Nicole Thompson by Nicole Thompson

Exercise Professionals can play a crucial 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 introduction, covering the essentials to periodization There is more specific and in-depth information available in other resources.

Periodization is an application of overload through pre-planned variation of program components to optimize gains in strength while preventing overuse, staleness, overtraining, and plateaus. Achieve periodization by implementing micro (small two to four weeks) cycles, combined to form meso (intermediate three months) cycles, which combine to form macro (biggest six to 12 months) cycles.  Although we most often see periodization in resistance training, it can be utilized in cardiovascular exercise as well.  Periodization usually breaks down as follows:

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 microcycle the training protocols are consistent, and then after each microcycle, the training variables are adjusted. Linear programs tend to be rigid in their design.

Undulating periodization provides different training protocols during the microcycles, in addition to changing the training variables after each microcycle. Undulating programs tend to be less rigid in their design.  

With an undulating program, the training variables change from daily. There are changes within the microcycle and within the mesocycles. Often the undulating program is used during a non-peak training period.

Your client's goals and experience can determine the choice to use a linear or undulating periodization model. It is useful in a very detail-oriented way – programming in depth to create specific results for your client – or just 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.


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