Periodization and Why You Need to Use It

When it comes to starting a quality, EFFECTIVE fitness and wellness program, most people have no idea how to get going or what to look for. There are a lot of people who think they know what that type of program actually looks like, timelines, and how to actually hit the goals they want to, but often they are just spewing whatever they read in a magazine or heard from their friends.

There are so many workout plans and diets out there today that claim wild results but don’t seem to work. Why? First off, you cannot do the same cycle, exercises, weights, reps, and sets over and over again and expect to continue making the same progress. Your body adapts and stops responding to it. Same for being on a perpetual weight loss cycle, or even a weight gain cycle. Eventually you will need to swap it up.

The programs you find online are usually built very generically and often picked up by someone without any thought as to where they fit into an overall goal plan (if you have one) and how the plan helps get them there. The program might say ‘hypertrophy’ or ‘powerlifting’ as its purpose, and, while you might make some changes by using them, you need a larger strategic goal built over the long term to actually get where you want to be.

Regardless of what you may have been told, it’s far more than *just* going to the gym and working out a few times per week with a plan you found online. There has to be a deliberate, measured approach to changing your life for the better. And, while exercise plays a huge role in that, you have to be strategic with timelines, mini goals, and behavioral changes to avoid your body stagnating through adaptation and plateauing out. This approach is known as periodization.

What is Periodization?

Periodization has allowed many people to reach their fitness goals safely and effectively. Anyone who is anyone in the fitness world uses it to one degree or another, from the big guy at the gym to Olympic athletes, CrossFitters, and StrongMen competitors. A lot of people may have heard about it and possibly have even tried the concept out via the classic ‘cutting and bulking’ cycle concepts. They just don’t know how to use periodization to it’s greatest extent and it seems like a mysterious process.

Many people have to ask what it is because it is a subject that isn’t always talked about. That is, unless you are speaking with someone deep into fitness, a trainer, or a coach.

Periodization training is a workout strategy where you change training variables at regular intervals to get the best result. This means implementing different training methods as your training progresses in order to enhance efficacy. 

Coaches, athletes, and gym rats build out and use a periodized training program to help prevent overtraining while optimizing competitive performance. It has been used for activities such as weightlifting, cycling, and running but can also be used in other parts of your life. A periodized plan will help you bust through plateaus, big strength or body composition goals, and train for whatever competition you have in store.

Periodization Benefits 

When beginners are setting fitness goals they often do not factor in adapting or recovering, and most likely do not plan to switch up their training on a regular basis. This normally results in plateauing and gym veterans understand that doing the same thing constantly is the fastest way to burnout.

Periodized training benefits anyone in fitness by helping them progress while lessening the chances of hurting themselves. It also combats burnout in gym-goers and athletes alike, since the work being done changes pretty regularly. 

The Three Phases of Periodization

There are three main phases within any periodized training schedule. 

1. Macrocycles: This refers to the overall program, which can last for a year or longer. Macrocycles are the big picture. What goal do you want to hit over the next 365 days? Put on 20lbs of muscle? Lose 60lbs of fat? Run a marathon? This is the long term goal you are training for.

2. Mesocycles: These are commonly 4 or 6-week cycles. They most often involve a few weeks of progressive training followed by a week of lower intensity training. They also tend to focus on one specific goal such as power, muscle growth, or strength. Stacking a few of these next to each other helps you reach your larger goal by breaking it down into smaller cycles with smaller, more easily attainable goals.

3. Microcycles: Microcycles often last a week or less. They may have different intensities depending on the training day. These can be the day to day workouts, refeeds, or any short term cycle with even smaller aims, all of which will help you better reach your larger goal.

Microcycles, and all the cycles up the chain, are pre-planned methodical approaches towards a strategy to help you in the long run. 

Methods of Periodization

The three main types of periodization are non-linear, linear, and reverse. Each method is effective in different ways, and combining them might be even more effective.

1. Undulating or Non-Linear: Non-linear periodization is sometimes regarded as the best method of periodization for athletes. Especially when competing in triathlons. 

It involves volume and load changes quite frequently such as daily or weekly. Often, the load increases and the volume decreases. 

During each mesocycle of non-linear periodization, you would change the exercise and workout order. Your first few weeks may have endurance, strength, and hypertrophy goals on different days. On the next mesocycle, you would switch these goals to different days.

2. Linear: Linear periodization involves changing your load and volume every one to four months. Each cycle has weeks of progressively increasing intensity until finishing with a light recovery week. 

The traditional linear plan has four mesocycles. It starts with hypertrophy and endurance. Then moves to basic strength. Next comes the power phase. Finally is the transition period. The linear periodization method is great because your body can adapt slowly. This means no burnout and a low risk of injuring oneself

3. Reverse: Reverse periodization is a version of non-linear periodization. The difference is it’s in reverse. Instead of the load increasing it decreases, and instead of the volume decreasing it increases. 

Some say that reverse periodization is great for athletes who are competing in marathons with long distances. Yet, most studies have not found any significant difference between different methods of periodization. 

There are a few other methods of periodization as well, such as block and flexible linear, but they aren’t as popular as the three above.

While the above macro, micro, and meso cycles are the actual periods, these methods are HOW you conduct those cycles. Goals vs actions.

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Periodization Training for Cardio

For running, periodization is a recommended training method. It helps runners increase their distance. They can use a training scheme that involves hills, sprints, and intervals. 

This will help them work up to their marathon or other running competition. They may also choose to increase their intensity as their runs get shorter to enhance their strength, endurance, and speed.  

For cycling, a training period might use hills, long distances, and sprint work. One way to prepare for a long bike ride is to start with shorter, intensified rides and gradually work towards longer, less intense rides. 

For swimming, the training is similar. If you are interested in being able to swim long distances, start with short, intensive swimming workouts. Then, slowly transition towards longer, slower swims.

The idea is to balance intensity. You cannot sustain long distance at high intensity exercises unless you work up to them. Look at track and field athletes vs marathon runners. Sprinters can go incredibly fast for short periods while marathon runners go slower for incredibly far distances. Use that example in your training.

Reach Your Fitness Goals

If you don’t train like an athlete, you are unlikely to have the endurance or strength of an athlete. Adapting to different fitness levels is essential to safely meet your target.

Reaching your fitness goals is a long process that takes effort. If going to the gym every day and doing similar workouts is not working for you, switch to a periodized program to help bust through that plateau.

Let Us help You Out

At CONDITIONerd we are here to help you achieve better physical and mental health through exercise. Check out the plans we offer to our customers and see if you could benefit from working with our team. And if you have questions, you can always contact a CONDITIONerd team member

Personal trainers, like those found here, can help guide you on your pathway towards reaching your fitness goals, whether that is getting bigger, stronger, faster, more lean, or just generally feeling better.

We can get you setup with a periodized workout plan, supplement information, and advice on nutrition to help you reach your goals.

The only thing you need is some motivation and a willingness to change some old habits.

Get into contact with us to find out what membership is right for you. In a CONDITIONerd program, you’ll be surrounded by others who can help you to get where you want to be.

Generally, our clients start to see some pretty awesome changes in 2-3 months time, some sooner.

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