Avoid Periodization

Periodization divides training into cycles that build up toward specific goals. This aims to develop multiple aspects of fitness and allow recovery. Instead, periodization complicates the simple process of progression and can cause overtraining.

Periodization varies exercise in a preprogrammed manner. Most models start with a period of high volume (more reps) and low intensity (less weight). You then finish with a period of low volume (less reps) and high intensity (more weight).

A training cycle may consist of 3-5 phases. The earlier phases emphasize endurance and hypertrophy. The later phases focus on strength, power, and peaking for a competition. The cycle usually finishes with a recovery phase involving active rest. You can also reverse the model to focus on endurance.


Periodization originates from the eastern bloc countries of the USSR during the 1950s.

The General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) by Dr. Hans Selye, a Hungarian endocrinologist, made sense to Soviet exercise scientists. According to his theory, three stages exist in response to a stressor, such as lifting weights. It begins with an alarm stage caused by the onset of stress, or damage to the muscle tissue. This is followed by a resistance or adaptation stage in which body attempts to adapt to the demands. Finally, an exhaustion stage occurs if the body fails or a recovery phase restores the body if it succeeds.

The scientists applied this idea to training as a way to manage their athletes’ fatigue.


They argue that from GAS, performance equals fitness minus fatigue. Fitness is a positive factor and fatigue is a negative but necessary factor. Fitness lasts longer than fatigue but fatigue prevails at first.

Training divides into days (with multiple workouts per day), microcycles (1-6 weeks), mesocycles (3-4 months), and macrocycles (6-12 months). Instead of viewing fatigue from just a single session, they view fatigue over long periods of weeks and months. This allows overreaching or purposely exceeding the body’s recovery ability in the short term to induce more improvement in time.

A typical scheme would look as follows:

Hypertrophy:   Sets: 3-5, Reps: 8-12

Strength / Power:   Sets: 3-5, Reps: 2-6

Peak:   Sets: 3-5, Reps: 2-3


Different models exist beyond this classic model, such as undulating models with sporadic, smaller cycles and more variety.

Periodization can grow much more complicated. It divides attributes into cross-categories that appear to create new characteristics. For example, strength can divide into speed strength, explosive strength, and reactive strength. You may have to perform exercises that have you move a light weight as fast as possible or avoid building non-functional muscle by using only very low reps. These distinctions remain unproven.


Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

– Cyril Parkinson

Physiology shows little basis that one must train differently for some long list of fitness qualities. Beyond strength versus endurance, other distinctions have little merit. You do need to sprint fast to be fast, but lifting will improve your potential by gaining strength that can transfer into speed with specific practice.

Fast-twitch muscle fibers are responsible for both strength and speed. Motor unit recruitment shows that effort is more important after reaching a minimum load in activating these fibers This calls into question the importance of varying the load over time.

Too much fatigue prevents much of a gain in fitness. Overtraining forces the trainee to perform at ever decreasing levels. This calls into question if the stimulus grows ever greater while training at lower levels for long periods of time.

Linear progression, the idea that you can continue adding weight to your lifts at the same rate forever, does seems impossible after awhile. This does not justify an extravagant system though. You just need to realize that your gains will adhere to diminishing returns. Expect smaller increases, such as going up 2 lb. instead of 5 lb. when you hit your rep goal for an exercise. Instead of backing off and detraining, avoid fluctuating between not enough and too much.

Periodization provides less clear feedback. Hits to performance will not be noticed when preprogrammed. Athletes and their coaches may have a better idea on how to design these routines with experience but this still ignores day-to-day changes. How can you know how well you will perform a month from now? Periodization does not adapt the program to compensate for different rates of progress.

Time expectations for sport and exercise by the state-run authorities probably affected their programs. Longer workouts may have taken place without relating to any real need. Perhaps they needed to convince the leadership that productive work occurred around the clock, even if serving no good purpose.

Periodization provides vague answers to make you rely on the supposed experts.

Avoid Periodization

Any method that allows for adequate recovery and progression will succeed in the long-run. Periodization may be inefficient, but as long as it allows for these conditions then results will come. Many athletes practicing periodization have ideal genetics and pharmaceutical help, which allows room for less sound training.

Establish a good program and keep it. If progress ceases and fatigue builds then something likely needs reduced. Consider non-training factors involving sleep and eating as well.

Avoid periodization.

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