periodization, albers painting

Periodization Models: The science of organizing training phases for peak performance

In the heart of Silicon Valley, a group of computer engineers huddle around a vast array of screens. They’re not designing the next breakthrough app, but rather breaking down the complex algorithms of human athletic performance. Their goal? To scientifically determine the optimal path to peak performance.

At first glance, you might wonder what computer scientists have to do with the intricate choreography of an athlete’s training session. Enter the concept of periodization: the art and science of organizing training phases to yield maximal results. This idea isn’t new, of course. Coaches and trainers have long known that athletes can’t go full throttle 24/7 without risking injury or burnout. But the manner in which training is orchestrated — that’s where the magic, and science, lies.

A Brief History of Periodization

Historically, periodization models stemmed from the observation that athletes can’t maintain peak performance year-round. Legendary Eastern European sports scientists of the mid-20th century were among the first to outline these concepts. Their athletes would undergo months of varied training intensities and focuses, culminating in a sharp peak just in time for major competitions.

The concept was later adapted to physical conditioning to optimize performance, manage stress and fatigue, and reduce the risk of injury and burnout for optimal performance.

Aaron J Cunanan

But, like anything in life, it wasn’t one-size-fits-all. Over the decades, numerous models emerged, from traditional linear periodization to the more dynamic undulating approach. The primary objective remained unchanged: manipulate training variables, like volume and intensity, in a strategic manner to optimize performance.

The Rhythms of the Body

Understand this: the human body thrives on rhythms. The circadian rhythm dictates our sleep-wake cycle, while the ultradian rhythm oversees shorter cycles within the day, like hunger. In the realm of athletics, periodization theory is about tapping into these rhythms. It’s about understanding that after periods of stress (training), the body needs rest to adapt and improve.

Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk, a former Olympic hammer thrower and renowned coach, believed in the principle of specificity. His approach implied that the exercises and their order should closely mirror the actual competition. The closer to the event, the more specific the training goals should be.

Then there’s Tudor Bompa, often considered the father of modern periodization. Bompa’s model delineated distinct training phases — endurance, hypertrophy, strength, and power output. Each phase built on the previous, culminating in peak competition performance.

Modern Approaches and Technology

Today, with the advent of wearable tech, biometric data, and sophisticated software, the art of periodization is becoming more precise than ever before.

Imagine a world where an athlete’s wearable tech feeds real-time data into a computer program, which then tailors the next day’s training variation based on the individual’s recovery, muscle fatigue, and hormonal balance. This isn’t science fiction. It’s the new frontier of sports science, melding the best of human intuition with machine precision.

Periodization, too, is seeing a shift. Instead of the rigid models of the past, many coaches are now embracing a more fluid approach, sometimes called ‘auto-regulation.’ This method tailors training based on daily feedback, adapting to the athlete’s unique response to stressors.

When the term ‘periodization’ is thrown around in athletic circles, it often evokes images of calendars, cycles, and meticulously planned workouts. But what’s often lost in this picture is the diversity of approaches within this overarching principle. Let’s dive deeper into the myriad types of periodization that athletes and trainers employ.

Delving Deeper: The Many Faces of Periodization

Linear Periodization

Foundation: Break the training year into large blocks, each focusing on specific aspects of fitness, with intensity gradually increasing and volume decreasing.


  • Simple and straightforward.
  • Has a track record of success, especially for beginners who benefit from structured progressions.

Linear periodization is about as straightforward as the name implies. The “meat and potatoes” of periodization in this style demands that when absolute load or intensity goes up, the amount of volume (sets and repetitions) you can complete goes down. (3) That is linear periodization in a nutshell.

Daniel LorenzScot Morrison 


  • Might be too rigid for advanced athletes.
  • Predictable and might not address all aspects of an athlete’s needs.

Block Periodization

Foundation: Divide the training year into 2-6 week blocks, each focusing on one or two specific abilities.


  • Allows for concentrated work on one area.
  • Can be tailored to fit individual needs.


  • Requires careful management to prevent overtraining in specific areas.
  • Might not maintain other physical abilities during the focused blocks.

Undulating or Non-linear Periodization

Foundation: Frequently change the training focus on a weekly or even daily basis. For instance, Monday might be high intensity, Tuesday could be a recovery day, and Wednesday might be moderate.


  • Can adapt to how the athlete feels on any given day.
  • Keeps the training stimulus varied, reducing monotony and staleness.

Nonlinear or undulating periodization. In this model, workouts change quite often in daily or weekly switch-ups. The trainer engineers workouts to increase and decrease both load and volume. This form of periodization could be preferable for those needing or wanting variety.

Andrew BuskardBrian ZalmaNicholes CherupCatherine ArmitageCraig DentJoseph F Signorile


  • Can be complex to design and manage.
  • Requires athletes to be in tune with their body’s responses.

Concurrent Periodization

Foundation: Train multiple fitness components simultaneously throughout the training period, adjusting emphasis based on proximity to competition.


  • Offers a balanced approach.
  • Reduces risk of losing specific fitness attributes.


  • Might not produce optimal performance in any one aspect.
  • Balancing multiple stimuli can be challenging.

Conjugate Periodization

Foundation: A method often linked to Soviet sports scientist Dr. Verkhoshansky, it involves focusing on multiple abilities within a single training block, but each with a hierarchical priority.


  • Allows for development of multiple attributes.
  • Prioritization ensures one skill is at peak development at any period of time.


Residual Training Effects

Foundation: Type of training is focused on the understanding that different abilities have varying residual effects (the duration that you can maintain a certain ability without training it).


  • Allows for strategic breaks in training certain abilities.
  • Uses the body’s natural maintenance rhythms.


  • Requires accurate knowledge of an athlete’s residual training effects.
  • Not extensively studied across all sports.

The Big Picture Training Plan

It’s essential to recognize that while periodization has several “types,” the perfect approach often blends elements from multiple models. Individualization is key. What works for a 100m sprinter might not be effective for a marathon runner. And within these broad categories, the nuances of an individual’s physiology, psychology, and specific goals play a pivotal role.

But as we venture further into the 21st century, the trend is clear. Periodization is evolving from broad brushstrokes to finer, more intricate designs. The advancements in biotechnology, sports analytics, and artificial intelligence promise an even more tailored approach.

However, amidst this whirlwind of technological progress, a foundational truth remains: listen to the athlete. Data can inform, guide, and even predict, but the human element — intuition, feedback, and emotion — should never be sidelined.

In essence, periodization, no matter its type, is a dance. A dance between science and art, between pushing and yielding, and between ambition and patience. And like any good dance, it’s not just about the steps but the grace with which they’re executed.

Periodization: Not Just for Athletic Structure

Interestingly, periodization isn’t just limited to the world of sports. Consider the ‘ultra-productive’ individuals in business or academia. They, too, operate on cycles of intensive work followed by strategic periods of rest and reflection.

Periodization training evolved from general adaptation syndrome, a concept developed by Dr. Hans Selye. It states that an organism’s response to stressors goes through a predictable series of responses: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion.


In essence, periodization can be seen as a broader philosophy: the understanding that in any endeavor, strategic ebb and flow are crucial to sustainable success.

Final Thoughts

The narrative of periodization, in its essence, is a tale of balance. It underscores the quintessential equilibrium between pushing one’s limits and understanding the value of recovery. In this age of relentless pursuit of achievement, it serves as a poignant reminder that rest is not a sign of weakness but a strategic imperative.

Modern technology and timeless wisdom are converging to redefine the boundaries of human performance. Periodization, with its rich heritage and innovative future, sits firmly at the intersection.

You can perform a quick internet search and find there are many individuals who claim that periodization is dead. In a thought-provoking review paper from Kiely (2017), the author explains that since the theory of periodization first emerged, the science of stress has evolved extensively from its historical roots. Periodization theory continues to refer to the Walter Cannon and Hans Selye models of stress which popularized the ‘fight or flight response’ to help an animal deal with a stressor. Selye’s model was based on the application of stress to rodents and he later said he never considered the application of this model to sports training (Kiely 2017).

John Kiely

In the end, whether you’re a coach, an athlete, or someone striving for personal excellence in any field, the principles of periodization beckon you to heed the rhythms of your body and mind, challenging you to find that sweet spot between exertion and rejuvenation. It’s not just about peak performance; it’s about sustaining that performance over the long haul.

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