The importance of periodization:
Here is something I hear a lot from people at the gym, "I've been doing this workout that I love and I was getting great results, but I've hit a plateau and I don't know what to do". Do a lot of you find this to be true? Do you just continue to do the same workout and day in and day out while praying to the workout gods that things will change? Do you intensify the workout to the point that you're so sore you can't tie your shoes for four days? Do you go on the the latest celery and water only diet? Eventually throw your hands in the air and give up and grab a cocktail? Or seek out the latest greatest synthetic stimulate that will turn you into the He-Man and Wonder Woman you've been hoping for?
Before I get into what can be done to overcome this, let's first look at a basic overview of what happens when you exercise. When you apply stress to a muscle over a period of time (say, lifting weights for 8+ weeks) many cellular changes happen in the body and the muscle begins to adapt to the stress by getting stronger to handle the new stress put upon it. But, if you continue to put the same amount of stress on the muscle, eventually the muscle will catch up the the stress and in turn will not get any stronger. This process usually takes about 8 to 12 weeks, depending on your current level of fitness and workout frequency. Then, the dreaded plateau happens. So what do you do after the process is done? Are you happy with the new level of strength you've reached or do you want to continue to get stronger? How do you go about doing that?
Well, you're in luck, there are many training variables can be easily manipulated in an attempt to change your exercise routine: the number of sets per exercise, repetitions per set, the types of exercises, number of exercises per training session, rest periods between sets and exercises, resistance used for a set, type and tempo of muscle action (e.g., eccentric, concentric, isometric), and the number of training sessions per day and per week. Changing your exercise variables every 8+ week is a method called Periodization.
Athletes and professional trainers have been using periodization for decades to keep continual growth happening with the athlete all year round. Now, I know most of you aren't athletes, you just want to shed a few pounds, get ready for summer, or fit into that Wedding dress, etc., but why not take a note from the professionals? The next time you find yourself hitting a plateau, instead of getting frustrated, try changing up the routine by altering one or more of the variables mentioned above? And most importantly, write down what you do, sets, weights used, and exercises done. If you don't know what you've done, how can you know what to change?
Has anyone found a great periodization progression they'd like to share? I'm always curious about new ways of periodizing. Leave a comment.