Acrobatic Arts

24 December, 2015

Periodisation: An Overview

Before I start this article, I just want to point out that this is a rather complex subject, and I will possibly be modifying this article in the future if my understanding of it changes further. So far, each year I coach I have learned more on this subject. I hope you learn a lot from this and put it to good use in your own coaching or training. Try to not skip parts, as all the information contained here is important, though take your time to get through it as it is around 9 pages long excluding references and images.

What is periodisation and why should I use it?

Periodisation is the concept of planning a training programme by breaking down the training into various training phases and cycling them in an order that will allow the athlete to be prepared for their best performance at the right time. Such as performing at their best at a National Championship. Periodisation needs to take the goals of the athlete into consideration and use the training principles as a guide to structure the programme.

You should be using periodisation if you want better results from your athletes. Good periodisation can keep training from becoming stale, and can help prevent or overcome training plateaus. It can also help with injury prevention by making sure that the athlete has progressively adapted to handling harder training.

Table of Contents


Sports Training Principles

There are a lot of training recommendations and principles out there, even just while writing this I came across well over 10 various training principles or guidelines, many which are similar variations of each other.

Below are the principles and guidelines I believe to be key to keep in mind while creating your training plan.

Early Sport Specialisation

An athlete who specialises in their chosen sport early will reach relative peak performance sooner, however higher performance while the athlete is a child results in lower performance when they become an adult.

Athletes who have age appropriate training have a longer period of time at their peak of performance, as well as being more likely to be able to set world records, compared to athletes who specialise early and have a shorter period of time at their peak performance [1].

What this means is that in gymnastics children are often selected for competitive training by the age of 6 or 7. By the time they are 9 or 10 they are training around 8 to 9 hours a week, and are often expected to prioritize gymnastics training over other sports. Quite often they need to stop participating in other sports entirely. This is early specialisation, and should preferably not be occurring before the age of 12. Ideally before the age of 12 the athlete will diversify their training and sample a large range of other sports which will help to develop other areas that artistic gymnastic might not do [2].

Gymnastics develops a large range of abilities so in my opinion sports that might benefit the athlete the most would possibly be things such as swimming or ball sports for manipulation skills. I am not saying that before the age of 12 they shouldn’t be training 9 hours a week, however, they should hopefully not need to stop other sports because of gymnastics.

Super-compensation – Overload & Progression

An athlete can make progress by overloading their body with more than what it can handle. This is done by using knowledge of the body’s processes called super-compensation.

We can break down Super-compensation into 4 steps.
Step 1 – Training load. The athlete trains at a challenging load or intensity, and their body reacts by going into a recovery mode making them tired and decreasing their performance.

Step 2 – Recovery. The athlete trains in the next session at an easier training load, or they have active rest. Thanks to this recovery time, the athlete’s energy and performance levels will return to where they were before their first session.

Step 3 – Super-compensation. Once the athlete has returned to their original energy and performance levels, they then adapt and their energy and performance levels continue to rise further so that they are capable of handling even more then what they originally could. This is a physiological, psychological, as well as technical response of the athlete. This is when the athlete can perform in an even harder training session.

Step 4 – Decline. This is when the athlete loses the super-compensation effect. This decline in energy and performance levels will happen with or without a harder training session during the super-compensation phase. [3]

Using this process, an athlete can make progress in a wavelike manner by manipulating the training load and intensity. The load must be increased progressively and not by large jumps. If the load increases too fast the body will move into the decline phase and lead to injury or overtraining syndrome, which no athlete or coach wants. Overtraining is quite a serious disorder that takes from several weeks to several months to recover from while the athlete suffers with anything from persistent fatigue and illness, to other things such as loss of motivation and appetite [4].

Figure 1.
Time, expressed in hours, for different types of training to reach 
the maximal super-compensation [5].

Above is an image that shows us the super-compensation wave of different types of training. If training sessions are timed correctly you can take advantage of this effect. The horizontal line is the baseline of the athlete, the part of the line that rises above the fitness baseline is the super-compensation wave, if an athlete does a second training sessions while the wave is still increasing, then the fitness baseline moves higher. However, if the next training sessions is too soon, or too hard, then the athlete will progressively get worse as they haven’t completed their recover time yet.

The ideal training windows are listed at the bottom of the image. Ideal length between training sessions depends on what sort of training the gymnast is doing, but in my opinion they should typically do short power and sprint work at the start of the week so there is roughly a 30 hour rest period between the next session, and then perform more of their strength training at the end of the week to provide roughly a 48 hour training gap.

It is important to realise that there are various ways to manipulate the super-compensation process. A few types are shown in the image below, with the 4th example being most common type used in sports training. For example, several training sessions through the week without adequate recovery time and decreasing performance, followed by a long rest over the weekend perhaps, and a delayed but large super-compensation effect.

Figure 2.
Timing of applied stimulus and the correlating adaptive response. [6]

Principle of Diminishing Returns

Accommodation is a general law of biology, which in a simplified manner says that a person’s response to a constant stimulus will decrease over time. In sports training this is the principle of diminishing returns. A new athlete might improve greatly from a rather easy training load, while experienced athlete may have barely any improvements even with hard training loads. Because of this way that our bodies work, using the same training loads over a long time period is very inefficient. Coaches should vary their training loads and intensities to overcome this issue [7].


The way an athlete adapts to training is very specific. As an example, you may have 3 athletes from various sports all training sprints. Your 200m sprinter would have a lot of benefit from the sprint training, your tennis player a small benefit from the training, yet your golfer would potentially have no benefit from the sprint training. For training results to transfer to the athlete’s sport, the training should be as similar to the desired outcome as possible. The more similar the training to the sport, the better the transfer. For example; a basketball player should rather train vertical jumps and sprinting than they should train rope climbs. This specificity is also important when looking at energy systems. A 100m sprint uses different energy systems compared to a 42.2km marathon, therefore a marathon runner wont have much benefit training short sprints.

That being said, all athletes are different individuals, even if they are in a team, and what may work to improve one athlete will not necessarily help the other. All training programmes should suit the individual, taking advantage of their strengths. For example, if your basketball player has bad knees they may need to do swimming to reduce impact [8]. This part is often called the principle of individualisation, however I like to think it’s common sense.

Detraining & Maintenance

Detraining, also known as reversibility, is when a training load is not high enough, or not present at all, and the physiological aspects of an athlete’s fitness begins to decrease [9].

This is rather important for coaches managing injured athletes, or athletes on holiday. It is also very important in periodisation to make sure that certain types of training are done regularly enough as to not lose the benefits. It is important to note that the detraining effect does not apply to skills.

This is where knowledge of the residual training effects becomes very important. Between training and detraining is where the residual training effect sits. This is how long your training effect will last for before the benefits of your training session starts to decrease. Different systems last longer than others however [10].

Below, table 1  shows roughly how long an athlete can keep their fitness / sports shape before the detraining effect starts to occur. The table shows a rough range, though we do know that athletes who have been training their sport years longer have a greater residual effect than athletes who are new to their sport [11]. Table 2 is an example as to how you can time various training when coming up to a competition.

Table 1. Training residuals of different physical abilities [12].

Ability Duration of residual effect (days) Physiological background
Aerobic endurance 30±5 Increased amount of; aerobic enzymes activity, mitochondria number, muscle capillaries, hemoglobin capacity, glycogen storage, & higher rate of fat metabolism
Maximal strength 30±5 Improvement of neural mechanism & muscle hypertrophy occurs mainly due to the muscle fibers’ enlargement
Anaerobic glycolytic endurance 18±4 Increased amount of; anaerobic enzymes activity, higher lactate accumulation rate, buffering capacity, and glycogen storage
Strength endurance 15±5 Muscle hypertrophy occurs mainly in slow-twitch fibers, better local blood circulation, and lactic tolerance
Maximal speed 5±3 Improved neuromuscular interactions, motor control, and increased phosphocreatine storage


Table 2. Example of Residual Training Effects within Target Peak Date [13].

Aerobic Endurance —> Competition
Anaerobic Glycolytic Endurance —>
Maximal Speed —>


Energy Systems

I struggle to understand energy systems myself due to the amount of information out there and the various terms used, but I’ll do my best for this part. The first thing to know about energy systems is that there are three energy systems. There is the Alactic Energy System, the Lactate Energy System, and the Aerobic Energy System. To make things even more confusing, they often go by other names depending on what sort of fuel source is used.

Gymnastics use of the energy systems is split into the following; 80% is ATP-PCr & Anaerobic Glycolysis, 15% Aerobic Glycolysis & Oxidative, and 5% Oxidative [14]. An athlete will use all systems in their sport, and the system that is most dominant is simply because of the length of the activity. For example in a 1km run the athlete will start with the alactic system at the start, however finish the run using the aerobic system.

Table 3. Work-to-rest ratios for various exercise durations [15].

Approximate % of maximum power Primary energy system stressed Typical exercise duration Range of exercise-to-rest period ratios
90-100 Phosphagen 5-10 seconds 1:12 to 1:20
75-90 Glycolytic 15-30 seconds 1:3 to 1:5
30-75 Glycolytic and oxidative 1-3 minutes 1:2 to 1:4
20-35 Oxidative >3 minutes 1:1 to 1:3

The important part that the table above shows is the work to rest ratios in the last column. Keep this in mind while the gymnasts train or while working out conditioning programmes. If you want them to work at their best, they will need adequate rest in between sets or attempts.

Age Appropriate Training

For gymnastic coaches who work with children, we must aim to do the following;

  • Never bring harm to the athlete physically or mentally
  • To help the athlete develop the view that it is a life long sport for them to be active in.
  • To develop the foundations progressively as to prepare the athlete for the next stage.

Athletes aged 6-11

Their skeletal structure is still developing, it is important to develop good posture. Ensure they do not spend an excessive time doing bridges or develop hinging in the spine.

Their concentration is generally less than 5 minutes long.
Coach should gradually take the children from fun playing, to enjoying structured sports preparation.
It is important for the coach to set a good example and stay positive.

Athletes aged 11-15

Athletes will be going through puberty and gaining strength faster than what their tendons and ligaments are capable of handling.
When the athlete has their peak growth spurt (often around 13/14) they will often have vestibular and coordination issues.
During this time period the coach often has to be a bit more careful of the mental side of training.

Athletes aged 15-18

Muscles, bones, tendons, and ligament strength should all be completed during this time period.
Training can become a lot more intense and the athlete should be able to start to handle a lot more.

There are certain time periods where certain motor abilities are sensitive to development. Coaches should aim to take maximum advantage of this to help their athletes.

Table 4. Periods of sensitivity towards specific development of abilities in young male athletes.

7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Aerobic Endurance
Anaerobic Endurance


Table 5. Periods of sensitivity towards specific development of abilities in young female athletes.

7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Aerobic Endurance
Anaerobic Endurance

Note.  All of the information above about age appropriate training is adapted from Zahradník and Korvas (2012) [16].

Periodisation Models

Just before we get into the various models of periodisation, we will just quickly cover the terminology for the cycles.

Table 6. Periodisation cycle lengths.

Cycle Rough Duration
Training Day 1 day, though not always only one training session
Microcycle 1 week
Mesocycle 4 weeks
Macrocycle 52 weeks, annual plan
Quadrennial Cycle 4 years

There are various ways to structure the loads and intensities for these cycles, the main cycle typically looked at for load structure is the mesocycles. I typically stick to using step loading, though there are a lot of other methods available, flat, reverse, etc.
You could read more about load structure by following this link. Click >HERE<.

Below are the three main periodisation models that I recommend, and they are also the most commonly researched. We will start with the easy and finish with the hard. After those three I will mention a couple of other models you may hear about, although I feel for a gymnastics coach they are unneeded.

Traditional Periodisation (by Dr. Leonid Matveyev)

Traditional Periodisation is a good model to start with if your athlete is a beginner in strength training or general sports preparation. It is relatively straight forward, as the main adjustments are simply to the training load and intensities. It doesn’t use the principle of super-compensation much, rather focusing more on preparation stages [17].

These phases are the General Preparation (endurance / hypertrophy), Special Preparation (strength), Competition (power & peak), and Transition phases.

In this model, you start with endurance (high volume, low intensity), and gradually work towards your training peak where you are working on max strength or power (low volume, high intensity).

I would suggest you only use this model for a year or two, before using a more advanced model, as the traditional model doesn’t really function well for multiple peak events, which is often required by athletes. It also seems to not accommodate for the principle of diminishing returns too well, though it still handles it better than no periodisation at all [18].

Figure 3.
Example of Traditional Periodisation Model. Click >HERE< to download a template.

Undulating Periodisation (by Charles Poliquin)

There are two designs for undulating periodisation, weekly and daily undulation, with daily undulation being the most common [19].

With the undulating method, an athlete trains in various ways during each micro-cycle. For example if the athlete trains three days a week, they might train hypertrophy twice, and power once in the micro-cycle. Although various systems are trained each microcycle, each system should also progress with a loading pattern.

Studies have shown that undulating periodisation is better than the traditional model for strength gains and improvement of the central nervous system mechanisms, which means the athlete gains more strength with less muscle mass, a big positive for sports such as gymnastics where more weight can effect a large amount of skills. Daily undulating periodisation has also shown to be more efficient in avoiding plateaus in more elite athletes struggling with the principle of diminishing returns [20].

This makes it a good choice of periodisation for gymnastic coaches or athletes to use. It is a good system for intermediate to relatively advanced athletes

Figure 4.
Example of Daily Undulating Periodisation Model. Click >HERE< to download a template.

Block Periodisation (by Verkoshansky)

Block periodisation is designed more towards elite athletes and is designed to accommodate for residual training effects. This is a relatively complicated method to be used for advanced athletes. Studies have shown this model of periodisation to have been the only reasonable way to accomplished training goals in some difficult situations [21].

The design uses training blocks the length of a mesocycle, which are highly specialised workloads.
There are 3 main blocks.

Accumulation – In which you develop general aerobic endurance, muscle strength, and general patterns of movement technique.

Transmutation – In which you are focused on developing specific abilities like combined aerobic-anaerobic or anaerobic endurance, specialized muscular strength, and event-specific technique.

Realization – This is a pre-competitive training phase that focuses mainly on competitive model exercises, attaining maximal speed, and recovery prior to the next competition. [22]

Reverse Periodisation (Originally used by Charlie Francis, popularised by Ian King)

Reverse periodisation is aimed more towards long distance runners or other endurance athletes, and is based on maintaining intensity closer to what is required in competition, then slowly raising the volume [23].

As gymnastics is not an endurance sport, and it is what this site focuses on, I will leave reverse periodisation here. It is very similar and based on the traditional periodisation model.

Conjugate Periodisation (Westside Barbell by Louie Simmons)

The Westside conjugate system was created by Louie Simmons by combining various training systems together, specifically an old Soviet system, and a Bulgarian system where they train near maximal effort in every workout [24].

This system was designed using various weightlifting techniques and exercises, as such I believe it is a bit tricky to use it as a more generalised system to use for other sports. It is often confused with the block periodisation model due to name and terminology confusion. When reading up on a periodisation type, make sure you know exactly what they are referring to.

In conclusion…

I hope this article has been of some use to you. It has taken me roughly 2 months to collect all this information together, and it is my hope that you can use this to come back and revise whenever needed. I tried to cover all the essential information, although I know there is plenty I still haven’t covered, or gone into enough detail with. If you need to know more you can look up some of the references for extra reading, just be warned, there is a ton of information out there, and it can be tough to sort through it all.


[1] & [16] Zahradník, D., & Korvas, P. (2012). The introduction into sports training. Retrieved November 4, 2015, from

[2] Balyi, I., Way, R., & Higgs, C. (2013). Long-term athlete development. Retrieved November 6, 2015, from

[3] Gambetta, V. (2007). Athletic development: The art & science of functional sports conditioning. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from

[4] Mackinnon, L. (2000). Overtraining effects on immunity and performance in athletes. Immunology and Cell Biology, 78, 502-509. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1711.2000.t01-7-.x

[5] Olbrecht, J. (2000). The science of winning : Planning, periodizing and optimizing swim training. Luton, England: Swimshop.

[6] Zatsiorsky, V., & Kraemer, W. (2006). Science and practice of strength training. (2nd ed.). Champaigne, IL: Human Kinetics.

[7] , [8] , & [22] Zatsiorsky, V. (1995). Science and practice of strength training (pp. 3–16). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

[9] Godfrey, R. (2006, April 7). Detraining – why a change really is better than a rest. Retrieved November 12, 2015, from

[10] Mäestu, J. (2013, April 1). Residual training effect. Retrieved November 15, 2015, from

[11] Mantak, M. (2012, November 30). How much down time is too much: The concept of detraining. Retrieved November 15, 2015, from

[12] & [13] Exercise Prescription. (2013, December 3). Residual training effect. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from

[14] Fox, A., Keteyian, S., & Foss, M. (1998). Fox’s physiological basis for exercise and sport (6th ed.). Boston, Mass.: McGraw-Hill.

[15] Leyland, T. (2007). Rest and recovery in interval-based exercise. CrossFit Journal, (56). Retrieved December 21, 2015, from

[17] & [20] Winer, L. (2014, November 10). A simple guide to periodization for strength training. Retrieved November 20, 2015, from

[18] Hassen, A. (2009, October 22). Periodization: Linear vs. Nonlinear. Retrieved November 22, 2015, from

[19] Fleck, S. J. (2011). Non-Linear Periodization for General Fitness & Athletes. Journal of Human Kinetics, 29A, 41–45.

[21] Kirckof, C. (2012, December 14). Methods of training: Sequencing of programming and organizing training. Retrieved November 25, 2015, from, Chris.pdf

[23] Grantham, N. (n.d.). Base endurance: Move forwards with reverse periodisation. Peak Performance, (272), 5-7. Retrieved November 21, 2015, from

[24] Simmons, L. (2011). The westside conjugate system. CrossFit Journal. Retrieved December 5, 2015, from

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