Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Undulating Periodization Training

               How many times have you felt like you needed to freshen things up a bit at the gym?  How many times have you completely overhauled your exercise program?  If you did, what did you change?  If you didn't  why haven’t you changed?  Aren't you trying to develop new strengths and skills?   Even though daily activities such as going to the gym promote health and wellness they have a tendency to become addictive and when that happens there is a strong chance you’ll hit a wall where you don’t get any faster, stronger, or healthier.  One of the knee-jerk reactions to hitting a plateau is to find newer and more exciting activities and exercises. 
              When you continually swap out exercises you sacrifice your ability to develop strength and improve conditioning.  In other words, when you change exercises too frequently you train your body more to do new tricks rather than develop structurally in order to handle greater physical demands.  This is where “periodization training” comes in.  Periodization training is the smart way of adjusting workouts in order to pass plateaus, experience measurable gains, limit fatigue, reach performance goals, and avoid boredom.  Because of its effectiveness in helping people reach their fitness goals over the course of a year (macrocycle) many athletes use periodized exercise programs.  Cycling through different variables in workouts improves and helps to maintain an athlete’s levels of physical conditioning during the off-season while at the same time preparing him or her to perform at peak levels on game day.

In a nutshell, periodization training is a form of exercise training that adjusts training variables such as the duration of a workout, types of exercises performed, number of sets and reps completed, and the level of intensity put into each movement.  It makes these adjustments each training period of about four to six weeks (mesocycle).  What changes are made is determined by the specific goal of an athlete such as being in tip-top sprinting shape for a 100 meter dash.  Even though it’s a great training method for professional athletes, this training style isn't limited to people with unique performance goals.  Periodization training has been embraced by non-competitive athletes as well in order accomplish other things such as weight loss, muscle gain, or improving the ability to perform basic human movements.  The only difficulty is trying to use a sport specific training style that requires a great level of commitment as the basis for a program for someone who doesn't have an “off-season”.   

So what’s the alternative?  Perform a random jumble of exercises from bird dogs to barbell snatches in each workout?  Well…yes, but we wouldn’t call it random, nor would we call it a jumble.  We call it undulating periodization.  Like the regular rise and fall of undulating waves the intensity of the workouts rises and falls over the course of the quarters, weeks, and days of training (mesocycles within a macrocycle).  In a standard periodization model a person would go through an initial endurance/stabilization phase of training in order to establish a solid base that is prepared to handle to stresses of the phases that follow.  The purpose of the following “strength” phase is to build upon that foundation towards goals such as muscular hypertrophy.  Then, if he or she is concerned about performing at peak season, a power phase follows where the volume and time of the workouts are shortened for the sake of increasing intensity and training larger and stronger muscles to fire quick enough to jump the gun while on the field.  For the general population, we apply these phases all in one week that undulates for an entire quarter (i.e. about three months).  By revisiting workouts every 4 weeks we can keep track of improvements made over the course of an entire program.  People usually do see significant improvements because the body has plenty of time to practice on, adjust to, and benefit from the workouts. 

Every week at LTS includes three workouts follow an easy to follow three-day-split strength training routine (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).  One of the workouts is intended to improve endurance, one builds strength, and the other develops power.  We know that everyone isn't willing and ready to do jump squats or power cleans within the first week of training and that many people do require a certain amount of work at a stability level in order to develop a solid foundation whether they want to move on to developing power or not. Everyone, regardless of training level, should also revisit the stabilization phase of training in order to rest the body after a year’s worth of consistent work.  This gives the body time to adjust to the upgrades made on it over the entire macrocycle.  After you break the ice between mind and body there should be no reason other than injury preventing you from modifying your workouts intelligently in order to be at peak performance year-round.  You never know when you might need the endurance to climb a few flights of stairs, the strength to carry a sofa up a flight of stairs, or the power to catch yourself from falling down a flight of stairs but we all know life isn't about how well we handle consistency; it’s about how well we respond to waves of unpredictability.  

- Noel L. Poff, CSCS, CPT, LMT

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