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Training cycles and periodisation: The Basics


Training Cycles and Periodisation: The Basics

By Brock Shirley
Image © Functional Running/Brock Shirley

If you hang around runners for long enough you’re bound to hear the phrases training cycle, phase or periodisation plan. You may have already heard them, but the question that often goes unanswered is, ‘What the heck do these words mean?’

It’s all just science-y speak for organised training schedules. Simply put, Periodisation means that training is set to a specific period of time. Phase or Cycle is a set segment within that overall master plan; it could be years, months, weeks etc.

The basic break down generally works as follows. Caution!.. It may get scientific-y and jargon-y.

You’ll have a Macrocycle: this is fitness speak for “the duration of your fitness plan”. This can be for one year or even four years for an Olympic training cycle. Let’s just say ours is for a year.

Then comes your Mesocycle: this will be broken up into monthly segments and is generally focused on a specific training purpose, for example, speed, power or endurance.

After that comes Microcycle: these traditionally are a week by week cycle. It could outline the amount of kilometers you’re going to cover or the amount of hours you’ll spend training. This cycle may also outline the individual sessions for each day of those weeks. See Figure 1 for a visual representation of this system.periodisation


All of the cycles are fit into a Mesocylce and are targeted towards your overall goal.

The trickiest and most delicate part of any of the cycles is the Microcycle. This is where overtraining can occur. Progression of intensity, duration and frequency of workouts needs to be managed in this cycle.

You have to build up as you move along but you also need to allow rest periods as well. For example, week one out of a four week cycle should start small. Week two will build on that and week three will build on week two. Week four however is traditionally the rest week so this means levels should be brought down to a touch lower than the week two work load. Then the next four weeks begins with the first week starting from the week three workload of your previous cycle.

It all sounds messy and complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. Check out Figure 2 for a visual representation. Each bar is a weekly Microcycle.


Have a look at a copy of a complete standard Periodisation plan I put together a while back. It looks complicated but hopefully the explanation above will help out a little. See if you can work out what bits are what. It was tailored to what I needed and some ‘traditional’ segments are changed slightly.


Don’t be fooled, these things take a lot of time to plan and they are almost a science unto themselves. Take your time if you are going to give it a shot. You’ll need to do a lot more reading and definitely chat to your coach about it if you’ve got one because there’s no doubt they’ll know what they’re doing.

Done well these programs can be an extremely effective and motivating tool for even the most fresh blooded runner. They can help to break the plateau of someone who has been slogging it out for months or years and can help the elite get that extra few per cent out of themselves that they need come the biggest competition of their lives.

Like anything, you only get out of it what you put in and your discipline has to be excellent.

If you have any questions feel free to get in contact with myself or one of the amazing Functional Running coaches, we’d all be happy to help!

About Brock Shirley (5 Articles)
A PE, Health and English Teacher by day, Brock loves nothing more than running, except maybe running long distances.

1 Comment on Training cycles and periodisation: The Basics

  1. A good article. Thanks for sharing.

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