Article

Periodization: What It Is and Why You Need It

Posted on: Monday, July 8th, 2019

Category: Personal Training

Personal Trainer and Clients in Haarlem

Picture this: You were doing super well setting up and sticking to a workout routine, and that initially gave you great results. But now, the results have kind of… fizzled – the same workouts that once seemed to work wonders now seem ineffective. What changed?

Well, it’s probably a lack of periodization.

Let’s dig into it. 

What is periodized training?

Periodization is the systematic division of a training program into smaller, progressive stages. It means that you’re strategically changing things up at regular intervals, with each stage focused on its unique goals. By turning your mind to this type of strategy, you will be primed to maximize your performance over the long run.  

In a practical sense, you can imagine periodization to look something like this: think of 12 months of your athletic life as a macrocycle, a broad framework for your training year. Within it, mesocycles of 4-8 week periods will gradually build on themselves in different ways, whether that be in length of workout, the intensity of weight or the amount of volume you are doing, to keep you progressing. Lastly, microcycles are one-week roadmaps of exactly what you should be doing in your sessions day to day – from types of exercise to the specific weight, speed and rest you need – to follow your plan. 

What periodization can do for you

The principle of adaptation tells us that the body gets accustomed to particular exercises or types of training through repeated exposure. Initially, this means a boost in your strength and conditioning. As the body adapts to the stress of your program by learning the movement patterns (neurological development), increasing its capabilities to recruit muscle fibres (mechanical development), and distribute oxygen and blood around your body (metabolic development), it becomes easier to perform. And then it becomes too easy. For continued adaptation to occur, your body needs to be confronted with a stressor that creates the need for a response.

Think back to how sore you were when you started a new routine or did an exercise for the first time. After the few weeks of training, the amount of soreness you experienced probably went down quite a bit. Periodized training accounts for this principle strategically by making sure that your body never gets too comfortable. That challenge will keep you guessing and progressing.

And if you don’t periodize your training?

No matter your level, you should plan to change up your workout routine strategically – preferably every 6-8 weeks – to maximize adaptation. If you don’t, one of two things will likely happen:

The dreaded plateau: When you plateau, you’ll start to notice you no longer see as much progress toward your goal. This is because your body has maximally adapted to the movements, volumes and intensities you are training it at. Your body has caught on to your routine and, due to the lack of new stimulation, it’s now a step ahead.

You’ll progress… until injury: Another more serious outcome of non-periodized training is the risk of overtraining into injury. Overtraining happens when you exceed your body’s ability to recover by putting repeated stress on it. When stressors are too much to handle, it causes a breakdown or injuries like stress fractures, muscle strains, joint pain and emotional fatigue. Not only will you cease to make progress here, you’ll even start to lose some of your strength and fitness gains. 

So what does a periodized program look like, then?

Periodization can take all sorts of forms: for strength training, this can look like linear periodization through a stability phase, a hypertrophy/muscle building phase and then a maximal strength phase, for example. A conditioning program, on the other hand, may run through training phases at different heart rate intensities aimed to strengthen your different energy systems. Which type of training and what periodization looks like for you will be entirely based on your performance goals and timeline.

Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned athlete, though, periodization is the key to progress. Left to our own devices, many of us spend the majority of our time doing the movements we favour over and over again, to our detriment. With a bird’s eye view of your goals and exercise preferences, a personal trainer can help you balance out your routine and progress in a way that maintains your gains and keeps them coming. 

If you’d like some help coming up with a personalized, periodized program, get in touch. Let’s talk about how we can work together to help you bust a move on those goals of yours!

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