Why you should periodise your training

20 April 2017 by
First published: 17 January 2016

Periodisation means varying a training program at regular time intervals to bring about optimal gains in physical performance, and there are so many reasons why you should periodise your training.

This form of training is an absolute must in the professional sporting world – to reach optimal performance throughout the competitive phase of a season – but it can also be used by the general gym-goer to get impressive results.

Seeing results from a certain training program is always noticeable in the beginning. You shock your body and get a response by the external stimulus you provide (e.g. the sets, reps, exercise selection or tempo of movement). This adaptation may be great at first and you will probably start to see some changes to your body, but if you continue to perform the same program for an extended period of time then the adaptation and your results will ‘hit a wall’ and you will begin to plateau. The term for this is: ‘GAS’, which stands for General Adaptation Syndrome and refers to repeated action of the same training program – such as sets, reps and exercises selected.

This is normally when you may start to ask yourself: ‘I’m going to the gym every day, why am I not seeing the changes my time and commitment warrant?’ And this is where structure and periodisation can help you to break through any training plateaus, by continuing to shock your body, so you can see some amazing results.

Periodisation was initially developed for athletes to train in certain parts of their seasons, so they can peak at the most important time of their season or for a particular event. But this same approach can be used for the average gym goer, who may be training for a goal (like a wedding or a holiday) when it’s important to be peaking and looking awesome for a particular date.

Whenever you start a new training regime, you don’t want to go full throttle from the ‘get-go’, as you will expose your body to too much stress, increase the risk of injury and actually reduce your chances of reaching your goals. So this is why periodisation is great – as if you structure your training correctly you will adhere to the principle of ‘progressive overload’.

Progressive overload is a gradual increase in stress placed upon the body during exercise. A great analogy for this is think of your body like a sports car, and the line you want to take your training to is the optimal amount of stress placed upon your body. On the car this optimal level is the red line, and anything beyond the red line can compromise the engine and things will go wrong with the car. But over time you can add to the car, which will increase the RPMs (revs per minute), and thus how far you can push the red line. So every time you train, you need to take it to the red line and not beyond – as this will cause too much stress and you are compromising your body’s ability to adapt.

Your overall periodisation training should be split into ‘macrocycles’, ‘mesocycles’ and ‘microcycles’. The macrocycle is the overall plan. For a competitive athlete this could last 52 weeks, but for a regular gym goer a 12-week plan is common; the mesocycle is the blocks that break the overall plan into phases and each phase will focus on a couple of different training goals (e.g. strength, anaerobic fitness); and the microcycle is the weekly training plan, telling you what to do on each training day.

The specific phases of training are normally split into four focuses: the muscle endurance phase, hypertrophy and strength phase, pure strength phase, and a power phase. During these different phases, your reps, sets, tempo of exercises and volume should all change.

Finally, there are two different methods of approaching periodisation: linear periodisation and block training.

The linear periodisation method is the most common. Put simply, you just add more weight on the bar with each session and then log your weights – it’s very simple to monitor progress.

Block training periodisation is broken down into a series of phases geared towards improving just one specific element of performance or training. The focus of training changes with each block. This is specific to the individual’s weaknesses or strengths and targets a specific focus in each block – so you know exactly what you need to focus on in each session.

So, that’s a brief guide to periodisation and just a few reasons why you should periodise your training. So why not try it the next time you’re in the gym?