What Is Periodization?

By Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

Do you walk into the gym and aimlessly begin performing exercises? Perhaps you pick up weights and lift in no particular order or with no goal in mind. Maybe you run on the treadmill for the same amount of time at the same speed every single day. If this sounds like you and your tired of the same stagnate workout, then consider setting fitness goals through periodization.

What is periodization?
In simple terms, periodization is the act of implementing a specific sports goal for a specific time frame. Most athletes train with a goal in mind. They train to for conditioning, to burn fat, or increase speed.  This method of organization and planning help to achieve maximum physical performance by alternating training methods to achieve peak performance for a competition. 

By varying your training program in regular intervals, you gain the benefits of:

  • Improved muscle endurance
  • Greater strength
  • More powerful movements
  • Improved motor performance
  • Improved muscle hypertrophy

How do I use a periodization program?
You can gain the same benefits as athletes when performing a periodization program. Periodization goals can be set for short term (weeks and months) and long-term (years or a lifetime) performance improvements.

When planning a periodization program, many variables can be manipulated to optimize your performance:

  • Number of sets
  • Number of reps
  • Types of exercise
  • Number of exercises performed
  • Rest periods between sets
  • Muscle action tempo
  • Number of training sessions per week
  • Length of each training session
  • Amount of strength training and cardio performed

The most important factor to consider when designing a periodization program is the increased amount of stress you put on your muscles. Essentially, you never always want to strive for bigger gains.

Periodization may require a week of deloading every 4 weeks in your training. Deloading gives you a break from intense training without stopping your training altogether. When you deload, you:

  • Allow your body and mind to rest
  • Peak for a competition or meeting
  • Prevent overtraining
  • Increase your chances of progress due to muscle recovery
  • Prevent injury

How do I plan a periodization program as an athlete?
If you are training for a competition, then you can break periodization down into phases over the course of a year:

Base building phase (12-24 weeks):
This is the most crucial phase because all elements of training are built up from this initial foundation. During this time, you focus on improving your overall physical performance and skill efficiency. You work to develop your skills at a low intensity level as to avoid injury or overtraining.

Pre-competition phase (4-12 weeks):
During this phase, you increase your intensity, adding in interval training, explosive training, and speed and agility work.

Specific adaptation building phase (4-8 weeks):
This is where you focus in building a few key adaptation aspects for your competition. If you are training to run a marathon, you may focus on a specific terrain. Whatever differentiation will occur during your main goal, you work on during this time.

Peaking phase (1-4 weeks):

Peaking varies depending upon your sport or training goals.  Weightlifter and bodybuilders up the intensity of training while decreasing the amount of weight used. Tri-athletes may taper their training during this time.



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