within team sport you may layout a general macro-cycle for the entire season entailing the pre-season, in-season, post-season, and off-season periods.

You may then structure these meso-cycles – the months within the pre/in/post/off-season. Within these phases, the emphasis of varying bio-motors may differ.

Lastly, you will then structure your micro-cycle to position particular training sessions on relevant days, to ensure the most optimal training effect but also preparedness for the weekend’s fixture. Check out our previous blog on ‘How to use Tapering to Optimize Performance’ for more information on this.

A few examples of some traditional micro-cycles found within soccer can be found below:

Figure 2: Micro-cycles in Soccer

Within team sport, you are most likely going to adopt a non-traditional/non-linear periodization model. This approach encompasses training a range of volume loads and physical qualities simultaneously (Turner, 2011), and in case of scheduling conflicts, workouts within the micro-cycle can be adjusted when appropriate (Haff, 2004).

When moving from preparatory/pre-season phases to competition/in-season phases within team sports, it is important to follow particular progressions surrounding exercise intensity and complexity.

The training program should move from high to low volumes and low to high intensities. This allows the athletes to build a work capacity before moving into intense, more specific actions during the competition phase.

Figure 3: Preparatory vs. Competition

These progressions should ultimately be followed through conditioning, speed, change of direction (COD), strength and power work. Conditioning, speed and COD/agility training should systematically progress running speeds, intensities, and complexity. Encompassing their development alongside technical practices, small-sided games, and large-sided games.

This can successfully stimulate a range of aerobic and anaerobic adaptations whilst gradually progressing the mechanical, metabolic, and neurological cost of workloads (Ross, Leveritt, and Riek, 2001; Hegyi et al, 2019).

The in-season schedule can then build upon this pre-season preparation, ensuring optimal readiness for competition. This progression simply allows the appropriate stimulus to the athlete’s muscles/tendons and ‘prepares’ the system for the higher intensity work later in the program.


  • Haff G., 2004. Roundtable discussion: Periodization of training—Part 1. Strength Cond J 26: 50–69.
  • Hegyi, A., Goncalves, M., Finni, T., and Cronin, N., 2019. Individual Region- and Muscle-specific Hamstring Activity at Different Running Speeds. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 51(11), pp.2274-2285.
  • Ross, A., Leveritt, M. and Riek, S., 2001. Neural Influences on Sprint Running. Sports Medicine, 31(6), pp.409-425.
  • Turner, A., 2011. The Science and Practice of Periodization: A Brief Review. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 33(1), pp.34-46.

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Performance Periodization Programming

About the author

Ben Smalley

Ben is an S&C Coach and Sports Scientist based in London. After completing a BSc in Sport, Exercise & Rehabilitation Science at the University of Birmingham, Ben is currently finishing off his MSc in S&C at Middlesex University. Ben is also working towards his UKSCA Accreditation. Along with his role as a Sports Scientist at DSS, Ben is also working at Queen’s Park Rangers as an Academy Sports Scientist.

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