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Physical Periodizations

Periodization, simply stated, is a method of changing the types, duration, frequency and intensity of workouts while also changing the balance of nutrients that are eaten.  Many athletes employ this concept in order to get their bodies ready for peak performance and the fitness enthusiast can utilize the same concept to allow them to reach their health and fitness goals more successfully. 

How did it start?

The concept of periodization dates back to the ancient Olympic Games and was introduced in a more structured manner in the 1940s, when Soviet sports scientists discovered that athletic performance was improved by varying the training stresses throughout the year rather than by maintaining the same training from month to month. This led to the formal division of a year into cycles, with differing training stresses and goals. The East Germans and Romanians further developed this concept by applying physical goals (such as improving aerobic endurance, strength, speed and power) to the various cycles. Periodization is a concept that anyone can and should use.  One of the main goals of using the concept is to promote better physiological adaptation in the journey of attaining health, fitness and body weight/composition goals.

There are three main cycles that fitness enthusiasts can think of in the periodization model: beginning, intermediate and advanced.  Most of these cycles follow your goal setting strategies and also how ready you are to make the necessary behavior changes to accomplish these goals.  I refer to this as the “journey to maintenance”.  That is, a set of process goals that allows your body to safely progress over weeks and months to achieve life-long behaviors.

How does it work in the real world?

You may just be beginning an exercise program with the goals of weight loss and improving fitness and nutrition habits.  When just beginning, you will likely begin with a more general exercise program with the goals of improving overall aerobic fitness, strength and flexibility.  Nutritionally, you will slowly alter your carbohydrate, protein and fat intake to control your blood sugar and hormones better and become more metabolically efficient (that is, using more fat as energy).  In these early beginnings, you are consistently going into Life Time Fitness, meeting with health and fitness professionals, having assessments such as My Health Score and Metabolic Efficiency and are making the necessary nutritional changes needed to support your exercise program.  Four to eight weeks pass and you see noticeable changes in your body weight and composition, energy levels and sleep patterns.  However, your body is beginning to reach a state of plateau so you will need a different approach now to keep striving to reach your goals. 

During this next periodization cycle, you need different stimuli to keep making forward progress so you balance your aerobic training with more anaerobic interval training.  You also begin reducing your carbohydrates in your diet a bit more while steadily increasing the fat in your diet.  For the next 4-8 weeks, you see even more improvements and you continue this until your next scheduled assessments (it is important to perform assessments every few months to track your progress to make sure your exercise and nutrition programs are providing you what you need from them). 

The next step in your journey to maintenance is continually assessing your body for improvements and providing different exercise and nutrition stimuli in order to see continued progress.   Now that you have a basic understanding of periodization, you can use it as you navigate your exercise and nutrition strategies to attain better health and fitness.

Written by Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, is a sport dietitian, exercise physiologist, strength and conditioning specialist, endurance coach and author of several publicationsc.  Learn more about him at

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