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Constant progress? Periodization is KEY!

    Progression – a state of continual improvement as a result of certain habits


Progress is desired by us all in some form or another. In the world of health and fitness, progression is the ultimate aim, the burning desire and the most effective measurement tool you have regarding achieving your goals!

If you aren’t progressing…….you aren’t achieving!

In my very last post, I was keen to remind you the importance of perpetual aim for improvement in performance. Simply, don’t aim to match last workout’s numbers, be determined to SMASH them!

Obviously we cannot ALWAYS “crush” last time’s performance, it just doesn’t work like that.

I’ve made it very transparent how much admiration I have for the marvel of the Human body. Us Humans are impeccably smart. Both in mind and body. Many folks often say…”you’ll be surprised what you can do when you have to, or try to!” I’m a profound believer in such philosophies. Mainly because I’ve had “hands-on” experience.

Think about all those things you’ve done that you deemed “impossible” beforehand.

That 90 days of low-carb eating, the 40 lbs of fat to lose, that 10 lbs of lean muscle tissue or even those 6 bonus inches on your vertical jump.

Not so impossible once it’s achieved is it?

It’s all because your ingenious body adapted to all the things you forced it to endure whilst on the road to conquering those goals!

Adaptation: The human body is brilliant at adapting to many many things. EXERCISE is no exception! The more you continue to put your body through a given exercise routine/program…..the more “used to it” it becomes.

This can be a double-edged sword, initially it produces the sought after results, but after a while it can produce the dreaded……plateau! 

The plateau

To some the plateau is legendary – they’ve never experienced it. To be frank, if that’s you… want to keep it that way.

But commonly people will hit a plateau in some form or other. They might not be able to lose any more fat, they may be stuck squatting 200 lbs, they may not be able to achieve more than five Pull-ups with bodyweight. The list of possibilities could go on and on! 

The simplest explanation for these scenarios generally is – your body and muscles have become “used” to the stimulus you inflict on them and therefore, they see no need to adapt in the form of producing new muscle tissue or no need to recruit more muscle/motor units (in which to get stronger)

OR….in regards to fat loss, your body becomes more “efficient” regarding your current cardio routine and therefore adapts to using LESS and LESS stored fat for fuel. Thus, progress seems to stall. 

In fact, Aerobic/steady state cardio is a prime example of how plateaus can occur

This ties in with why I’m not a big advocate of aerobic type cardio at all. Aerobic type cardio such as jogging can often illicit fat-loss for a beginner, BUT, only for a limited period. After 6-8 weeks, a beginner begins to ADAPT to the given jogging routine and inevitably, efficiency kicks in. At which point, people have to start jogging longer and longer to achieve their previous results. 

As is generally known, and as I’ve discussed in previous articles regarding carbohydrate consumption:

When training exceeds the 45 to 50 minute mark, Cortisol is secreted. As mentioned in previous articles, Cortisol is a BIG contributor to body fat gain. It’s a vicious circle!

How do we steer clear of plateaus?

Periodize: Plain and simply, we ensure our workout programs/plans are periodized and feature periodization. Basically we should intelligently progress our workouts so that as the adaptation becomes stagnation……we modify our routine! 

This keeps our body guessing and by keeping it guessing, it’s forced to adapt all over again.

Some easy examples of periodization: 

  • For fat loss – diet-wise you could determine your current caloric intake or carbohydrate intake and aim to reduce the total calories by 250 every 3 weeks or so. By the same token, you could reduce carb consumption by 25 grams across your total each day every 3 weeks or so. Weeks 1-3: 2500 calories. Weeks 4-6: 2250 calories and so on. Weeks 1-3: 150 grams of carbs. Weeks 4-6: 125 grams of carbs (per day) and so on.
  • For muscle building – A smart approach would be to divide your overall training into phases. For example, you could use a particular rep and set scheme for an allocated time period; such as 3 weeks or 6 weeks. You could use the standard: 3 sets of 8-12 reps for a given period and then change to 4/5 sets of 6-8 reps at a greater intensity/weight. From there on, you could progress to a more strength themed structure for a specific period: 5 sets of 5, 8 sets of 3. Maybe even 10 sets of one (these will develop maximal strength, which often compliments hypertrophy gains on return) as greater weight can be used for longer TUT (Time under tension) There are endless options available for this category! 
  • For fat loss training – If you wisely begin with a minimal dose of interval cardio such as sprinting, for example two 20 minute sessions per week. You can run that set up for 4 – 6 weeks……maybe longer! Until results dwindle, then change either the style of the workout (sprinting to high intensity bodyweight circuits with short rest periods) or add an additional session in every week. So 3 twenty minute sessions each week now. 

Sounds oh so simple, but these principles are often forgotten, ignored, not understood or over-complicated!

The takeaway point from this article is ALWAYS give yourself room to modify your routine – regardless of your goal.

If results have halted, back away from the type of training you’re doing at present and explore another avenue, it’s very often the case that when you do this, on return you find you destroy your previous “plateau” Just by giving the body and mind something different to deal with!

Often people adopt a “shotgun approach” to training, where they just blast different methods at their bodies, with no real structure, periodization or thought actually going into their training and goals. You need to run a specific style of training for an allocated period OR until results begin to falter. Then, as this happens, restart the process with a DIFFERENT approach of training! A good rule of thumb is to keep modifications minimal to exploit all you can from each variable.

Allow me to invite you to make note of these simple points and examples. I can assure you they will keep you well protected from possible future roadblocks and plateaus.

So get training and and enjoy a plateau free zone! 

JR @ Straight-Talking-Fitness View All

The 'brains' behind StraightTalkingFitness, a site all about discovery that leads to strength in all formats; fitness, mental, emotional and spiritual. Everything starts from within and projects outwards. Master the body, master anything and everything.

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