Periodization in workout-plans.

I would recommend any serious athlete to use periodization in workout-plans. It helps to ensure that your peak performances will coincide with important competitions.

Firstly, what is periodization in workout-plans?

Read this to learn how to use periodization in workout-plans. And how to adjust strength training phases according to your sport. Periodization in workout-plans is not a new phenomenon. However, the systematic use of periodization in sport has been getting more attention in the last decades.

“Evidence suggest that a simplified form of periodization was used in the ancient Olympic Games (776 BC to 393 AD)” [1, p 126].

Yet, the modern use of periodization in workout-plans started around 1965. Furthermore, the Soviet Union started the modernization of the informal use of periodization in workout-plans that top athletes used.

“In 1965, Leonid Matveyev, a Russian sport scientist, published a model of an annual plan based on a questionnaire on Russian athletes on how they trained before the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland” [1, p 126].
Furthermore, “Mateyev analyzed the data collected on the Russian athletes and produced a model of an annual training plan that was divided into phases, subphases and training cycles” [1, p 126].
Hence, creating a foundation for how we use periodization today.

Why should you use periodization in workout-plans?

    “The purpose of periodization is:
  • to optimize development of muscle strength and the ability to produce great effect.
  • to achieve top shape to correlate with important competitions.
  • avoid injuries and overtraining. [2] [3, 134]”

In other words, the periodization plan creates a overview for training objectives, training load, and intensites. Furthermore, it shows how they should fit with each other and the competition schedule.

As Bompa phrased in his book “Periodization. Theory and methodology of training”.
“The phases of training are structured to stimulate physiological [and psychological adaptions and are sequences to progressively develop specific components of performance (physical, technical, and tactical) while elevating the athlete´s performance capacity. A sequential approach to maintain the athlete´s physiological and psychological abilities at maximal capacity throughout the entire training year. Additionally, preparedness will vary depending on the phase of training and the type of training, psychological, ad social stress encountered by the athlete. Therefore, the annual training plan must be subdivided into phases that sequentially develop specific aspects required to maximize performance.” [1, p 128]

In other words, the objectives of each phase should be carefully selected according to your sport’s physical profile. Whereas, the timing and length of each phase should also correspond to that specific component adaption time. Each phase is placed to create a better foundation for the next.

As an illustration, think about the training phases as building blocks. Every block increases the potential for the next block. For example, the higher the maximal strength you manage to achieve during a training phase, the higher potential you have for creating power. Therefore, it is beneficial to place maximal strength phases before the power phase.

How do we use periodization in workout-plans?

Firstly, you need to identify the most important competitions in your schedule. When is it the most important for you to be in your best shape? Then divide this period into different training phases. You may determine the length of the training phase by the competition schedule. For example, swimmers usually priorities two main competitions. One short course (25 m swimming pool) and one in long-course (50 m swimming pool). We call this the bi-cycle annual training plan [1, p 135]. Thus, leaving approximately six months for each period.

The different training phases for periodizations in workout-plans.

Training phases are divided according to purpose and compatibility with the other phases:
  1. Preparatory
  2. Competitive
  3. Transition phase

Preparatory phase.

Like the word “preparatory” indicates, the purpose of this phase is to prepare you. As a result, the natural objectives for this phase are to: 
  • acquire and improve general physical training capacity. 
  • improve the biomotor abilities required by the sport.
  • cultivate psychological traits.
  • develop, improve, or perfect technique.
  • familiarize athletes with the basic strategic maneuvers mastered in the following phases.
  • teach athletes the theory and methodology of training specific to the sport.”
[3][4, p 134]
In other words, you aim to increase the potential for higher performance in the competitive phase.
For example:
  • A sprinter might use this phase to increase maximal strength. Thus, enhancing his/her potential for maximum power.
  • A bodybuilder might use this phase to build muscle volume before working on muscle definition in the competitive-phase.
  • Endurance athletes might use this time to increase aerobic capacity.

Competitive phase.

Like the word “competitive-phase” indicates, the purpose is to optimize your performance in competitions. As a result, the natural objectives for this phase are to:
  • fine-tune the biomotor abilities according to the physical profile of the sport.
  • ensure that you have an excess of energy in your most important competitions.
  • use your newly acquired maximum strength and convert it to specific strength
In other words, while the preparatory phase focuses on maximizing your most important abilities. The competitive phase focus on balancing those abilities according to your sports.
For example, a 100-meter freestyle swimmer might do an extensive maximal strength workout during the preparatory phase. During the competitive-phase, it is essential to transform this maximal-strength to the right endurance and power level for 100-meters.
In other words, the athlete needs to produce significant power in each stroke for about 50 sec.

Transition phase.

The function of a transition phase is to connect two training periods. For example, after the summer holidays, the body needs time to transit into good training shape. In this case, you may use the transition phase to gradually adjust the body to the hard work expected during the preparatory phase.
On the other hand, it might also be useful to put a transition-phase after a major competition. Many sports use a duo or trio-periodization. That is to say that they have more than one major competition a year.
For example, we often divide the swimming season into short-course (25 meters pool) and long course (50 meters pool). A transition-phase after the short-course season allows the athlete to recover before the next training period. In these cases, the focus of the transition phase is to maintain the fitness level. At the same time, the training is made more interesting by introducing relevant alternative training. Such as cross-country skiing or climbing.

This is how you use periodization in workout-plans.

After identifying your most important competitions, it is time to divide the training period into training phases. Each phase should be long enough to give time for optimal training adaptions. Here is an example of how you may divide a training period.
Succesing the division of the training period into training phases, it is time to part them into subphases.

Subphases for periodizations in workout-plans.

The training phases are divided into different subphases. Divide these subphases according to which biomotor abilities that is the targeting.

Subphases for strength training.

The emphasis on the different subphases for strength training will differ from each sport according to its physical profile. However, here are the usual subphases for strength training:
  • Anatomical adaptions (AA).
  • Hypertrophy (H).
  • Maximum strength (Mx).
  • Conversion to specific strength (CSS).

Anatomical adaptions.

“The goal of the AA phase is to progressively adapt the muscles, and especially their attachments to bone (tendons), so that they can cope more easily with the heavier loads used in the ensuing training phases. As a result, the overall training load must be increased without causing the athlete to experience much discomfort” [4, p 229].
In other words, the function of this subphase is to prepare the body for heavier strength training. Consequently, this is paramount early in the annual training plan. Circuit workouts are one of the more efficient methods for this training phase. Here are some recommendations for circuit training:
Table 1.2 Training parameters for Circuit Training.
Table 3. Shows training parameters for circuit training during the anatomical adaptions phase [4 p 233].


The goal of the hypertrophy phase is to increase muscle volume. Hypertrophy might be beneficial because a greater muscle volume will create a sizeable potential for maximum strength. However, considerable muscle volume might not always be helpful for your sport.
Hypertrophy training is intended for athletes whose sport performance will be helped by an increase in muscle size. To name a few, such athletes include football linemen, shot-putters, and discus throwers” [4, p 239].
Therefore, you should evaluate if greater muscle volume is the most important for your performance or if other biomotor abilities are more dominant. Keep in mind that hypertrophy methods are targeting muscle growth and not muscle functionality. As an athlete, it is paramount to shape the muscles for performance-enhanced functions. Consequently, your hypertrophy methods should consider this. (To read more about different hypertrophy methods.)

Maximal strength training.

“Until a few years ago, we believed that strength was determined mainly by the muscles cross-sectional area (CSA). For this reason, weight training was used to increase “engine size”- in other words, to produce muscular hypertrophy. Now, we see it differently. CSA remains the single best predicting factor of an individual´s strength, but the main factors responsible for strength increase (especially in nonbeginner athletes) are in fact the neural adaptations to strength training, such as improvements in inter- and intramuscular coordination and disinhibition of inhibitory mechanisms.” [4, p249]
In other words, while hypertrophy training is concentrating on building muscle volume. Maximal strength training focuses on utilizing your muscles. Your muscle size might be a good indicator of your potential to create maximum force. However, it is as, mentioned, not the main factor responsible for strength. Hence, in maximal strength training, it is principal to trigger all factors responsible for strength increase. Such as:
Intermuscular & intramuscular coordination.
“ Intermuscular coordination- ability to synchronize all muscles of a kinetic chain involved in an action. Intramuscular coordination- capacity to voluntarily recruit as many motor units as possible and nerve impulses at high frequency. Hypertrophy- the diameter or cross-sectional area of the muscle involved.” [4, p249]
As Tudor Bompa points out in the quote above, “the main factors responsible for strength increase (especially in nonbeginner athletes) are in fact the neural adaptations to strength training.”
Hence, emphasizing the importance of triggering the neural system. As an illustration of why this is important, imagine two rowing teams ready to compete. One of the teams only has eight rowers, while the other has ten. Reason states that the rowing team with ten rowers has a considerably higher potential for generating force. However, the rowing team with ten does not seem to be able to coordinate or cooperate sufficiently. As a result, they are not able to optimize their force output and end up losing.
A way to stimulate neurological adaption in strength training is to combine heavyweights with an explosive lift. However, heavyweights will affect the speed you can move your weights. Therefore, it is a principal element to find an optimal combination between speed and weight load. Here are some recommendations for training parameters you should use when designing your maximal strength workout.
Training Parameters for the Submaximal Load Method.
Intermuscular coordination is the ability to synchronize all muscles of a kinetic chain involved in an action. Training with submaximal weight-load is a way to stimulate this.
Training parameters for the Maximum Load Method.

Convert to specific strength.

Conversion to specific strength might be one of the most crucial phases in your strength training for sport. The whole goal of your strength training is to improve your sports performance. To do that, you need to shape and specialize your strength according to your sports physical profile (click here, to read more about how to identify your sports physical profile.)
For this reason, it is important to choose exercises that simulate movement patterns and muscle activations according to your sports. Moreover, the speed and force development should also emulate your sports.
Some may argue that the most specific way to train your sport is to train nothing but your sport. Rather than implementing weight-room exercises, that is only a poor imitation of the real movement pattern. However, it is difficult to assert enough mechanical drag to stimulate a sufficient increase in strength. Nevertheless, it is some possible methods in some sports. Such as in swimming or running, where it is common to exercise with a drag-parachute. As a result, mechanical drag may increase. That is a way to implement specific strength training in your workout. However, it is paramount to balance the components between speed, force, and endurance while keeping the optimal technique. A too strong mechanical drag will impair your ability to perform a proper technique.
To illustrate, a runner will probably not manage to maintain fast enough step frequency or even proper body alignment if the mechanical drag is too strong.
Therefore, it is necessary to find the right training parameters to chape your sport-specific training. Use the recommendations for the sprint, medium muscle endurance, or long-distance muscle endurance stated below.


Distances lasting between 20 sec to 2 min.

Medium distance

Distances lasting between 2 min to 8 min.

Long distance

Distances lasting over 8 min.

Finish your periodization for workout-plans.

When you have decided on which biomotor abilities you want to emphasize during your training period. Then you need to divide them into your periodization plan according to your most important competitions. The example shows a periodization plan.
Table 11. Shows a periodization plan with competitions, months, weeks, training phases and subphases for strength training.
Apply this periodization to your workout plan. By scheduling the sub-phases in the correct order, then you will ensure that the potential for specific strength is enhanced. Follow the training parameters for each subphase to fully benefit from them.


[1] Bompa, T. O., and Haff, G. G., 2009 “Periodization. Theory and Methodology of Training.» 5th Edition. Human Kinetics.
[2] Niknafs S et al, 2008 “A comparison of linear and undulating periodization for improving maximal strength and strength endurance in untrained men” Colorado Springs, Usa. 6 th international conference on strength training. 30-10-2008 (abstract)
[3] Raastad. T, Paulsen. G, Refsnes, B. R, Wisnes. A. R, 2010 “Styrketrening- I teori og praksis.» Gyldendal undervisning.
[4] Bompa, T. O., and Buzzichelli, C., 2005 “Periodization training for sports.» 3th Edition. Human Kinetics.

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