Why bother with periodization in a CrossFit program?  Before I answer the aforementioned question, allow me to explain periodization as applied to human performance and strength training.

Periodization is the systematic design of training that employs specific parameters over a specific time to achieve specific goals.  It can, and should be, applied to all conditioning and sports specific programming.  If implemented correctly, an athlete will reach optimal performance at the optimal time.  Periodization’s foundations are rooted in the General Adaptations Syndrome.  Hans Selye, the “father of stress studies”,  introduced the theory in 1936.  Read more about it in this article.  One of Selye’s most important findings was the body has only a limited amount of adaptive evengy to respond to stressors.  In physical training, constantly overloading the body’s ability to clear stress and recover quickly leads to over-training.

Periodization is most often divided into three distinct cycles.  Micro, Meso, and Macro.  The microcycle is usually 7-10 days.  Microcycles make up the mesocycles, which can be 2 weeks to a few months or even a quarter.  The macrocycle is the overall training cycle that usually ends at a competition, sports season, or at an achieved goal.

In studies comparing periodized work with non-periodized work, the periodized programs render much greater increases in strength, performance, and body composistion.  When summarized, these studies demonstrate significantly greater improvements when intensity and volume are systematically increased and decreased.  Better results are undoubtedly linked to the decrease in volume and intensity, otherwise known as deloading, and the subsequent recovery allowed during that phase.

Of course there are many variables in any training program that lend to its success or failure.  Choice and order of exercises, loads, sets, reps, tempo, rest between sets, recovery between training sessions, sleep quality, and nutrition all have their own say in things.  A coach or trainer must consider these things.  However, training volume and intensity typically, and rightfully so, get the most focus.

But all things being equal, or even better…  all things being optimal, periodization will provide better results in any training program.  Instead of randomly varying, systematically vary and the program, whether it be strength, running, or CrossFit GPP, will be more effective.

At CFW we are always seeking new ways to make your programming more effective.  The 5 week hybrid (metcon and strength) mesocycle is what you all know and love about CFW programming combined with a more traditional, systematic approach to training.  If, in the next 5 weeks, you put your heart into it and follow the instructions and parameters explicitly you will get great improvements in strength, power, and metabolic conditioning.
Get at it.

Stone, M. H., O’Bryant, H. S., Schilling, B. K., Johnson, R. L., Pierce, K.C., Haff, G. G., and Stone, M. (1999). Periodization: Effects of manipulating volume and intensity. Part 1. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 21(3), 54-60.

Fleck, S. J. (1999). Periodized strength training: A critical review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 13, 82-89.

One of CFW's new members Julian at parallel in yesterday's back squats. A big thanks to Aaron S. for fabricating the new power rack!

Crossfit – Day 2 / Week 1

3 Rounds of the Snatch Complex for time…
5 Muscle Snatch
5 Power Snatch
5  Snatch High Pull

*Select a weight that you can muscle snatch for 6-8 reps.


Dead Hang Pull-ups 6-8r x 5

Tall Snatch 68% x 2 x 4
Snatch 75% x 1 x 4
Jerk 78% x 1 x 5
2 rounds of CrossFit MetCon with as heavy as you can lift with good technique.

14 thoughts on “Why Periodize and What the H*ll is a Mesocycle?

  1. Eric says:

    Where can I get some of those Crossfit Wilmington Supplements…you know the ‘good stuff’ *wink wink*?

  2. Tanner says:

    The idea of periodization is essential to programming and making progress. I’ve seen too much random programming by different gyms. Random isn’t ideal for great results. That’s what makes CFW great. The knowledge and planning that goes into our program yields results fast.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Periodization works only if I have a specific date at which I expect to need to perform (i.e., the CrossFit Games.) But for those of us (dare I say over 99% of us?) are training for LIFE which happens not on a specific date, but 365 days in a year, a program to be as fit as possible all of the time is far more pertinent. Good programming is not random. What this article doesn’t seem to understand is that periodization and randomization are not opposing opposites. I can provide a very good, very all-encompassing program to improve the GPP of my athletes without coming anywhere close to “random.” As CrossFit HQ will tell you in their certification courses, good programming covers every possible time domain, movement, rep scheme, etc and is certainly not “roll the dice” programming.

    In fact, GPP by definition denies periodization because you should be ready for any task over any time period on any day imaginable– not just early July of a given year. When someone can tell me how to periodize for the day I am attacked in the street or caught in a flash flood or for the Zombie Apocalypse, I’ll start listening. Until then, I’ll keep training for the unknown and the unknowable.

  4. JROD says:

    Jeremy, it is possible to be great day in and day out and still have the knowledge to dominate at competition. Reputable coaches like Poliquin and Westside Barbell have their athletes quite beat up all the time; the trick is to train the athletes to the point of breaking and still knowing that on the athletes worse day he still can dominate his/her competition. Further periodizing the athlete by knowing how to de-load them and quickly having the information to support their adrenal glands sets them up for success. It is hard to debate this as Poliquin is the most winning coach in the world and Westside has proven themselves the strongest in the world for 30 years. I have trained my athletes this proven way and have over 1,000 victories and dozens of national title holders and world records to validate the importance of day in and day out GPP and incorporating periodization to seal the deal or in other words…..win. It is possible to methodically out-train 99% of the population and still peak for competition. . .we call them gold medalist or world champions. CFW does well because they don’t always follow the typical CF box work-outs as they utilize a variety of training methods from some of the best coaches in their respective fields.

  5. t says:

    I thought maybe your post would gain Jrod’s attention. Thanks for posting Jared.

    I’ll explain more thoroughly and put it in Crossfit words for you. I’ve been applying periodization with great success to GPP for long time for my Crossfit competitors, Weightlifters, and my most important athletes… my CrossFit members who are simply “training for life”.

    Honestly, I’m not completely tracking your comment… in the first para you say “periodization and randomization are not opposing opposites”. I’m not sure there is any other kind of opposite. You then state you provide excellent programming without being random. But in para two, you say “GPP by definition denies periodization b/c you should be ready over any time period on any day…”. Those statements are, well “opposing opposites”.
    I like your first statement. It is almost exactly what my article is saying… that you can provide GPP without randomly making up stuff.

    I just don’t think you understand the principles of periodization very well. Periodization, in fact, is a type of variation. Applied to training, it is the systematic and planned variation of intensity and volume. That is where most Crossfit programming falls short. Repeated maxing without accumalation, intensification, and deloading and performing metcons for time at 100% effort for days on end results in overtraining and poor adaptational response (results).

    Also, I hate to inform you, but it is absolutely impossible to train for any given situation that theoretically might possibly arise at some undisclosed surprise time. Think about it, if you’re worried about flooding, your training should incorporate survival swimming. If you’re attacked in the street… well, I reckon it is according to what attacks you and how as to what your GPP should incorporate. As far as zombies go, the Dept of Homeland Defense has tips on thier website for how to prepare for that and I doubt you’ve worked any of DHS’s suggestions or swimming or combat preparation (mental or physical) into your clients’ workouts. So you can irresponsibly tell yourself and your clients you’re ready to throw down in a street fight if you so choose. However, the fact is, it’s not your GPP that’ll save you or your average client if they are attacked on the street by a determined, predatory assailant.

    I’m not trying to be a dick (probably sounds that way), only point out there are problems with your theories and you are either too close minded to learn more about exercise physiology than you leaned at the Level 1 Cert or you are simply uneducated in the field.

    You certainly can periodize GPP (this is where you can begin listening, i.e., reading)… you can focus on strength in a period while maintaining work capacity and VO2 max with short, intense metcons. The next period you can focus on work capacity while maintaining strength. Again, doing all this simultaneously takes careful programming and some education in ex-physiology beyond what you get on your favorite .com.

    Observe CFW’s programming for the next five weeks. It incorporates all the things you learned at the Level 1 Cert about programming for GPP, but it utilizes a systematic approach to the varying of intensity, loads, and volume. The workout of each corresponding day of the week for the next 5 weeks will repeat itself. Each following week the intensity, loads, and volume will be increased or decreased. Keep in mind, I systematically chose the exercises to optimize the learning experience and stimuli provided. For example, on Tuedays (today) I use variations of the snatch. The clean would work, however the snatch provides many more benefits over the clean. CNS recruitment (it is more difficult), rotation in the shoulders, and depth in the pull being most notable. And don’t worry… the double under is included.

    Week 1 – Basically a trial week. It is accumalation, but also when the athletes learn the movements. Your more trained athletes will be able to consider this true accumalation, but your new and/or less trained will need the adaptive response.
    Week 2 – Accumalation
    Week 3 – Intensification. The loads increase and reps decrease and work is at max effort.
    Week 4 – Deload. Use same load and volume as week 1 at appoximately the same intensity.
    Week 5 – Intensification. Max effort all around. Use the same loads and sets as week 3, but crush your performance from wk 3. Or you can increase the loads and attempt to match week 3’s performances.

    Hopefully this better explains things for you. It’s not as thorough as it could be, but I think you may get my point. If you’re still skeptical, give it a try. Heck, isn’t that what you tell people when they’re skeptical about trying your Crossfit.

  6. Tanner says:

    I’m a big fan of gpp. It’s a great idea especially for military and law enforcement type jobs. The majority of the population can benefit from it as well. The problem with a “random” programming is that it can quickly lead to overtraining without a proper deload. I would be so bold as to say that many of crossfits top athletes may not be able to get out of bed in a few years due to the continued pounding on their bodies.

  7. Jeremy says:


    I fear we have something of a disconnect. Your assumption that anything that is not periodized is completely random is, well, wrong. I assume that this disconnect comes from your misunderstanding of “constant variance” in programming. While random programming can (but won’t always) provide a measure of variance, constant variance does not imply random programming. In other words, I could walk through the doors of the gym every morning and completely by chance select a workout from a list. That would be random programming. Another option would be to program for a block of time, say a month) and ensure that I have a wide variety of tasks, movements, time domains, strength workouts to provide balanced training across “broad time and modal domains.” This program could include constant variance, but would not be random. Lastly, I could periodize my training incorporating strength cycles, endurance cycles, and any other cycles you like with a macrocycle culminating “at a competition, sports season, or at an achieved goal.” Yes, these are different approaches, but they are not opposite. In other words, just because something is not random does not mean it is periodized and just because something is not periodized does not mean it is random.

    Furthermore, of these three examples only one expects athletes to “peak” at a specific time and place. If you are training an athlete for a specific event i.e., a weghtlifting competition that happens on a specific day, then periodization of sport specific programming will serve that athlete very well. This, however, is diametrically opposed to the concept of GPP. The goal of CrossFit is to create a level of fitness that will lend itself generally well to any athletic endeavor. As I understand it, many of your athletes are training for the CrossFit Games and thus training CrossFit as a sport. In this way, periodization should do them some good as well. My argument was and continues to be that your average client does not need to peak, but rather should be seeing the benefits of raised work capacity (and everything that goes with it) all the time.

    Now to discuss my favorite, the Zombie Apocalypse (or street fight or any surprise emergency situation.) I am a certified Krav Maga Instructor and am well aware that CrossFit will not on its own prepare you to deal with an armed assailant. Again, you miss my point. If my periodized programming intends for me to “peak” at a specific time, then I am by definition not at peak performance the rest of the time. Again, periodization will work well if I know the time and the place of my event, but this is not the case for most people. One may instead train following a balanced program, recover properly, and continue to improve constantly without need for a specific end date.

    Your statement that “CrossFit programming falls short” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of CrossFit Programming. There is nothing in CrossFit that prescribes “Repeated maxing without accumalation, intensification, and deloading and performing metcons for time at 100% effort for days on end.” Rather, recovery is an integral part of CrossFit programming and proper techniques should be part of the education of new clients. Unless all of your clients are planning to attend the CrossFit Games next year, I would not advise training them all as if they were.

    As for your guesses toward my knowledge in the field, I am not sure whether your time working with Army Special Forces afforded you any formal education in the field of exercise physiology, but mine didn’t. Luckily for me, my time at the University of Texas studying Kinesiology has. Of course, my studies also taught me that ad hominem attacks are rhetorical laziness and do not actually support your argument.


  8. Tanner says:

    The human body is not capable of performing at peak every single day, it is not physiologically possible. Therefore your assertion that following a non-periodized program will keep you at peak all the time is also flawed. At some time you will reach a point of diminishing returns where you have taxed the adrenal and nervous system so heavily that your fitness and health will drastically decrease. Most Crossfit “athletes” have only been doing this form of training for a short while. It is well known in the field of exercise science that novice trainees and athletes make gains no matter what you program; hence the preponderance of so-called personal trainers and coaches who see results even from the most abysmal of programs.

    Why can’t you be training for GPP and use accumulation and intensification? We performed 4 rounds of deadlifts and push presses, that looks a lot like Crossfit GPP programming, except that next week we’re going to do it again, but heavier and faster. With this type of programming I’d say our members are “ready for life.” But let’s be honest, most gym members don’t have to be ready to throw down in the streets every night; most want to simply look and feel better. You can’t serioiusly say that because we periodize our programming that our members are somehow less fit than those at a gym who uses varied crossfit programming.

    In this new program we are constantly improving, just like you want your members to be. And we can prove it more than the average gym because we are going to be testing the same or similar workouts each week. Where most gyms only do benchmark workouts every so often- we will be able to see our improvements much sooner. We are constantly raising our work capacity, just in a more planned and progressive manner. Additionally, we are keeping our membership healthy by taking care to avoid over training.

    A college degree in Kinesiology isn’t worth much these days. I know, I have one. There are far more ways to learn outside of a formal college education. There are always new things to be learned and the college curriculum falls dreadfully short of teaching any sort of practical training knowledge.

  9. t. says:

    This is going to get harsh before it gets better… but hang in there and you’ll be better for it.

    First, my “attacks” were not attacks on you at all. Much less ad hominem and certainly not irrevant. They support my point that some of the things you are saying are wrong.

    An ad hominem, or irrevant to our discussion, attack would point out that you perpetrate a fraud by implying you were a Special Forces operator when you typed “I am not sure whether your time working with Army Special Forces afforded you any formal education in the field of exercise physiology, but mine didn’t.”. I would simply crush your credibility by pointing out you lied and then I’d say you have a self-esteem issue or some envy that motivates you to lie about being something you are not. So to sort it out for you, the 82nd Airborne is not Special Forces. Simply serving in Afghanistan for a couple of tours where SF, Recon, MARSOC, and all the other SMUs that your bio lists that you “worked with”, does not make you one of them. Serving in any unit, in any capacity is honorable. You’ve exceeded most of the US fighting aged males by serving at all. Be proud of your 11B MOS. If you want to gain the 18 series identifier, I think there is a National Guard SF unit in TX now and I’m sure there are open slots in selection.

    We all get too wrapped up in our own opinions and worse, our passions. I usually do not attempt to discuss (objective argue) a point with someone who is so passionately attached to his/her views they are not willing to learn new information. I enjoy an intelligent debate and comparative analysis of training principles, but some folks have on their blinders and they pose nothing but a waste of my time. Hopefully you are not that guy.

    So I am making exception for you because you seem to unknowingly disagree with almost everything I am saying and on the others, you just misunderstand. So I am going to try to clarify things.

    Oddly, you are the first person, that I know of, to ever say I do not understand CrossFit. I’ve been practicing it, purveying it, coaching others in it, and studying Greg’s concepts since 2004 with quite a bit of success. I’ve attended 6 Level 1 certs and the Level 2. My first was in 2006 and Greg was the primary instructor. My second was in Charlotte in ’07, Nicole and Admundson were lead, and the others have been the ones hosted at CFW. Chuck Carswell and crew ran each of those. All the certs present excellent information and the CrossFit principles very well. Having been able to attend them over the last 6 years I’ve also been witness to their improvements, offering more information, and include better programming models.

    Yes, “just b/c something is not random does not mean it is periodized and just b/c something is not periodized does not mean it is random”. I totally agree. But most CrossFits’ programming is outside both. Their programs are not periodized or linear or constantly varied. That is what I am saying is wrong with MOST CrossFits. They have no planning or systematic progressions. Many make things up daily literally walking in each morning and either pulling it out their ass or pulling it off whatever the latest popular program is. I never said CrossFit HQ is doing or promoting this type of haphazardness, just that many affiliates do it. So yes, i do understand CrossFit. But I am also objective enough to understand what is wrong with it too.

    My article is saying applying periodization to constantly varied will improve your programming. I am also saying that most CF coaches need to expand their education and seek information and coaching from experts in the sports that make up CrossFit. If all you have under your belt are your favorite CrossFit specialty certs, your resume is lacking. They are all beginner level courses. But like I said before, no one learns anything well in two days. And I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but a college degree in exercise phys, kinesiology, is basically a kindergarten course for sports performance. The greatest coaches in the world, those that have produced champions, care little about a 4 year degree from an American university. When I said formal training, I meant actually training with experts in their fields.

    On to why applying periodization to constantly varied works. CrossFit people reach plateaus. Especially competitors, but class attending clients do too (I have only 10 or so serious competitors and over 400 “regular” clients). Once a human adapts to constantly varied, a period of focus becomes important to pushing through those ceilings. I know this, not because I studied it in a class, seminar, cert, or book, but because I have athletes I’ve been training unabated for the last 5 years. In the first 2 or 3 years they responded positively to everything I threw at them. However, at some point they adapted. Constantly varied became the norm and their positive responses not only diminished, they developed imbalances and their performance decreased. “They” also included me. I too was experiencing the first stages of adrenal fatigue.

    The training solution (I specify training b/c stressing sleep and nutrition was just as important)? A period of training designed to repair their adrenal fatique and get them recovered… it was a kind of “reset” button for the chronically exposed constantly varied athlete. It was the first strength focused I program I ran at CFW and the results were great… and so the evolution of CFW’s programming began.

    What I have today is not only better for my competitors but just as beneficial, if not more, to the new class member. Why? The actually get to learn a particular skill before a new one is thrown at them. In your studies at UT, you didn’t attend anatomy class once a month, right? you went twice or three times per week with each class building on the next. Like your brain, your body needs repetition to learn. Why do most CrossFitters suck at Olympic Lifts? Their coaches constantly do not teach them. The insert them into a varied program full of no progressions. Most humans cannot OPTIMALLY learn new skills this way.

    The bottom line, mesocycles with focus on specific skills that also incorporate maintenance of other skills are more optimal for developing any physical fitness goal… GPP included. Make yourself familiar, or better proficient, in conjugate and max effort methods, PICP, Russian and Bulgarian training concepts and apply them to your programming. You too will experience improved performance and readiness for all life’s attacks… most importantly adrenal fatigue and chronically elevated cortisol. But after you’ve done all this, be sure to give me the credit for steering you in the right direction. Also if you need any pointers on traing for SFAS, hit me up. I’ve a 100% success rate for those I’ve sent to all the SOF indoc courses.

  10. James Tatum says:


    Get a log book show me the improvements you make with your programming. Can you statistically track success for more than 3 months? Then compare it to the gains of the members of CFW who keep log books and then judge which method works better, irrelevant of peaking look at who has the best gains at any given time. Just look at results.


  11. Andrew says:


    Who have you trained with/under outside of the Crossfit community?

    Would you also map out 1-2 months of your planning so that I can better understand the position you’re taking.


  12. JRho says:

    In reference to Jeremy’s first post………as somone who HAS been physically attacked in the street and with very good chances of it happening again anytime I start my work day I can honestly say the “work” I have done at Crossfit AND Wilmington Strength & Conditioning has been nothing short of a benefit for me. Ive listened to and followed the instruction of the trainers and as a result I have experienced gains in my strength. However, first and foremost the number one thing that has always kept me prepared for the “unknown” and “unknowable” as you stated is SITUATIONAL AWARENESS and COMMAND PRESENCE. These two things are somthing you either do or do not possess …….male or female…..fit or non-fit……they will always preface strength in my opinion and my opinion only. Ive always maintained the will and the mind set to face whatever the day may bring…….the physical strength Ive developed as a result of following CFW and WSC compliments my mind set. It (meaning the instruction at CFW & WSC to INCLUDE but NOT LIMITED to Krav Maga provided to me at the NC Justice Academy) is what YOU make of it……… which is why it may not be working for you but is working for a chick like me.

  13. Sensei says:

    I’ve been meditating a lot on what I’d like to say on this post. Soooooo much to offer, so much to learn. In the end, Don’t let your mouth (or blog) write checks, that your ass can’t cash”.


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