Periodization Training Strategies
How to Design Better Workouts
The first few weeks someone works out, almost any type of program is effective. But after a while, the gains get harder to come by. To make sure you keep seeing progress, trainers often use a technique called periodization to design your workout plan.
A traditional program is called LINEAR periodization. You start your workouts with lighter weights, doing a high volume of sets. Over the next four to eight weeks, the weights get heavier and the sets decrease in volume. For decades trainers have used this approach, varying how long a program lasts by the results. Once you stop seeing progress, the program is changed.
To avoid the leveling off as you move from one program to the next, trainers started teaching UNDULATING periodization. The exercises are the same as a linear program, but the number of sets and reps change each workout. One day you might be lifting heavy with low reps, the next light with a high number of reps.
The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport decided to compare linear and undulating periodization programs. They wanted to see if one provided a benefit over the other. The results were surprising. Both groups made gains and researchers concluded that subjects would see "similar... responses regardless of the loading scheme employed."
So the next question is, how do you make a periodization program more effective? The answer is three words. Set a goal.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research designed a traditional linear periodization program and tested it against something called BLOCK periodization. That's where the program is designed around a specific goal such as increasing power, size or strength.
At the end of the 15-week study, people in the BLOCK group saw better gains in bench press strength. A study published in the November 16th, 2015 issue of Sports Medicine went event further. After going through dozens of studies, they concluded; "studies of multi-targeted [BLOCK PERIODIZATION] training programs have revealed their distinct superiority compared with traditional preparation in endurance, team, and dual sports, and strength/power training and recreational athletes (28 studies)."
What that tells us is that you can have either a linear or an undulating program. To get the best results, you just need to design each program around a specific goal.
Which leads me to a rather radical change in workouts. Programs that aren't designed around an individuals' goal or even a particular program. Every day a new workout is introduced, without regard to what's happened in the past or what's coming in the future. The most famous version is what Crossfit users call the WOD or Workout of the Day. The sets, reps and exercises change every workout.
The theory is that by keeping muscles "confused", they won't have time to adapt. By challenging muscles differently every workout, growth continues.
While the theory sounds good, the research proves otherwise. In Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, a study was published titled "A Meta-Analysis of Periodized versus Nonperiodized Strength and Power Training Programs." After reviewing the results of both types of programs, they said, "...it is concluded that Periodization training is more effective than Non-Periodization training for men and women, individuals of varying training backgrounds, and for all age groups."
In other words, a periodization program is more effective than random workouts. And a periodization program that's designed around specific goals of power, size or strength is even more effective.
Designing a good workout program takes time. It's a lot easier for a trainer or a company to produce one workout every day, that everyone simply copies. But that program isn't going to give YOU optimal results.
Make your workouts count. Set a goal and design a four to eight-week program around what YOU want to accomplish. If you're unsure of what to do, hire a professional that will design your custom program and push it out to your computer or smartphone. If you're going to the trouble of working out, make sure it's a program that will provide the best results.
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