Periodization training and trail running – what is it, what does it mean and how can you use it for your benefit? We take a look at this training model and how it can help you become stronger, fitter and faster.

What is Periodization Training?

Periodization training is an organized approach to athletic training that involves manipulating various training variables over defined periods, or cycles, to optimize performance and prevent overtraining. This structured training method is commonly used in sports and fitness to help athletes peak at the right time, maintain progress, and reduce the risk of injuries.

The key components of periodization training include:


The overall training plan, often spanning a year or an entire competitive season. In the case of trail running it could be an entire marathon or ultra marathon training block.


Intermediate phases within the macrocycle, typically lasting several weeks to a few months. Each mesocycle focuses on specific goals, such as building strength, improving endurance, or enhancing speed. You might start off with hill training to improve strength and then focus on longer runs in a later block.


Short-term training periods, usually one to four weeks, make up the mesocycles. Microcycles are more detailed and may involve daily or weekly variations in training intensity and volume.

Phases of Periodization

Periodization is often divided into specific phases, such as:

  • Base or Foundation Phase: Focuses on building general fitness and addressing weaknesses.
  • Strength Phase: Emphasizes building strength and correcting imbalances.
  • Power Phase: Incorporates explosive and high-intensity exercises.
  • Taper or Peak Phase: Prepares the athlete for competition by reducing training volume while maintaining intensity.

Training Variables

Periodization manipulates various training variables, including intensity, volume, frequency, and rest periods. These variables are adjusted throughout the training cycles to prevent plateaus and optimize adaptation.

Periodization Models

There are different models of periodization, with the two main types being:

Linear Periodization: Progresses from high volume and low intensity to low volume and high intensity over the training cycles.

Nonlinear Periodization (Undulating Periodization): Involves more frequent changes in intensity and volume, with fluctuations occurring within each training week or even each session.

Adaptation and Recovery

Periodization recognizes the importance of allowing the body to adapt and recover. This often involves incorporating rest or active recovery weeks into the training plan.

Sport-Specific Considerations

Periodization can be tailored to the specific needs of a sport or individual athlete. For example, a strength athlete’s periodization plan will differ from that of an endurance athlete.

This method of training is widely used in strength training, endurance sports, and team sports. Its structured approach helps athletes achieve peak performance when it matters most, while also preventing burnout and reducing the risk of overtraining injuries.

Periodization Training and Trail Running

In trail running, periodization training serves as a vital framework for optimizing performance and enhancing overall fitness while navigating the unique challenges presented by varied terrains and elevations.

Trail runners often incorporate periodization to strategically address the demands of uphill climbs, downhill descents, and unpredictable trail conditions.

The macrocycle may encompass an entire competitive season, with mesocycles dedicated to distinct objectives such as building endurance, improving technical skills, and increasing strength. Microcycles, woven into these larger phases, allow for specific adjustments in training intensity, volume, and terrain specificity on a more immediate scale. By tailoring periodization to the demands of trail running, athletes can effectively progress from foundational fitness to peak performance, mitigating the risk of overtraining and optimizing adaptability to the dynamic nature of trail environments.

When is Periodization Training Effective?

The best time to engage in periodization training depends on your specific goals, the type of sport or activity you are involved in, and your competition or event schedule. Some athletes, particularly those in endurance sports like trail running, may incorporate a form of year-round periodization where training intensity and focus shift throughout the year but never cease entirely. This approach helps maintain a baseline level of fitness and minimizes the risk of detraining.

All About Timing

Consider the timing of your key races or events. The peak phase of your periodization cycle should align with these important dates to ensure you’re at your best when it matters most.

Your individual preferences, recovery capacity, and response to training should also guide the timing of periodization cycles. Some athletes may prefer a more continuous training approach, while others benefit from distinct phases of varying intensity.

It’s crucial to note that periodization is a flexible concept, and its application can vary based on individual needs and the nature of the sport or activity. Consultation with a coach or sports trainer can help tailor a periodization plan to your specific circumstances and goals. Regular assessments and adjustments to the plan may be necessary to accommodate changes in fitness, lifestyle, or competition schedules.

Tudor O. Bompa, PhD, transformed Western training approaches with his pioneering theory of periodization, first introduced in his homeland of Romania in 1963. With a remarkable track record, he has directly coached 11 Olympic medalists, including 4 gold medalists. Furthermore, Bompa has been a sought-after consultant, offering his expertise to coaches and athletes on a global scale.