How to Periodize Your Training Program to Make Continual Progress

Why Isn’t Your Workout Working?

Have you been wondering why you stop making progress (e.g., growing muscle, gaining strength or losing weight)?

Have you been doing the same workout routine over and over? That is, you’re bored and stuck in a fitness rut.

Have you thought about changing up your training program , mixing up workout routine or even taking a long break from training?

There are many training systems available depending on your goals and training cycle. Here is why your workout isn’t working. The basic concept starts with variation and progression for a training system. It’s related to so called general adaptation syndrome (Ref. 1 and 2).

It states that variation of certain training factors will lead to greater gains than no variation. When you experience a new training stimulus, your body is “shocked” with some physiological discomfort. Your body adapts to the stimulus and improve performance after a few repeated sessions. After a while your body is used to the routine and intensity and becomes more efficient, the gains start to diminish. Your body has no reason to grow if you stop working out surpassing an optimal intensity threshold.

“Put it this way. There is no magic training system, sets or reps. Everything works but nothing works forever,” says Carey Yang, a certified personal trainer and owner of Beyond Fitness Solutions in Morris County, New Jersey.

Periodization — Keep Your Workout Working

The concept of periodization is to change the training stimulus for gains to continue to occur progressively. The training stimulus can be changed by varying volume, load and intensity . Periodization was originally modeled in terms of Olympic weightlifting . Many concepts have been applied directly to fitness training.

Periodization refers to the “planned” manipulation of training volume, load and intensity throughout a series of specific training phases or cycles. Periodization is an application of the principles of progressive training . You vary your repetitions, sets, weight and intensity during each cycle. It’s a method used to make continual improvements in performance throughout the year and avoid reaching plateau.

If you follow the same workout for any length of time, your body soon adapts to the constant load and your gains diminish. However, by structuring your long-term training goals in a number of training cycles, you will be able to make gains in strength, mass and endurance all year round. It will also help you avoid overtraining and injuries.

What Is A Periodization Program?

A periodization program is divided into a number of distinct training cycles. The longest cycle is called a macrocycle and usually spans a period of one year, although shorter macrocycles can be used. This would suit those who cannot commit themselves to a year-round program or those who want greater variety in their training.

The macrocycle is then broken down into 2 to 6 shorter training cycles (mesocycles). Each mesocycle spans several weeks and emphasises a particular training goal (e.g., hypertrophy for muscle mass, strength, maximum strength/power, or muscular endurance).

A well designed traininig program starts off with higher volume, lower intensity and lower skill workouts. The program gradually increases in training intensity toward heavier weights, lower reps and requires higher skill levels. The aim is to peak at the end of your mesocycle.

Each mesocycle is followed by a short period of 1-2 week rest. Rest is very important to allow your body to recover from the intense training and relieve stresses on your bones and joints. Resting doesn’t mean that you do absolutely nothing. You’ll engage in “active” resting and recovery. You do only very light training, or a completely different activity for cross training such as golf or recreational swimming that does not tax your energy systems or central nervous system in the same way. Each mesocycle is then divided into week­long microcycles , around which you plan your day-to-day workouts.

Types of Periodization Program

There are many variations in the periodization program, depending on your goals, training experience and lifestyle.

Linear Periodization: It’s the classcic and straightforward method. You do something, make some progress to the next level or next thing, reach a peak, and back off for a break. “The main problem is that you constantly move away from the quality you’ve just developed,” Alwyn says. Linear periodization starts from high reps/low loads and progresses successively to low reps/high loads. For example, you lift 15 reps in Phase One, 12 reps in Phase Two, 10 reps in Phase Three and 8 reps in Phase Four. Alternating Periodization: Instead of going straight linearly from the highest reps to the lowest, you alternate reps and workloads in different phases. For example, you can lift 10 reps in Phase One, 12 reps in Phase Two, 6 reps in Phase Three and 15 reps in Phase Four. Conjugate Periodization: A program can mix and match weights/reps in different stages. It combines some heavy lifts for strength, some fast lifts for power, some medium-rep sets for muscle mass, and some high-rep sets for muscular endurance. Undulating Periodization : This program is designed for athletes who need to maintain high levels of muscular endurance, strength and mass throughout the season. The undulating periodization program adjusts the sets, reps, rep tempo and rest period in every single workout.

Embrace The Changes
Some periodization programs may be better or more suitable for one than the other. Any type of periodization is better than the other types of training programs. Most people respond much better if their training program is periodically changed according to these principles.

Get Professional Help

Still have problems? Hire a qualified personal trainer to help you design an individualized fitness training program.

1. Medvedeyev, A. A System of Multi-Year Training in Weightlifting . Trans. Andrew Chamiga. Linovia, Russia: Sportiviny Press, 1989.
2. Fleck, S. and Kraemer, W. Designing Resistance Programs . Champaign, IL: Human Kinectics, 1988.

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