The Importance of Periodization For Runners

Jason Fitzgerald
by Jason Fitzgerald
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The Importance of Periodization For Runners

To stay healthy and race well, it’s important to have a training plan that helps you reach the starting line feeling mentally and physically prepared to meet the demands of the distance.

Periodization is the process that gets you there. It may sound like a daunting running term, but it’s simply the ebb and flow of training that helps runners reach their potential when it’s time to race.

If you ran in high school or college, your training probably followed its own type of scheduling and periodization based on the school year and racing seasons. But if you took up running as an adult (as so many of us have), the idea of periodization may be new to you. Once you understand the concept, it’s easy to apply it to your training to maximize your results throughout the year.


Periodization is a term that refers to breaking up your training into specific blocks or periods. Most often, periodization is used to allow your training to become more specific over time as you work toward a goal race. Periodization can help you navigate from an off-season, where you may be doing less running (or none at all), to race day.

There is no set time frame for each period of training, though training plans often range from 12–24 weeks depending on what you’re training for. A fit runner training for a 5K may do well with a 12-week plan, while a newer runner building toward a marathon may need six months to prepare. Periodization can be applied just as easily to short-track events as to ultramarathons.

Depending on where you are starting from and what type of periodization you follow, you may need more or less time in each phase of training. For example, if you stopped running for an extended period due to a long break or injury, you may need more easy running early in your training cycle to build your endurance before adding faster workouts.


Periodization is most often categorized as either linear or nonlinear. Linear periodization is associated with New Zealand-born coach Arthur Lydiard, who developed the system of periodization in the 1950s. His style of coaching involved using distinct training blocks focusing on one specific skill or training attribute at a time.

Lydiard’s blocks included a base phase, strength phase, anaerobic workout phase and a racing phase. These programs start with large volumes of moderate-paced running, then add hills and other strength-oriented work. The anaerobic phase focuses on short, intense workouts, culminating in reduced volume and intensity to allow runners to peak for their goal race.

Linear periodization keeps each type of training very distinct, while non-linear periodization incorporates elements of speed, strength, power development and endurance throughout the entire training cycle — not just in specific phases. Although each element is included throughout your training, certain aspects are emphasized at certain times.

Many elites follow linear periodization plans and their success is well-established, but non-linear plans have advantages, too. They are less repetitive within each cycle, which is often better for injury prevention. Non-linear plans also allow for greater adaptability, meaning you maintain a strong base of fitness and can easily transition into specific workouts for a variety of race distances.

One system isn’t necessarily better than the other — what works best varies with each individual runner. But it’s essential to implement some variety of periodization in your training to race your best and incorporate all the essential elements that allow you to run strong and fast.


The beauty of periodization is it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. If you’re a runner designing your own training plan, you want to follow a few basic principles:

  • Progress from easier to harder training throughout the season: This includes both the duration and intensity of your workouts.
  • Progress from less to more volume: Build your volume for approximately 2/3 of your season until you reach your maximum weekly mileage.
  • Increase the intensity of your workouts and decrease your total volume: Do this near the final third of the season
  • Move from general to specific: Workouts should become more specific to the distance as your race approaches with a focus on race-paced efforts.


The intent of periodization is always to maximize performance. As you follow the guidelines above, remember there are many variables you can manipulate when it comes to the intensity of your running, including the total volume of running, the frequency of your runs, their intensity, the specificity of workouts to the goal race and, just as important, recovery and rest.

Periodization may appear to be complex, but if you understand and use the general guidelines of this training concept, it helps you maximize your potential as a runner.

Whether you want to run your first mile or set a PR, having a plan gets you there faster. Go to the MapMyRun app, tap “Training Plans” — you’ll get a schedule and coaching tips to help you crush it.

About the Author

Jason Fitzgerald
Jason Fitzgerald

Jason is the founder of Strength Running, a USA Track & Field certified running coach and 2017’s Men’s Running’s Influencer of the Year. Learn more about how he can help you run faster.


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