My Fitness Progress is Plateauing! | Understanding Periodization and Its Role in Training Progress

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We all have goals when it comes to our health and appearance. But how we aim to reach those goals differs from person to person. Some people just wing it by doing whatever feels right to them and getting their bodies moving. Others prefer to take a more calculated approach. If you identify with “others” then allow me to introduce you to the world of periodization.

What is periodization? 

Periodization is all about manipulating different training components in order to maximize performance. The key to periodization is that it deals with training in certain phases with specific adaptations in mind for given periods of time.

Originally applied as a technique for Olympic athletes, periodization took place over the course of years. These athletes benefited significantly from this more structured way of training. Since then it's gained popularity among fitness enthusiasts everywhere. 

Benefits of Periodization

Those in the fitness community that utilize periodization rave about its efficacy and for good reason. Here are the key benefits of periodization that changes the game both mentally and physically. 

Breaking Plateaus

 Periodization is designed around General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). It follows a course of progressively intensifying loads in a more targeted approach. Periodization's specific manipulation of variables causes the body to adapt more efficiently with this method.

Prevents Overtraining

Periodization encourages load management and steady progression. For this reason, it's an incredible tool for preventing overtraining. It prepares the body, step by step, for the next adjustment to stimuli. 

Provides Confidence

Periodization requires planning and part of planning is research. Understanding what you're doing, and more importantly why you're doing it, is the key to confidence in the gym. With periodization training, you not only know the end goal, but each of the milestones you need to hit along the way. This makes the gym a much less intimidating place to be. 

Facilitates Consistency

Having a long-term plan for your fitness regimen has been shown to facilitate consistency in the gym. Periodization breaks down your end goal, regardless of what it is, into cycles and phases. These steps are progressive, targeted, and easy to track. 

Periodization training breakdown

We've compiled a detailed guide on what periodization training looks like and how to apply it to your goals.

Periodization cycles

Periodization occurs in cycles that fit within one another. By design, these cycles push progressive overload and encourage variety. Both of which are essential to physical adaptation towards any goal. 

  • Microcycle: The shortest cycle length, lasting about one to four weeks. 
  • Mesocycle: The medium cycle length, lasting about two to four months. 
  • Macrocycle: The longest cycle length, lasting from four months to a year. 

Each cycle can be put in a series to make up another cycle. For example, doing two or more microcycles back to back would give you one mesocycle. So on and so forth. 

Periodization Phases:

We've listed the five phases of periodization below. Keep in mind that the order of the phases can be, and often are, manipulated to align with fitness goals. 

  • Phase 1 - Hypertrophy: This phase typically lasts from 4-6 weeks. It focuses on 4-5 sets of 10-20 reps at 50-60% of your 1 rep max. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets. 
  • Phase 2- Strength: This phase typically lasts from 405 weeks. It focuses on 4-5 sets of 4-6 reps at 75-85% of your 1 rep max. Rest 3-4 minutes between sets. 
  • Phase 3 - Power: This phase typically lasts 3-4 weeks. It focuses on 3 sets of 3 reps at 85-95% of your 1 rep max. Rest 4-5 minutes between sets. 
  • Phase 4 - Peaking: This phase typically lasts 2-3 weeks. It focuses on 2-3 sets of 1-3 reps at 95-100% of your 1 rep max. Rest 5-7 minutes between sets. 
  • Phase 5- Active Rest: This phase typically lasts 2-4 weeks. It focuses on 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps at 50% of your 1 rep max. Rest 1-2 minutes between sets. 


Types of Periodization

  • Traditional: Traditional periodization, also known as linear periodization, begins at a low intensity with high volumes. Over the course of the program, volume decreases while intensity increases. 
  • Reverse: Reverse periodization is the exact opposite of traditional periodization. Instead, training starts at a high intensity and gradually decreases. Whereas volume starts off relatively low and increases over time. 
  • Block: Block periodization creates a program in which phases are designed to progressively build the body's capability to obtain certain fitness goals. It does so by creating blocks that build off of one another and contribute to the end goal. 
  • Undulating: Undulating periodization encourages a more broken down and repetitive version of what traditional and reverse periodization offer. Rather than applying gradual change over longer intervals, undulating periodization encourages an eb and flow of manipulated intensity and load throughout the course of a day or week. 

Periodization and training goals

  • Strength: Periodization has a special place in the heart of strength trainers. Programs focused on strength typically emphasize the manipulation of repetition and de-loading. 
  • Hypertrophy: Periodization plans that focus on muscle growth generally involve a higher emphasis on manipulating volume. 
  • Endurance: Endurance-based periodization programs generally focus on the manipulation of intensity and duration. Specifically, it incorporates long bouts of steady low-intensity training with intermittent phases of high-intensity training. 
  • Weight Loss: Periodization for weight loss usually integrates nutritional periodization alongside manipulation of heart rate zones to encourage maximum caloric burn. 
  • Power: Periodization for power typically revolves around the manipulation of load and intensity. During early cycles, this periodization plan looks similar to that of strength. 
  • Sports Performance: Periodization was originally applied to sport-specific training. For that reason, programs will look different for different sports. Beyond that, it will not be the same for each position within a given sport. Performance-based periodization training prioritizes sport-specific skills that build on one another. 

periodization in nutrition

Periodization is a life philosophy that applies to more than just sport-specific pursuits. Periodized nutrition is all about making your food work as fuel for your workouts by eating certain macros, in specific quantities, at targeted times in relation to your training. 

To learn more about the basics of nutritional periodization or "meal timing", you can refer to this article



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