Frank Dick’s Sports Periodisation Principles

Professor Frank W Dick OBE, is a world renowned coach, as well as being the President of the European Athletics Coaches Association. From 1979 to 1994 he was the Director of Coaching at the British Athletic Federation and was a previous international athlete. He wrote what is widely regarded as the classic textbook in the field of Sports Training Principles and is the hall mark of many a student or practitioner of applied sports science, Physical Education teachers, fitness advisors, coaches and athletes alike.

This is the next instalment in my series about Periodisation (English spelling with an ‘s’, American spelling is traditionally with a ‘z’) and the methodologies from coaches that guided my early philosophies around periodisation of training seasons and event build ups. Have a read of last weeks article about Marc Evan’s and what he recommends his book Endurance Athlete’s Edge :

Dick describes dividing the year into three basic objectives to prepare the athlete for:

  • the achievement of an optimal improvement in their performance;
  • a definite climax to the competition season; and
  • the main competitions associated with that climax.

In his book, Dick discusses the concepts and theories of LP Matveyev with the basis of a three macrocycles or periods for the build up. These three periods describe the cyclic performance development model:

  1. Preparation (Adaptation)
  2. Competition (Application)
  3. Transition (Regeneration)

These three phases are then further subdivided into shorter training phases which are referred to as mesocycles.

Mesocycle I (Preparation)

“Training to train.”

The initial phase of training is the longest for the annual cycle, being about one third of that cycle. I.E. four months for a single periodisation. For a double periodised year the first phase will be for eight to ten weeks, with a further six to eight weeks reintroduced after the first competitive phase (Mesocycle III).

This phase is characterised by a gradual build up of training load, as the athlete builds their fitness and prepares for the high intensity that will follow in Mesocycle II. Training is general in nature with the focus on the endurance end of the their event development. However, there will be some exposure to higher intensities so that Mesocycle II isn’t a complete shock to the body.

The establishment of a sound basis of aerobic fitness with some training to perfect the techniques of the sport, are the primary goals.

Mesocycle II (Preparation)

“Training to compete.”

This is the hardest mesocycle of the season. Matveyev recommends it lasting for eight weeks when single periodised , or a six week mesocycle if double periodisation is used. However, Dick suggests stretching this to eight to twelve weeks and four weeks plus four weeks if a double periodisation is used and the annual cycle is extended out past 52 weeks. The advantage of doing so is to ensure that the progression is more gradual.

The mesocycle runs directly into the competitive period and aims to unite the component parts of the or foundations of training into a complete package. Within this mesocycle training becomes more specialised but the previous areas of focus are continued.

The ratio between general and specific training is decreased, although the total volume of work stays the same or slightly decreased, the intensity is increased and the volume of specific training increases. Technique is further refined as the athlete progresses the development of strength and speed simultaneously.

Towards the end of this phase exposure to competitive events and race like experiences should occur.

Mesocycle III (Competition)

“Competing to learn.”

The priority within this mesocycle is to stabilise competitive performance. Optimal performance will come as the athlete is tested in key competitions.

The blending of the elevated levels of sport specific and event fitness, which have been brought on throughout the preparation microcycle, need to be continued to develop high level results.

General loadings are further decreased to allow more time for the training of specific components.

The amount of specific loading will vary depending on how many events and the load delivered by the sequence of these events. Loading or volume may change significantly from week to week depending on a number of factors.

Mesocycle IV (Competition)

“Training to win.”

For athletes who have a long competitive season, it is advisable to introduce a mesocycle of four to six weeks where the training load is reduced and competitions are eliminated. General and related training is increased. The purpose of this is to impact the active recovery from both the emotional and physical stress of competition

Mesocycle V (Competition)

“Competing to win.”

Within this phase there is an expectation that the major competitive event will fall, whether it is the national championships, world championships, Olympic or something more personal to the athlete in question.

Mesocycle VI (Transition)

“Recharging to train.”

A period of regeneration is essential after a year of hard work, training and competing.

This phase can be described as low key and must bring the athlete to the start of the next season totally prepared from training. The focus should be on leisure pursuits for this phase with the gradual reintroduction of general training towards the end. On no account should this macrocycle be passive.

Examples of how a year can be split with a Single and Double Periodisation


This is a classic style of periodisation, which will build the athlete progressively through a cycle of training that will ensure that that athlete can perform at their peak during the competitive phases.

Written by world renowned coach and President of the European Athletics Coaches Association, Frank Dick, Sports Training Principles is the ultimate reference on training theory and practice for all coaches
responsible for developing athletes to fulfil their performance potential.

It covers: anatomy and basic biomechanics; energy production systems; psychology, learning procedures and technical training; performance components – strength, speed, endurance and mobility; training cycles, periodization, adaptation to external loading and coaching methods.

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