How to Plan Your Exercise Programs
Insanity = Repeating the same thing over and over yet expecting different results. Here is the catch-22 with exercise, some consistency is required for making the changes that you want to your body, however after about 6-to-8 weeks of doing the same workouts, your muscles could stop growing. The longer you follow the same exercise program, the greater the risk of hitting a plateau; this blog will help you understand how to plan your exercise programs so that you can get the results you want by applying the science of periodization.
Periodization – the Science of RESULTS!
Periodization refers to a structured workout program which alternates between periods of high, moderate and low intensity exercise in order to maximize the benefits of rest and recovery. It’s the body’s ability to rest after exercise which can determine long-term success in adopting to the physical demands of the workout.
NOT every workout needs to be hard. High intensity workouts can change your body, yet low-to-moderate intensity exercise can be essential for promoting a complete and full recovery so your body will be prepared for the next challenging workout. Top sports coaches around the world use periodization to help athletes peak for competition, why not apply the same science to get the results that you want from your workouts?
The key to getting results from exercise is respecting the role of proper rest and recovery. Yes, when we train we have to be willing to work to fatigue and be comfortable being uncomfortable because muscles have to be challenged in order to change. However, the REAL growth happens when muscles are given the opportunity to properly rest and recover; understand the science of periodization to get the results you want.
Periodization organizes the application of physical stress applied to the body by manipulating training volume, specifically the amount of intensity used (the actual weight lifted) along with the number of reps and sets performed. When using light weights or bodyweight exercises the intensity is low so the volume (the number of reps and sets) can be high. Heavier weights (higher intensity) will result in fewer reps. The goal of periodization is to organize workouts to alternate between high and low intensity so muscles can experience complete recovery between challenging workouts.
There is NO SUCH THING as Muscle Confusion
Muscle confusion is a marketing term! It is NOT necessary to change your exercises with every workout; there should be some consistency in the exercises selected for your workouts – exercise is movement and movement is a skilled, being consistent with exercises means that you are able to perform more coordinated movements. This can be a tough situation because on one hand you feel like you want to work hard with every single workout but it’s important to realize that the real growth occurs AFTER the workout is over. Practicing the same technical moves for a number of workout sessions, like a barbell deadlift, can help establish essential motor learning and muscle recruitment patterns; however, the acute variables of exercise program design: exercise selection, intensity, repetitions, rest interval, sets, tempo should be applied in a progressively challenging manner to stimulate results. It is well established that physical adaptations to exercise, including muscle growth and definition, depends on changing the acute variables.
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Learn more about your muscles, how they function and the best exercises that you should be doing for the way that your body is designed to move!
Stress: Metabolic or Mechanical?
Resistance training causes two specific types of stress on muscle tissue: metabolic and mechanical, both of which can provide the necessary stimulus for muscle growth. A properly periodized program should alternate between phases of heavy weight for low reps to create mechanical stress and phases of light-to-moderate weight for high reps to induce metabolic stress.
The acute variables of exercise program design related to creating metabolic or mechanical stress are exercise selection, intensity, repetitions and tempo. Heavier weights move at a slower tempo and apply mechanical stress to muscle fibers. Lighter weights can be moved for more repetitions to achieve a point of metabolic fatigue where no more work can be performed. Alternating workouts between these types of stress can stimulate muscle growth, improve definition and promote other long-term physical adaptations.
In a linear periodization scheme, volume, intensity and movement complexity are inversely related; as the intensity (amount of weight used) gradually increases over the course of the training cycle, the volume (reps) should decrease. A linear program can be organized into various components based on length of time for each training phase and should include occasional periods of off-loading or active rest for optimal adaptation to the training stimulus. In a linear periodization program, segments of time can be organized into short (microcycles), intermediate (mesocycles) and long-term (macrocycles) time frames.
The non-linear model organizes adjustments to the acute variables on either a week-to-week or a training-session-to-training-session basis. Non-linear models apply varying levels of training stress, which can induce metabolic challenges while allowing for rapid neuro-endocrine adaptations. Non-linear periodization changes the intensity and volume of exercise on a more frequent basis. This allows you to complete two to three high-intensity training sessions per week, along with lower-intensity workouts on other days. This makes it possible to train really hard three days a week while performing the lower intensity workouts on the other days to help the body recover and adapt to the more challenging high intensity workouts.
Linear models of program design are structured to peak for a single event or competitive season. Non-linear models allow clients to train for multiple events or recreational activities throughout a year. For example, in a linear program you may use the same weight for the same movements over the course of a two-week microcycle. In a non-linear program, you can use the same exercise movements with each workout, but apply the acute variables to do a strength workout with heavy loads for four to six reps on Monday, followed by a metabolic conditioning workout using lighter loads for 10 to 12 reps on Thursday, and then a power-based workout with moderate weights for six to eight reps in a workout on Saturday. If you think this sounds like ‘muscle confusion,’ it IS NOT! This science has been used since the 1960s.
Pain is NOT Weakness Leaving the Body
There is a difference between workouts that cause pain and those that make you uncomfortable. Pain is a signal that something is wrong, which means STOP! Pain could cause muscle tightness which changes how joints move. If joint motion is changed as the result of muscle tightness it could cause an injury, another reasons why it’s necessary to alternate between high and low intensity workouts.
Discomfort = Growth
Exercise should create discomfort; discomfort means that your body is being pushed to work at a higher capacity. This is an effective way to think about exercise: you’re trying to become comfortable being physically uncomfortable. That feeling of discomfort means that your body is being pushed to new boundaries. While important this does NOT need to occur every workout; applying the science of periodization means that doing fewer high intensity workouts could produce the benefits you want.
Rest is NOT a 4-Letter Word!
Being uncomfortable means that you are experiencing physical changes and that’s what we should be striving for in our workouts which helps to explain why periods of high intensity exercise should be followed by periods of rest or lower intensity exercise. Understanding how to apply periodization gives you the ability to change the volume and intensity your workouts while allowing for appropriate levels of rest and recovery. Even if you love to exercise you will definitely appreciate the fact that you make rest a part of your long-term fitness plan.
Learn more about how to apply the science of periodization in this online course; it describes the science of how the body adapts to exercise from the core muscles on out. Start with a foundation of strong core muscles, then build on that to develop the body you want. The course includes the Functional Core Training e-book. Fitness professionals, personal trainers and group fitness instructors can earn continuing education credits, CECs; 0.4 ACE; 0.5 NASM and 5 AFAA
You can purchase just the e-book to learn more about how to design workout programs that will work for you!
This interview with Dr. Schoenfeld explains the science of muscle growth which is the foundation for periodization!