If you’re wondering what the heck “periodization” is, don’t worry – you didn’t miss a fitness memo. Periodization isn’t a new trend or buzzword (serious athletes know it’s been around for decades), though it may dramatically change the way you train – and transform your body while you’re at it.
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So what is periodization? Periodization is a training style often used by athletes, in which you cycle through pre-structured phases of training with the intent of athletically peaking at the appropriate times. This helps to reduce injury, and avoid both mental and physical burnout.
Periodization can get very complicated, but the four basic training cycles or periodization phases are: Full Recovery, Moderate to Full Off-Season, Build Phase and Competition Phase.
In Recovery, rest, massage, sleep and active recovery methods such as stretching and light walking are prioritized over training.
In Moderate to Full Off Season, although the athlete is active, he or she usually doesn’t prioritize their actual sport. As a triathlete, in this phase I prioritize weight training and yoga. Near the end of the phase I start to work on biking, my principal weakness as a triathlete. I still don’t emphasize running and swimming.
The athlete’s chosen sport is fully reintroduced during the Build Phase. Volume, rather than intensity or race-specific workouts, is prioritized.
The final, Competition Phase is competition-specific, which includes high-volume intense training and race-specific workouts and events.
This may sound way too complicated for your needs, but the truth is everyone can benefit from implementing elements of periodization into their training. Whether you’re a newbie gym member, a weekend warrior or an avid gym enthusiast, the trick is to borrow and integrate the periodization principles that work for you.
Here are a few reasons why you should consider applying periodization to your fitness regime –even if you’re not an athlete.
Having a pre-structured plan can help turn a fitness “wish” into a reality. Many of us have a desire to get fit, whether it’s to lose weight or simply to improve our fitness. Without a structured plan, however, these goals are nothing more than wishes. Figure out when you can realistically work out. Schedule workouts into your calendar. Enlist the help of your friends and family. Think like an athlete and plan ahead!
Lesson: Structured training plans can result in long-term success because they help to ensure your goals are specific, appropriate, measurable and realistic.
Gives You Motivation
Periodized training plans help you mentally push through intense workouts. A structured training plan that includes pre-set off days, or even full recovery weeks, can be extremely motivating. It can be easier to work though intense blocks of training if you know the intense workouts are goal-appropriate and temporary.
During recovery weeks, book a massage, dial down the intensity and volume of your workouts or try different workouts (such as a dance class) to allow yourself a mental and physical break.
Lesson: If you know your workouts are helping you work towards a specific goal, and if you know you have a reprieve from training in the future, you’ll be less likely to skip a workout.
Prevents A Fitness Plateau
Periodized training plans help you burst through a fitness plateau and beat the workout blahs. Doing the same thing over and over again not only becomes boring; it also eventually ensures that you hit a fitness plateau. Nothing kills motivation more than boredom and a lack of results.
Lesson: Make a conscious effort to regularly mix up your workouts!
Focuses On Your Weaknesses
We all have weaknesses. Maybe you could be more flexible. Or maybe you’d like to improve your pull-up strength. As a triathlete, my weakness is biking. If you know you have a “weak link”, periodize your workout plan so you cycle through workouts that emphasize your weaknesses.
Lesson: Reflect on your weak links, and then devote a structured block of training to improving those areas.
Avoids Injury And Prioritizes Recovery
Consistently repeating the same workout can lead to overuse injuries. Plus, a lack of adequate recovery puts you at risk of overtraining. Your brain and body both need breaks from the monotony of working out. Athletes often recover by taking an off-season. For the average gym member or runner, an off-season might mean devoting a month to low impact activity, or spending a month doing unconventional exercise such as dance classes.
Lesson: If you always run, try swimming. If you always lift weights, try yoga. To avoid injury, regularly work in recovery. Recovery will help you return to your preferred discipline with more alertness, both mentally and physically.
Consult a personal trainer or fitness professional to see if periodization training is right for you. By incorporating some its principles into your workout, you may just reach new fitness heights and meet your goals.