Periodisation for Sports Performance: An Introduction 

Image by Sam Sabourin

Basic Training Theory

History of Periodisation

Various Periodisation Models

S & C Educational Presentations 

Introduction to Periodisation 

 

Strength and conditioning (S & C) programs if designed correctly may bring about significant increases in strength and ultimately lead to positive physiological adaptations and psychological alterations. However, if the programming is not structured correctly may lead to performance plateaus or decrements. Additionally, there may also be an elevated risk of injury and other signs connected with overtraining. 


To help long-term training and performance improvements, the NSCA recommends that the S & C practitioner should include pre-planned, systematic variations in training specificity, intensity, and volume organised in cycles within an overall program. This program design strategy is termed periodisation. The model of modern periodisation was suggested in the 1960s by Russian physiologist Leo Matveyev. Later, exercise scientists modified Matveyev’s work with particular application to training strength and power athletes. A periodised training year simply can be separated into smaller blocks of time, each with its own specific goals and priorities. This overall schedule can include all aspects of an athlete’s program, including general conditioning, sport-specific activities, and resistance training. 

Understanding Training Induced Stress

The concept of planned training is not new, originating in ancient Greece and Rome (Drees, 1968) and has been written extensively in almost every RT textbook. Developing muscular strength is a complex process that involves systematically overloading the neuromuscular system and muscle cells initiating adaptational responses. Strength improvements are achieved because of a well-designed RT program that produces central nervous system and muscle cell adaptations. The current construct of the RT program for muscular strength has been developed [in part] from the pioneering work of DeLorme (1945) and DeLorme, Schwab and Watkins (1948) who developed the progressive resistance training hypothesis.

 

Over the last 70-years' theoretical models of training have evolved with studies attempting to simulate ‘real-world’ conditions. Training theory goes to significant lengths to explain the different time-points necessary that regulate stress and promote adaptational responses for strength development. A well-constructed RT program is established from the application of theoretical models and training principles that ensure recovery to stress. The significance of ensuring appropriate recovery periods that allow muscular adaptations has been documented (Haff, 2004a; Haff, 2004b). Stone and colleagues (2007) suggested three theoretical principles (General Adaptation Syndrome [GAS]; the Stimulus-Fatigue-Recovery-Adaptation Theory [SFRA] and the Fitness-Fatigue [Fit-Fat], reflect the recovery-adaptational response from RT. Each of these theoretical principles will be discussed in further detail below.

 

General Adaptation Syndrome

 

The physiological basis for planned and structured RT is to ensure that adequate recovery generates positive adaptational responses and is established from the initial findings of Selye. Selye, an endocrinologist, studied various types of biological stressors to organisms and developed the ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’ (GAS) hypothesis. Selye (1936) developed a conceptual framework that attempted to explain the relationship between stress and adaptation.  Selye (1936) suggested that there were biological responses to acute nonspecific nocuous agents (i.e. cold exposure, surgical injury, spinal shock, excessive muscular exercise and sublethal intoxication of drugs) on rats. Selye observed that a distinct syndrome appears which is independent of the damaging agent (e.g. excessive muscular exercise or drug type) and represents a response to the stressor.

 

Selye’s GAS model (Figure 1) suggests that when an organism is exposed to a stressor (i.e. RT), it will respond in three distinctive phases; (1) the alarm phase; (2) resistance phase; and (3) the exhaustion phase. For example, in RT, the alarm phase is because of the initial exposure to RT with the trainee’s body post-workout performing at a reduced capacity. This may be in the form of fatigue, stiffness, or delayed onset of muscle soreness due to stress exposure. The second phase (resistance to a stressor) is characterised by improved performance (super-compensation) as the body adapts and responds to the RT stressor. Finally, the third phase (exhaustion) is characterised by a reduction in performance as the magnitude or duration of the stressor is excessive with the body unable to adapt and respond.

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Figure 1. Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome applied to resistance training and theory. For example, the individual is in a state of preparedness (homeostasis) and is represented by a straight line at the left of the figure (above). Note that during the resistance training session, the line shows that the individual fatigues, recovers, and then supercompensates (enters the resistance stage). If nothing else is performed, the individual returns to homeostasis via involution, or if continued to train without adequate recovery descends into overtraining and exhaustion due to the return of fatigue and the inability to continue to compensate for the applied stressors.

Stimulus-Fatigue-Recovery-Adaptation Theory

 

Verkhoshansky (1979; 1981) proposed the stimulus-fatigue-recovery-adaptation model (SFRA) suggesting that fatigue accumulates due to the strength and duration of a training stimulus (Figure 2). After individuals receive the stimulus from the training session, the body recovers dissipating fatigue and enables adaptation (super-compensation) to occur. Furthermore, Verkhoshansky’s SFRA model suggests that if the stress is not applied with sufficient training frequency, detraining will occur (involution). Stone and colleagues (2007) suggest that involution is also induced by the duration of the training program over the weekly training sessions. Equally, if no new training stimulus is provided after recovery and adaptation are completed, then involution will occur.

 

Further observations by Stone, Stone and Sands (2007) suggest that the magnitude of the training stimulus plays a vital role in determining the duration of the body’s recovery and regeneration period. For example, if the magnitude of the RT load is large, then a more considerable accumulation of fatigue will be produced, resulting in a more extended period of recovery (Stone, Stone and Stands, 2007). Equally, if the training load is reduced, less fatigue will accumulate, and the recovery-adaptation process will occur at a quicker rate. Therefore, alteration through the manipulation of training variables and sequencing of training workloads is essential for recovery-adaptation processes to occur. The management of training loading and workloads through a series of light and heavy training sessions can efficiently regulate fatigue and recovery while ensuring fitness levels are maintained or improved.

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Figure 2. The stimulus-fatigue-recovery-adaptation model suggests that fatigue accumulates in relation to the strength and duration of a stimulus. After a period of recovery, fatigue is dissipated, leading to supercompensation.

Fitness-Fatigue Model

 

The most prevalent stress-adaptational theory cited in training literature is the fitness-fatigue paradigm (Fit-Fat) (Bannister, 1982). This model partially explains the relationships among fitness, fatigue and preparedness (Figure 3) in response to the training sessions that affect the individual’s level of preparedness. Furthermore, it provides a comprehensive depiction of the physiological responses to a training stimulus. According to the Fit-Fat paradigm, individuals may be assessed based on the principle outcomes of training (i.e. fitness and fatigue).

 

The Fit-Fat hypothesis differs from the GAS and SFRA adaptational models, which assume that fitness and fatigue share a cause-and-effect relationship.  The Fit-Fat model, however, suggests that fitness and fatigue demonstrate an inverse relationship. For example, when training loading is the highest, fitness becomes raised; but due to the high training loads, an associated increase in fatigue occurs. This, therefore, suggests that strategies that maximise fitness and reduce fatigue will have the most significant potential to elevate an individual’s preparedness (Stone, Stone and Sands, 2007).

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Figure 3. The Fitness-Fatigue Paradigm.

It should also be noted that any training model is merely an interpretation of a real-world multifaceted process (Banister, 1991). Subsequently, a training model differs from the real-world but aims to replicate the most critical facets that need attention while disregarding aspects that are deemed unimportant. The Fit-Fat model represents the cumulative effects of training as one fatigue and one fitness curve. In the real-world, however, multiple fitness and fatigue after-effects possible occur in response to training that is interdependent and produces a collective effect. This may explain [in part] why there are varying individual responses to RT. When the three theories (GAS, SFRA, and Fit-Fat) are evaluated collectively, it is evident that there is a need to balance the development of physical fitness while aiding in the dissipation of fatigue. It, therefore, is essential that when designing RT interventions that the resulting training loading, patterns, and frequency be considered. This allows for the management of fatigue while maximising the recovery adaptation process. 

 
 
 
 

History of Periodisation

It is often debated within the area of strength and conditioning regarding what is the most effective methodology to apply that will enhance athletic performance.  Certainly, the history and implementation of periodisation date back at least two thousand years ago.  The first description of strength training periodisation was by Galen,  with Lucius Flavius Philostratus presenting the first evidence of a structured model of pre-Olympic preparation (Gardiner, 1930; Drees, 1968). The modern Olympic age has spurred activity relative to athletic training and performance. One of the first articles dedicated to high-performance sports training was published by Kotov (1916).  His book titled “Olympic Sport” initiated the notion of periodised training that proposed three stages of purposeful athletic preparation [1] general fitness preparation; [2] focussed training; [3] and specific preparation for an upcoming competition. 

The theoretical framework was further developed by Pihkala (1930) who suggested several training principles such as separating the yearly cycle into preparatory, spring and summer phases and active rest ending the competitive session. Furthermore, Pihkala introduced the principles of sequencing extensive and intensive workloads, focusing on the correct ‘work: rest’ ratio of training design and the foundation of long term-athletic preparation.  The development in training design from the 1930s further helped formulate several textbooks that were published in the UUS for swimming (Shuvalov, 1940), track and field (Vasiljev and Ozolin, 1952) and skiing (Bergman, 1938).

In 1964, structured training was further advanced with the monograph of Matveyev that summarised the available evidence of training periodisation and proposed a general approach to planning. This eventually was known as the “classic approach”. However, it is important to note that training theory in this era lacked sufficient scientific evidence. That said, Matveyev’s textbook was a genuine development in athletic development and coaching science. His periodisation model had logical structuring when considering athletic preparation and the hierarchy of training cycles and units became a universally accepted tool. This planning tool and training analysis was then applied in all sports for athletes of varying performance. This was the dominant training concept inspired others around the world and have been included in the work of others including Harre (1973), Martin (1980), Bompa (1984).

 

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Fundamentals of Sports Training by Matveyev (1981)

Different Periodisation Models

 

One of the inital attempts to alter the “classic” periodisation model was made by Verkhoshansky (1985, 1988), who suggested concentrated unidirectional block periodised training. The main premise of this training model was to give precedence to highly concentrated training workloads that was intended to develop a designated targeted ability through strong training stimulus. Founded on Verkhoshansky’s studies and direct observations from jumping disciplines, he was able to suggest a model in which the administration of three focused training blocks, intended to generate the required training response, resulting in significant enhancement of sport-specific motor output. 

Further studies performed in team sports and swimming reported significant increases of fitness abilities but not in the event-specific variables (Moreira, et al., 2004: De Souza, et al., 2006; Campeiz and de Oliviera, 2007; Marinho, 2008). It can be inferred that the notion of concentrated unidirectional training offers a rational approach for athletic preparation in disciplines requiring a comparatively small number of targeted abilities such as jumping. For athletes that need to develop in several sport-specific abilities including team, combat and endurance sports, the unidirectional approach does not offer the balanced multilateral training that enables athletes to achieve optimum athletic preparedness and peak performance. 

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Programming and Organization of Training by Verkhoshansky

The initial studies in which this block periodisation (BP) model was applied were in canoe-kayak paddling (Issurin & Kaverin, 1985), track-and-field (Bondarchuk, 1986), and swimming (Pyne & Touretski, 1989; Touretski, 1993). In each of these situations, the researchers compiled three specialised blocks where workloads focused on the sequenced development of [1] essential athletic abilities; [2] specific athletic abilities; [3] pre-competition tapering, restoration and peak performance. The total duration of all the blocks-mesocycles (typically three) varied from 6-to-10 weeks and produced a single training phase.

 

Figure 1 explains the periodisation model that may be applied to athletes with a limited or lesser training status. Training intensity commences at a lower level and progressively increases while the training volume starts higher and gradually decreases as the athlete becomes conditioned. I must be considered that not all novice trainees are able to tolerate large changes in these training variables. Moreover, since advanced athletes regularly train nearer to their maximum abilities and have a reduced adaptational window.  Practitioners need to ensure that the athletes volume and intensity levels are regularly higher, as observed in Figure 2. The modification by Stone et al., (2002)  of Matveyev’s model shows a change from lower intensities and higher volumes earlier in the preparation period to higher intensities and lower volumes in the competition period, but the oscillations are smaller and occur in the upper end of the athletes values.

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Figure 2. A modification of Matveyev’s model of periodisation (designed for advanced athletes)

Preparatory Period

 

The opening preparatory period is commonly the lengthiest phase and happens during the time of the year when there are no competitions and only a restricted number of sport-specific skill practices or tactical sessions. The main emphasis of this phase is creating a foundation level of general conditioning that over the time course will increase the athlete’s tolerance for more demanding. Exercise practices start at comparatively low intensities and high volumes, for example long, slow distance running or swimming; low-intensity plyometrics; and high repetition resistance training with low to moderate resistance loading. Since high-volume training produces significant fatigue and involves large periods of time, the athlete may not be exposed to optimum conditions for developing sport-specific techniques. This results in prioritising general conditioning of the athlete rather that focusing on technique training. As the preparatory period evolves, the microcycles contained within this period gradually increase resistance training loads and sport conditioning intensity, while decreasing training volume, and allowing more time to be spent on sport technique training.

An additional amendment of Matveyev’s classical model was the formation of three phases within the preparatory period that refine the differences in training intensity and volume, especially for the resistance training component. In order, these are the hypertrophy/endurance phase, the basic strength phase, and the strength/power phase (Stone et al., 1982, 1987).

Hypertrophy/Endurance Period

The hypertrophy/endurance period occurs during the initial stages of the preparatory period and can last from 1-to-6 weeks. Throughout this period, training starts at a very low intensity with very high volume. The objectives for this period are to increase lean body mass or improve the athlete's endurance foundation, or both, for more demanding training in later phases. During this period the conditioning exercises may not be specific to the sport. However, as the preparatory period continues over this phase, the training exercises become more sport-specific. For example, a sprinter may commence the preparatory phase with longer-distance runs (i.e. longer than their competition distance) at reduced speeds, lower-intensity plyometrics (i.e. double-leg bounding and hopping), and resistance training that are not essentially biomechanically or structurally comparable to running. The athlete may also perform exercises that are very low to moderate loading for multiple repetitions in a resistance training program. This period may be followed by a transitional recovery week or a microcycle of low-intensity, low-volume training before the start of the next period.
 

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Basic Strength Phase

 

Following on later in the preparatory period, the objective of the basic strength phase is to increase the strength of the muscles needed for the main movements in the sport. For example, as the sprinter’s running program advances it includes interval sprints of moderate distances and more complex and focussed plyometric drills. Likewise, the resistance training program now becomes more specific to the sport and contains heavier resistance loads for fewer repetitions than the hypertrophy/endurance phase (Table 1).

 

Strength/Power Phase

 

The final part of the preparatory period is the strength/power phase. Here, the sprinter’s interval and speed training increases to almost competitive pace, speed training drills are performed, plyometric drills matching sprinting movement, and resistance training involves power/explosive exercises at high loads and low volumes.

 

First Transition Period

 

As stated previously, Stone and colleagues (1987) adapted Matveyev’s classic model by introducing the first transition period between the preparatory and competitive periods to indicate the discontinuation between high-volume training and high- intensity training. This period typically incorporates one week of lower intensity, lower volume, or a combination of both before the start of the competition period.


Competition Period

The objective for the competition period is to ensure that the athletes conditioning is optimal especially peak strength and power. This is advanced by further increases in training intensity with decreases in training volume. Furthermore, increase the development of the athlete's skill technique and game strategy as time spent in physical conditioning decreases respectively. The competition period may last only for 1-to-3 weeks; but for most organised sports, this period spans the whole competitive season and may last for several months. This extended time necessitates some manipulation of the intensity on a weekly or microcycle basis, but typically this period improves very high-intensity and very low-volume training activities (Table 1). Normally, this mesocycle ensures the athlete is in peak condition, however, this lasts for only about three weeks. If a coach tries to overstretch this period then this will certainly lead to overtraining. For sports with multiple contests distributed across several weeks or months, the goal is to preserve strength, power, and performance levels by adhering to a maintenance program of moderate intensities and moderate volumes (Table 1).

Second Transition Period (Active Rest)

 

Between the competitive season and the next macrocycle’s preparatory period is the second transition period. This period, is often referred to as active rest and lasts 1-to-4 weeks and centres on unstructured, non-sport-specific recreational activities performed at low intensities with low volumes. It is also important to avoid disproportionately demanding training directly after peaking or after a prolonged

competitive season. It is important to allow the athlete to rehabilitate any injuries and to rest, physically and also mentally. An additional use of the active rest idea incorporating a one-week break between long periods. The objective of this unloading week is to prepare the body for the increased demand of the next

period.

Table 1. A Traditional Periodised Model for Resistance Training [Baechle and Earle, 2008]

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Understanding Various Training Programmes

Appropriate training program design must account for numerous acute variables that include; [1] training intensity; [2] training volume; [3] training frequency; [4] exercise selection and order; [5] repetition velocity; [6] and rest intervals. Although each of these training variables is essential, training volume and intensity have received the most attention in regards to enhancing muscular strength. Normally, training intensity [loading] and training volume share an inverse relationship. The amount of load lifted directly and negatively correlates with the number of repetitions capable of being performed. Due to the ability to stimulate high-threshold motor units, training with heavy loads (80% of 1RM and greater) have been suggested to be more beneficial in developing maximal strength (Campos et al., 2002; Baechle and Earle, 2008). However, prolonged periods of training at a high-intensity can significantly increase the risk of becoming overtrained (Baechle and Earle, 2008; Herrick and Stone, 1996). Therefore, a periodised training plan is frequently utilised to minimise overtraining while optimising peak performance (Stone et al., 2000).

Periodisation is a valid method of structuring training into consecutive phases and cyclical time intervals to increase the potential for achieving specific performance goals while minimising overtraining. Periodisation is considered a central part of the training process and provides the conceptual framework for designing a training program (DeWeese et al., 2015). While periodisation and programming are difficult to detach, they each focus on different facets of the training process. Periodisation introduces variation through cyclical phases and periods while programming consists of structuring the training variables (i.e load, sets, repetitions, and exercise selection) within the phases to enhance the training stimulus (DeWeese et al., 2015).

Traditionally Periodisation

 

The traditional periodisation [TP] model divides the overall training program into particular periods. The largest partition is a macrocycle, which normally comprises a complete training year but may also be a period of many months up to four years. Within the macrocycle are two or more mesocycles, each lasting several weeks to several months. The specific number depends on the athlete's goals and feasibly the number of major competitions contained within this period. Each mesocycle is separated into two or more microcycles that are normally one week long but could last for up to four weeks, depending on the program. The microcycles concentrate on daily and weekly training variations.Essentially, as discussed above there are two models of periodisation, namely parallel and sequential models.

 

The “classic approach” of Matveyev represent (Figure 1) parallel models of periodisation that involve developing multiple training abilities simultaneously. According to Matveyev, the main sections of training are the preparatory, competition, and transition phases. Stone, O’Bryant, and Garhammer (2002)later added a “first transition” between the preparatory and competitive phases. Thus, the TP model includes four distinct periods: [1] preparatory; [2] first transition; [3] competition; and [4] second transition.

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Figure 1. Matveyev's Model of Periodisation [C = major competition]

An athletes or teams annual training plan consists of a hierarchy of periods and specific fitness phases within the yearly plan that indicates the competition schedule, planned testing sessions, and scheduled recovery phases. While the terms used to classify these periods may differ among authors, an annual training plan is structured into distinctive cycles: the macrocycle, the mesocycle, the microcycle, and the single training session. In addition to time phases, a periodised training plan uses sequential periods to change from general preparation to sport-specific training as the athlete advances nearer to the competition. In the traditional model, the macrocycle and mesocycle can be composed of four sequential phases: [1] preparation; [2] competition; [3] peaking; and [4] transition or active rest). 

Likewise, BLP can be aligned within a yearly training plan. Issurin (2008) demonstrated how three types of mesocycle blocks can be sequenced correctly within the annual plan that was established on the athlete's competition schedule. These three mesocycle blocks consist of accumulation, transmutation, and realisation blocks. Accumulation blocks focus on developing essential fitness abilities, while transmutation blocks develop specific motor and technical abilities. Realisation blocks include pre-competition strategies and the active recovery that follows these earlier intense workloads. The correct sequencing of these mesocycle blocks and fitness phases is founded through programmed variations in training frequency, intensity, volume, and exercise selection. Within the traditional model, a macrocycle and mesocycle normally commences with high-volume, low-intensity training and progressively moves to low-volume, high-intensity training by the end of the training cycle. Due to this measured increase in intensity and reduction in training volume, TP has been incorrectly referred to as linear periodisation (LP). 

Non-Periodised Programmes

To understand periodisation we must consider the early work of others in the field of strength and conditioning. For example, Berger (1962) and O’Shea (1966) performed studies on inexperienced weight-trained subjects using a non-periodised (NP) model (Figure 2). Both Berger and O’Shea reported that NP was an effective mode of improving maximum bench press and squat strength. These studies compared different training programmes using various repetition ranges throughout the training cycle. 

Berger (1962) conducted investigations into the optimum number of repetitions for one-set training. Each group trained with either one-set of two, four, six, eight, ten, or 12 repetitions. Berger concluded that less than two repetitions or more than ten repetitions would not improve bench press strength as quickly as four-to-eight repetitions when training one-set three days per week (d.wk-1). The study by O'Shea (1966) was similar in design to Berger, with subjects performing three-sets of five or six repetitions, three-sets of nine or ten repetitions, three-sets of two or three repetitions for six weeks. O'Shea reported no significant differences between treatment groups, with all three groups demonstrating increases in dynamic and static strength. This simple form of linear progression may be effective for untrained individuals; however, some form of periodisation would likely be more effective, especially for trained individuals (Ratamess et al., 2009).
 

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Figure 2. Intensity and Volume vs Time [weeks] for a NP Programme. 

Non-Periodised Vs. Linear Periodisation

 

NP programming has been compared with LP, with Stowers et al., (1983) investigating the difference between NP and LP over seven weeks. Stowers and colleagues randomly placed  84 untrained males into three groups; [1] 1-set to exhaustion; 3-sets to exhaustion; or [3] periodised training [LP] groups to examine bench press and squat 1RM.  The authors reported that the LP group had significantly larger gains in 1RM squat post-study, with the differences in 1RM bench press were trivial. Importantly, Stowers et al., (1983) did not compare the data sets of each programme at a specific period rather than comparing strength gains produced from each training intervention. Further support was provided by a study from O’Bryant and colleagues (1988) who also observed that LP produced greater 1 RM squat gains compared to NP, however, it is unclear what the training status of the subjects was. 

A study by Willoughby (1992) further supports periodised training. The authors recruited trained males with a clear definition regarding their training status. To be classified as trained subjects had to have the capacity to 150% and 120% of their body weight in the back squat and bench press. The subjects were separated into three different groups; [1] 3-sets of 10 repetitions with the same loading through the training cycle; [2] 3-sets of 6-to- 8 repetitions with LP applied; and [3] and conventional LP programme. The results suggested that 1RM was significantly greater in the LP group in comparison to the other two groups. The largest effect size (ES) of 4.29 and 3.22 were obtained for the 1RM squat and bench press in the LP group. The NP groups only achieved an  ES of 0.85 and 1.40 for 1RM squat and 0.79 and 2.26 for the 1RM bench press. 

Willoughby (1993) performed an additional study that fulfilled the same criteria as the previous work. This study compared NP and LP on maximal squat and bench press strength in young males over 16 weeks. Subjects were separated into three groups in which two of these groups were NP; [1] NP = 5-sets of 10 repetitions ; [2] NP = 6-sets of 8 repetitions; and [3]  LP group. The training volume was equal up to 8-weeks where they reported no significant difference in strength gains between training modes. However, after week 8 the training volume significantly decreased in the LP group and intensity increased. This may have feasibly facilitated significantly greater 1RM strength gains in the squat and bench press exercises after 16-weeks. Furthermore, the total training volume over the training programme was lower in the LP group, however the amount of volume spent at a higher intensity was greater, which was possibly responsible for the improved strength gains.
 

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Figure 3. Intensity and Volume vs Time [weeks] for a LP Programme. 

Reverse Linear Periodisation

Reverse linear periodisation (RLP) is merely the reverse of LP. At the commencement of the training cycle, training volume is low and intensity is high, and this advances to higher volume and lower intensity (Figure 4). There has been limited research performed on this mode of training. However, Prestes et al., (2009) compared RLP and LP to increase muscular strength and hypertrophy during a 12-week intervention in strength-trained females. The volume and intensity were equated between groups. The authors reported that strength in the bench press, leg extension, arm curl, and lateral pulldown all increased with both the RLP and LP programmes, however, only the improvements in the arm curl and lateral pull-down exercises were significantly greater in the LP group.

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Figure 4. Intensity and Volume vs Time [weeks] for a RLP Programme. 

Undulating Periodisation

 

The traditional LP has however been debated by some, with Poliquin (1988) suggesting that there are two main concerns. First, there is concern over the increased level of applied intensity that creates high levels of physiological stress and limited time for regeneration that may lead to overtraining. Secondly, the hypertrophy gained within the early stages of the programme may be lost in the intensification phase due to the reduction in training volume. Poliquin suggested that undulating periodisation (UP) is a superior method within which the mean training volume decreases slowly over the duration of the training cycle and intensity builds-up in a measured manner (Figure 5). 

 

UP integrates brief periods of high volume training that is alternated with high-intensity training, theoretically within the same weekly cycle (Apel, Lacey and Kell, 2011).  This change in training stimulus may provide greater increases in strength gains through fluctuations in motor unit recruitment thus creating greater neural adaptations (Monteiro et al., 2009). Rhea et al., (2002) suggested that the greater training load variability with UP may result in reduced desensitisation to the training stimuli promoting greater physiological adaptations. Unfortunately, most of the scientific literature fails to report significant differences between LP and UP models on strength gains, specifically with subjects that have limited resistance experience (Harries et al., 2015). Harris et al., (2015) stated that there is a lack of studies that investigate the effectiveness of UP against LP in highly resistance-trained groups.

 

 

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Figure 5. Intensity and Volume vs Time [weeks] for a RLP Programme. 

There are a few studies that have found that UP is superior  (Monteiro et al., 2009; Rhea et al., 2002). Additionally, the work of Miranda et al., (2011) and Prestes et al., (2009) also found that UP was more favourable however lacked significance. Baker et al., (1994) compared 12-week LP, UP, and NP training programmes on 1RM squat and bench press performance in males with limited experience of resistance training. The LP group performed 5-sets of 10 repetitions for the squat and bench press for the initial 4-weeks, followed by 5-sets of 5 repetitions for 4-weeks, 3-sets of 3 repetitions and 1-set of 10 repetitions for 3-weeks, and then 3-sets of 3 repetitions in week twelve. The UP group altered the training protocol every two weeks: 5-sets of 10 repetitions, 5-sets of 6 repetitions, 5-sets of 8 repetitions, 5-sets of 4 repetitions, 5-sets of six repetitions, and 4-sets of four repetitions, in comparison to the control group that performed 5-sets of 6 repetitions through weeks 1-to-12. Subjects progressively increased all training loads throughout the twelve-week study. The total repetitions performed and relative intensity (repetition maximum) was equated between groups for both structural and assistance exercises. Performance gains were not significantly different between groups. This, therefore, indicates that when volume and intensity are equated between groups during a short training programme with experienced subjects, physiological adaptations evoked are similar.That said, the use of inexperienced subjects in short term resistance training studies comparing programming methods can be erroneous. This is because of the initial neural adaptation from the stimulus of a new resistance exercise. Consequently, in short term studies, it may be difficult to determine significant differences between programmes as they may all result in similar neural gains (Fleck, 1999).

Daily and Weekly Undulating Periodisation

 

Daily undulating periodisation (DUP) and weekly undulating periodisation (WUP) are modes of training that alternate intensity and volume continuingly, compared to other types of periodisation. There are variations in intensity and volume within a week for a similar movement with DUP, while these variations are weekly for WUP. A study by Monteiro et al., (2009) investigated the effectiveness of NP, LP and DUP over three months. Twenty-seven healthy-trained male subjects were strength matched at the start of the study. The NP group performed 3-sets of 8-10 RM every training session. The LP group performed 3-sets of 12-15RM for the first week, 3-sets of 8-10RM the second week, 3-sets of 4-5RM the third week and 3-sets of 12-8-4RM during a recovery [4th week]. This four-week cycle was completed three times over the duration of the three-month study.


As such, it is not a typical LP programme (similar to WUP) due to the rapid changes in volume and intensity week to week. The DUP group performed the same repetition ranges as the LP group, however, the volume and loading fluctuated between training sessions with the volume being matched between groups. Monteiro et al., (2009)  reported that the DUP group was more effective than the NP and LP group at improving maximal strength, however, there were no differences between the NP and LP group. These finds were not anticipated based upon the postulation that a greater variability of training loads would facilitate less desensitisation and consequently more adaption as suggested by Rhea et al., (2002). Monteiro et al., (2009) noted that even though the subjects were trained, neural adaptations played an important part in strength alterations as demonstrated by the limited changes made in the subjects anthropometric profiles.  The study by Rhea et al., (2002) compared a more representative LP model with DUP in trained male subjects, with a volume and intensity matched design, which was similar to Monteiro et al. (2009). Rhea and colleagues reported that DUP was superior at producing maximal strength gains in the leg press and bench press. However, subjects were not matched for strength in the leg press before the start of the study which may have confounded the increase in strength attributed to the DUP protocol. 

There have been several studies that have directly investigated periodisation for maximal strength gains in trained athletes. For example, Hoffman et al., (2009) compared NP, LP and DUP over 15 weeks offseason programme in 51 NCAA Division III American football players. The performance measures included 1RM bench and squats. Total volume and average training intensity were reported to be controlled with manipulations of volume and intensity at various stages for the LP and DUP groups. Hoffman and colleagues reported that all groups improved in strength with no statistical significance being reported between groups.  Equally, a study by Harries and colleagues (2015) compared a 12-week DUP, LP and control group for developing subjects 5RM box squat and bench press strength in 26 trained adolescent rugby union players.  These findings were similar to Hoffman et al., (2009) reported no significant differences between groups.

 

Miranda et al. (2011) reported that  DUP and LP over 12 weeks produced significant increases in leg press and bench press 1RM and 8RM strength; however, no significant differences were reported between groups. Miranda and colleagues suggested that this may be due to the DUP group having superior initial strength values. The ES was larger in the DUP group supporting the belief that periodisation is a superior model for trained individuals and athletes. Prestes et al. (2009) found no significant differences in leg press and bench press strength following a 12-week DUP or LP programme. Buford et al., (2007) compared DUP and WUP with LP on the bench press and leg press strength over 9 weeks in males and females with partial resistance training experience. The authors again reported no significant differences between groups. Nevertheless, the DUP group produced lower percentage changes in strength, suggesting that either or both of the following models may be valid: the subjects were not adequately trained so did not benefit from the positive effects of a UP, or no differences on performance on the periodisation model due to early-phase training (Buford et al., 2007).

Block Periodisation

 

Theoretically, traditional models of periodisation (TP) are commonly classified as parallel models, whilst block models are often viewed as sequential models. Block periodisation (BLP) is founded on the concept of concentrating training loads into “blocks” to develop certain physiological systems and motor abilities. Block periodisation (BP) is composed of several mesocycles each having a specific training goal that prepares the athlete for the ensuing training block (Figure 6). This involves an accumulation block of high volume with relatively low-intensity training followed by transformation and realisation blocks (Bartolomei et al., 2014). These blocks aim is to develop muscular hypertrophy, maximal strength and power respectively.

 

These concentrated workloads are used to address one of the major limitations of TP, where advanced athletes are unable to develop multiple abilities at any one time, mainly because they are nearer to their genetic potential and fatigue accumulation exceeds recovery capabilities due to extensive training loads (DeWeese et al., 2015). In BLP, each training block focuses on the development of a specific training goal, and when correctly sequenced, these concentrated loads yield fitness after-effects that may enhance further training via phase potentiation. Moreover, these blocks can be organised to allow for multiple peaks which are required in many contemporary sports. This provides another benefit over the traditional model which restricts the number of peaks that may occur, generating suboptimal competition performance. As a result, BLP has been suggested as a superior training method for increasing athletic performance (Issurin, 2008). 

 

A study by (Bartolomei et al., 2014) investigated the effects of two different periodised models (i.e. TP and BP) in strength and power athletes over 15-weeks. Twenty-four experienced resistance-trained males were randomly assigned to either TP or a BP group. Subjects in both groups performed four training sessions per week, with each program consisting of the same exercises and training. The difference between groups was the manipulation of training intensity within each phase. The authors reported that BP subjects were more likely (80%) to increase the area under the force-power curve than TP. Additionally, BP subjects demonstrated a positive (93%) decrease in the load related to maximal power at the bench press compared to TP and improvements in maximal strength and power (60%) in the bench press. No significant differences were reported between groups in lower-body strength or jump power performance after 15-weeks training. The results suggest that BP may enhance upper-body power more than TP when training volume is equal. However, no differences were detected for lower-body performance and body composition measurements.  Painter et al. (2012)  compared DUP with BP  in Division I track and field athletes. Thirty-one athletes  were assigned to either a 10 week block of BP or a DUP training group in which sex, age and sport were matched. The results suggested that BP was more favourable (although not significant) for developing strength and rate of force development compared DUP. However, when estimated for volume of work there was significant differences (P ≤ 0.05) that suggests BP is more efficient than DUP in producing strength gains.

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Figure 6. Intensity and Volume vs Time [weeks] for a  BP Programme. 

Autoregulated Periodisation

Autoregulation is a method used to manipulate training centred primarily on the measurement of an athletes performance or their perceived capability to perform. The notion of individualisation is commonly accepted within the sport and exercise science field. Following this viewpoint, it is believed that regulating training to correspond with measurements of an athletes response to training- and non-training-related stressors can both maximise increases in physical performance and prevent the onset of maladaptive symptoms such overtraining. In an applied setting, this specific response is frequently assessed by measuring performance in one or several tests that assess the physical quality (e.g., strength, power, and aerobic capacity) being trained.

 

Currently there are two general applications of autoregulation that are presented in scientific literature. Firstly, there is the approach that involves measurement of several fitness parameters and adjust the training daily to reflect the high frequency oscillations in performance that may be due to training and non-training related stressors (Helms, 2017). In contrast, the second method measures and regulates athletic training on a reduced basis (e.g., weekly or at the end of a short training block) to reflect more chronic adaptations in performance that are produced mainly by training-related changes in both the central and peripheral systems (Mann et al., 2010). Most academics have focused on these two approaches separately, whereas  Helms (2017) states that these approaches may be applied in combination to foster a more continuous adjustment of training that responds more effectively to the changing dynamics of the athlete. Founded on the various methods accessible to academics and practitioners is to adopt a more universal perspective of autoregulation. Autoregulation can be viewed as a adaptable training framework that allows systematic adjustment of training variables focused on the appraisal of the athletes performance (Helms, 2017).

There is an increasing body of evidence that suggests that the autoregulation of training may be a superior mode of training compared to a highly organised training programme that includes predetermined loading approaches for targeting physical components including muscular strength. Wallace and colleagues (2014) specified that the training load measures should be reliable and account for differences in athletes physiological characteristics. This infers that there should be a closer match between the intended and delivered training stimulus on an individual session basis. These observations stem from traditional approaches to training with longitudinal blocks are designed based on the measures of singular baseline measurement of performance assessed prior to the commencement of a training cycle. 

This method allows coaches to prescribe training that may be more individualistic with some debating that the static nature across time may lead to periods of sub-optimal loading (Shattock and Tee, 2014). These periods of mismatched loading feasibly could be due to daily fluctuations in the athlete’s performance and short term adaptational process which may be significantly lesser or greater than anticipated. Helms et al., (2018) has suggested that varying the training to corresponds with more recent estimates of the athlete’s performance. This may be more beneficial as it helps to ensure that training sessions closely align with the athlete’s current performance level and the overarching training goals.

Application of the TP Model  and the Competitive Season

 

In an applied and real world setting, periodisation involves the careful manipulation of training volume and intensity while considering the various seasonal demands of a specific sport or event. This requires regular variations  in the physical sessions that provides appropriate training volume and intensity while avoiding training monotony. Most semi-professional or elite level sports have an annual schedule that comprises of off-season, preseason, in-season and post-season mesocycles. This normally relates to the phases of periodisation

Figure 3. Macrocycle for Squash 

Off-Season

The off-season is the phase between the post-season and up to six weeks before the first competition of the next year’s season. This season includes most of the preparatory period and can be separated into multiple shorter mesocycles if it is prolonged (e.g., 16 to 24 weeks). If this occurs the athlete may complete two or more cycles through the hypertrophy/endurance and basic strength phases, feasibly including the strength/power phase, depending on the sport (Figures 3 and 4).

 

Pre-Season

The preseason phase happens next and leads up to the first competition, and normally contains the late phases of the preparatory period and the first transition period.

In-Season

The in-season phase, includes all the competitions planned for that year, including any tournament games. Most sports have long in-seasons that may require multiple mesocycles organised around the most important competitions. Thus, a long competition period (12-16+ weeks) presents challenges in terms of program design. One method to address this is to divide the competitive phase into several mesocycles (3-4 week cycles) that allow the athlete to physically peak for the most important competitions. It should be noted that this does not imply that the athlete will be in inadequate physical condition for the competition. The training programs loading (volume and intensity) will be regulated to allow the athlete to peak for the most important competitions.  Another approach as described earlier is to design a maintenance programme that consists of low-to-moderate training volumes with moderate intensities. 

Postseason

After the final competition, the postseason or second transition period provides active or relative rest for the athlete prior to the start of the next year’s offseason or preparatory period. In addition, shorter active rest periods could be applied throughout the training macrocycle, not just during the postseason. After each mesocycle, week-long microcycles of relative rest (i.e., low-intensity and low-volume training) can be scheduled prior to the beginning of the next mesocycle (Figure 4).
 

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Figure 4. Overview of the Relationship of Volume vs Intensity within the Road Cyclists Macrocycle

Image by Jane Sundried