PERIODIZATION: How to train more efficiently

Everyone seems to talk about periodization training but what exactly is it? I like the explanation of Mark Lauren from his Book You are your own gym, one of my favorite exercise books and the one with which I started my new fitness journey some time ago. Let’s read what Mark has to say about periodization.

Knowing why and how you should be doing each workout, rather than blindly going through the motions, will give you the drive to push through hard times, prevent burnout, and give you the know-how to customize the program as your body changes and adapts. The key ingredient to my program is periodization: Structured fluctuation of training volume and intensity.

  • Training Volume: Number of sets multiplied by number of reps.
  • Training Intensity: Difficulty of a movement. For example, a One-Arm Push Up has a higher intensity than a Classic Push Up.

Variety, regularity, specificity, progression, overload, and recovery—the 6 necessary training principles—are affected by periodically switching from high-volume, low-intensity training to low-volume, high-intensity training. Simply put, a program should transition from a lot of relatively easy work to a smaller amount of more difficult work. This increases athletic performance while avoiding common pitfalls such as overtraining and injury. Myriad studies have demonstrated that periodized programs yield greater changes in strength and body composition than non-periodized programs that consist of little or no fluctuation in volume and intensity, like those of so many other books.

In a periodized program, particular skills—muscular endurance, strength, and power—are emphasized for set periods of time called “blocks.” Typically, muscular endurance is trained during the high-volume/low-intensity (HVLI) block, which is where my program uses “ladders” instead of rigid numbers of sets and reps. Strength is trained during a medium-volume/medium- intensity block with sets in the 6 – 12 rep range. Finally, power is trained during the low- volume/high-intensity (LVHI) block with sets in the 1 – 5 rep range. The blocks progress from HVLI to LVHI by decreasing the number of reps and/or sets (volume) while increasing the amount of resistance or the difficulty of movements (intensity).

Simple enough, right? Heh, heh… Well, it gets better, because there are different types of periodization, and each of the two primary methods has pros and cons depending on the fitness level of the individual. Because of this, my program utilizes both linear periodization and undulating periodization, which are explained below. Please don’t get exasperated over the names of these cycles. You’ll be amazed at their simplicity.

Linear Periodization (LP) is the traditional and most popular of periodizing programs. LP progresses from HVLI to LVHI in a linear fashion in 2 – 4 week blocks.

As the total number of reps decrease and the difficulty of movements increase, the emphasis shifts from muscular endurance to strength and then finally to power. The rest intervals between sets should increase along with the intensity as an LP program progresses through the different blocks. Usually, 30 – 60 seconds of rest is taken during the muscular endurance block, 90 – 120 seconds for the strength block, and 2.5 – 5 minutes for the power block.

This method of periodization is good for beginners or those that have had a long time off, because it allows adequate time for joints to adapt to new movements and movement proficiency to develop during a gradual increase in intensity. Jumping right into high- intensity movements is asking for trouble. Additionally, HVLI training gives beginners great results, mainly due to an increase in movement proficiency, while preventing injuries and overtraining. The HVLI block is the time to become familiar with exercises and their variations, giving you a lot of relatively easy practice.

While this method is good for untrained individuals, it has the disadvantage of letting the skills that aren’t being trained deteriorate in intermediate or advanced trainees. This is due to the long duration (2 – 4 weeks) of each phase, which emphasizes only one particular skill. It also lacks the variety of other methods, which can lead to boredom.

Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP) trains a different skill each day by daily fluctuating volume and intensity. An HVLI training day that emphasizes muscular endurance might be followed by an LVHI day that emphasizes power, and one that emphasizes strength the next day. This method has a lot of variety—great for keeping your body guessing and your morale high. It also prevents detraining of skills, because each skill is trained weekly. Studies have shown that this type of periodization yields twice the strength gains of the traditional LP method.

Since all skills will be trained each week, beginning with week 1, DUP is only for those with adequate training to perform high-intensity workouts without injuring themselves.

Now for my program.

The first 6 weeks use LP. Muscular endurance, strength and power are trained in 2-week blocks until DUP begins on week 7, and lasts 4 weeks until the end of week 10. By using LP

and DUP we get the best of both worlds. Beginners are able to reap the benefits of LP’s sensible progression and the enhanced gains of DUP. Also, since this is a continuously repeating program, the six weeks of LP help prevent burnout from the four-week DUP block that contains an extra, fifth day of working out and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) which is amazingly effective for building muscle, burning fat, increasing cardiovascular endurance, and strength.

Whether or not you decide to use my program, be sure to incorporate some type of periodization into your training. Any type of periodization is better than none. Going balls to the wall all the time, even at low-volume, is a sure way to over-train and eventually injure your- self. This applies to any type of strength and conditioning training, whether it is weightlifting, running, cycling, rowing, or anything else. Keep in mind that there are endless variations to periodization. The methods that I have selected best suit strength and conditioning training through bodyweight exercises. My program develops all eight fitness skills: Strength, power, speed, muscular and cardiovascular endurance through the manipulation of volume (sets & reps), intensity (difficulty of a movement), and time (work and rest periods); while the remaining skills—balance, coordination, and flexibility—develop by progressing to bodyweight exercises that challenge them to ever-increasing degrees.

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Also published on Medium.