Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
ISSN: 1303 - 2968   
Ios-APP Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
Androit-APP Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
©Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2017) 16, 27 - 34

Review article
Is Empirical Research on Periodization Trustworthy? A Comprehensive Review of Conceptual and Methodological Issues
José Afonso1, , Pantelis T. Nikolaidis2, Patrícia Sousa1, Isabel Mesquita1
Author Information
1 Centre for Research, Formation, Innovation, and Intervention in Sport. Faculty of Sport – University of Porto, Portugal
2 Department of Physical and Cultural Education – Hellenic Army Academy, Athens, Greece

José Afonso
✉ Centre for Research, Formation, Innovation, and Intervention in Sport. Faculty of Sport – University of Porto, Portugal
Publish Date
Received: 15-09-2016
Accepted: 22-12-2016
Published (online): 01-03-2017

Periodization is a core concept in training. Recently, systematic reviews and meta-analyses have attempted to provide a comprehensive overview of the topic, but theoretical criticisms have arisen with regard to how such research has been conducted. The purpose of the study was to review comprehensively the conceptual and methodological issues surrounding empirical research on periodization in training with human subjects. A search was conducted late in February 2016 on Academic Search Complete, CINAHL Plus, MedicLatina, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, PubMed, Scielo, Scopus, SPORTDiscus and Web of Science. Forty-two randomized or randomized controlled trials were retrieved. Problems emerged in three domains: (a) Conceptually, periodization and variation were applied differently in research, while no empirical research tested predictions concerning direction, timing or magnitude of the adaptations; (b) Study design: More than 95% of papers investigated the ‘physical’ factor (mainly strength). Research on long-term effects was absent (no study lasted more than nine months). Controlling for confounding factors such as nutrition, supplementation and medication was largely ignored; (c) Data analysis was biased as dispersion in responsiveness was ignored when discussing the findings. Overall, research on periodization fails to analyze the conceptual premises proposed by these approaches.

Key words: Periodized programs, randomized trials, research paradigms

           Key Points
  • Periodization is considered a core concept of training.
  • However, conceptual and methodological critiques have arisen.
  • We therefore comprehensively reviewed randomized and randomized trials applying periodized protocols to human subjects.
  • Overall, the concepts of periodization and variation are being used interchangeably, which represents an intellectual mistake with implications for how we interpret the results of the studies.
  • Additional methodological shortcomings make current research on periodization largely unreliable.
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