What is periodisation?
Periodisation may be most simply defined as the planning and organisation of training. The purpose of periodisation is to manage the training stimulus in order to maximise the desired neuromuscular adaptions and avoid excessive accumulation of fatigue (Turner, 2011). By constructing a periodised blueprint based around key competitions, this allows the coach or lifter to schedule when specific qualities can be developed and when fatigue will need to be minimised (DeWeese et al., 2015). It is therefore unsurprising that in a survey of British powerlifters, 97% of respondents reported using a periodisation strategy within their training (Swinton et al., 2009).
Organisation of training
Training can be divided into several structural units, as defined by Zatsiorsky and Kraemer (2006):
- Training session – refers to a single unit of training.
- Microcycle – refers to a group of training sessions. Typically, although not always, one-week in duration to fit with the Gregorian calendar.
- Mesocycle – refers to a group of microcycles. Typically two- to six-weeks in length.
- Phase – refers to specific portions of the season. Typically divvied into preparatory and competitive phases
- Macrocycle – refers to one entire competitive season. Typically a year in length given typical sporting calendars.
Volume and intensity
We typically think of periodisation in terms of volume and intensity (i.e. barbell load), based upon the translations of Leonid Matveyev (Siff, 2004). In traditional linear models initial training volume is high and intensity is low. As training progresses through specific mesocycles, training volume decreases, whereas training intensity increases.
General vs specific training
Periodisation also considers the progression from more general, less specific training into more sport-specific training. Models will typically refer to two phases: the preparatory phase and the competitive phase (Bompa & Carrera, 2005). The preparatory phase can then be subdivided into general physical preparation (GPP) and specific physical preparation (SPP) phases (Matveyev, 1981).
In powerlifting we can relate this to performing exercises and variations further removed from the competition squat, bench and deadlift at the start of the cycle. Think sled pushes, split squats, seated rows. As competition approaches, the competition lifts (and possibly equipment) are reintroduced.
Application of linear periodisation
Linear periodisation typically progresses through three training mesocycles in a step-wise manner based upon the goal of that mesocycle: a) hypertrophy-focus, b) strength-focus, and c) power-focus (Turner, 2011). This would then be followed by a tapering mesocycle leading into competition.
The step-wise system better reflects two key points. First, the fact that a mesocycle will typically focus on the development of one key bio-motor at a time. Second, the idea that volume will normally increase within a mesocycle despite the trend for a decrease over the macrocycle.
The evolution of linear periodisation
The step-wise progression of volume and intensity across multiple mesocycles and macrocycles will follow a linear trend – i.e. progressive overload – real-world periodisation rarely conforms to classic linear models.
Two systems perhaps better explain linear periodisation in action:
- Block periodisation
- Conjugate periodisation
Block periodisation is based on the writings of Vladimir Issurin. This system involves the cycling of mesocycles containing specific, highly concentrated mesocycles designed to maximise the potential for adaptation (Issurin, 2016). These are typically referred to in block periodisation literature as accumulation (volume-based), transmutation (intensity-based) and realisation (tapering).
Block periodisation can be performed in two ways dependent upon the number of bio-motors that will need to be developed for optimal performance.
Unilateral block periodisation
A concentrated unidirectional block approach aims to maximally develop one leading bio-motor over the course of the macrocycle (Issurin, 2016). Each individual mesocycle will then focus on the development of one quality on the road to developing that overarching bio-motor. The pie charts below represent the relative emphasis placed upon the different bio-motors during two example mesocycles.
The sequencing of each mesocycle is designed to potentiate the next (Siff, 2004) – for example, hypertrophy should potentiate strength which should potentiate power. Given the reliance on maximal strength for performance, this system is well suited to competitive powerlifting.
Multi-targeted block periodisation
A multi-targeted block approach seeks to develop multiple bio-motors in a consecutive, not simultaneous, manner through sequencing specialised training blocks (Issurin, 2016). This strategy employs concentrated blocks of training that seeks to emphasise one leading bio-motor whilst maintaining others. For example, a strength-focussed block will still train for power and hypertrophy, these are just not emphasised. The pie charts below represent the emphasis placed upon each bio-motor during two example mesocycles.
Conjugate periodisation is based on the writings of Yuri Verkhoshansky. In line with the definition of CU block periodisation, the system involves the successive introduction of concentrated mesocycles in order to elicit the greatest cumulative training effect (Siff, 2004). In the conjugate system, these blocks are termed accumulation and restitution (Plisk & Stone, 2003). In line with the definition of MT block periodisation, the system will typically aim to maintain additional bio-motors in a deemphasised fashion.
One aspect of the conjugate system that appears to be more emphasised than in the block system is the nature of the long-term delayed training effect. Accumulation blocks are designed to infer a period of functional overreaching before fatigue is dissipated during the restitution blocks and greater adaptations may now be realised (Plisk & Stone, 2003).
Application of conjugate periodisation
An example of the application of conjugate periodisation in powerlifting would be the Smolov squat cycle. The four-week mesocycles are overreaching accumulation blocks, whilst the switching and taper mesocycles are restitution blocks.
What certainly isn’t an example of the conjugate system is the Westside Method! That’s an example of concurrent periodisation.
Concurrent periodisation seeks to develop multiple bio-motors simultaneously. For example, the concurrent development of strength, power and hypertrophy. Typically each bio-motor is with a similar degree of emphasis, but this this is not always the case. The pie charts show two examples for two different sports.
In powerlifting, concurrent training methods would involve the simultaneous development of strength, hypertrophy and power during each mesocycle. In this instance it is likely that strength will carry greater emphasis in the programme.
In non-linear models, training volume and intensity are varied within the mesocycle or microcycle. These strategies can be termed wither weekly undulating periodisation (WUP) or daily undulating periodisation (DUP), with utilisation of the latter much more commonplace.
The majority of programmes within powerlifting employ the principles of DUP by using heavy, medium and light training days. Each training session is likely to be focused with a particular goal (i.e. strength day, hypertrophy day, power day).
So, that was an overview of the major models and concepts associated with periodisation. The next part of this series will focus on how these relate to popular powerlifting programmes.
Bompa TO, Carrera MC. Periodization Training for Sports. 2nd Edition ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics 2005.
DeWeese BH, Hornsby G, Stone M, Stone MH. The training process: Planning for strength-power training in track and field. Part 1: Theoretical aspects. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 2015: 4: 308-317.
Issurin VB. Benefits and limitations of block periodized training approaches to athletes’ preparation: a review. Sports Medicine. 2016: 46: 329-338.
Matveyev L. Fundamentals of Sports Training. English Translation ed. Moscow: Progress Publishers 1981.
Plisk SS, Stone MH. Periodization strategies. Strength & Conditioning Journal. 2003: 25: 19-37.
Siff MC. Supertraining. 6th Edition ed. Denver, CO: Supertraining Institute 2004.
Swinton PA, Lloyd R, Agouris I, Stewart A. Contemporary training practices in elite British powerlifters: survey results from an international competition. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009: 23: 380-384.
Turner A. The science and practice of periodization: a brief overview. Strength & Conditioning Journal. 2011: 33: 34-46.
Zatsiorsky VM, Kraemer WJ. Science and Practice of Strength Training. 2nd Edition ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics 2006.