What is Periodization? - The Muscle PhD

What is Periodization?

Have you ever walked into a gym, looked around at all the exercises you could be doing, and asked yourself “What am I going to do now?” Granted, if you’ve reached a high enough level, that wouldn’t be called aimlessly looking for exercises to do, that’d be called the “instinctive principle of training.”

However, before you reach that stage, how will you grow your body in a way that won’t stagnate or hit any roadblocks? By doing the complete opposite of that. It’s called “periodization.” We’ve probably all heard of it, but never actually gotten around to finding out what it is!

Periodization exists because of one law, the biological law of accommodation. This law basically means that any biological entity, including humans, would stop adapting (or in our case, growing) when exposed to a constant stimulus. So, if you’re constantly going into the weight room and doing the same workout every single day, you’ll eventually stop growing from it.

How can we combat this constant exercise routine? By doing the complete opposite of it.


You need to program your training in a way where you keep on switching up your workouts to keep your body on its proverbial toes. Try to set your body up with a certain training principle for a period of time and then switch it up with another principle or exercise. You’ll find that you’re making strides whereas you might have been stuck in a rut before!


Have you ever woken up from a really good sleep, and tried getting out of bed only to find that your body feels like it’s made of fragile glass?  That’s because variation isn’t the only facet of periodization, it’s also anticipating your rest. If you only focus on pushing your body to its limit, then your body will eventually hit its literal limit and you’ll have to give it time to rest.

But what if you’re in the middle of a workout cycle?  Too bad, your body feels sick and it needs its rest! To combat this phenomenon, you’ll have to anticipate when your body needs its rest, and work your periodization within it, not around it. So, instead of losing progress, you’ll consider your rest period as a continuation of your goal.

Micro, Meso, Macro

When we talk about periodization, we’ll inevitably go back to its traditional stages. You can vary your training in an exercise, a set, a day, a week, month, or even year. Essentially, the sky’s the limit! However, there are terms we use in order to facilitate the segmentation of your periodization stages. What we normally would call a week, we’d call a microcycle when coming up with your periodization plan. And if you’re planning a 1-3 month training plan, we’d call that a mesocycle. A macrocycle however, can range anywhere from 3 months to a year. If you’re trying to simplify it, think of your macro cycle as your end goal.

Say your macrocycle would be to bulk, so you’re trying to put on a lot of mass. Then you strategize your training weeks, and change things up for the maximum effect. Break your bulking journey into components, think of your first meso cycle (1-3 months) as only gaining mass. Don’t forget to include rest! We call rest periods the taper or recovery cycle. Macro cycles depend on your end goal, if it’s to bulk, we’d call that a bulk macro cycle. If you’re trying to shred, you would call it a shredding macro cycle, and so on.

We hope this article helped you get the hang of periodization and its wondrous effects on your training! If you’re looking for more clues on how to apply periodization in your own training, check out our article series on how to create your own training program: Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

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