Training Principle: Periodization


You’ve got stoke! You’ve got 10 races on your radar! You’ve got new sneakers! Woot!


What’s your plan?

Goals, dreams, passion, energy, good looking sneakers, excitement...all key ingredients in creation of performance and success!  But...what is the best recipe?  What are the steps to take, the moves to make and the cues of when to make them?  A training plan is like a recipe for your goals.  Without one, you are left flying by the seat of your pants, with a loaf of bread that didn't rise and wondering where it all went wrong;) Some questions for ya…

  • Have you started training for a goal with enthusiasm, only to quickly feel the wheels come off and lose your focus and motivation?

  • Are you unsure if you are doing the right training type, amount, intensity and frequency to reach your goal?

  • Do you bounce around between ideas and plans, making things up as you go?

  • Do you get injured, burnt out or frustrated with lack of results?

    These are all very common symptoms of training without a sound plan.  They are also, very easily overcome.  Enter the science of this key Training Principle: Periodization!

As always, take my advice with a grain of salt…be FOCUSED on the goal but FLEXIBLE with the route from A to B… Periodization seems ‘rigid’ at first glance, but really it can be extremely flexible and should be, in fact, dynamic, in order to accommodate for individual needs, life changes, progressions and life in general. Use the science of Periodization with the ART of Coaching and you can make beautiful things happen! Take the following into consideration when planning your season with the ultimate goal of peaking in the best shape possible to rock your most important event (s) of the year, every year.

Training Principle: Periodization

A periodized Annual Training Plan (ATP ) has specific phases, is personalized and follows key training principles.  The goal of an ATP is to maximize performance in time for peak events and allow the body to adapt most efficiently. 

3 main phases or Macrocycles:

  • Preparatory (3-6 mos) 1/3 General and 2/3 Specific. AKA Base Period. Goal: general fitness progressing to sport specific training. Laying the foundation/base to prepare for higher intensity workouts later on. Typically focused on higher volume, lower intensity. General preparatory phase should primarily include aerobic training, muscular endurance/strength for muscles that are involved in your activity and corrective exercises for muscular imbalances. Be patient, keep in Zone 1 or low intensity training for most of your workouts during this phase so that your body will have time to adapt and build a big aerobic base. The bigger the base, the higher (speed/power) you will be able to build later on. Specific preparatory phase includes progressive strength (hill training & functional strength training) and speed & power (zone 3 & 5 interval) workouts. The closer to your event, the more specific, and typically more intense, your workouts should be. 

  • Competitive (2-5 mos) AKA Build Period: with pre-competition and competition (peak) phases. Goal: improving performance and preparing to peak for main competition. Pre-competition phase will include the most specific training of your ATP. Fine tuning form, technique, speed. Typically decreased volume but increased intensity. Ideal to use other, less important events to practice race/competition skills. Includes Taper cycle prior to main event. 

  • Transition (up to 1 mos): Mental and physical recovery and regeneration with rest and non-specific fitness.


  • 2-5 weeks. Most common are 4 week cycles.

  • Progressive overload followed by unloading/recovery weeks (ie 3 weeks progressive, 1 week recovery) . May focus on strength, endurance, speed, power, flexibility etc. 


  • 7 days 

  • Co-ordinate physical training with other aspects (mental, nutrition, sleep, stress management, time, rest, recovery etc). Design depends on macrocycle/phase of training plan.

GETTING STARTED:  Designing your own Annual Training Plan (ATP): 

  • It all starts with a dream.  Set SMART Goals/Events and list them in order of importance A, B, or C. 

  • Identify ‘Where you are Now’..using fitness testing results and identifying 'LF' (Limiting Factors) from last season.  What do you need to improve the most?  What is holding you back?

  • Determine what you need to do to get to your goal. Overall fitness and skill requirements for your event & a personalized plan to address your  Limiting Factors. 

  • Identify your annual schedule for phases of your ATP. 

 Using a Calendar by working backwards from your goal event. You must include weeks for Tapering then you will see how much time you have to fit in your training phases. Begin with Preparatory General or 'Base' Training (aerobic endurance and muscular endurance (Z3) stability and flexibility), then move to Preparatory Specific or 'Build' Training and add strength work (hills, high intensity resistance), finishing with speed (upper intensity zones) and power (explosive movements) as you get closer and closer to your event. Typically moving from High Volume/Low intensity to Low Volume/High Intensity shift over course of plan. **NOTE: Ultra Endurance Athletes such as Ironman athletes or Ultramarathon runners actually complete this periodization in reverse- so that they will peak with higher volume training which is specific to their event.  Include training time dedicated to your Limiting Factors all year round.

  • Plan your Mesocycles (months) in each phase. 

  • Break down your first month of weekly Microcycles including building and recovery weeks.

  • GO! And be ready to adapt along the way as ATPs are very dynamic!

Overwhelmed? I don’t blame you! Building training plans isn’t for everyone, and you are likely best off leaving this task to the pro’s if it isn’t your passion. Coaches enjoy season planning and personally creating training plans is one of my favourite things to do so just give me a shout over at ELM if you need a hand:)

More like this:

Overload Principle

Rest Principle

Overtraining Principle

Maintenance Principle