The Basics of Periodization


The Basics of Periodization

Today, we are chatting about a topic close to my heart, periodization. It has been my passion since diving into the strength and conditioning field about 8 years ago. More on what periodization actually is in a minute, but this concept can literally be the determining factor of whether you come in dead last in your 5k run next month or whether you crush everyone else in the field by 5 minutes. It’s that important! Interested now? Alright, let’s get to it!

What is Periodization?

First, we need to define periodization. Periodization is the systematic planning of athletic or physical training. The aim is to reach the best possible performance in the most important competition of the year. It involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period.

You may be asking yourself “What in the world does that mean?”. In short, it means that the closer you are to a competition, the more specific the training will get to the sport. It obviously also means that the farther away you are from a competition, the less specific the training will be. Let me give you an example: Cross Training is a sport in which many characteristics need to be developed, however, let’s pick two of the most important- lactic threshold and power. Lactic threshold is the fastest pace you can sustain during a workout before you begin to slow down and “bonk”. Power is the ability to move heavy weight fast (think olympic lifting). On competition day, both of these systems need to be optimized if you want to perform at your best. They both also rely on other systems to be developed; picture lactic threshold and power to be the top of a pyramid; the foundation must be built before they can be in place. When far out from a competition, training needs to focus on the foundation. The closer the competition gets, the closer to the top of the pyramid we focus.

So in our Cross Training example, a foundational piece of lactic threshold is aerobic base. Aerobic base is how well our cardiovascular, respiratory, and muscular systems work together to bring oxygen in, deliver it to the muscle, and utilize it. Training for aerobic base is generally low intensity cyclical work (bike, row, run, swim, etc.). You can see how different that is from regular “Cross Training” type training. On the other hand, a foundational piece for power is absolute strength, which usually consists of slow speed lifts such as back squat, strict press, deadlift, etc. As time progresses, we begin to add speed and skill to these lifts until we are specifically training the snatch and clean and jerk.

The intentional manipulation of training variables such as this is the crux of what periodization is.

How is CFO program periodized?

Here at CFO, our Cross Training programming is certainly periodized. The “big” competition that I periodize for is the Cross Training Open, which occurs every March. Recently, the olympic lifts and higher skill movements have made their way back into the program more often; this is due to the fact that the Open is getting closer, so the training is becoming more and more specific and will continue to as time goes by. In months prior, the focus was on the foundation of the “pyramid” I spoke about earlier.

How can you periodize your own training?

I realize that for most people, the Open is not your big competition, but that is the nature of the beast in programming for a large group of people. With that being said, you can still do the CFO programming and tailor it to whatever event you are training for. For example, if you are training for a marathon in November, over the summer, add in some long, slow distance running to begin to build your aerobic base for the marathon. On days when you aren’t running, come into the box and hit the Cross Training workout. This is a perfect mix of high intensity training and sport specific running work. As your marathon gets closer, you might go to interval classes more often, since they are more cardio based. A good idea would also be to attend movement class once or twice a week, to maintain optimal mobility, flexibility, balance, coordination, etc.

That is of course just one example of how you can tailor the program to fit your goals and needs as an athlete. If you are struggling with this concept, or would like a program specifically geared to you, shoot me an email or talk to me in person about this concept or about PR Programming.


I can literally go on forever talking about periodization and programming, but for today, I just wanted to lay a basic framework for understanding the programming piece of the puzzle. In future blogs, we might be going deep down the rabbit hole my friends. 🙂