Fitness Primer: What Is Periodization and Why Does It Matter? 
Sunday, September 20, 2015
LifeTime WeightLoss in Exercise, Exercise, Metabolism, Paul Kriegler, fitness advice, periodization

While persistence might be the first requirement of fitness, there’s a science to exercise optimization.  

Periodization is a concept used to break down a long or complicated process (like building fitness) into more manageable phases.

It refers to the fact that training our bodies to 1) improve physiological functions, 2) gain new physical abilities, and/or 3) transform our physiques is a process that can’t necessarily be rushed through the requisite phases. 

The human body has amazing capacity to adapt to many different situations, but it adapts best when it’s brought through certain experiences in a methodical manner, known to many fitness professionals as periodized training.  

Most fitness professionals follow a periodized training model because it’s well proven to reduce risk of injury and increase chance of long-term results. 

If you’re brand new (or relatively new) to following a structured fitness program, start with a foundation phase.

The purpose of a foundation phase is to establish coordination, improve joint stability, increase range of motion, and gently stress the body’s metabolic capacity. The foundation phase is also necessary to get your body moving properly in all the basic movement patterns: squat, lunge, hinge, rotate, push and pull. 

That’s quite a lot to learn and practice. Plan on performing these movements consistently over the course of at least four to six weeks, gradually increasing the total number of repetitions or total time exercising

Once you’ve "taught" your body some of these basic movement patterns using just body weight or light resistance over that period of time - and practiced them successfully over those 4-6 weeks - your physiology may be ready to positively adapt to more of a challenge.

The next phase in the periodization model is generally strength or hypertrophy – when the goal is to build lean body mass or increase the amount of force your muscles can produce. 

To stimulate a different type of adaptation for this strength/hypertrophy phase, you must adjust some of the workout variables – such as tempo, rest periods, number of repetitions and sets, and weight or resistance.

Generally, strength or hypertrophy phases can last from 6-12 weeks depending on your starting point and outcome goals.

Many people get into structured exercise with goals of competing in some sort of athletic event. In keeping with that goal, eventually their periodized training will demand a phase in which they practice the exact abilities they will need in their chosen events. Their movement patterns, tempos, exercise volume and intensity must begin to mimic the event itself. This is a performance phase. 

You don’t necessarily need to become an expert in physiology to understand and apply the concept of periodization.

Think about it this way: in the course of a 90 day training program, about a month is dedicated to learning and practicing new ways of moving (consistently) without too much wear-and-tear physical damage to your muscles and joints.

The second month is aimed at cranking up the intensity or resistance you’re using while possibly cutting down on rest periods.

The third month would be focused on further increasing the total number of sets you perform during each session and possibly increasing the number of exercise sessions each week. 

This phased or periodized approach is what allows you to work with your physiology to establish a foundation of basic function before gradually exposing yourself to harder and harder exercise conditions. Because you’ve put some method behind your madness, you’re ready for the challenge and adapt well. 

Beyond these very basic principles, periodized training becomes a very individualized process, so the best thing to do if you feel your current program isn’t specialized enough to produce noticeable results is schedule a complimentary consultation with a fitness professional. Thanks for reading.

In health, Paul Kriegler - Corporate Registered Dietitian

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.

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