Should You Create Periodized Training Plans for Your Online Personal Training Clients?

Nov 2, 2018

By Tim Saye

When trainers and coaches talk about periodisation, the first thing that comes in mind is sports performance, athletic performance and strength & conditioning. However, the more educated personal trainers become as they evolve on their own professional journey, the more they understand about periodisation and often start applying the method to programming for their own clients.

Jonathan Goodman, founder of the Online Trainer Academy and prior to that of the Personal Training Development Centre (PTDC) wrote an extensive blog article several years ago about why periodisation used with general population clients may cause more stress for you as a trainer, and for your clients too.

In a nutshell, clients who are athletes or are training for a specific event can benefit from a periodized training program, but most personal training clients don’t meet that criteria. They normally just want to lose weight, stay fit so they can be better parents, spend more quality time with family and friends and generally stay healthy.

This means that a holiday, an unexpected family event, like a child falling ill or even the client themselves getting sick can derail any well planned periodized programme and once the client resumes normal training schedule, you will need to assess before being able to adjust their workout.

Some clients lead such busy lives that their ever-changing work schedule could result in sessions being rescheduled or cancelled and if the workouts were designed based on a rigid plan, maintaining and tracking their progress may become much more challenging.

This is where a hybrid or online training service and a flexible plan that’s got structure for hitting targets but allows flexibility within the different phases can become more beneficial. We will get back to this flexible approach towards the end of this article.

What is Periodisation?

Periodisation is considered the foundation of exercise programming for athletes and it’s the method used by strength & conditioning coaches worldwide when creating an athlete’s training strategy to achieve peak performance for their sport events.
A periodized workout programme consists of three structural elements: macrocycle, mesocycle and microcycle. Let’s look at each of them.


It lasts a week or two and focuses on varying training intensities based on where the athletes are in their macro- and mesocycle. In other words, the microcycle will decide how much stress the athlete is put through in each training session or how many recovery days they will have to aid progression.

You may wonder what stress has got to do with exercise planning. Selye’s stress model, the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) explains the body’s physiological response to stress and is the foundation of strength and conditioning. Without it we wouldn’t be able to describe for example why weight lifting makes people stronger or why we need recovery to prevent overtraining and injuries. It’s an interesting read, feel free to dig in when you have the time.


A mesocycle is made up of 3-4 microcycles and is designed to achieve a specific goal by the end of the cycle. This means that during the full length of the mesocycle the workouts are created to help the athlete progress in one area of their performance: power, strength, speed or skills.


The macrocycle is the longest cycle, normally lasts for a year and includes different stages based on where the athlete is in the yearly cycle of their sport. Meso and microcycles are designed based on where in their macrocycle an athlete is: preparation, competition or transition. It’s imperative that the stages of a periodized plan for a bodybuilder or powerlifter will significantly differ from those of an endurance or field athlete.

In brief, periodisation is a brilliant system that allows S&C coaches to create a training plan for their athletes within a framework, designed for people whose lives revolve around sport performance.

Why Periodisation May Not Be the Best Strategy for Online PT Clients

Chances are that most of your clients’ lives are about their work, family and other social commitments. This means that exercise and their fitness goals will come second, third or will be even further down on the priority list.

The sooner you can accept that the sooner you'll be able to provide them with the right tools to help them achieve those goals while they can live a fulfilling life. So, how do you tackle all this, create a plan that is free of unnecessary stress and is tailor designed to their specific needs?

Applying the principles employed in periodisation but creating a framework that is more flexible may sound like a challenge. The good news is that you only need to create your system once. Employing a tool like PT Distinction in the process can make your life even easier, as it already has the features ready, you just need to add your framework and fill it with clients. You can even brand and make it look your very own.

Once your system is setup and many of the repetitive steps are automated, every new client can be added and taken through the same workflow until you have all the information you need to create their programme. What are the essential steps to designing a truly client-centred and goal specific workout plan that will help them see the desired results and still fit in with their lifestyle?

Identifying the path, you and your client need to take together is a great early step to deliver the best service possible. You can use the following stages as workflow tasks to tick with your client before designing their ideal programme.

The 5 Steps to Exercise Programming for Personal Trainers:

1. Consultation Process vs Motivational Interviewing
2. Fitness and Lifestyle Assessment – Establishing Baseline and Client Readiness
3. SMART Goal Setting - Identifying Short/Mid/Long Term Goals
4. Lifestyle Planning – Creating Your Flexible Framework
5. Exercise Programming – It’s Time to Fill the Framework with Goal Specific Workouts

In an upcoming blog series, we will investigate strategies you can employ at each of these stages, helping you step-by-step through creating your very own online personal training flexible framework for exercise programming.


The PTDC - Personal Trainers Shouldn’t Periodize

Strength and Conditioning Journal - The Science and Practice of Periodization: A Brief Review

Concepts of Training and Conditioning - Stress, Adaptation and Overload