Periodization: Within A Season

periodization within a season part 5

This is Part 5 in the six-part series on Periodization.

Periodization occurs in various stages of training; however, it also occurs within an actual season (who knows at this point when that will be, but I digress…)

As athletes, when you inquire on how to plan out your training within a season, the last answer you want to hear when you’re planning out and trying to organize your training cycles within a season is: it depends. This is especially true when you’re also incorporating your periodization within a season.

If you recall, we previously wrote about rating your races from most to least important. This is exactly why it depends when periodization within a season will occur.

Professional Coach Tip: Having things mapped out is incredibly helpful to making sure the body is capable of firing on all cylinders when the A-rated races are on deck.


Once you’ve finalized and categorized your races for the race year, it is important to align your training (and any rest or downtime) appropriately to ensure a successful season.  This could mean getting on the podium, not burning out, simply running as many clean races as possible, or all of the above.  That part’s up to you.

If you’re planning out your training blocks in advance, you’ll likely also be planning out your rest, taper weeks, de-load weeks, etc.  You should account for all of these things to help you determine when your periodization will likely occur within the season, in order to maximize the benefits properly.


Outside of the obvious goal of performing the best at your most important competitions, how you manage rest is case dependent. The thing to keep in mind is that your body will respond to the situations you place it in. When it senses you’re running often, it equips itself and stays prepared for more running. As is the case with other exercises like lifting, jumping, swinging, and yes, even resting. If your body experiences consecutive days of rest, it prepares to be its best resting self.

The intricate nature of this process is why “it depends” is the best answer out there for how to organize your cycles within a season.

Rest is one of the simplest calculations. No trainer, coach, or fellow competitor has the type of relationship with your body that you do. You know better than anyone when your body NEEDS rest. Listen to your body, listen to your gut, and remember you are your own biggest fan.


The experienced athlete knows how to give this aspect of training a day off, while others fill the void by doing something (you’ve seen the social media posts— Today was my rest day so I spent it doing active recovery with a 7-mile hike!!!). Nope. That’s generally called cross-training, not active recovery on a rest day. Just because what you did was less intense than what you normally do does not make it a rest day. Spend some time doing lower heart rate sessions with things like yoga, walking, foam-rolling or stretching, and then we can talk about active recovery.

Sometimes doing nothing IS doing something. When rest days are incorporated correctly, your body does not take it as a cue to decrease preparedness. This is actually a great trick for maintaining fitness and training capacity through an extended lengthy season (which most sports seem to have now).

Use this REST technique sparingly.

  • 24-48 hours of decreased physical exertion allows for recovery while limiting de-conditioning.
  • 72 hours and beyond without physical exertion will inevitably lead to an athlete sliding down the fitness/fatigue paradigm and possibly sacrificing some gains.

Know this: the human body has so much going on at once, it prefers not to be bogged down and prefers to keep the most readily available processing units accessible with “old” data.

For example: if you don’t sprint for 3 days, your body doesn’t think it needs to be as ready to sprint as if you were sprinting the day before. This doesn’t mean you lose sprint speed in 3 days; it means that that unit is not as readily accessible.


Cardiovascular and muscular endurance activation patterns and pathways respond likewise. Sport and competition are hard enough– don’t make your peak performance harder to find than it really needs to be.

Outside of REST, other physical adaptations offer more guidance. Cardiovascular adaptations take less time than the musculoskeletal system. Increases in strength, power and hypertrophy should be planned months ahead. For example, your Off- and Pre-season programming need months, while (depending on the distances) cardiovascular conditioning may only need weeks. If you are an athlete that feels you need certain muscular adaptations, you will need to plan this out well ahead of time.

Each sport, each athlete, each season is different. Increasing your workload throughout a season is useful, but being fatigued from your workouts every week could negatively impact regular season competitions. Some athletes may need to prioritize cardiovascular adaptations, while another athlete needs less time to see the increases in fitness, but could pay a steep price if they overuse a specific model.

For example, if a sprinter spends all season training to be in peak cardiovascular shape by running 50 miles of sprints per week, they will be in great cardiovascular shape, but may run into stress injuries like shin splints by the time their A-rated races come.

This is why “It depends” on you. Don’t be afraid to customize your seasonal training plan if you keep these commonalities in mind. A day off might mean doing nothing, or doing something that doesn’t put you into the pain cave. Basic physiological adaptation timelines can guide you to high level performance with low level hindrances.

Drop any questions below, and stay tuned for the last part in this series: part 6!

Prior articles in this series:

Part 1 – Periodization: What is it, And Why Does it Matter?

Part 2 – Periodization: Programming vs WOD’s

Part 3 – Periodization: Off-season and In-Season Programs

Part 4 – Periodization: Pre-Season and Post-Season Programs

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. You can follow him on Instagram at @Palmer_Shape

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