Athletic Training

| June 2, 2021

Periodization - A Quick Introduction (In Under 1,000 Words)

When starting your wellness journey, or even when you’re already far into one, there are many terms in the world of fitness, nutrition, health etc. that you come across.

By Trevor Mah

Read time: 4 min.

Tudor Bompa revolutionized Western training methods when he introduced his groundbreaking theory of periodization over 50 years ago. As one of the greatest sports scientists of all time, many as the father of periodization. The success of his theory has placed him amongst the foremost authorities on development of biomotor abilities and training. Periodization is a very dense subject, but here is a quick summary to get you started on learning more about one of training’s most important applications.

What exactly is periodization and why is it so important?
Periodization can be complex and overwhelming for those with limited training knowledge. You may have experienced or seen parts of it when working with a personal trainer or strength and conditioning coach. They present to you an illustration of different phases that they will take you through your training. Perhaps for the 3-4 weeks they will focus on volume for your training. Then the next phase for 3-4 weeks will focus on developing your strength.

Periodization is any method used to vary the volume, intensity, and frequency of workouts to produce constant gains and avoid plateaus. In a sense, this can boil down to essentially “training planning”. It is a method of organizing your routine to reach your goals in the most efficient way possible.

Isn’t this just programming?

While traditional periodization has transformed over the years from applied experimentation, successes, etc. there has been a shift in the planning of routines from hoping that they will work, to knowing it will work and what to do in case it actually does not.

Periodization is more of a framework that your programming is based upon. It focuses on breaking down your training timeline into phases (or cycles) that focus on specific training styles to achieve a desired outcome at predetermined points. Ultimately, the sequence of all these phases are timed in order to prepare you for your final goal.

In the training community, programming is more so the development of workouts. Each program is still created in order to achieve a goal, but think of periodization as developing the plans to program. Of course, even coaches use the term "programming" just as a way to keep things simple.

How do I periodize myself?
For starters, reading the actual published book on Periodization by Tudor Bompa can provide much more insight. But of course, you’re here to get a quicker idea.

Fundamentally, accumulation and intensification is an underlying structure that spans across all periodization models. This is where you vary the amounts of sets and repetitions (intensity and volume respectively) to determine the effects on the body.

For starters, take a step back and examine your training history. Make sure that you actually have a specific goal in mind that you want to reach at a certain point (think SMART goals). See how long you normally spend doing one thing and see if you can gauge how effective it is towards reaching these goals.

An accumulation phase is an easy one to start off with as you simply focus on your overall volume for your workouts. If you can perform 3-4 sets of an exercise at a specific weight for 8-15 repetitions, then you try to repeat or improve upon that for the next training sessions. You are literally accumulating volume to improve your training capacity, develop muscle memory, connective tissue resilience, and so forth as your body adapts in a variety of ways.

Next, it is important to understand that your body will inevitably reach a plateau if you continue to work out with the same level of training factors (intensity, volume, effort, etc.). Knowing when this will happen will determine that you will need to change things up as timing is one of the most crucial components of periodization. It will vary depending on the individual, but around 3-4 weeks is a common length of time to create a training phase (although this can certainly be longer for many individuals).

This will likely lead up to a common intensification phase in your next training block. This is basically increasing the intensity of your workout (who would’ve known?) by adjusting factors such as increasing your weight, but lowering your volume for example. Any way that provides an amplification of your exercises or workouts will have your body try and catch up to the change. In this example of increasing weight but reducing volume will eventually transition you back to accumulation as you become accustomed to the new weight and subsequent volume.

Of course, this is just a very simplified example and there are normally other factors to consider. If you are new to exercise, seeking help from a certified trainer is ideal. But if that isn’t an option, you will have to go with the flow and get a feel for your own progress. Find a way to track your progress in a meaningful way that relates to your goals, and see when things start to tail off. When they do, re-evaluate your training and see what you can change to induce a different stimulus.

Is it really necessary to always be on a periodized program?
While there is countless research and real world success from properly periodized athletes, having a proper plan will always be better than a shotgun approach of just doing anything and everything and hoping for the best. While this will get you somewhere, periodization will take your training to the next level if done correctly.

At the end of the day, having your goals and a timeline mapped out is a great way to set up your plan towards your goals. Periodization can be complex, but many methods are simple once you take a look at the bigger picture. At the end of the day, recording, tracking, and planning will be essential elements for success in your periodization plan of life.

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