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What is Periodization and Why Do I Need It?

Many people that are new to lifting weights tend to stick to the same routine for too long. This can lead to unpromising results and plateaus. Here’s how to break free and take your training (and your results) to the next level.

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Most of us struggle to create a fitness program, establish a routine and stick with it, right? Conquering any one of those tasks is a challenge of its own. But once we’re in a groove, we’re golden, right? Show up, workout and repeat. While that may sound like the route to success, it can lead to boredom, burnout and the dreaded plateau.

If it ever feels like you leave the gym without remembering exactly what you just did, or if your sets and reps are starting to blend together like your post-workout protein shake, this article is for you. We’re about to discuss periodization. 

What is it and why is it important? Simply put, periodization is a method of planning your workouts, incorporating cycles within a particular time frame. 

Why is periodization important?

When you first begin a fitness program, your body works to overcome the increased demand and workload. Over time, the body begins to adapt to these changes and they no longer produce changes. No matter how hard or how often you workout, you just can’t seem to make any progress. Sound familiar? We’re creatures of habit, but our bodies become “lazy” when they adapt to a routine. Rather than get caught in a rut of doing the same workout month after month, you must change your program to keep your body working harder.

How do I incorporate periodization into my strength training routine?

Periodization will help you gradually and effectively improve your strength. There are three phases of periodization. 

The purpose of the first stage is to establish a foundation. Depending on your fitness level, consider completing circuit-style routines with higher repetitions and lower weight. You should reach fatigue after completing 12 to 15 reps per exercise, while using good form. During this stage, your goal is to prepare your body for future workloads. 

In the second stage, you might consider splitting your routines into upper-body/lower-body workouts, allowing increased intensity and workload. While focusing more specifically on these muscle groups, you will complete 6 to 12 reps per set, using heavier weights than in the first phase. 

During the third and final stage, reps will decrease to 6 or fewer reps and weight will once again increase. This is the most intense level and can promote increased strength without large increases in mass.

Here are 3 ways to adjust variables and mix up your strength training routine:

• Change the amount of resistance (weight) you use

• Mix up the order or types of exercises you do

• Vary the speed at which you complete each move

Does periodization apply to cardio exercise as well?

Yes, periodization can also apply to cardio exercise. This may include changing the duration and the intensity level of your running, walking, swimming or cycling program. As a runner, you may considering adding hills to your program. Consider riding a stationary bike and increasing the resistance. Swim for 30 minutes instead of 20.

As you incorporate periodization into your fitness program, keep in mind your body will need adequate rest as well. It’s important to track your workouts and record sets, reps along with the amount of resistance you used. This long-term plan will allow you to stay focused on different goals throughout the year and will support continued and measurable progress.