Starting a new exercise program can be an exciting prospect. It’s a step towards taking responsibility for your health and well-being. You’re all revved up with the expectations of this new dream body that you’re going to achieve. However, after a few weeks into this program, do you find that your initial enthusiasm fizzles a bit? Do you find the predictability of doing the same routine and the same 10-12 reps for weeks or months on end boring?
Well not only are you bored, but, by this point your body is experiencing adaptation to the exercises and is no longer feeling challenged. In other words, you’ve reached a plateau and you’re no longer receiving any benefits from your current exercise regime, continuing with this program would be like spinning your wheels, a waste of effort. This is a very common draw back of a traditional non-periodized program.
Most pre-designed generic programs you find online or in magazines lack any variability, they are simply cookie-cutter programs, a one-size-fits-all solution. The only way to have success using a generic program is to customize it and periodize it to fit your particular goals. This is where the help of a certified fitness professional familiar with periodized program design comes in handy.
To understand how periodized programs differ from other programs, you will need to have some basic knowledge of the structure and how it works. Periodization refers to the breaking up of a long-term plan into smaller cycles or periods of time in order to manipulate volume and intensity.
The entire long-term plan is called the macrocycle (usually 6-12 months), which is then broken down into a series of smaller mesocycles (1-4 months). The mesocycles are further sub-divided into microcycles (1-4 weeks). It is at the microcycle level that all the exercise programming occurs and program variables (reps, sets, intensity, volume) are altered. Each cycle has its own particular goals (conditioning, strength, hypertrophy, rest ) and the program variables are manipulated to accomplish those goals.
How is Periodization Different?
For the purpose of this article, we’ll look at 3 characteristics that set apart the periodized program from its traditional counterparts: (1) regular program changes, (2) a systematic variation of program factors, (3) and the use of active rest periods where training workload is reduced. All three characteristics are a form of variation, which are uncommon in non-periodized programs. By changing up your routine in cycles, you’re facilitating continual adaptation and preventing plateaus, which leads to optimal health and fitness results in far less time.
Why is Periodization Better?
Periodization is not a new technique by any means. It was developed in Eastern Europe in the 1950’s to train their Olympic athletes who, as a result, out performed their competition. Since periodization is not a new technique, there is ample research to prove its effectiveness. Today, periodization is used all over the world, however, it still seems to be a technique reserved for elite athletes and bodybuilders. Much of the information available on periodization seems to be in reference to athletic competition and bodybuilding.
The question then remains, if this techique is good enough for elite athletes, then why is not used for everyone? Why should a program with the potential to deliver such superior results be kept exclusive?
One reason could be that, although periodization programs are not particularly complicated to design, they are technical and time consuming and, perhaps, that’s one of the reasons why they are used for athletes.
The general population, however, could greatly benefit from the principles of periodization, when applied in a more simplified form. This is exactly what seems to be the trend lately. Certain principles of periodization (such as variation in training, active rest periods, continual adaptation) are finding their way into general fitness programs to offer people a chance to optimize their fitness results. The periodization program design has proven to elicit superior results in body mass increases, body fat reduction, and strength gains as compared to traditional non-periodized programs. Variation in an exercise program is the key to successful weight loss. The periodization method adds variation in a cyclical manner, making these programs interesting more enjoyable, whereby, the individual is more likely to follow through to a successful outcome.