Periodization part 3: From theory to practice

This article was originally published in Nov of 2013. I have left the article largely as it was originally written because I continue to apply a similar approach in my own training, and that of others. If you have used this approach or have questions, PLEASE EMAIL US!

In part 2 of Periodization: Finding your model, I discussed ideas on how to choose a periodization model that would work best for you. Of these, models, like Block or Non-linear periodization are not necessarily a major shift in planning, but rather options to allow the existing plans greater flexibility, while the idea of reverse periodization shifts the off-season and early season focus onto intensity, or quality, rather than volume, or quantity. The best model for an athlete is one that optimizes the balance between training stress with recovery as they fit within everyday life, and actually incorporate aspects of more than one model.

Obviously, the full-time pro can base their life around training, while the full-time parent must build their training around their life. If you have completed the Finding your model quiz from part 1, then you will now want to decide which approach you will use. For this article, I am going to assume that we are dealing with a part-time athlete who may or may not have flexibility in their training. In truth, periodization for a full-timer could be the same as this athlete, but not vice versa. However, for those with 8 hrs or less time each week, variation in volume can be difficult, so alternating intensity across weeks becomes important. As such, traditional models are a poor choice. Similarly, Block models typically focus on one or two, or possibly sports are trained, while the other is maintained, for a period of 2 to 6 weeks, which can be highly effective for single sport athletes, like cyclists, but may not be tenable for a triathlete. A better option, in practice, has been to use a non-linear approach similar to one described by Zatsiorsky, where one sport is given primary importance, with a focus on training quantity (volume), another is given secondary importance with a focus on quality (intensity), and the third is maintained. Such a scheme, as depicted in in table 1, creates enough variation to target many abilities frequently, but not all at once, while maintain those lesser trained sports.

Table 1. Non-linear programming scheme for triathlon training. In general, primary focus should be devoted to volume, secondary

to intensity, while maintain the last sport with shorter sessions. Using a 2-week structure, each sport will be trained a total of 8 weeks over the course of a 12 week mesocycle.

WEEKS Primary

(50% total time)


(30% total time)


(20% total time)

1 – 2


3 – 4


Using this a template, I’ve devised the following scenario for a triathlate, because they have the greatest time demands but the most areas to train. Here are the most relevant variables we need:

Part-time triathlete competing in Olympic distance events lasting 90 – 180 min; this athlete competitive within they’re age group and performs well overall. They are typically limited to 6-10 hrs each week, with flexible access to a pool, allowing them to swim about 3 days per week. They are limited to only two days of cycling each week, but can commute to work up to 3 days/week (30 min total ride time), and run 2 – 4 days each week.

Based on the above assessment, some type of non-linear approach would work best. Depending on an athlete’s given strengths, some aspects might be emphasized more or less, but in general, a rotation of Swim, Bike, Run will work best with each focusing on either volume (quantity), intensity (quality) or maintenance; i.e., each sport focuses on a different aspect, while resistance training could be used to maintain overall muscular fitness, or enhance supplement one of the quality sessions. Also, for those with limited time, it is possible to combine upper and lower body volume or intensity, but not lower body; for example, doing high volume bike and run weeks, or high intensity bike and run weeks with limited training/recovery time often hampers overall progress. Table 2 illustrates a suggested scheme for 2 – 3-week training rotations. 

Table 2. 12-week non-linear plan for triathlon training. The training period takes place during the off-season and put the overall emphasis on swim training; note the three week focus on swimming. While the relative training breakdown remains the same for primary, secondary and maintained activities, changes in actual training time can have a significant impact on overall all training. For example, training 8 hrs one week will result in a breakdown of 4, 2.5, and 1.5 hrs, respectively, while 10 hrs would yield 5, 3, and 2 hrs. Thus, maintaining loads should not be misconstrued as easy or recovery loads.

WEEKS Primary






6 – 7





Once you’ve got your general scheme worked out, it’s now time to start planning. The following a 5 step process that can be used for any periodization model you choose.

Step 1

Review Goals & any screening or test data; What do they WANT, What do they NEED?

Using a spread sheet OR a white board outline the plan always writing in the goal for the season first, which should be at least 12 weeks away, but may be many months down the road.

Work backwards, filling in any other major performance goals (or earlier events) along the way; these goals can be large, end of macrocycle goals/peaks, up to four.

You may also want to add in any other significant events, but not every competition.

Step 2

Fill in other non-race goals, assessments/tests, as well as travel or vacations that might affect the plan (e.g., breaks, weddings, work).

Step 3

Split up each major goal/peak into macrocycles lasting 12 – 16 weeks; remember that each following macrocycle should include at least one rest/recovery week, where training is greatly reduced.

Step 4

Working from just the first macrocycle only, split this up into mesocycles of 2 – 6 weeks (if you plan to use the scheme from table 1, it is 6 weeks). Similar to Block periodization, each mesocycles will focus on only 1 or 2 training aspects, or specific abilities. Put another way, use a mesocycle to address a specific ability, rather than training a little of everything.

Step 5

Fill in general details and approximate training volumes. Remember, the benefit of rotating non-linear model is that training volume will stay relatively the same each week, but volume for each sport will change, as will intensity.

My hope is that I have demystified some of the confusion of periodization, and hopefully offered some new ideas on how to build a plan that better matches your individual needs. As always, no amount of written material can cover every possible scenario. If you have further questions, or would like to relate your experience, please email us.

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