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Periodization and the Adult Client

Periodization and the Adult Client | April Merritt | Exam Preparation Blog | 12/13/2010


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Personal trainers can play a key role in helping clients stay motivated by designing and modifying programs to introduce variety and work toward goal attainment. Periodization is one method for achieving this. (Note…this is a basic introductory post, covering the essentials as addressed in the 4th ed. Personal Trainer manual. There is more specific and in-depth information available in other resources for working with athletes, bodybuilders, etc.)

Periodization is an application of overload… through pre-planned variation of program components… to optimize gains in strength… while preventing overuse, staleness, overtraining, and strength plateaus. This is done through the use of micro (small) cycles, combined to form meso (intermediate size) cycles, which combine to form macro (biggest) cycles.  Although we most often see periodization in resistance training, it can be utilized in cardiovascular training as well.  Periodization usually breaks down as follows: (the chart is located on pg 327 of the PT 4th edition manual)

Macrocycle (8 wks)

Overall Program Timeframe


Mesocycle (4 wks)

Mesocycle (4 wks)

Specific Training Goals


Microcycle (2 wks)

Microcycle (2 wks)

Microcycle (2 wks)

Microcycle (2 wks)

Progressive training segments for each mesocycle


Periodization has two primary styles – linear and undulating.

Linear periodization is what we sometimes consider a more traditional resistance training program with gradually progressive increases. Within each micro cycle the training protocols are consistent, and then after each micro cycle the training variables are adjusted. Linear programs tend to be fairly rigid in their design. Check out the link below for an example of a linear periodization model:

Linear Periodization Model: see also page 328 in the 4th ed. PT Manual

You can see there is a very specific flow to this workout with regards to the volume and intensity of weight lifted.

Undulating periodization provides different training protocols during the micro cycles, in addition to changing the training variables after each micro cycle. Undulating programs tend to be less rigid in their design.  Check out the link below for an example of an undulating periodization model:

Undulating Periodization Model: see also page 329 in the 4th ed. PT Manual

With the undulating program you can see that the training variables change from day to day. There are changes within the microcycle and within the mesocycles. Often the undulating program is used during a non-peak training period.

The choice to use a linear or undulating periodization model can be determined by your client’s goals and experience. It can be used in a very detail oriented way – programming in depth to create specific results for your client – or simply as a means to provide structure and direction to your everyday exerciser.

Periodization can be tricky to get a handle on – but it can be a great way to design programs that keep clients moving forward towards reaching their goals. If you have any questions, contact an ACE Education Consultant at 1-888-825-3636 x782.