Periodization model: A flight plan for coaches

Yes, a periodization model, indeed! Let’s, finally, be candid. A series of unstructured workouts without a goal or due consideration of an athlete’s past, training stress, level of training and many a hero unsung, is impossible to lead to the desired performance levels. The reason is simple. They don’t make up a training program.

Just think of a pilot, flying an airplane without a proper flight plan in place. Or a doctor operating on a patient without using any kind of biometric readings.  It seems a bit cringy, doesn’t it? In our book, a series of unstructured workouts is called “physical activity”; not a training program. 

Μany researchers, coaches and, perhaps, most of wikipedia, will support the notion that training – not exercise or activity – is defined as the physical preparation of an athlete in a very structured and methodical way, under close supervision from a coach.

Periodization: Structured and methodical

To achieve a structured and methodical  state of things, a coach needs to give some care in designing the “big picture” of a training program, called the Annual Training Plan. In other words, the coach needs to periodize the athlete’s training efforts. And what does periodization mean? Well, here’s a textbook definition: Changing the volume and intensity of training in discrete training periods or cycles, over time, in order to prepare the athlete to achieve their best, at the right moment. That’s what we call “training periodization”  (Nielsen et al 2012, Klien et al 2013). 

It’s practically a process of subdividing the annual training plan into a series of manageable phases (mesocycles). Each phase can then target one specific or an entire series of attributes, one can develop within a designated period of time. Periods of appropriate overload and recovery are defined within each phase.

There is more than one kind of periodization. Through the last few decades, coaches and researchers have developed many different ways to periodize training. And they’ve managed to create different periodization models, where their selection, by the coach, depends on the physical status of the athlete, their availability for training, the distance or duration of the race they’re aiming for, and other factors. 

Let’s go through a shortlist of  the most popular periodization models and their specific characteristics. Furthermore, as a bonus, why not give you our recommendation about when and why to use every one of them?

Popular periodization models

Traditional (Linear) periodization model

Τhis periodization model describes high volume, low intensity exercise during the first training period. And it demonstrates a gradual  decrease in volume, with parallel increase in intensity, over time. 

To put things into perspective, it could be shaped like a pyramid:

When to use it

Usually, this model applies to endurance athletes, especially for distances of 800m, up to 21k. However, a coach may singularly use this kind of periodization model, regardless of the distance. It works well, especially when the athlete has no previous training experience or is coming back from an extended period of abstinence from the proper load of training.


It’s a model that helps athletes build a solid aerobic base, gradually. That is, without a high probability of injury, which is mainly attributed to the lack of severe intensity. An athlete with only little experience has to build some kind of baseline point. And this model is most appropriate for this purpose.


An experienced athlete with an already well founded aerobic base, will possibly not need further adaptations. What’s more, this model features monotonous pacing. That is, because the workouts included are performed at a steady-state, slow pace. To bring balance to the program, these workouts feature increased duration. Lastly, it may not be the best model available to plan for endurance events – which last >2hrs –  like a Marathon or an Ironman-type distance triathlon.

Reverse Linear periodization model

This model works exactly as its name states it. It is, actually, an inverted pyramid of the “traditional periodization model.” During the first few phases of any training period based on this model, the athlete executes high intensity, low volume workouts. 

When to use it

Usually, this model applies to endurance athletes, especially for sports with duration >2hrs. It works well when the athlete has a healthy amount of previous experience and a solid aerobic base. 


The athlete executes high intensity workouts, off season. These feature a significantly lower amount of exercise time. The athlete will gradually increase the load and duration of the training, until the day comes for the A-priority race. This tactic will actually give the athlete a sense of fulfillment and confidence. 


The nature of  high intensity workouts, pertinent to this periodization model, will increase the probability of injury. Thus, a coach will reserve the application of this model mainly for experienced athletes, but only if they are in a good form and physical condition. 

Non – Linear Periodization model (undulating periodization)

Non-linear periodization is a form of periodization that consists of varying patterns of training protocols, involving exercise selection, volume, and intensity. A non-linear program is, inherently, more suitable for more experienced athletes. This model indicates that volume and intensity can change well into the mesocycle; they do not follow a linear progression pattern. Also, different kinds of aerobic parameters will share into the training time allocated, within a week. For example, workouts that aim to improve VO2max, Threshold and Running Economy, can co-exist within the same training week.

When to use it 

As mentioned, the non-linear periodization model better suits experienced athletes, who already have trained at various intensities and volumes. This model is also optimal for sports which feature races or events on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, etc. 


The athlete will need to simultaneously train on various or all aspects of training, within the same period. That way, they will have the appropriate stimuli – by workout – to maintain all key parameters of aerobic performance at a high level. Also, the variety of workouts and the frequent alteration of training volume and intensity will  make the program quite more  interesting and the athlete is sure to enjoy it.


This model applies mainly to highly experienced athletes who have already sufficiently developed the critical aspects of performance, like the lactate threshold and VO2max. Due to its nature, this model can help maintain these parameters at a high level, but it cannot improve them further. That is, because of the low/medium workload concentration, associated with this method.

Block Periodization model

The idea behind the block training periodization model is to only focus on a few target abilities during training cycles. That is, so that instead of training concurrently, distinct abilities are trained consecutively. Among endurance sports, block training is often linked to high intensity training. But, in fact, low intensity training and strength training can be done in “blocks,” as well.

Especially athletes with a long training background need greater stimuli to gain further improvements in performance. Blocks of heavy training are thought to provide this type of stimuli much better than a single heavy-duty session. During block training, the athlete’s body is momentarily “overreached”. After sufficient recovery the athlete will be ready to train even harder and will be fitter than before (Firstbeat Technologies) .

When to use it

Strictly with high level athletes, only for a duration of 2-5 weeks and only with the necessary rest periods between weeks. Or for a period with continuous monitoring of the athlete’s stress and recovery balance. 


The ability to achieve multi-peak performances throughout the course of a season or macrocycle is typically greater, using block periodisation. Block periodisation can help simplify the short-term training objectives. And it provides a “concentrated stress” factor that brings focus to different areas and  makes it more suitable for development in a specific fitness component, as needed.


Most prominently, block periodisation may overtrain cyclists. Particularly vulnerable, are those with lower fitness levels and shorter training history. Block periodisation isn’t always a practical model for all athletes. Bad weather and other factors can make it very difficult for those with rigid schedules or lack of availability for training time, to perform such a concentrated string of workouts (

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A plan is worth nothing; planning means everything

The knowledge to plan and design the optimal periodisation for every athlete, in order to achieve their best performance, at just the right time is a must-have tool, for every coach. Smart periodization can help easily bring balance between training stress and recovery; and prevent any overtraining or undertraining syndromes. A periodization model can help coaches understand when and how they have to manage the various aspects of training, like intensity, volume and workouts, depending on what model they selected and when the race is going to take place.

Benjamin Franklin said it best!

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

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Periodization model: A flight plan for coaches was last modified: July 27th, 2022 by Aris Myrkos