When Paul Nicholls asked me to write an article on the benefits of Periodization I was extremely excited. I was introduced to Periodization as a junior in college at Penn State University, and almost immediately realized it is the standard for creating and implementing an exercise program for nearly any fitness level or activity. In order to understand why and how Periodization works you’re going to need a general understanding of some exercise physiology. As you begin to understand how the body reacts to exercise the Periodization model will make perfect sense, and will hopefully begin to change your views on how getting fit and healthy should be approached. So put on your thinking cap and I’ll begin to paint a picture for you…
Although Periodization is a common sense approach to exercise, learning how and why it works takes a little time. Because of that I’m going to use this article to give you a general overview, and just begin to get into some of the specifics. In future articles I will expound on the foundation that has been set and include some nutrition advice to follow as well. Remember, diet and exercise go hand-in-hand, so it is important to provide your body with the proper fuel so it can work efficiently.
Proper exercise at the right intensities provides the stimulus for your body to adapt and increase its fitness level. In order to increase your fitness level your body must be stressed beyond its normal capabilities; asking the muscles to perform more work than they are presently capable of doing, or “overloading” the muscles. The recovery period between exercise sessions is when those adaptations are actually occurring. Because of that it is important to plan both your workouts and your recovery periods. Falling into the trap of doing the same routine from workout to workout, week after week, is what leads to overtraining, boredom, and staleness. This is the trap that the masses fall into. In order to avoid this – keeping your workouts fresh, your fitness level increasing, and providing new stimuli for your body to adapt to – you’ll need to become familiar with the variables involved in exercise. Changing the variables is what provides a new stress to your body, and providing new stresses causes you to avoid overtraining. That sums up the purpose of Periodization.
Periodization was developed in the 1960’s by Russian scientists and it is based on Seyle’s General Adaptation Theory. This theory states that when your body is hit with a training stimulus it will go through 3 stages:

  • 1. Shock. This stage usually lasts 1-2 weeks and during this time your fitness level is not increasing. This is the stage that you feel soreness following a workout. The soreness progressively decreases during this time and eventually disappears. This is because you have entered stage two.
  • 2. Adaptation. Depending on your fitness level this stage will last about 2-8 weeks. The higher your fitness level the less time it takes for your body to adapt. During this stage your fitness level is increasing as your body adapts to the stresses put on it.
  • 3. Overtraining/Staleness. If you do not change the stress on your body you will enter this stage. Periodization is set up to avoid overtraining. There are many negative physiological changes going on during this stage, and if you are overtraining your fitness level will first plateau and the plateau will be followed by detraining.