Periodization is a term used by trainers, fitness instructors and coaches. It typically refers to a year round exercise program and is common amongst athletes, fitness enthusiasts and any individual serious about his/her goals.
Periodization involves lumping specific training objectives into phases in order to constantly manipulate the overload principle.
Our bodies adapt to stress very well, usually within periods of 3 – 6 weeks providing consistent work is present. By slightly changing the goal – number of reps performed or the amount/type of resistance used (volume, intensity), the body will continue to get stronger (adapt). For example: John (a novice) begins a conditioning cycle (to develop stamina and muscular tone) consisting of jogging and light resistance training 5 x a week for 30 min each session. After the first 4 weeks, John continues along this path for another 4 weeks only now his endurance sessions are 35 – 40 min in duration and his resistance training has increased as well. This is called progression. By now John has significantly improved his cardiovascular and muscular endurance, along with moderate improvements to his physique. This concludes phase 1.
For the next 4 weeks, John’s objective will be to maximize muscle hypertrophy using a bodybuilding split – moderate resistance training (rep range 10 – 12) 3 x a week with 2 cardiovascular sessions (30 min each). The following 4 weeks is similar but the resistance will increase (rep range 8-10) and the cardiovascular aspect will consist of interval training. This concludes phase 2.
After 4 months of consistent training, John has improved his general health and fitness levels. His cardiovascular endurance has drastically increased along with his muscular tone, strength and athletic ability. This is a classic example of periodization. The initial 2 months were conditioning cycles designed to improve basic stamina and muscular endurance (a very important aspect before beginning serious strength training). The following 2 months were strength cycles designed to maximize muscle strength, size and increase metabolic rate.
Using different exercise equipment such as barbells, kettlebells, sandbags, resistance bands, weighted vests and our own bodyweight is a perfect example on how to incorporate periodization into your training. The phases can be dedicated to using specific equipment as oppose to training goals.
Periodization is very individual. It’s a concept that would best be used under trainers’ or coaches’ supervision. However periodization methods can be used by everybody. Simply dedicate a predisposed period of time (3 – 6 weeks) to a specific goal/equipment. After that phase is complete, repeat the same process only with different training goals/equipment. Once physical and internal adaptations occur, we must change the stimuli in order to keep challenging ourselves. This same course of action could continue all year. We train to build our bodies and improve our abilities. Using periodization could help you blast through plateaus and reach new levels.