HEALTH & FITNESS ARTICLES
Periodize Your Fitness
Periodize Your Fitness and Nutrition Plan for Optimal Results
Have you noticed that your body tends to feel most ready for hard workouts on certain days of the week while other days you feel you need a break? Do your workouts tend to peak in intensity or volume about every two to three weeks? Do you participate in a sport that has an in-season and off-season? Do you find that your body feels best when you periodically vary the amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and supplements in your diet? If so, your body is in tune with its own periodization plan of training and gives you signals of when you need to incorporate changes in your fitness and nutrition plans.
The periodization concept refers to two aspects of a training program: 1) division of your annual plan into smaller, easier to manage phases; 2) and manipulation of training focus (such as mobility, stability, strength, speed, and endurance) involving the sequence of training methods to produce a specific quality such as endurance volume. Studies show that training benefits increase most efficiently and safely when we cycle between periods of varying volume, intensity and skill emphasis. We do not sustain linear progress without variations in training emphasis and ample time for recovery. Through proper cycling of volume, intensity, and skill focus, we strive to develop peak performance during critical competitive seasons; avoid a premature peak or even worse, injury; or avoid weight loss and fitness plateaus.
Trainers typically utilize one of three types of annual plans. Each type of plan includes a preparatory, competitive or peak, and transition phases. The duration of each phase depends on the number of peaks required by the individual’s particular goals. The mono-cycle plan best suits junior athletes or any person with one peak competitive season, goal or event. This plan includes a long preparatory phase free from competitive stress allowing the client ample time to develop skills and build a strong foundation of physical training. The bi-cycle plan best suits national class athletes, such as those qualifying for national championships, or individuals with two peak events. The preparatory phase lasts as long as possible to train fundamental skills, but the individual must adapt more quickly to high demand training and recover more quickly from each phase. Lastly, the tri-cycle or multi-peak plan best suits advanced exercisers or international class athletes with a strong fitness foundation and background that allows them to handle three or more peaks with greater ease than intermediate athletes.
Training phases compose the cycles of a periodized fitness plan. Macrocycles are long term cycles which typically last one year. Shorter mesocycles, ranging from 3 to 12 weeks, compose the larger macrocycles, and several training phases or microcycles of 1 to 2 weeks may compose a mesocycle. During the mesocycles and phases of the mesocycles, the trainer manipulates acute variables to achieve a short term goal such as base conditioning, endurance, strength or power. For example, an 8 week mesocycle may incorporate endurance and hypertrophy phases but primarily emphasize phases of increased strength.
The first week of a mesocycle typically begins with a one week transitional phase characterized by low intensity and low volume training to prepare the body for higher intensity work. Next, the trainer may introduce an endurance phase for 1 to 2 weeks emphasizing lower intensity and higher volume routines of 1 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps to develop muscular and cardiovascular endurance. The third phase, the hypertrophy phase, applies the greatest combinations of intensity and volume such as 3 to 5 sets per exercise for 8 to 12 repetitions to elicit muscle growth. The fourth phase, the strength phase, emphasizes high intensity and reduced volume of work, such as 5 to 8 sets with 3 to 5 repetitions per exercise, and focus on more neural and intramuscular adaptations than hypertrophy and endurance phases. Lastly, the power phase, often incorporated for athletes but not necessarily for the general fitness population, emphasizes moderate and lower intensity loads with low volumes of sets and repetitions but faster tempos. The power phase attempts to increase the rate of force production. Typical volumes are 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions.
The above approach describes a linear method for periodization using a progressive increase in the intensity of exercise with small variations in each two to four week microcycle. The trend is a straight-line increase in intensity followed by rest and recovery. The theoretical basis for linear periodized training is to develop hypertrophy followed by improved nerve function to produce optimal force in specific movements. Alternatively, nonlinear periodized programs vary intensity and volume within each week over the course of the training program. Nonlinear programs help balance training goals with competition, work or life demands. For example, the program may consist of a four day rotation with one day of rest between workouts and intensity ranging from 1RM (maximum repetition) to 15RM within the training week. If an individual misses a scheduled session due to competition, recovery, or some other event, he follows the protocol for the next training session whichever day of the week he resumes training. Nonlinear variation in intensity appears to be as effective as linear periodized training.
To plan a periodized program, the trainer and client first set the goals. Second, the trainer determines how to achieve the goals by assessing the available time, identifying the types of activity, matching the training to the goals, and choosing activities the client enjoys. Third, the trainer identifies the training phases by outlining the micro, meso, and macrocycles, planning preparation phases, and applying appropriate intensity, frequency and duration principles. Fourth, the trainer plans volume and intensity, changing one element at a time, to achieve appropriate overload by varying the same on a cyclic basis and incorporating active rest. It is important to start a new mesocycle after active recovery at a slightly lower intensity than the previous cycle to achieve optimal transition and minimize the risk of injury. Fifth, the trainer and client evaluate the results and progress. They may use a fitness assessment or incorporate some other method of measuring results such as percent improvement.
Below, for example, is a cardiovascular periodization model for a healthy female runner currently running 40 miles per week at an easy run RPE (rate of perceived exertion) of 2-4 and a tempo pace of RPE 4-5. She strength trains for 30 minutes twice a week. Her goal is to complete a marathon in 2 months and increase her peak mileage to 50 miles per week. Each week is a microcycle. Each 4 week period is a mesocycle. In this example, the 9 week period is the macrocycle.
Next follows an example of a 30 minute full body balanced resistance training program for a healthy male with no apparent health conditions. The circuit method minimizes rest between sets by alternating work on major muscle groups to allow full recovery between sets for a particular muscle group. To ensure an effective warm up with a minimal amount of time, the client may decrease the intensity of the first set to warm up the muscle group worked for a particular exercise. Also, the client may briefly stretch the muscle group worked between sets to promote active recovery and minimize cool down time.
Base Strength Development – Full Body Routine
After the client completes this base conditioning mesocycle, the trainer may design a second mesocycle incorporating slightly more difficult exercises, such as lunges as opposed to squats, and may include, after a transitional phase, more hypertrophy and strength-hypertrophy phases than the previous mesocycle. After approximately 3 to 4 full body routine mesocycles, the trainer may want to design split body routines to more fully work each muscle group and achieve greater hypertrophy and strength gains. In summary, this periodization model allows the client to avoid plateaus, boredom and frustration and gradually and safely increase his fitness level.
Integrated periodization refers to the process of combining all components of training, such as nutrition and psychology, and matching them to the periodization of motor abilities. The phases of motor training determine the nutrition and psychological skills best suited for the particular training phase. For example, during a high volume endurance phase, the nutrition plan may primarily emphasize high quality carbohydrates to adequately fuel the body for high volume training. During strength and recovery phases, however, the nutrition plan may include a slightly higher percentage of high quality protein, such as wild raised fish, to enhance muscle recovery and development. A maintenance phase may call for simple balanced nutrition. Likewise, studies have shown that cycling periods of calorie reduction with weight maintenance improves the likelihood of long term weight loss success for individuals seeking to reduce body fat. For example, follow calorie restriction weight loss periods of about 3 weeks, resulting in gradual weight loss of about 0.5 to 1 pound per week, with a 3 to 7 day “vacation” period. The “vacation” menu plan options may include no calorie restriction and no calorie excess controls. While the vacation period is not a time for unreasonable food indulgence, it is a period of physical and psychological rest from calorie restriction similar to the concept of active rest periods of training.
Whatever of your fitness and nutrition goals, a total body and mind approach with cyclical periods of challenge and rest will best enhance peak performance. Regularly work with your trainer or nutritionist to plan your optimum success.
Sources: Foran, Bill. High Performance Sports Conditioning, Human Kinetics, Inc. 2001;
Brooks, Douglas S., The Complete Handbook of Personal Training, Human Kinetics Inc. 2004;
Misner, Bill and Occhipinti, Mark J., “Weight ManagementLifestyle Improves Health and Fitness,” the American Fitness Professionals and Associates Weight Management Position Paper, 2006.
This article was provided by Free Movement Fitness Inc.
For more information on Free Movement Fitness Inc., check out their full profile here.