Periodization in Training for Runners

Periodization in Training for Runners

Our bodies are a combination of many systems: musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological, etc.,. Hence training to perform better at running requires getting fitter on multiple capabilities of our body, such as Muscular strength, Cardiovascular Fitness, Neuromuscular coordination, Aerobic fitness, Anaerobic fitness, Explosive Power generation and more. Improving these capabilities require different types of training stimulus. For example, building muscular strength requires resistance training, whereas building aerobic fitness requires long aerobic runs. In an ideal world, one can train to get better at all the aspects simultaneously, but that is no way practical.

Why Periodization in Training?

Based on the type of distance training for, and current fitness levels, one has to bring in the right training stimulus and work on specific areas of improvement. More importantly, in order to see effective training gains, rest & recovery also has to be baked into training. In order to reach the peak performance, training has to be planned over many years to gain the necessary physiological and biomechanical abilities to reach the performance goals. Here is where periodization comes into play.

🎧 Science of Training

Listen to our podcast episode Science of Endurance Training, with Coach Ron George, which goes into depth of how the various aspects of training helps to perform better.

What is Periodization?

Periodization in simple terms refers to organizing training into smaller time periods, while keeping the larger goal in mind across the time periods. Almost all the sports use the periodization training methods.

While the concept of periodization is simple, different coaches use different time periods to plan the periodization training. In most sports, annual training is the norm. In distance running, most athletes tend to follow 6 month time periods. That said, there are plenty of variations, and different coaches (and athletes) plan their training based on the races they are participating in, performance goals, and, other factors of life.

Principles of Periodization

Here are the key principles of periodization.

Generic to Specific Skills - Training to be planned such that generic capabilities are worked on first (form, technique, strength etc.,), and then work on more specific capabilities (handling hills, working on race specific speed etc.,) as the training inches closer to the race.

Manage Training Load- It is also important to modulate the load, to get the benefits of supercompensation. In other words, training easy for few days, after series of harder bouts is important.

Smaller Training cycles- As the name implies the periodization in training is organized as time cycles; Macro cycles, Meso cycles and Micro cycles.

  • Macro Cycle - Macro Cycle represents the entire training period. For annual periodization, macro cycle is 1 year. Use of 6 month Macro cycles is the most common in training for long distance running.
  • Meso Cycle- Meso Cycle is a further subdivision of Macro cycle. Each Meso cycle typically focuses on specific aspects of training, starting from generic (runnnig form, technique etc.,) to skills that are more specific to a race(altitude, heat adaptation). Most training plans use 4 week Meso cycles.
  • Micro Cycle- Micro cycles are further sub-division of Meso cycles. Each Micro cycle typically lasts for a week.

Here is an illustration that brings all these principles together.

Periodizatoin illustrated

Sample Periodized Plan

Here is a sample periodized plan with a macro cycle fo 16 week duration, with 4 week meso cycles within.

Phase Weeks Objective
Base Week 1- 4
  • Focus on building the mileage and preparing for intensity ahead.
  • This is a good phase to run a time trial to determine the goal race pace.
  • Work on Running Form & Posture Improvements
Speed & Strength Week 5 - 8
  • Work on the speed mechanics
  • Running workouts for Strength
  • Strength training to build the power
  • Prepare yourself for endurance
Speed Endurance Week 9 - 12
  • Build the mileage for aerobic efficiency
  • Continue to improve running economy
  • Maintain the speed over longer distances
Prepare for the race Week 13 -16
  • Prepare and visualize race-specific aspects such as uphills & heat adaptations
  • Taper well

In summary, periodization helps runners to break the larger running goals into smaller & manageable cycles, which are easy to measure the progres, as they move along the training. While the concepts of periodization mentioned here are focused on running training, these can extend beyond into other aspects of training such as nutrition, and strength.


Prepared by Team GeeksOnFeet for the love of running!



If you are a running enthusiast, follow us on our social media channels @geeksonfeet on Twitter, and GeeksOnFeet on Instagram and Facebook for updates. Also let us know what running topics you would like to read on.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Weekly Cadence.

Get yourself equippped with the best of world of running - running news, workouts, tips on form & technique, quizzes and more.

Thank you for reading. Please help us bring more useful content with your suggestions...