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Dividing exercise into manageable progressive phases has been around since the ancient Greek times. In our modern time, Dr. Tudor Bompa published his theory on Periodization in 1963 and has since continued to amend the application of the Periodization concept as science progresses. Bompa has published many books on Periodization including four editions of "The Theory and Methodology of Training" textbooks and training guides for sports. Bompa's books have been translated into eighteen languages, and have sold close to one million copies around the world, as well as being standard textbooks in many universities. His book, "Serious Strength Training", is the most popular strength training book in the world. While many training ideas have come and gone with some being very questionable, the solid scientific principles of Periodization have withstood the test of over 2000 years of critical review, and modern scientific scrutiny.

Periodization is a system of planning that uses sequential "periods" or phases of physical exercise or training, each phase serving as logical preparation for the next, culminating in peak performance for competition for athletes, or in reaching a certain physical goal for non-athletes. Physical modalities of training include tactical competency, skill, strength, speed, power, endurance, and flexibility. Each modality and phase of training has specific physical tasks that are developed and tested before moving to the next phase. The length of each phase is generalized, with each athlete adapting at the rate his or her individual genetics will allow.

Periodization serves to monitor and manipulate the known training, fatigue, recovery, and supercompesation cycle of physical training. The ultimate goal of Periodization is to produce peak fitness in the athlete just as the athletes' critical competitions for the season arrive. Because of this ultimate goal, Periodization is plotted over an annual plan that correlates with the pre-season, competitive season, and transition phases of the specific sport.

The graph below shows one year of training. However, this basic concept is also implemented in shorter repeating cycles, each one building on the next. In general early season or preparatory training is comprised of low intensity and a moderate to high volume of training. As the athlete becomes more fit and enters the pre-competitive and competitive season, intensity is increased. Because a high volume of high intensity will burn a person out, generally volume decreases as a persons intensity increases. Just prior to competitions a "taper" is used. During a taper both volume and intensity decrease allowing for maximal recovery and peak performance for critical competitions. Tapers are critical and are carefully planned.

OK, that's athletes, but can Periodization help if I'm not an athlete?

Yes! Periodization is born out of the basic physiological adaptation that any human has to various levels of exercise. Periodization in the simplest terms is a plan we use to avoid placing the cart before the horse. We all have days when we're tired, days when we feel more energetic. Periodization is a method of managing our daily exercise depending on how we feel, what we are trying to achieve, and how fit we are at the time. Typically one years worth of exercise has a progression of easy exercise followed by slightly harder exercise, followed by a bit of recovery, and followed again by a conservative increase. This pattern is repeated over and over. Periodization is the road map we use to plot our course.

Here is an example of how a basic week of aerobic exercise may be planned:

Example of a week of aerobic recovery exercise or exercise for a beginner:

Planning exercise can be recorded back to Philostratus, an ancient Greek scholar who wrote about the "Tetra" or "Tetrad" system; a four day cycle consisting of (days) 1) short and energetic 2) Intensive exercise 3) Recovery 4) Moderate exercise (see graph below). Philostratus also questioned an over dependence on this system: "While the gymnastes (the coaches) are following this fixed routine of the tetrad, they pay no attention to the condition of the athlete they are training, even though he is being harmed by his food, his wine, the secret snacks he eats, mental strain and fatigue. ... How can we train by a schedule of tetrads?" -(Philostratus Gymnasticus)

So while it was noted that a training plan included easy, moderate, hard, and rest days, it was also noted that the application of this plan should be dependent on the daily condition of the athlete, and that stresses other than exercise alone must be considered when implementing effective exercise. Philostratus also recommended a variety of exercises including running, weight lifting, balance training, and flexibility training. In essence, Philostratus wrote about what the modern interpretation of Periodization entails. Take note; if someone claims to have "the latest" secret training methods, chances are they are merely an opportunist. As can be seen in the writings of Philostratus, the accent Greeks had the same challenges and training fads that we witness today. Physical training really has not changed that much in 2000 years namely because humans haven't changed much (biologically), but the ability to accurately measure the effects of training has improved significantly allowing us to determine the duration and intensity of individuals training with greater precision.

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Example of a "Tetra" or "Tetrad" influenced sequence of training; most modern training is influenced by this daily exercise progression which is over 2000 years old:

The most popular application of Periodization is with resistance training, although complete athlete Periodization plans are more complex with overlapping progressions of strength speed, power, and endurance as some of the primary physical components of the plan.

For simplicities sake, a generalized weight training routine to build muscle mass, strength, and power, would place hypertrophy and strength before power. Let's say you have a goal to lift a heavy weight with power, and you want bigger muscles too. Lifting your maximum weight in 2 seconds requires more power than lifting your maximum in 3 seconds, but to increase the maximum weight you can lift requires more strength, and if you are well trained you may need bigger muscles to increase strength beyond initial neural adaptations. How do we use these ideas to build a Periodized plan to increase your peak power at your maximum strength?

The plan may look something like this (simplified):

Hypertrophy 8 to 12 weeks 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 rep max

Strength 4 to 6 weeks 3 to 4 sets of 4 to 6 rep max

Power 4 weeks 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps with focus on speed of lift

Strength + power combo 2 to 4 weeks 1 - 8 rep max

In reality each phase blends into the next; there is seldom an abrupt change.

If you started with power training first, you would limit your potential as you could only work with your current peak strength and your peak strength may be limited by muscle size. You may become injured or overtrained because peak power training is very stressful. You may need a higher degree of training before your body can tolerate and benefit from power training. So step by step you progress towards your goals.

This simplified plan progresses from lower stress to higher stress training. Each "period" of training increases some aspect of your performance that allows you to progress to the next level. It may take weeks or months of prepetory training before you actually engage in the specific training that ultimately achieves your goal. But with your logically laid out Periodization plan you can see your road to success. - Some athletes are on 5 year plans to bring out peak performance.

Not written in stone

Avoid making the mistake of following a plan "to the letter". In fact, doing so guarantees less than optimal results from exercise. A plan is only a prediction, and like all predictions (weather for example) there are events we just cannot account for, no matter how sophisticated our method of prediction is. Use your plan as a guideline and be sure to continually amend your plan through daily management of exercise.

"Plans" that call for "long runs" on each and every Sunday or any exercise to always be done on specific days are far too rigid. The same applies to weight training. For instance a weight training plan that calls for chest and back exercises on Mondays and shoulders and arms on Tuesdays will definitely conflict with its self within 21 days because the rate that an individual recovers from exercise is variable. What if you're sick on training day? What if your muscles hurt? What if you are still fatigued from the previous days exercise or even from helping a friend move furniture? Use common sense. Keep your plan flexible, adapt your exercise as your body adapts to various stresses of exercise and daily life. This isn't about being a strict taskmaster, it's about effectively managing your exercise.

Daily Resting Heart Rate Of Athlete

In the above graph it can be seen that the resting HR values for this person follow a fairly, but not entirely, predictable pattern; an increase/ decrease cycle about every 3 to 4 days, depicting phases of fatigue, recovery, and adaptation. Clearly if a pre-made Periodization plan had hard training days falling on fatigued days only a negative effect could be expected. This person amended their plan to account for fatigue and recovery. Others make the mistake of following plans like an automaton resulting in periodic benefits followed by plateau's and overall less than optimal gains. Espousing the dogma of Periodization is common, so watch out for those who are sticklers for detailed lengthy plans using platitudes like "finish what you start", and "follow the plan", but without employing effective methods to monitor, validate, and amend the plan continuously.

Contrary to popular belief, Periodization does not dictate a shift in training on a certain day or month merely because the day in question arrives. Such training is futile, but popular nonetheless. The correct application of Periodization is to gradually introduce new levels of complexity and intensity when it is clear the individual is physically ready to move up.

Because human adaptation to exercise is reasonably well studied, we can accurately predict the average time it takes a person to adapt to certain exercise movements and intensities. Periodization uses this foundation to build a road map to progressive training, then employs sound scientific measurements of an individuals performance variables to amend the program as frequently as possible to maximize individual gains. It's these amendments that make any training work as each person adapts at their own pace due to their genetics and personal circumstances. A common error in coaching whether self coaching or professional coaching is to depend on the computed averages as absolute training values instead of individualizing each persons training based on measuring each individual.

Tudor Bompa and others have used "Periodization" to explain physical adaptation to exercise, and to logically create and apply training programs.

The easiest way to get started on a "new you" or to improve athletic performance is to follow a logical progression of exercise. Learn what to realistically expect from exercise, then follow a simple, progressive plan that's flexible enough to absorb your individual rate of adaptation, as well as variables beyond your control.

Rhino Fitness founder Cris LaBossiere has been using Periodization since 1987 with athletes and is certified through the Tudor Bompa Training Institute as a Periodization Planning Specialist. Rhino Fitness uses the scientific principals of Periodization, but due to the emphatically known individual variability in training adaptation we no longer create Periodization plans that detail an entire year. Such plans details are amended so frequently that writing out 12 months of training in advance became futile and entirely unscientific. Our training programs are specifically individualized and monitored weekly and daily if needed. Our real time remodeling plans are the most advanced application of Perdiodization available.

2003-2007 Rhino Fitness

Copyright 2004 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca