CSCS Study Guide Chapter 21: Periodization

Chapter 21 of the Essentials of Strength training and conditioning covers periodization, the organization of training stress. This in an important concept helpful for answering many personal training questions for the CSCS exam.

Chapter 21 of the Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning is about periodization.

Periodization is the fundamental concept of strength training. It can be simply stated as the systematic organization of training stress to achieve a desired goal at a set time. This chapter very briefly covers this expansive subject.


  • The ability of a program to produce results that will maximize performance depends on employing stresses to make fitness gains while reducing the chances of plateauing and overtraining. As athletes grow and become more experienced, this becomes more difficult.
  • Periodization - the theoretical construct that allows training to be structure and manipulated to produce specific results and sport outcomes. This is done by altering variation in volume, intensity, frequency, density, focus, type of training, and the type of exercise as indicated by the athlete's sport and needs.
  • The success of any program is measured by it's ability to produce specific changes and to translate those to gains in sport performance at the right time. The right time being the sport championship match or event.

Central Concepts Related to Periodization

  • Recovery - returning to a normal state of health or strength.
  • Peak performance can only be maintained for 7-14 days.
  • General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) - a three staged response to stress that has been applied to strength training. Alarm, resistance and exhaustion.
    • The alarm phase - an introduction of a new stress.
    • The resistance phase - when there is an adaptation to the stress and a state of normalcy is returned.
    • Exhaustion - occurs when the stress is not removed and the body cannot adapt.
  • Stress outside of training, monotony, too much variation and too much loading can contribute to exhaustion.
  • Stimulus-Fatigue-Recovery-Adaptation Theory - an extension of GAS that suggests training produces a general response that's influenced by the magnitude of the stress. The more stress, the longer it takes to recover and adapt. If a new stress isn't introduced, fitness decays. If an appropriate stress is introduced, further fitness gains are produced.
  • Fitness-Fatigue Paradigm - fatigue dissipates faster than fitness after a training session. When training loads are high, fitness gains increase but, so does fatigue. The sum of these two total out to equal how prepared an athlete is.
  • Supercompensation - when the adaptive response of the body produces an adjustment to stress that is higher than the previous performance capacity. Gaining fitness.
  • Complete recovery between sessions is not always necessary.

Periodization Hierarchy

  • The greater time period a training plan covers, the less specific it is.
  • Annual Training Plans - a yearly training plan that contains a single or multiple competitive seasons. It is divided into periods that may include preparatory, competitive and transitional periods.
  • Macrocycle - several months to a year of training. Divided into time periods of preparation, competition and transition.
  • Mesocycles - 2-6 weeks of training. Sometimes called a block or medium length training cycle. A series of weeks linked together, commonly 4.
  • Microcycle - several days to 2 weeks. A grouping of workouts or training days linked together. Typically one week.
  • Training day - a day of training that may have more than one session in it. Sessions are typically spaced by at least 30 minutes of rest.
  • Training session - a single bout of training. Can range up to several hours.

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Periodization Periods

  • Generally training moves from general to more specific, simple to complex and from high volume, low intensity to low volume, higher intensity to optimize performance.
  • Preparatory Period - often called the offseason, a period of time devoted to develop a base level of training that will allow an athlete to tolerate more stressful training later. Often hypertrophy/strength endurance or basic strength phases.
  • General Preparatory Phase - a period targeting a general physical base for performance. High volume, low intensity, and greater variation to develop general motor abilities and skills.
  • Specific Preparatory Phase - a period following GPP, targeting more sport-specific training activities that will prepare the athlete for competition.
  • Hypertrophy Phase - a phase of training consisting of low to moderate training intensities and high volumes focused on increasing lean body mass, developing endurance or a combination of both. Daily variations in training intensity and workload promote recovery. 50-75% of 1RM, 3-6 sets of 8-20 reps.
  • Strength Endurance Phase - another term for a hypertrophy phase.
  • Basic Strength Phase - a phase of training typically during specific preparation that is designed to increase the strength of the muscles that are vital in the sport. Weights are heavier and are performed at lower volumes than in the hypertrophy/strength endurance phase. Daily variations in training intensity and workload promote recovery. 80-95% of 1RM, 2-6 sets of 2-6 reps.
  • First Transition Period - a link between preparation and competition phases designed to focus on the development of strength and translating strength to power. The last week of this period is at a reduced volume, intensity or a combination of both to achieve recovery. 87-95% of 1RM for non-power/core exercises, 30-85% of 1RM for power exercises, 2-5 sets for core exercises, 2-5 reps.
  • Strength/Power Phase - a phase of training within the first transition where intensities increase to near competition levels. Different loads are used to facilitate the development of power in different exercises. The optimal load differs by exercise. 30-95% of 1RM, depending on exercise, 2-5 sets of 2-5 reps.
  • Competitive Period - a phase of training that is the central target of preparation. Strength and power are increased while volume is decreased. This must be precise as lowering volume too much will decay fitness levels and accumulating too much fatigue will mask fitness.
  • Peaking - a process aimed to get athletes in optimal shape for competition for 7-14 days. 50-≥93% of 1RM, 1-3 sets, 1-3 reps.
  • Maintenance - a program that may be employed when an athlete's competitive period lasts several months. The aim is to maintain strength and power while managing fatigue. 85-93% of 1RM, ~2-5 sets of 3-6 reps for core exercises.
  • Second Transition Period - the time period between the end of the competitive season and the beginning of the next offseason. Typically lasts one to four weeks. Used to reduce the potential for overtraining.
  • Active Rest - easier training compared to normal that may or may not involve resistance training.
  • Restoration - another term for the period of active rest.
  • If active rest lasts more than four weeks, athletes may require a longer preparation phase to regain fitness.

Applying Sports Seasons to the Periodization Periods

  • The periods of the sport season are easy to relate to periods of training.
  • The offseason should be considered a preparatory period, cycle rotations within this period depend on the goal of the sport.
  • The preseason is related to the first transition and is used to lead into the first major competition. This time period should not be used to perform foundational, or general work for the sport.
  • The competition or In-season period is the frame of time where all of the competitions take place. This includes tournaments. Most sports have a long season that present a unique program challenge. This can be approached by either attempting to peak athletes before a major competition or by employing a maintenance program.
  • The postseason is the time after the final competition and relates to the second transitional period.

Undulating Versus Linear Periodization Models

  • Nonlinear Periodization - although no periodized training program is linear, this is a popular term used to describe training that involves large daily fluctuations in load and volume used in core exercises. Ex 4 sets of 6 one day and 3 sets of 10 on another day, within the same microcycle.
  • Daily Undulating Periodization - another term for nonlinear periodization.
  • Traditional Periodization - a periodized training program where the same number of sets are reps are performed across training days with a variation in load and subsequently volume load.
  • Linear Periodization - another term for traditional periodization.
  • Evidence suggests that these models may not produce any different results. The consensus on this is mixed. Advocates for undulating periodization suggest altering loads within the week reduces neural fatigue. Advocates for traditional periodization suggest that overall higher volume loads in the undulating model result in greater peripheral fatigue and increase risk for injury because of the high levels of metabolic fatigue this type of programming can stimulate.
  • The undulating model also has the potential to decrease preparedness. Some authors suggest it increases the potential for overtraining in higher level athletes.

Example of an Annual Training Plan

  • This section of the chapter walks through the design of a program for a women's college basketball center.
  • The program spans from a preseason example in chapter 17 of the text into the following years offseason. The resistance training portion of the plan is emphasized in this example and although other components are described, they are not intended to be illustrated.


  • This period is undertaken after one or two unloading weeks following the previous season. It lasts 3.5 months, from August to the first competition.
  • The goals are to increase intensity of sport-specific training and to work on basketball drills and skills.
  • Resistance training is planned for 3 days a week focusing on strength and power. Plyometrics and Anaerobic conditioning hold high priority.


  • After an unloading week following the preseason, this period lasts about 20 weeks including an in-season tournament.
  • The goals are to maintain or possibly increase strength, power, flexibility, and anaerobic conditioning.
  • Training volume is lowered to possibly 30 minutes, 1-3 times per week, due to time spent working on skills, strategy practice, traveling and games. Power and sports-specific exercises make up a majority of the program, balanced by assistance exercises. Plyometrics are conducted once or twice a week.
  • 15-20 minutes of sprinting during practice can be conducted once or twice per week on non resistance training days. Speed, agility, and flexibility training can all be incorporated within practice, game warm-up and cool downs. Two or three days of rest should be programmed depending on schedule.
  • If there is little time for training, the athlete should perform power and other core exercises and omit assistance lifts.

Postseason (Active Rest Period)

  • Following competition is a period lasting one month where active rest is conducted. The athlete is allowed to recoup physically and mentally. All activities are performed at low intensities with low volumes. Participation in other sports are encouraged.


  • After the postseason, the athlete should be ready to begin off-season training. In this example that will last 14 weeks.
  • The goal of this period is to establish a base level for harder training. Testing is performed in the first week to set loads for the first phase of training. In later weeks, loads can be estimated or directly tested.
  • Resistance training holds high priority, split training of four or more days per week may be undertaken. In this example the athlete will be progressed from three full body training days to a four day split routine.
  • Aerobic endurance training is undertaken on non training days to increase cardiovascular performance and to maintain or improve body composition. Flexibility training may take place in warm-up and cool-down portions of each session.

A Review of the Annual Plan Example

  • Working together with the sport coach is critical for this plan to work optimally. The preceding sections were only an example and many models may be used to construct training plans for an athlete in the same or a different sport.

Additional Resource:

For a true, deep understanding of this concept, Periodization helped me tremendously.

While there is a 6th edition in print, I used the 5th. It is a lengthy read but, will help you tremendously in understanding the entire CSCS exam content.

Get the full Study Guide

Get the most up to date Study Guide — Subscribe today for 1 year of access and ensure your success on the CSCS Exam.

Steven Mack is founder and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at the private training studio, Simple Solutions Fitness. He consults for Stronger by Science, a leader in fitness research dissemination, and is a former Mizzou football walk-on. Steven dedicates his professional life to helping people through his writing, speaking, and role as a personal trainer.