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Fit 4 Life | Athletes periodise! You should, too

Published:Wednesday | May 9, 2018 | 12:08 AMMarvin Gordon
Periodisation refers to the principle of breaking training into periods called macrocycles (up to a year), mesocycles (two weeks to two months) and microcycles (usually a week).


Ever wondered what sports commentators mean when they say an athlete peaked at the perfect time? Shouldn't athletes be in tip-top shape year-round, or at least throughout the season?

Well, the answer is no. Humans generally cannot remain at full athletic fitness constantly. You work up to a certain level of fitness after which fatigue will set in. Training is hard on body and mind, and requires periodization to protect us from injury and overtaxing, while maximising health and performance benefits.

Periodization refers to the principle of breaking training into periods called macrocycles (up to a year), mesocycles (two weeks to two months) and microcycles (usually a week). Training is planned around these periods during which training intensity, type, and volume, as well as other variables, are cycled.

Periodization helps athletes to adhere to proven training principles, such as the general adaptation syndrome (GAS) principle which calls for periods of high-intensity training to be followed by periods of low-intensity in order to avoid injury and overtraining.

Another example is the specificity principle which calls for moving from general fitness training to specific sport and skills training, which can be easily achieved under a properly periodised training plan.

So how can periodisation work for you? For starters, if you have been training the same way day-in day-out then your progress has likely stopped.

Hopefully, you haven't been overtaxing yourself trying to squeeze out a little bit more fitness. Periodizing your training could jumpstart your progress and save you from injury and burnout.


- Assess your goal. Split your goal into small steps you can use to reach that goal. Remember, your body will respond in specific ways to different types of training. For example, eccentric (lowering a weight) overloading will bring muscles size but will not improve concentric (lift) strength greatly.

- Set a time for achieving your goal. Remember to be realistic when timing your goals. Give yourself adequate time to play with.

- Determine the types of training you need to achieve your goal. Try not to ignore any aspect of training. Trying to gain muscle or strength is no reason to disregard aerobic training and vice versa.

Plan your training to start with general fitness improvements and move toward more specific targets. For example, improve cardiovascular condition and strength before you focus on bettering your time in a 5k race.

- Plan recovery into your cycle. Remember periods of high intensity should be followed up with periods of low intensity. So heavy, training days should be followed up with adequate recovery periods. This also applies to the longer term (macrocycle) as well; allow yourself a period of low or no training in each macrocycle. Call it a vacation if it helps.

- Marvin Gordon is a fitness coach; email:;