| November 30, 2021
By Trevor Mah
Read time: 4 min.
The main value of periodization for all trainees comes from the fact that you cannot optimally improve all facets of your fitness or athleticism at the same time. As mentioned in a previous article [link to my periodization in a nutshell], periodization is the overall concept of training broken down into specific periods (or blocks) in a cyclical fashion. This is about a larger picture perspective; therefore, it is not just about simple program design nor is it about the number of reps and sets performed. To be specific, program designing is the creation of the actual workouts within the phases to bring about the desired training effect (i.e. mechanical tension, metabolic stress, muscle damage, etc.).
So the question is, do you actually need to periodize? An alternative to the question to consider is, should you periodize? The short answer is yes, but as with everything it depends. Periodization can be as complex as you need it to be within the context of your goals. If you have lofty and/or very specific goals (i.e. preparing for a competition, or gain/lose a certain number of pounds by a specific date), then proper periodization will guide you there. After all, every single professional athlete is on a periodized program. If it works for them, it can work for you. Of course, this will usually require a competent coach to know how to plan this out for you.
On the other hand, if you are content with your current state and don’t really have anything to aspire towards, then periodization may not be as important. If you are consistently active enough and simply just want to “be healthy”, then doing the same thing over and over again is fine enough as long as you’re happy with it. The only caution to this is that when something goes wrong, there is no overarching plan to address it. Inevitably, something might happen that could prevent you from doing what you are used to. Whether it is an injury, change in your lift, or simply aging, there may not be (or perhaps not the appropriate) preventative measures in place.
So what are the main advantages of periodization? There are many applications that apply to all types of training (bodybuilding, powerlifting, CrossFit, all sports, etc.), but I believe that three are the most important and applicable for all athletes. This is also in concurrence with Poliquin Group and their extensive studies on the topic. These three advantages are:
What this means is that periodization manages your training so that you don’t overwork yourself to a point where you actually start losing your gains. Remember that training should make you more resilient, not beat you up. You can’t see progress if your training is also causing you to regress. This takes some trial and error for beginners, but you will eventually know when you reach the point where you need to back off and switch things up.
This may sound contradictory to the initial statement of how you can’t optimally train everything at once, but certain parts of your fitness can be improved at the same time. For example, you can train for both speed and maximum strength at the same time as there are correlations between them. You can also train to add muscle (bulking up) and dynamic flexibility simultaneously as those two do not hinder each other. Again, this comes down to a skilled coach to plan out so that you are benefitting from periodization. It is worth noting that in some rare cases, there are some gifted athletes that can improve in multiple areas of their fitness at once.
For those who compete, this is straightforward as you will have a plan that is centered around your goal to peak when it comes time for you to shine. For others, this keeps your training on track as the cycles allow you to manage your expectations better than just simply “winging it” or “going with the flow”. At the same time, it also allows you to assess or test your abilities. While tracking your workouts is crucial, knowing what works can give you an idea of how you can plan out your training in advance so you can distinguish between the effective and ineffective. Periodization can also reveal how long it may take you to reach your goals to also help temper your expectations. Sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan either, but understanding your body and abilities goes a long way in knowing what to do when things don’t go your way.
Periodization comes down to allowing you to use concepts to help you excel at whatever you do, whether you are a high level athlete or just a regular exerciser. While most of this is in the context of training, it can certainly apply to other areas of your life as well. You can periodize your diet accordingly to match your requirements during your training cycles, or even use it to develop or manage your habits. It just takes a bit of creativity, planning, and commitment to the process.
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