Improving Your Physical Performance in 3 Steps: #2 Periodisation

  • 4 Oct ‘23
  • Bewegen 
  • Editorial OpenUp Medical

Periodisation is a widely adopted training methodology within the realm of sports and fitness. It constitutes a structured and systematic approach to designing training programmes, aimed at achieving specific objectives such as enhanced performance, augmented strength, or muscle hypertrophy.

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What is periodisation?

The periodisation principle encompasses the manipulation of training variables, including volume, intensity, and frequency, over a defined period. This strategy is devised to maximise training adaptations and circumvent plateaus in progress.

The central objective is to facilitate optimal recovery, mitigate injury risks, and optimise overall performance. In this discourse, we will delve into the scientific underpinning of the periodisation principle and explore its applicability across diverse training objectives.

The principle of periodisation draws its roots from the theory of the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS), which elucidates how the human body reacts to stress and evolves over time in response. 

As per GAS, there exist three stages of adaptation to stress: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. 

The three phases

1. Alarm phase: This denotes the initial response to a stressor, such as embarking on a new training regimen. During this stage, the body undergoes an acute stress response, resulting in the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prime the body to handle the stressor by elevating heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose availability. However, this response is transient and swiftly dissipates.

2. Resistance phase: This is the stage where the body adapts to the stressor and develops resilience towards it. Structural and functional changes occur during this phase, encompassing augmented muscle fibre dimensions, enhanced metabolic efficiency, and heightened bone density. The resistance phase is pivotal for accomplishing training objectives and elevating performance.

3. Exhaustion phase: This phase ensues when the body becomes overwhelmed by the stressor and can no longer adapt. Fatigue, diminished performance, and heightened vulnerability to injuries characterise this phase. Adequate implementation of the periodisation principle aids in evading this phase by fostering appropriate recovery.

These stages hold significance in the context of training, as they offer insights into how the body reacts to distinct training stimuli and elucidate the necessity of periodisation in averting overtraining and injuries.

The variables

The periodisation principle revolves around the strategic manipulation of training variables to optimise the resistance phase while averting the exhaustion phase. The primary variables under manipulation are volume, intensity, and frequency.

1. Volume: Denoting the cumulative workload undertaken, encompassing sets and repetitions.

2. Intensity: Signifying the difficulty of the workout, encompassing factors like weight lifted and effort exerted.

3. Frequency: Pertaining to the frequency of training sessions per week.

Periodisation models

Various periodisation models exist, each with distinctive structures and attributes. Common models include linear, undulating, and block periodisation.

1. Linear periodisation: This entails a gradual escalation of intensity coupled with a reduction in volume over time. It is often suitable for beginners or those pursuing specific objectives such as powerlifting contests or marathons.

2. Undulating periodisation: This involves alternating between high and low intensity and volume within a designated week or training cycle. It caters well to advanced athletes or individuals with intricate training goals, such as augmenting strength and endurance.

3. Block periodisation: Here, training is segmented into distinct blocks, each concentrating on specific facets and goals. For instance, a block might focus on bolstering strength, succeeded by a hypertrophy-focused block, and culminating in a power-centric block. This model is frequently employed by athletes competing in sports necessitating a broad spectrum of physical capabilities.

The science behind the cycling principle

Empirical evidence underscores the effectiveness of periodisation in enhancing performance, amplifying strength, and stimulating muscle hypertrophy. A meta-analysis conducted by Rhea et al. (2002) established that periodisation yielded superior results compared to non-periodised training in enhancing strength and power among resistance-trained individuals.

Furthermore, a meta-analysis by Harries et al. (2015) ascertained the efficacy of periodisation in augmenting muscle hypertrophy for both trained and untrained individuals.

Beyond these advantages, periodisation has proven efficacy in averting overtraining and injuries. A systematic review conducted by Grgic et al. (2021) demonstrated that periodised resistance training correlated with a lower injury risk compared to non-periodised training. This outcome is attributed to the fact that periodisation fosters adequate recovery and avoids excessive strain on the body.

In addition to its impact on strength, power, and muscle hypertrophy, periodisation exhibits prowess in ameliorating endurance performance. A meta-analysis by Issurin (2010) established that periodised training yielded superior outcomes to non-periodised training in improving endurance performance across various sports, encompassing running, cycling, and swimming.

While the evidence endorsing periodisation is compelling, it is imperative to recognise that the optimal periodisation model may diverge based on an individual’s objectives, training history, and physical attributes. A linear periodisation model may be fitting for novices, whereas an undulating or block periodisation model might prove more suitable for seasoned athletes.

Moreover, it is paramount to consider ancillary factors that can influence training adaptations, including nutrition, sleep, and stress. Optimising these factors is crucial to foster a conducive state for adaptation and recovery.

Practical applications of the cycling principle

The cycling principle finds applicability across an array of sports and activities. Here are practical examples across diverse domains:


Competitive cyclists benefit significantly from the cycling principle. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research revealed that a periodised training regimen, encompassing phases of high and low intensity, yielded superior results in enhancing time trial performance compared to a non-periodised regimen.

Strength training

The cycling principle can be effectively employed in strength training. A meta-analysis in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research demonstrated that periodised strength training programmes outperformed non-periodised regimens in enhancing muscle strength and power, spanning both trained and untrained individuals.

Another meta-analysis published in the same journal found that the cycling principle was effective at preventing overtraining and reducing the risk of injury in athletes engaged in high-intensity resistance training.

Endurance sports

Endurance sports like running and triathlon integrate the cycling principle extensively. A study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance showcased that a periodised training programme, comprising high and low-intensity phases, proved more effective than a non-periodised programme in enhancing running performance among recreational runners.

Team sports 

The cycling principle is equally applicable to team sports such as soccer and basketball. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research highlighted that a periodised training programme, encompassing high and low-intensity phases, yielded superior outcomes in enhancing aerobic endurance and agility in female basketball players.

Improved performance and reduced risk of injury

The periodisation principle is a scientifically substantiated approach to training, characterised by the strategic manipulation of variables over time. It yields benefits in terms of strength, power, muscle hypertrophy, and endurance performance, while also mitigating injury risks. 

However, tailoring the periodisation model to individual goals and considerations is pivotal. Optimising factors like nutrition, sleep, and stress further augments the efficacy of this approach. 

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