Exercise Periodisation


Written By: Imad Zeidan

It is important that a trainer knows what and when their client needs to perform optimally. Getting the body functioning properly is one task, but achieving maximal performance involves gently nudging the client’s boundaries in the correct direction. Some athletes will peak only a couple of times a year [or even once every four years!], as going flat-out every training session will not only put the

brakes on your nervous system developing further but also risk injury and the effects of over-training.

For optimal performance specific exercises need to be undertaken regularly and sub maximally. This does not mean it will be easy, though: Undertaking three workouts at 70% effort is far more effective, achievable, and enjoyable than enduring two at 95%.

The natural world comprises of cycles; tides, seasons, day to night, etc. Similarly to the world, our bodies naturally adhere to cycles. Whether goals are focused on fitness improvements in endurance, hypertrophy, or strength, all types should be trained and continually progressed through in a cycle. The mesocycles [endurance, hypertrophy, and strength] come together to make a macrocycle, which is the combination of all work done from the beginning to the end of training.

Endurance training develops the lactate threshold of muscles and challenges your body to become more efficient at working with a relatively limited supply of air. Useful for intense activity of 90 seconds or more than 12 repetitions of a weight-bearing exercise. The result is a development in endurance muscle [slim, toned, and metabolically hungry].

Hypertrophy training develops the creatine threshold of muscles and challenges your body to store more energy [as sugar] so that it can work at mid-range intensity for longer durations. Useful for intense activity of 30 seconds or between 6 and 12 repetitions of weight-bearing exercise. The result is the development of larger muscles. For exercisers wanting to avoid muscles developing too large it is possible to still train within this mesocycle but limit the amount of sets performed and food consumed – [this is a common request from women]. Bodybuilders will enjoy training in this mesocycle and can increase resultant muscle size by performing numerous sets [volume = intensity/time],

resting for longer and eating a lot.

Strength training develops the neurological efficiency of muscles, thus ensuring muscle contracts more tightly when initiated. Used for very intense activity of less than 10 seconds or less than 6 repetitions of weight-bearing exercise. Strength training leads to continuous semi-toning of the muscles: they will be always ready to contract with a lot of force and appear tense even when fully relaxed.

There can never be a true isolation of the energy source/muscle type working, but dominance will be determined by the exercise stimulus. By progressing through each mesocycle the body will gradually progress in all areas and be fitter at each one than if it had focused solely upon that mesocycle for the entire duration.

A smart marathon runner would not run a full marathon 3 times a week at their comfortable pace and expect to perform optimally. Instead they would run shorter runs at different speeds [tempo, interval, long continual] and gradually build up the duration and intensity leading up to the event.

As touched on at the beginning; it is important not to peak very often, thus always leave another rep or two in reserve at the end of a set. This not only encourages good form, as compromises are unlikely to be made by ‘squeezing out’ a final rep, but keeps the nervous system within it’s comfort zone – stretching boundaries subtly and thus not inducing a shock to the system and inhibiting any further development.

This article concludes with an example of strength development that can be adjusted to suit any exercise. Imagine that the athlete can initially perform 10 repetitions [maximally] with 105kg. Note that one repetition is always held in reserve.

1st cycle

  • 75kg – 15 reps
  • 80 – 14
  • 85 – 13
  • 90 – 12
  • 95 – 11
  • 100 – 10
  • 105 – 9
  • 110 – 8
  • 115 – 7
  • 120 – 6
  • 125 – 5
  • 130 – 4
  • 135 – 3
  • 140 – 2
  • 145kg – 1 rep

2nd cycle: Progress by a suitable amount for the exercise.

80kg – 15 reps

Continue though, until

150kg – 1 rep

3rd cycle: Continue the progression.

85kg – 15 reps

Continue through, until

155kg – 1 rep

The 10-repetition maximum is now 110kg.


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