PERIODIZATION: What is it and Why Does it Matter?

periodization article

This is Part 1 of a 6-part Series on Periodization by Palmer Shape.


The definition of periodization, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is: “division (as of history) into periods.”

Sounds pretty simple, right? But, we all know nothing is usually as simple as it seems. So, we’re going to break it down and go more in-depth to understand the whole picture (and why it’s an important concept to master as it relates to racing and training.)

Division is defined as: “one of the parts or groupings into which a whole is divided or is divisible,” and periods are defined by the same as being “the completion of a cycle, a series of events, or a single action.”

So, periodization is dividing the totality of a period in time to full completion; (say for instance your entire OCR season/year.)  It has a start and a finish; a completion, so to speak.  But now, take your OCR season and divide it into smaller segments like Off-, Pre-, In-, and Post-Season programs.  Now, do it again.  The off-season will get broken down into cardio, strength, and flexibility/mobility.  Do this for all seasons.  Each one should have a start and a finish and break the totality of your season down into smaller segments.




Now that you have an idea on what periodization means, you’re probably wondering how it’s utilized and how it’s beneficial.  Periodization is the cheat code you never knew that your body needed in order to progress as an athlete and to improve performance.

As mentioned above, when you divide your total period (full season) into smaller segments (Off/Pre/In/Post-Seasons) and then from those segments into micro-segments (cardio, flex, strength workouts), you start to unlock the key to your own absolute potential.  Plus, take into consideration the recovery, fatigue, reloading and de-loading of muscle groups and your personal evolution as an athlete will start to realize measurable outcomes. Your body will begin adjusting to the regularly scheduled work you’re putting into it, in order to perform better.



With no periodization program for your entire race season, it’s kind of like threading a needle with your eyes closed.  You might get lucky and make it through, or you might struggle the entire way.  It sounds crazy, but so is trying to make physiological improvements without a roadmap for success.  Good news for you– you don’t have to figure it out on your own!

A proper periodization program can offer a different prescription for each sport/discipline.  If you can familiarize your mind and body to accept this concept and also seek proper guidance and training from a knowledgable and certified professional, the real work is done before you ever pick up those weights, run those miles, or stretch those muscles.  You must put in the work to see measurable results– you can do this by staying consistent and surviving (heck even thriving) your training programs!

Your body is hands down the most sophisticated piece of technology out there.  Trust the process!

Stay tuned for Part 2: I’ll be discussing the difference between strategic programming and workout of the days (WOD’s).



About the Author: Palmer Shape holds a B.S. in Physiology and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist designation (CSCS). Palmer Shape is equipped with over a decade of competition experience, having coached and trained hundreds of high school, college, and professional athletes, including obstacle course racers. A hurdler by nature, he is no stranger to overcoming obstacles quickly and efficiently.  His passion, combined with scientific knowledge and data, have helped hundreds of athletes take their training to the next level, often reaching podium spots or winning coveted titles.

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