TL;DR – Periodization is a technical term describing how the grand scheme of your workout is structured. Three concepts are contained within periodization: Macrocycle, Mesocycle, and Microcycle. Basically: You’re planning for an upcoming meet, your 2-6 week plan, and your week to week plan. These are three different periods, or cycles, which are contained within periodization.
Periodization: This is essentially a term that contains your plan for future goals. If you’re aiming for something, you need a plan of how you’re going to get there. Screwing around in the gym works for the first few months, and then you never have progress again.
Fail to plan, plan to fail.
So what are the three cycles?
A Macrocycle is basically setting up a time specific goal. Are you planning to hit the peak of your strength for a lifting competition? Getting ready for a large marathon? A specific beach day where you want to look particularly ripped? Some other existentially vain pursuit? This is where you plan it. The Macrocycle has two points in mind: your starting point and end goal. The idea is that you’re preparing for something, and you want to hit it at your peak.
A Mesocycle is focused on short term, about 2 – 6 weeks. What are you trying to do in the immediate future? For example, I use a 4 week Mesocycle (Wendler’s 531) where I progressively ramp up my volume and intensity from week 1 to week 3 and deloading on week 4. Week 1, my heavy set is only @75% of my 1RM and my accessories are only 3 sets of 10, but by my 3rd week my heavy set is @95% and my accessories are at 5 sets of 10. I deload the 4th week to give my CNS and muscles a break, and repeat the process with slightly heavier weights the next week. This falls in line with my 48 week Macrocycle of trying to achieve a goal of a 500lb deadlift.
Possibly the most variation occurs here when it comes to cycles, as well as where periodization gets its extra adjectives: Linear, Non-linear, and undulating. Is the change in your week to week training just increasing weight? Then you have linear periodization. Are you changing volume/intensity week to week? Then you have Non-linear periodization. Are you changing your volume/intensity day to day? Then you have undulating periodization. The type of Microcycles your program has is closely tied to the type of periodization, hence the overlap here.
These concepts go hand in hand with the prior post on Volume, Frequency and Intensity.
Put the pieces of the puzzle together, and you’ll be well on your way to figuring out the big picture.