Periodization is the key to exercise and used by every professional athlete the world over. Yet almost no one outside of this circle has heard of it. The science of periodization was developed in the USSR and former eastern block countries as a system to design exercise and training programmes for their athletes.

The principles are based on the fundamental way that the body responds to exercise. The majority of my work is in personal training in London (Clapham). Most my personal training clients are not athletes but as we all respond similarly to exercise, the principles must be used for everyone’s training programmes and not just that of the elite athletes.

The need for periodization

If you are some one who has embarked on an exercise routine and really enjoyed it at first, then found that you became bored with it and simply stopped doing it, or have been training hard but stopped making improvements, you have been a participant in an example of how the theory of adaptation works, and this was the very reason Periodization was designed.

Periodization is the all encompassing theory of how to combine the theory of adaptation, progressive overload, diminishing returns, rest and recovery, into one.

What it means for you is, if applied correctly, you will make the greatest gains ever that you have had from the gym, while enjoying it, staying clear from injury and keeping fresh mentally and physically. Before looking at the theory, lets quickly examine the principles behind exercise.

Theory of adaptation

This states that when a new exercise stimulus is given to the body e.g. going for a 10 minute jog, doing level 7 instead of 4, lifting 60 kg etc the body is shocked by what it experiences and reacts by improving itself so it can cope with the stimulus if it is encountered again in the future.

The body changes the physical ability that was stressed during the exercise e.g. in response to jogging, increases occur in aerobic power; through lifting an 80kg weight, the body adapts by increasing strength and muscle size. This response to exercise is the underlying theory used in designing exercise programs.

Once the body has become accustomed to the stimulus, it no longer increases the physical ability in response to that exercise routine. It is said to have reached a plateau. This is an undesirable stage as your fitness attributes are no longer improving despite your efforts e.g. even though it hurts to do the exercise you still end up lifting the same weight, or completing the run in the same time. It happens because the body feels it can handle the exercise stimulus.

It is at this point you will become bored with the training routine and at a future point along the curve you will either stop doing your exercise (if you do not love exercise) or carry on but make few improvements

Progressive Overload

To avoid reaching a plateau, a technique called progressive overload is used. The theory works by continually giving the body a progressively more difficult and challenging exercise stimulus. The more demanding stimulus makes the body continually respond by increasing the attributes stressed. The difficulty is increased through alterations of the training variables within an exercise program, e.g. increasing the weight, decreasing rest, increasing number of repetitions etc.

Periodization techniques

Periodization is the theory and principles of how to structure your training programme so improvements are made month to month and year to year while avoiding over-training and injuries.
The theory sees the year being divided up into different periods of time (phases) where unique training routines can be used that are different from one phase to the next. This ensures the principles outlined above can be adhered to.

The basic principles are very simple to use. Professional athletes may use a highly sophisticated form but everyone should be using it to some degree. There are different levels that you can apply to your training programmes


Under periodization your year is divided into phases. Each phase has a different focus and training programme to achieve. As well as these, planned periods of rest are also incorporated, these can be timed to coincide with holidays, work demands and more. Using phases during the training year is the key to getting the most out of your exercise routine.

Training Variables

This relates to the way you change the actual variable of how you do your exercise routine. These refer to the amount of exercise you perform (volume), the difficulty of exercise you perform, compared to your maximum (intensity), the type of exercise you do (specificity) and rest taken (density).

Each of these variables can be applied to the four areas of exercise, aerobic, resistance, core and flexibility training.

For example, imagine a resistance exercise, you could do:

2 sets of 15 reps (volume) using 10 KG (intensity) with 30 seconds rest (density) of a squat exercise. (Specificity) or could change to
2 sets of 5 reps (less volume), with weight 25kg (higher intensity) with 1 minute rest (lower density) of the squat exercise (same specificity).

Please do not be confused by this, the main point is that changing what you do in the exercise is the most important thing in fitness training. When even the basic principles are grasped it will revolutionize your training programme.

Periodization is the key element to teaching exercise. For effective results it must be backed up with correct nutrition, for this you should use metabolic typing

Ben Wilson BSc (Hons) CSCS NSCA-CPT CMTA EFT Dip
On line metabolic typing, fitness training and emotional freedom technique (EFT)
Personal training London (Clapham)
Rugby fitness training information and coaching

Author's Bio: 

Ben Wilson is a personal trainer, nutritionist and EFT therapist. He is author of the book Rugby fitness training: A twelve month conditioning programme