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Periodization is NOT Just for Athletes

by Meaghan posted April 11, 2010

I know I gave Jay Hoffman a bad rap last week because of what he said during my class (and for the record, I still don’t agree with the NSCA’s decision to ban Mike Boyle from their conference); but truth be told, the rest of his presentation that night was actually quite good. There seem to be differing opinions as to the best way to periodize training programs, and Jay did a great job of summarizing what the NSCA’s research has actually shown. In short, here’s what the current literature suggests:

For competitive athletes: Linear periodization (where the goal for the entire training cycle is the same) works better than non-linear periodization (where the training goal changes each workout) for improving STRENGTH.

The reason: Training a muscle group at 80%+ intensity TWICE per week appears necessary for optimal gains in MAXIMAL strength.

If this were possible with the non-linear model, it might prove superior, but we really don’t know yet.

As far as power and other performance variables are concerned…ask Phil Mickelson, because we don’t know that either. Then again, we also can’t agree on whether or not golf is really a sport. The verdict is still out on both cases because the studies have produced mixed results.

For recreational athletes: There appears to be NO DIFFERENCE between linear and non-linear periodization, but both methods produce better results across the board than NO periodization AT ALL.

The reason: Something is always better than nothing. Most people will respond positively to ANY change in the training stimulus.

Athletes use periodization for two reasons:

  1. To reach peak performance at the time of competition (e.g., the Masters); and
  2. To avoid overtraining.

Sadly, many people (trainers included) therefore think periodization isn’t necessary for recreational exercisers. I think they’re wrong, and now the research says the same.

Think about it: Your average gym-goer sees a cookie-cutter routine in a fitness magazine (not one of the ones I write for, of course) and heads to the gym to do the suggested 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps of the 6-8 exercises pictured. The author may intend for this to be just one workout, but the ignorant reader doesn’t know the difference between a workout and a PROGRAM. So, a few days later, he or she does the same workout again. The following week, the weight might increase ever so slightly (if the person in question is male, that is. A woman will naturally just try to do a couple more reps…). And so on and so forth until the end of time.

OR, until he or she either becomes bored and quits altogether, or gets some sort of overuse injury.

See my point?

Periodization is nothing more than planned variations in a training program. It can be used to avoid physical burnout and overtraining, but it’s also necessary to avoid mental burnout and overuse.

And cycling through different weightloads and rep ranges is just as important as changing up your exercises to redistribute force vectors. The “Size Principle” states that motor units are recruited from smallest to largest; if you always stay within the 8-12 rep range, your most powerful muscle fibers never really get stimulated. And the ones you do work adapt quickly and then get overused. The end result is either an injury or plateau, neither of which sound too appealing to me!

Bottom line: Make it a habit to change. Whether you change your training program every few weeks or every day probably won’t matter, as long you consistently change. Change your weights, change your reps, change your exercises, change your modalities, and FOR GOD’S SAKE CHANGE YOUR PANTS!!

 

Filed under: Did You Know?, exercise research, fitness-related injuries, sports, strength training, workout tips

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2 responses to “Periodization is NOT Just for Athletes”

  1. Chris Matsui says:

    Great post Meaghan!

    I got say that I’m not on par (get it? pretty corny but whatever…moving on)with the nsca and linear periodization.

    I’m not a big fan of the linear periodization…it can be beneficial for the begining athlete and we all know that any program if implemented correctly can develop some gains…the question is “is it the most optimal way about going?”

    Within the linear you lose your adapation from phase to phase…so this is a big negative especially if you have multiple competitions in a short period of time.

    My thought process is to work concurrently with an emphasis on one ability while maintaining the others. Of course this will all be dependant on the athlete and competition calendar.

    By the way, awesome job on the 10 pull ups!

  2. Meaghan says:

    I’m with you. As we know, what goes on in the lab usually has little carryover in the real world… The funny thing is, the NSCA hasn’t actually directly compared linear with non-linear periodization very much; they’ve mostly compared each one individually with NO periodization. So, this is just one more case where the research is lagging behind the application. When it finally catches up, common sense tells me that a non-linear approach will probably fair better.

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