Training Periodization - Why It's Important

Training Periodization

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As a trainer of everyone from the average woman wanting to lose weight to the guy who is getting ready for the Olympia, I've seen it all over the years. There isn't a workout or split that I haven't seen used, or used myself, and there isn't a method of training or diet that has eluded me in the gazillion years I've been in the gym business.

Using training routines and adapting them is nothing new for bodybuilders or regular folk, but I still marvel that, despite all the talk about refreshing routines and making changes in the way we approach our workout goals, people don't properly take advantage of periodization. A plateau of any kind ought to be very noticeable to anyone, novice or professional, and that's where periodization comes in handy.


A body adapts in response to being served up the same old routine again and again. That's why, no matter how ideal or convenient a diet may be, day in and day out, to stay on track and not stimulate craving, it still causes the body to adapt in a way that makes it no longer willing to change in the presence of that food. The same principle applies to any workout you may do over and over again. Staying with a basic routine for a period of time is okay, but that time frame should be limited and predetermined, or reassessed when the body seems to have adapted to it.

Your body isn't dumb. It knows when you're trying to spoon-feed it the same workouts for too long. When you do this, it rebels, as if to say, "I don't have to and I'm not going to!" This refusal to grow or change in the presence of the same old workout is indication that a change is needed. Seeing a plateau means you've already gone too long with the same workout. Intelligent planning and periodization should prevent your ever reaching a noticeable plateau. If you are seeing a plateau, it means you have gone about three weeks too far into the same old reheated routine, and have robbed yourself of 14 to 21 precious opportunities for growth and change.

When you continually change your workouts, cardio routine and diet, your body never catches on. However, you want to change these elements meaningfully, rather than simply altering them randomly and without thought. Shock your body with meaningful variety, and challenge it to continue changing. You need to do a bit of research about what you're trying to accomplish. You may reason that your buddies know what they're doing and you're just following along, so your success will be inevitable by association, but that's not always so. Know what changes you can make that will produce the outcome you want, based on the body you are. If you're aiming for increased muscle mass, you'll change your routine with that goal in mind. If your objective is sport specific, you'll construct routines that affect you positively in terms of physical form and function.

Know Your Subject

Knowing where you want to be, and who you are as a person - both in habits and in physical makeup - will help you to know how periodization can assist you in reaching your goals. If, for instance, you're an ectomorph, and have a difficult time putting on weight, all is not lost. You're not going to approach mass gain in the same way as an endomorph.

You'll be eating a lot more food to support your training, and you'll be training heavy within low set and rep ranges and taking tons of rest between workouts. In fact, you'll probably do best on a routine of one bodypart daily, four or five days a week, or a straight three-lift powerlifting routine of bench, squat and deadlift. As an endomorph, you'll train with more speed intensity, rather than weight intensity, since you put on muscle easily, and will move rapidly through your workout in near-circuit fashion.

How Periodization Works

You can alter your strength-training routine in several ways. You can change the order of the bodyparts you work during the week, combine one bodypart with another that requires more than one type of skill. Instead of using pull exercises for back with other pull exercises for biceps, you can combine push exercises with pull exercises as for biceps and triceps. Increase or decrease the repetitions you use or the number of sets you do, the amount of resistance used, the period of rest you take between sets, the speed at which you lift, and the complexity of workout combinations (such as super and giant sets). The point is, you need to make changes that are meaningful to what you want to accomplish. That means understanding where you are relative to your goals.

Goals Determine the Change

If you are an aspiring professional body-builder, periodization is probably crucial to your progress and overall success. Failure to make the right changes at the right time could mean the difference between second and seventh place in a big competition. Intelligent training is equally important, relatively speaking, to anyone wanting to see regular growth and change.

If you are trying to reach a particular date with a certain amount of weight or change in your physical appearance, periodization becomes the key to success. If your goal is more muscle, you'll want to change often, experimenting with the intensity, weight and set/rep scheme. If you're attempting to create a particular shape or illusion, you'll want to focus more on reps, sets, exercise tempo, and the rest you take between sets. Specialized techniques such as super or giant sets could be important.

Splits and Exercises

And then there is the type of split you use, as well as the exercises you include in a routine -whether they are compound, basic exercises (bench, squat) or more specialized movements (cable crossover, preacher curl). So many periodization options exist that you're unlikely to run out of steam or ideas. The most common program is one that moves you from lower resistance and high reps to increased resistance and lower reps. This approach allows you to strengthen your muscles gradually and safely while introducing you to heavy training.

That's for the beginner. What about the intermediate or advanced bodybuilder? Depending upon body type, and whether the goal is to increase muscle mass, periodization should focus on both general mass-building and specific exercises that enhance bodypart specialization. That means an experienced trainer is focusing not only on higher intensity (weight used, for example) and lower repetitions, but also on adding exercises that will add specific dimension to the body he is trying to build. If quads are weak, more leg-training is required, provided it still supports mass-building. If triceps are lagging and are eclipsed by overpowering biceps, then biceps-training may be minimized or cut out altogether while training focuses on bringing the triceps up to speed.

Periodization for Specific Sports

Periodization can be very helpful for specific sports. Typically, this means an athlete concentrates on endurance, agility, strength, balance and speed. You can accomplish all these goals through strength-training routines if they are properly constructed. Following a routine that includes all bodyparts, a guy trying to prepare for football or another strength / endurance sport would include supersets, giant sets and other combined sets to gain strength and endurance for the sport. In football both are equally important. Then again, the next period of training may include heavier movements with specific bodyparts that need injury protection. Those major muscle groups like legs and chest may require more density. In this case a general powerlifting routine may do the trick, with light focus on shoulders, calves, arms, abs and hamstrings.

Even sprinters may make a few trips to the weight room during their running season. Although they may not train as much or as often as other athletes, they might benefit from high repetitions combined with a lot of cable work that keeps the focus on tendon and insertion-point strength in the legs, lower back, abdominals and calves. Periodization for them may mean maintenance work during the season, and more focus on power and strength in the off-season. Usually periodization for specific sports involves changing workouts with the season. Function rather than appearance is usually the objective.

Periodizing Cardiovascular Workouts

Periodization is not just for strength training. It can also encompass the realm of cardiovascular and diet. When planning to periodize your cardio training, think in the same terms as you would with your strength training: What are you trying to accomplish? - weight loss? speed? endurance? maintenance?

If you want to preserve muscle, combining high-intensity, quick-burst, power- oriented sprint training is essential. Anaerobic mixed with aerobic workouts can accomplish this goal. Many bodybuilders fail to take advantage of this type of cardio training. They prefer to avoid cardio altogether and diet harder to achieve their goals without muscle loss. In fact, you can still achieve fat loss from sprint training while boosting the volume of muscle in the legs. What's more, sprinting also helps strengthen and thicken tendons in the hip flexors and tendons that run through the quads and hamstrings. Thus it helps improve the appearance and quality of the muscle for competition and makes for a much more complete-looking bodybuilder.

Those concerned with the preservation of muscle and fullness can accomplish high-intensity quick-burst sprint training by actually sprinting or by doing quick power/ speed movements in combination for an explosive workout. Periodization is about strategic change in any sort of workout. You can apply the principle to one giant set or to your training over a period of weeks. You can tailor your cardio workouts according to the general direction of your training.

Doing a circuit which includes Versa-Climber, running stairs, and jump squats in pliometric fashion can burn fat. It also can preserve and even build muscle in some cases. Changing workouts over the course of a month by varying types of cardio is a great way to accomplish both big and small goals.

Practice periodization in cardio and weight-training workouts, and your successes will at least double during the coming year. Failing to periodize is, in my opinion, what keeps bodybuilders from the kind of success that is surely within their grasp, but rarely attained.

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