Periodize: Perfect Your Long-term Plan

Fitness and Strength training MacrocycleLong-term plan, macro cycle, an example (Aagaard, 2012).

Marina Aagaard, MFE

Top Tip

Reach your goals! Make a plan. What do you say?
For better programs and workouts, that is the way.
Outline the long-term, then the short-term, it’s simple, o.k.?

You want to optimize your workout results? Then periodization is for you. First step is to get an overview, to outline a long-term plan based on your main goal.
A long-term plan for fitness often is a ½-1 year plan.

A one-year plan can be created and outlined in many ways and be more or less complex according to your needs. Everyone, recreational exercisers as well as elite athletes, will benefit from some sort of general plan serving as a framework for planning training periods and more detailed weekly training programs.
The above model is just one example of how it can be done. The general principle, however, can be applied to any type of plan and will hopefully inspire you to make your own plan or periodization.

Macro cycle (½-1 year plan)

The first step in general planning or periodization is creating a long-term plan.
The timespan for the long-term plan depends on your goal. It can be several years, as in competitive sports, or ½-1 year.

In sports the plan revolves around the competitions, so the athletes can peak at the right time at the main competition.

In fitness and strength training the long-term plan normally covers one year, which means that the long-term plan is the same as a ‘one-year plan’.
The longest ‘unit’ in the long-term plan in some disciplines, eg. strength training and weightlifting, is called macrocycle.

In general fitness, with no competitions or matches to consider, the main goal, eg. strength, hypertrophy or fatloss, dictates the lay-out of the plan.

Periods and periodization

The long-term plan, the macrocycle, is divided into shorter, manageable periods. This is calles periodization.

Often a period in fitness planning is three months, but periods may be shorter or longer according to the exerciser (fitness and health) and specific goal for the given period. In a.o. strength training these 1-3 month periods are called mesocycles.

In the mesocycles the focus could be anything from basic training to sports-specific training, and the programs could be dedicated to improving one area, eg. basic strength or cardiovascular fitness, or several areas, eg. strength, coordination and mobility could be improved in parallel (requires some planning).
The goals of the mesocycles dictates the specific weekly programs, which in some sports are called microcycles.

In strength training you may have three mesocycles (and then maybe a sports specific period):
Basic training (structural strength), strength training and maximal strength.

For beginners it is imperative, that you have a basic training period.
This period is for laying the foundation, building strength and endurance – with prophylactic training with core and balance training – before moving onto advanced, heavy and complex training. Basic training may last from 6-12 months depending on how and how much you train, how well you recover and respond to the training program.

After basic, structural training, the training is progressed. The training becomes heavier and the exercises gets more complex and functional. Beginners move from machines to free weights and weightlifting. This phase may last from 6-12 months.

Maximal strength training is the next (last) phase in strength training periodization.
The goal is increased strength and power via heavy and explosive strength training – for athletes sports specificity should be considered.

When you reach your goal, set a new goal – this could increased strength or maybe maintenance with a varied program – and make a new plan.

You can read more about periodization in my blogs and this brilliant book about advanced periodization:
THE FLEXIBLE PERIODIZATION METHOD by Karsten Jensen, MSc.

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