Periodization as a Strategy, Not a Tactic –

By Karsten Jensen

Periodization is a controversial topic within our field and has been since I started training back in 1992.  Whether you believe in periodization or not for your athletes, this article will shed some light on the topic.  Enjoy!


Below are some of the critique points that I have come across in recent years:

  • Periodization is not scientifically proven.
  • Periodization is overrated and over studied.
  • Periodization is too rigid and does not work for our athletes.
  • Periodization is too time-consuming.
  • Periodization is too complex and only for people in lab coats

These critique points may be true if your understanding of Periodization is limited to Periodization as a tactic. However, Periodization is fundamentally a strategy.

From my personal experience as a strength coach, author, and lecturer over the last 25 years, I have found it incredibly useful – even absolutely necessary – to distinguish between principles, strategies, and tactics in order to really understand a particular topic.

Thus, the purpose of this article is to

  • Highlight the difference between principles, strategies, and tactics as it applies to Periodization.
  • Show that you can reject any one example of Periodization as a tactic, but you cannot reject Periodization as a strategy (and this insight will be extremely helpful)

What is a principle?

A “principle” is a basic truth, law or assumption (  A first principle is a basic, foundational, self-evident proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption.

What could be deemed the first principle of athletic development? I recommend that you answer that in detail for yourself in a way that resonates with your work.

My background is strength and conditioning, not coaching a specific sport. Thus, here is a suggestion for the 1st Principle of  Athletic Development as centered on the physical side:

Optimal development of bio-motor abilities (physical qualities) to support the ability to practice and compete (the specific sport/s) – with maximal quality – at the desired level, at a given age.

You could say that a principle is vague. However, the above phrase invites critical questions and consequences:

  • What does optimal mean? It is the balance of all involved abilities that support the young athlete’s ability to practice and compete.
  • Supporting the ability to practice and compete with maximal quality implies prevention of injury and the nourishment of motivation, joy and confidence.

Thus, the 1st Principle defines the overall objective of our work as coaches.

How are we going to achieve this objective?

principle strategy tactic

Figure 1: The overarching task is defining the 1st Principle. The strategy is chosen to achieve the 1st Principle. Tactics are used to execute the strategy.


A Strategy is Chosen to Achieve the Objective That is Defined by the 1st Principle

A strategy is the larger, overall plan designed to achieve a major or overall aim. The strategy will be comprised of several tactics.  A strategy is broad, big-picture and future-oriented (1)

The training literature contains multiple but related definitions of Periodization. (2)  Fundamentally, the word periodization means “a division in to periods.”

If you do a web search with the word periodization, you will find books on sports training, history and geology.

Thus, “periodization” is a word similar to “categorization” (dividing items – for example, apples divided into categories) or classification (for example dividing athletes into age groups, levels or weight classes).

From the definition of periodization as a ‘division into periods” it becomes clear that, fundamentally, periodization is a strategy for organizing long-term training by dividing the training into shorter periods.

We can take this definition a step further and suggest a more training-specific definition of periodization:

“Periodization is a division of a longer training cycle into periods with different goals, structures, and content of the training program.  When these periods are sequenced in such a way that the training adaptations in one period prepare the athlete for the training in the next period, then the selected physical abilities are optimized at the goal-attainment date.”

The above definition highlights why periodization as a strategy is virtually unavoidable unless your training programs always:

  • Are geared toward the same training adaptation
  • Have the same structure
  • Have the same content


Clearly, there are more decisions to be made before we have a finished program. These more detailed decisions are the “tactics.” The strategy can be executed with different tactics.  Tactics are plans, tasks, or procedures that can be carried out. Tactics may be part of a larger strategy.

So far, Linear Periodization, Reverse Linear Periodization, Undulating Periodization, and Block Periodization are the only systems that have been researched in controlled studies. These systems are all periodization tactics.

I have never seen a critique of periodization as a strategy. When I have seen a critique of periodization, the critique has been of a particular periodization tactic.

As a trainer, you can look at any one of those systems and decide whether or not they are not ideal tactics for the athletes that you work.

However, once you make that choice, you still have to decide how are you going to organize your long-term training?


This article described a hierarchy of 1st principles, strategy, and tactics. It made the argument that periodization is fundamentally a strategy. Yet, the critique of periodization is typically centered on tactics rather than principles or strategies.

A “next step” in exploring periodization is the question about how to divide the long-term period into shorter periods as well as a deeper look into the characteristics of the mentioned periodization systems.  More to come….

  2. Jensen, K. Appendix 1. Periodization Simplified: How To Use The Flexible Periodization Method on the Fly.


Karsten Jensen has helped world class and Olympic athletes from 26 sports disciplines since 1993. Many of his athletes have won Olympic medals, European Championships, World Championships and ATP Tournaments.

Karsten is the first strength coach to create a complete system of periodization, The Flexible Periodization Method – the first complete method of periodization dedicated to holistic, individualized and periodized (H.I.P) training programs.

Karsten shares all aspects of The Flexible Periodization Method (FPM) with his fellow strength coaches and personal trainers through The Flexible Periodization Method workshop series (Levels I-VIII).  Find more information at

Super Bowl Takeaways

Besides the usual; NEVER GIVE UP!, Martin Rooney has came up with a few life lessons you can take away from last nights super Bowl.

Aside from Tom Brady, if you were asked before the game to list players who would have been the most impactful or notable, you may have listed names like Lynch, Sherman, Wilson, and Blount.  Would names like Matthews, Edelman, Butler and Lane made your list?  Probably not, but it was these players that helped create the four biggest takeaways you might have missed.  In case you did, I wanted to make sure you got them now:

1.  You can look at things as your last chance or your first chance.

For the NFL season, the Super Bowl is the last chance for a victory.  The game is the last one played of the year.  And for some players, it is the last time they will ever see the field.  But last night, when some athletes may have been thinking about the end, many of the athletes did something for the first time.

The Seahawk’s Jeremy Lane and Patriots’ Malcolm Butler both had the first interceptions of their careers.  In both cases, the momentum of the game completely shifted.  Imagine if you could look at this week as your first chance.  If you do, maybe you can also get Mr. Momentum to change his address.

On this night of firsts, another player, had his first catches of the season.  These catches lead you to takeaway number two.

2.  You can Get Knocked down, but you are never out

What kind of Super Bowl night do you think you would have if you were an undrafted player out of college that then got cut from a CFL team and had to go to work as a security guard at Foot Locker?  Then, even when you do make it to a NFL team, you only get activated for 3 games during the season and never caught a pass?

You probably wouldn’t think you are going to have a highlight reel night, right?  Well somebody didn’t tell that to former Winnipeg Blue Bomber and current Seahawk, Chris Matthews.  His amazing catches in the game prove to you that it is never too late to do your best when it counts the most.

You may be in a tough spot right now too.  Staying positive and giving all you’ve got won’t fail you.  And lesson number three will give you a little insight into what it takes to give your best.

3.  You don’t have to be great to become great.

Kent State and the College of San Mateo are not usually the schools known for producing the future stars of the NFL.  Good thing Julian Edelman must have missed that memo.  During the game, his athleticism made him stand out among other world-class athletes.  Was it inborn talent?  You decide.

Besides touchdown catches, Julian is known most for showing up at 5am every day to do extra work. He practiced so much he became notable and valued for his versatility.  He has played defense, returns punts besides playing wide receiver.  Talent?  Sure he has it, but don’t forget what he taught you last night: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work as hard.

You can work harder and you know it.  Use this week to give the little extra, and start moving forward toward your vision.

3.  Before you can BE it, you have to SEE it.

Speaking of vision, last night Malcolm Butler was a rookie player out of the University of West Alabama.  I am not sure about you, but I was not familiar with the school (and I know a lot of schools!)  But in a quick post game comment, the small-school kid Butler explained how he came up with the biggest play of the night: He said he had visualized making a big play in the game.

Your brain can’t tell your imagination from reality.  He had seen making the big play so much all week in his head, when it was time to happen, it just did.  Use that idea this week, visualize what it is you want and make your next “big play.”

4.  No matter how bleak thing look, never give up.

To be honest, I was sure the game was over when the Seahawks were second and goal with time on the clock and Lynch in the backfield.  But I guess all the New England fans out there are glad that the Patriots weren’t so sure. The final overall lesson from the Super Bowl for you: there is always hope. Never give up.  I know your goals may seem distant or the challenges great, but remember this:

Tough times don’t last.  Tough people do.

Yours in Strength,


Why Olympic Lifts

At K2, we have seen such huge benefits and results as a result of incorporating Olympic lifts into our sports training programs, that we starting using them more with our adult athletes. It is not about the weight being lifted with most populations, but rather how to generate power so that they can perform their daily activities much easier. This article by Wil explains in a bit more detail, why coaches should learn how to perform and teach these lifts as part of their programming.

Why Olympic Lift?
By Wil Fleming
There is a large portion of coaches that don’t think Olympic lifting has any benefits whatsoever. These coaches believe that the benefits of Olympic lifting is over blown, inflated and doesn’t really pertain to athletes. They cite the time it takes to teach athletes the lifts (too long they say), and they cite risk vs. reward (they say the risk is too great for too little reward). This post is not for those coaches, if you are one of those coaches, then I applaud you for creating more explosive, faster and more dominant athletes while not using Olympic lifts. This post is for the coaches that are doing the Olympic lifts or on the fence about these lifts, that need more ammunition when discussing their programs or want a final piece of the puzzle to commit to training their athletes with these lifts.

Type II muscle development

Type II (Fast twitch) muscle fiber is the golden currency for successful athletes. Greater type II muscle makes athletes more explosive, and faster. Type II muscle fibers are part of high threshold motor units and only react to high output activities, so curls with the 25 lbs dumbbells are not going to cut it. Olympic lifts are high power movements and recruit type II muscle for activation, the more explosive movement is used the more preferentially these units will be recruited. There are movements that replicate the power output of Olympic lifts, but don’t hit on all the other great parts of Olympic lifts.

Improved coordination

The Olympic lifts are a great display of coordination and motor skill for all athletes. There is a precise control of the body that is necessary to complete these lifts. While this coordination is not identical to that required by any other sport nothing else in the weightroom is an identical match to sporting events either. This coordination does center around the hips and legs, similar to many other sporting events.

Improved power characteristics

The completion of the Olympic lifts includes full extension of the hips and knees in an explosive manner. This improvement has great carryover to hip and knee extension power in other areas of athletics. Athletes that are trained extensively in the Olympic lifts show improved rates of force development which greatly improves their power creating ability.

Improved force absorption

Often overlooked, receiving the bar overhead or at the chest requires the athlete to absorb force. This is the piece of the puzzle that can really make the Olympic lifts something that keeps athletes healthier. Most displays of power in the field of play must have a corresponding need to absorb force upon landing, Olympic lifts above other displays of power in the gym can provide this.

Success elsewhere

There are some athletes with whom I do not use the Olympic lifts. Those athletes that have a history of back pain or back injuries would be first among them. For younger athletes (12-14) I teach the Olympic lifts only as a skill, something to be improved upon by repetition not by weight used. For other athletes that are able, the Olympic lifts can serve a great role