Periodizing your training has benefits. In case you’re not familiar with the concept of periodization, periodized training is the process of cycling various aspects of your fitness training. The purpose is to change the intensity, volume, or the tempo of your training at pre-determined intervals as a way to achieve a particular fitness goal – without overtraining.
Need an example? During one cycle you might use heavy resistance and a low number of reps to build strength. During the next cycle, the emphasis might switch to using intermediate resistance and a moderate number of reps – hypertrophy style. Then the focus moves to muscle endurance, using lighter resistance and high reps.
Although it’s most common to adjust training volume and load, you can periodize any training variable. This includes the exercises you do, the rest periods between sets, total training volume, exercise choice, exercise order, and the number of training sessions per day.
Periodized versus Non-Periodized Training
Why would you want to periodize? Most studies show that periodized training yields greater gains in strength than non-periodized training. That’s a pretty good reason in and of itself! In addition, you’re changing the way you train regularly. Therefore, your body is less likely to adapt and stop making gains.
Plus, your risk of overtraining or developing an overuse injury is reduced because your workout changes regularly. During a period where you’re using heavy resistance, your fast-twitch muscles get a hard workout. As you transition down to lower resistance and high reps, your slow-twitch fibers bear most of the burden. So, you’re giving the two types of muscle fibers periods of rest. Plus, working out this way is more stimulating mentally since you’re not doing the same workout for months at a time.
A good resistance training program has four areas of focus:
. Strength (1-5 reps, heavy resistance)
. Hypertrophy (6-12 reps, moderate resistance)
. Muscle endurance (more than 12 reps, light resistance)
. Power (moderate resistance and explosive reps)
Each of these areas of focus can be emphasized at different times in conjunction with a periodization scheme.
Types of Periodization
Periodization schedules aren’t all the same. In fact, there are a variety of ways to structure a periodized training program. The one you’re probably most familiar with is linear periodization like I do in my STS workout series. With a linear periodization schedule, you gradually increase the intensity of your training in a step-wise, linear manner. With this approach, your muscles take on progressively more challenge over time.
Example: you start out with lower weights and higher reps. After a certain time period, you increase the weight and decrease the number of reps in a step-by-step manner. Most people organize linear periodization into time frames called cycles. Here are the types of cycles:
Macrocycle – long-term time frame, usually a year
A macrocycle encompasses the overall training period and covers all of your areas of focus. For example, you’ll work on strength, hypertrophy, muscle endurance, and power, at separate times, during one macrocycle. A macrocycle can be any length you choose although they’re typically 6 months to a year.
Mesocycle – intermediate time frame
A mesocycle is a block of training within a macrocycle that focuses on one goal. For example, strength, hypertrophy, muscle endurance, or power. Once you’ve designed your mesocycles, you move through each one in sequence to complete a whole macrocycle. A macrocycle is made up of a series of mesocycles. For example:
. Mesocycle One – muscle endurance
. Mesocycle Two – hypertrophy
. Mesocycle Three – strength
. Mesocycle Four – power
A mesocycle is usually 3 to 4 weeks in length. With linear periodization, the progression occurs in a specific sequence. You begin with a lighter load and high reps (endurance) and gradually increase the load and decrease the number of reps as you go through each mesocycle. In this way, you work muscle endurance, hypertrophy, and strength in sequential order.
Microcycle – short time frame
A microcycle, as the name implies, is a short time frame, usually a week or two in length where you focus in on a single objective within a bigger mesocycle. For example, during a strength mesocycle, you might use two different approaches or types of exercises to build strength. The two approaches are your microcycles.
All in all, a macrocycle is the “big picture.” A mesocycle is an area of focus within that macrocycle and a microcycle is a discrete area of focus within a mesocycle. It’s like slicing a big pie into smaller slices.
Another approach to periodization training is non-linear periodization like I did in my XTrain workout series. You might hear non-linear periodization referred to as undulating periodization. With an undulating approach, you adjust the training variables (load, the number of reps, tempo, etc.) in a non-linear fashion. The way you alter the training variables doesn’t have to follow a set pattern. You might use heavy resistance and low reps and then jump to light resistance and high reps the next time. With non-linear periodization, you generally change your training variables more frequently and in a non-linear manner.
Is One Form of Periodization Better than the Other?
Both forms of periodization, based on research, lead to greater strength gains than training in a non-periodized manner. So, periodizing in some way is advantageous for a variety of reasons – greater theoretical gains, less risk of overtraining, and the psychological benefits of having a more varied workout. In terms of linear and non-linear periodization, studies suggest that non-linear, undulating periodization is superior to linear periodization.
The Bottom Line
There are a variety of types of periodization schedules – this only touches the surface, but, in general, periodization can be linear or non-linear. Based on most studies, non-linear may offer more benefits. Are you periodizing YOUR workouts?
ACE Fit Facts. “Periodized Training and Why It Is Important”
“Circuit Training vs Periodized Resistance Training in Women” Ryan Overturf, B.S. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
J Hum Kinet. 2011 Sep; 29A: 41-45.
Florida State University. “Optimizing Periodization and Program Design Muscle Performance
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