Periodization for Combat Sports

Periodization is defined as “An organized approach to training that involves progressive cycling of various aspects of a training program during a specific period of time.” (Dr. Frankel, C.C. & Kravitz, L. (2000). There are many forms of periodization including: traditional, step-wise, undulating and overreaching. Each has its own merits.

The method of periodization discussed in this article is called “Synthesis Periodization™” as it attempts to synthesize each training modality into a streamlined, organized and simple system that can be applied to any sport requiring explosive strength. This method is a shortcut to understanding the relationship between different training methods and how they interact. This periodization system is one that I have used for to train both professional and amateur athletes in many sports, including MMA, submission grappling, wrestling, football, baseball, olympic weightlifting, in addition to non-athletes like law enforcement and military personnel.

“Synthesis Periodization™” draws from these six primary disciplines:

  1. Physical Therapy
  2. Triathlon Training
  3. Bodybuilding
  4. Powerlifting
  5. Olympic Weightlifting
  6. Gymnastics

Each discipline has something to offer the science of sport combat. None of them by themselves will create the perfect athlete. It is the coach’s job to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each training modality. These six disciplines must be utilized in a specific order to maximize the effects of each. If these definitions don’t sit well with you, define them according to their objectives as indicated below.

1. Physical Therapy Phase
The purpose of the physical therapy phase is to restore the athlete. This requires  adequate rest, recovery, and a focus on light work. The prime objective is to eliminate the accumulation of trauma from intense training and competition. This phase starts by allowing the athlete several weeks of rest, followed by treating any injuries. The volume and intensity is low in this phase because the objective is to allow natural and assisted healing processes to take effect. Depending on the severity of trauma, this phase may last anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months; it is all based on the needs of the athlete.

2. Triathlon Phase 
The second, or triathlon phase has several purposes which include:

  • Increase the cardiovascular efficiency of the athlete
  • Manage the body fat percent of the athlete
  • Further the physical therapy phase by gradually introducing moderately intense exercises into the training regime
  • Utilize the three triathlon training exercises: swimming, running and biking as part of a general physical preparation program.

General fitness is the objective of this phase. This phase may last anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months depending on the needs of the athlete. For example, if the athlete starts this phase with a low VO2 max and high body fat percentage, he may spend additional time in the triathlon training.

3. Body Building Phase
The objective of the third or body building phase is to use methods from bodybuilding to develop functional, appropriate, tissue hypertrophy. It is not arbitrary bulking, but the development of myofibrils, tendons, ligament, bone and other supporting structures that increase the durability and ruggedness of the athlete. “Stronger, thicker tissues are less prone to injury” (Hatfield 1989.) This is done while maintaining an optimum “strength to weight ratio” and not body building for its own sake.

Depending on the athletes needs, they may spend a couple of weeks to several months focusing on tissue hypertrophy. Always lay a solid foundation of tissue to prepare for upcoming high intensity phases. “Maximum strength produced by training is retained for longer if it is founded first upon a base of increased muscle hypertrophy” (Verkoshansky 1999.) Strength is optimized by modulating the athlete’s “strength deficit”. “To ascertain whether an athlete needs plyometric training or heavy resistance training depends on measuring the Strength Deficit.” (Verkoshansky 1999.) In other words, we need to focus on balancing phases of building muscle with phases of developing neuromuscular efficiency.

4. Powerlifting Phase
The objective of the fourth or powerlifting phase is to lay a foundation of strength or “force” as defined by Sir Isaac Newton: Force=(Mass x Acceleration). Simply put, focusing on strength without the “time” variable (the time variable will be inserted in the next phase). This type of strength is described by Dr. Fredrick Hatfield as “Limit strength” (Hatfield 2004). It will complement the following two phases. Maximum strength is the objective, and the three powerlifts; squat, deadlift and bench press are a good foundation for developing force-strength. The athlete’s’ speed may suffer in this phase. “Prolonged, heavy workloads slow the contraction speed of trained muscles.” (Verkoshansky 1999). However, strength or “force” will be converted to power and speed over the next two phases. The three powerlifts will make up the bulk of your training during this period. Other exercise and methods will bleed into this phase as needed.

5. Olympic Weightlifting Phase
The fifth or olympic weightlifting phase will focus on “power” as defined by Sir Isaac Newton:  Power= (Force x Distance divided by Time). Obviously this phase will contain the “Clean and Jerk” and the “Overhead Snatch”. These will not be the only exercises in this phase, but they will make up the majority of the training. Other phases will also “bleed” into this one. The prime objective is to convert the strength or “force” you gained in the previous phase into explosive power. This phase may include plyometrics, sprinting, kettlebell swings, sport specific exercises, and any other modality that will increase functional explosive strength.

6. Gymnastic Phase
The sixth or gymnastic phase will contain exercises that summate your body’s higher level of homeostasis.  In other words, you will be bigger, stronger and faster but need a way to synthesize your new level of performance into total body control and dynamic efficiency.     Agility, gracefulness, finesse, 360° spacial awareness and sport specific attributes will be the objectives of this phase. You must simultaneously maintain your new speed, strength, power and endurance gained in the other phases. This is analogous to turning yourself into a tiger. Although a rhinoceros may be stronger, they lack the agility, explosiveness and body control of the large cats, which is more conducive to sporting excellence. Gymnastics, tumbling, backflips, handsprings and acrobatics will make up the bulk of this training phase. Allow the other phases to bleed into this one as needed to maintain your new level of function. Body control, coordination and transforming your physical attributes into sport specific skills are the prime objective of this phase.

The Six Phase “Synthesis Periodization™” Cycle

Once you have completed the six cycles of “synthesis periodization™” you can begin repeating the first phase. The length of time spent in each phase will be determined by the needs of each athlete. Use these definitions loosely and allow each phase to last only as long as necessary to achieve the desired result. Don’t allow any specific physical attribute to outrun other bodily systems. Determine the optimum balance of attributes for each sport and create a program that best suites the needs of the athlete. This model of periodization works best with individual athletes but can be applied to teams with modifications. Each athlete on a team will need more work in certain areas of performance or injury management than others. It can become a nightmare to try to make a subjective training model fit on a large team scale.

Another way to look at these phases is to imagine a sports team with the perfect individualized support staff. If an athlete is injured they can go see the athletic trainer or massage therapist to fix their strains and sprains. If they lack endurance, they can go to the conditioning coach to increase their VO2 max. If they lack strength, power or muscular development, they can go to a strength coach to improve these areas. If they lack balance, coordination, body control or gracefulness, they can go to a gymnastics or ballet coach to work these attributes. Finally, they could also work with a technique coach from their sport to improve skill. A perfect support staff would offer all of these services with the shared goal of raising their team’s competency.

Below is a graph showing what a typical training year might look like. One of the most important features you will notice is that all of the methods are occurring simultaneously. The difference exists in proportion of effort. The different objectives must occur in proper sequence. For example, explosive power cannot improve much while an athlete is injured, endurance must be trained before speed, and fat loss must be done early in the season, etc. There are a host of factors that determine which bodily systems must be trained first. All their benefits cannot be maximized when done out of sequence, also known as, “Heterochronicity” (Verkoshonsky 1999.)


Figure 1. A typical training year using “Synthesis Periodization™”

Figure 1. A typical training year using “Synthesis Periodization™”

It is normal for unexpected injuries to occur, or an athlete may need additional time throughout the season spent focusing on a particular attribute. This is not a static model. It’s a guide to make sense out of all the different training methods, to maximize the result of each, and finally summate them into the highest level of performance possible. Adjust this model to suit your athlete’s or team’s needs.

“Synthesis Periodization™” can be summarized as follows:

  1. Fix injuries before anything else (Therapy phase)
  2. Increase the athlete’s VO2 max (Triathlon phase)
  3. Lay a foundation of durable, healthy tissue (Bodybuilding phase)
  4. Temper the new tissue with strength (Powerlifting phase)
  5. Make the tissue more explosive (Olympic Weightlifting phase)
  6. Total body, sport specific, synchronized harmony (Gymnastic/Acrobatic phase)

Some sports scientists use periodization models that are similar to mine, however, the differences are great enough to warrant another classification. For example, Dr. Tudor Bompa uses the following sequence in his book “Periodization Training for Sports” (Bompa 1999.)

  • Phase #1 anatomical adaptations
  • Phase #2 hypertrophy
  • Phase #3 maximum strength
  • Phase #4 conversion to power

Skill is Not Included

Skill is not listed within the six cycles of “Synthesis Periodization”. It is assumed that skill training goes on throughout the year in a linear fashion since most sports are team-based and skill training is dictated by coaches. Physical training is often left to the individual, since most team training sessions focus on technical development rather than fitness preparation.

Synthesis Periodization and Traditional Periodization Working Together

The graph below describes the “Traditional Periodization” model which should be used concurrently with the “Synthesis Model™” as they are not contradictory but complementary. “Periodization has stood the test of time for the simple fact that there are so many progressions and ways to structure your training so that you can be at your best when it matters most. Failing to utilize any form of periodization for your training could lead to overtraining, failure to recover appropriately for progression, and the inability to see the progress you deserve from the time you put into training.”


About Sam Basco

Sam Basco is a lifelong competitor, coach and student of Mixed Marital Arts and Combat Sports Training.  Sam coaches submission grappling, wrestling and strength training for combat athletes at Flawless Victory MMA in Ridgecrest CA.  Visit to learn more about customized personal or team strength and conditioning program created by, Sam Basco, a licensed and experienced professional.  You can also reach Coach Basco via email at or phone at (760)-499-0692




Dr.Tudor Bompa, “Periodization Training for Sports”.

Dr. Mel C. Siff and Dr.Yuri Verkoshansky “Supertraining”.

Dr. Fredrick Hatfield “Power, a Scientific Approach”.

Dr. Thomas D. Fahey “Strength and Conditioning”.

C.S.C.S. Harvey Newton “Explosive Lifting for Sports”.

Dr. Yuri Verkoshansky and Natalia Verkoshansky “Special Strength Training for Sports”.

Bruce Lee’s “Tao of Jeet Kune Do”.

Dr. Fredrick Hatfield “Bodybuilding a Scientific Approach”

Dr. Fredrick Hatfield “Fitness the Complete Guide.”

Dr. Frankel, C.C. & Kravitz, L. (2000). Periodization: Latest Studies and Practical Applications. IDEA Personal Trainer, 11(1), 15-16.

Suggested reading

In the article “The long-delay training effect of strength loads”, published in the May of 1983 in the monthly magazine “Theory and Practice of Physical Culture”.

Suggested Viewing

Dr. yessis on CNN News discussing Russian “Soviet Union” training methodology.

Dr. yessis on NBC news “Today” show, Russian “Soviet Union” training methodology.

Dr. Yessis on Dr. Yuri Verkoshonsky “Master of sports training.”