“2-week challenge to get rid of cellulite!” “8 simple exercises to get rid of jiggly thighs!” “Abs in 10 minutes!” “Lose 15 pounds in 5 days!” The media is filled with quick-fix workouts modeled by chiseled men and women with the promise that, you, too, can look like that after doing this workout for a short period of time.
Spoiler: the model with that sought-after physique definitely didn’t get there using a quick fix, and there’s actually a strong chance that they currently or have previously practiced periodization training.
What is periodization training?
This article can teach you all you need to know about the basics of periodization training. Here are the Cliff’s notes: The overall definition of periodization is “the division of a training program into smaller, progressive stages,” known as microcycles (one week), mesocycles (several weeks to a few months), and macrocycles (six months to a year).
In any given workout, you can change the volume, or the amount of weight lifted, the number of reps, the number of sets, the intensity, the circuit time, the type of equipment you’re using, etc. Periodization training involves changing these variables within a microcycle, mesocycle, and macrocycle to make gains in strength and endurance.
For example, if you wanted to increase the amount of weight you are able to squat, you could start with an eight-week mesocycle in which you squat 15 pound dumbbells for 15 to 18 reps. In each one-week microcycle that comprises this first mesocycle, you would gradually increase your weight. The following week you could increase to 20 pound dumbbells, then 25 pounds, and so on.
This is just one of the many, many ways you can implement periodization in your training regime. Are you intrigued? Keep reading to learn what some of your favorite Chicago-based trainers think you should know before diving in.
It’s not a “short-term fix,” but the long-term journey is rewarding
“My clients have a 24-session program which for most of them lasts 12 weeks,” Mariah Carroll, body builder and personal trainer at Hard Pressed, explained. “Every 12 weeks, we reset their program with the hopes of being able to incorporate more advanced skill sets and apply their new goals to the program.”
Luckily, the benefits of a long-term plan are definitely worth the effort. “As time goes on, I’ve found that [periodization training] keeps them passionate, which keeps them interested, which keeps them working hard, which stops them from plateauing,” Carroll said.
It can require a lot of planning
The planning required for periodization training can be lengthy, but from there, you have an extended period of time mapped out for you so you can solely focus on your workouts and your goals. “I incorporate periodization into my own workout regime by making a plan at the beginning of each month,” Rae Reichlin, personal trainer for CrossTown Fitness as well as founder and coach at Ladies Who Lift, explained. “I map out my goals for the month or the next few months, when I will be taking classes, working out on my own, etc. From there, I plan around my goals.”
Paul Rahn, founder and CEO of Sweat Fitness Studios, happens to enjoy the mental sweat that this type of planning requires. “For me, this is a mental exercise, not unlike making myself go to the gym and train,” Rahn shared. “You have to have the patience for planning your workouts, the knowledge to know what you need and when you need it.”
It can prevent you from getting into a rut
“I have had clients stuck in ruts with their strength training and the amount of weight they can lift,” Reichlin began. “I see them get frustrated, upset, discouraged, and disappointed in themselves and their strength. So, we reprogram. We step away from the reps, sets, volume, or intensity that we have been going at and strengthen their body in a different way for a period of time.”
Not only can periodization training help you to continue to progress when you’ve hit a metaphorical wall, but it can also help prevent you from becoming bored with your routine. “Simply put, this type of training… really negates getting burnt out,” Rahn explained. “It’s a huge mental support as well knowing that you’re not going to the gym each day doing that same routine you did last week month, etc.”
It can help you more efficiently progress towards your goals
Learning how to maintain a fitness routine and healthy lifestyle is a feat in itself, but periodization training can take the purpose of your routine from maintenance to improvement.
“[If you’re hitting a plateau], maybe you back the weight down, make the reps a little higher and faster,” Reichlin said. “Suddenly, the same exercise feels a little bit better, more exciting, and your training feels back on track. You are still strengthening that same part of the body and that lift, but in a way that is progressive instead of fighting for and missing the same weight again and again and again.”
It can be beneficial for anyone… who is dedicated
When planned and executed properly, periodization training results in a very well-rounded routine, which anyone can benefit from. “I think periodization training is for everyone due to the simple concept that you’re changing your routine and scheduling your training so that you incorporate all aspects of a full fitness routine,” Rahn described. “That even includes recovery day, mobility sessions, as well as others such as HIIT and strength training.”
Not only does periodization training take a lot of time, but a lot of focus. “When you are periodization training, you have to be willing to pay enough attention to your work, weight, and energy output so you know exactly what you are doing and how your body is responding,” Reichlin explained. “You have to be willing to attack your workouts with a plan.”
Group fitness lover? You can add in parts of periodization to your favorite classes
If you’re not quite ready to dive in 100 percent to periodization training on your own at the weight rack, you can still find ways to implement its concepts at your favorite group fitness classes.
“If your weekly fitness routine revolves around visiting different fitness studios, give yourself more of a challenge!” Reichlin encouraged. “Have you always picked up a 15-pound dumbbell when the instructor calls for a set of 12 goblet squats? Pick up a 20 for the next five workouts!
“While it wouldn’t be as strict of a form as periodization typically calls for, you are still training and forcing your body to adapt to new stressors, which is the basic goal behind periodization.”