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What is Periodization?


At Gainful we’re all about personalized performance nutrition to help individuals achieve their specific health and fitness goals. But as you’re likely well aware, nutrition is only half of the equation. Anytime there is desire for physiological change, we need to take a look both at what you’re consuming as well as what your body is doing. If you get up each day and do the same workout without fail, or conversely a completely new workout you find on Instagram every time, you may be missing out on some of the progress you could be making–Gainful products or not! We’re covering some of the ways you can start implementing more specific and effective training into your routine, based on your unique goals.


What is training periodization?


Periodization refers to planned phases or cycles in training that drive both metabolic and physiological adaptations that improve athletic performance. In other words, you need both consistency and strategically planned changes in stimulus to achieve progressive overload (increasing intensity and performance overtime) and prevent injury or burnout.


How do you create periodized training cycles?

Regardless of the goal, improvements in performance will only come if a specific stressor is applied to the body. For positive adaptations to occur, be that increased speed, endurance, muscle size, muscle strength, etc., the body must undergo a stressor that is similar to the desired outcome. For example, in order to increase running speed at marathon pace, the stressor of running at the desired pace for an extended period of time must be applied. 


For the runners, or those with endurance-based goals


Over the course of a year, there may be a few races in particular you’re training for. To set up a training cycle, count back from the race date by at least 18-22 weeks. This is the base building phase. The first 8-12 months, the focus will be on improving muscular endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and nutrient partitioning–the update and utilization of food sources as energy. This also improves biomechanics and efficiency, and increases mitochondrial concentration in cells to better energy output.


The next 1-2 months will introduce training around lactic threshold, which is where metabolic byproducts begin to accumulate in the bloodstream faster than they can be cleared away. By spending approximately 1-2 times a week at “threshold” or “tempo” pace, where breathing is heavy and running is a good challenge, both VO2 max and pace can be improved. Also during this time, introducing hill running can be a great way to improve cadence and leg turnover, as well as hamstring strength and quadricep endurance. 


In the final 1-2 months of training, endurance volume will decrease in favor of shorter and faster workouts. Practicing timed running faster than race pace improves anaerobic speed and output, fast energy bursts where creatine is required as the fuel source, and mental confidence and “freshness.”


If you’re looking to gain strength, muscle, weight, or even just retain lean muscle mass

Over the course of a year, training may cycle between periods of higher and lower intensity with the goal of long-term increases in volume. Volume refers to:


weight (in pounds) lifted x number of repetitions completed x number of sets of the exercise


When beginning a new weight lifting program, some of the exercises may feel uncomfortable, unstable, or ineffective. This is normal. During the first 2-3 weeks, your neurons are working to establish the pathways necessary to complete the new movements smoothly and effectively. During the initial neuromuscular development phase, rapid increases in strength are common.


After the initial few weeks of repeating the same exercises, strength gains will slow. The goal each week will shift to slightly increase the weight, number of sets, or number of repetitions of each exercise. At the end of 4-8 weeks of training (depending on when progression slows or stops) it’s time for a deload. A deload refers to a decrease in weight, reps, or sets, anywhere from 30-50% of total volume. Since training is a stressor, this reduction in volume allows the body to repair the damaged muscle tissue and build back stronger. Without periodized training, overtraining and burnout could occur.


After the deload, the athlete can either return to the same training program still attempting to increase volume each week, or they can switch to a new training program with new exercises, repeating the process once again.


If you’re looking to lose weight


Structuring your training with the specific stimulus for our goal, at the correct time and phase, results in improved performance at the end of the training period. When losing weight/maintaining lean muscle, begin by counting back from any end goal dates by 8-12 weeks. This should be the length of your deficit phase. During this time, your caloric intake may be reduced, resulting in lower than normal performance levels. To maximize positive physiological adaptations/lean tissue maintenance, training should be cycled in alignment with your calorie intake. When calories are low, the focus should be on maintaining 3-4 days of lifting, hitting each major muscle group of the body 1-2 times a week. 


To prevent metabolic downregulation and hormonal adaptation, one day each week as well as 1 week every 6-8 weeks should be spent eating more calories and carbohydrates than normal. During the higher intake days, including a higher training volume can help to maximize performance improvements by taking advantage of the time with more food for energy.


At the end of the dieting phase, training volume can increase to progress either in weight lifted, number of repetitions performed, or sets completed to maintain positive body recomposition changes. Working with a Registered Dietician through the deficit and reverse phases back up to eating enough to maintain your bodyweight is recommended to maintain your progress long-term, and also support your health.


Have more questions? Our Registered Dietitians and Certified Personal Trainers on staff are always happy to provide more resources to get you closer to your goals. Reach out now!


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