Do you want to reap maximum results and benefits from your fitness efforts? If your answer is YES, you must consider programming, specifically training in cycles (periodization). For example, strategically switching up your types of exercises every 2-3 weeks.
There are several exercise categories, each of them coming with their own unique health benefits. Periodically switching between different forms of exercises and intensity is necessary to enhance an adaptive response (get stronger) while reducing the potential for plateaus or overtraining.
In this post, I will share the fundamentals of a programming style called periodization. Additionally, I’ll highlight some other game-changing components to help transform your fitness routine.
Get Your Mind Right [The mental game]
Before I dive into the perfect program, the power of the mind must be addressed. A positive mental space allows you to work 20-30% harder while enjoying the efforts simultaneously. Optimistic people strive for growth and stay consistent in the face of adversity. Both attributes are essential for a successful fitness routine.
Here are a few tips to shift toward a more empowering mindset:
- Social influences: Both positive and negative energies are contagious. Choose who you decide to spend your time with wisely.
- Reflection: Become in tune with your meaning and purpose. Mentally visualize the highest version of yourself for increased confidence.
- Go on a media diet: Our mindset easily shifts towards our mental consumption. Consider removing negative resources for a healthier mental space.
- Acceptance: We commonly waste mental energy on things outside our control. Instead, focus your attention only on things you can influence.
- Gratitude: You are a unique person with unique gifts and talents. Be grateful for the person you are. The alternative is dissatisfaction, which breeds negative thought patterns.
- Exercise: The benefits of exercise on mental health are abundant. Small-group exercises are especially helpful and encourage camaraderie.
Consistency [Slow & steady]
Some studies show that you lose strength six times faster than you gain it. That’s why skipping workouts or taking too much time off is detrimental. This is the biggest pitfall for beginners. They put in so much work for about a month. Then, they take a few weeks off, losing much of the gains that were made.
A significant challenge is that it’s easy to want to skip workouts on days we’re not feeling up for it. We easily fall into the “all or nothing” mindset. This is when someone convinces themselves they won’t get a good workout anyway, so they skip a day. The problem is that a skipped day can quickly become a missed week or month.
To prevent this from happening, you should be more concerned with building streaks or uninterrupted cycles of being consistent. As the author of Atomic Habits says, “Lost days hurt you more than good days help you.”
Bad days in the gym are okay. It means you rose to the occasion. Think of your fitness routine as a bucket you’re continually investing in. Some days, you’re putting in nickels and dimes. On other days, you’re putting in $10s and $20s.
Programming & Periodization Cycles
Periodization is a programming cycle in which you switch the style and intensity of exercises every 2-3 weeks. Keep in mind there is a strategy involved with the progression. For example, 2-3 weeks of cardio builds a foundation of endurance and conditioning. Next, muscle building, toning, and core exercises build a base for strength training. Strength training creates a more resilient mind and body.
Here is a more detailed breakdown of conditioning, hypertrophy, and strength training, along with some of their unique benefits.
Phase 1 [Conditioning]
Aerobic exercises, aka cardio, are fast-paced and get you sweating and breathing heavily. There’s tremendous value to cardio exercise, most notably improved heart/vascular health, cognition, and mood. These conditioning exercises are usually the first phase in a periodization cycle because they build the necessary endurance and stamina to progress toward muscle-building exercises.
Keep in mind that you want to stay moving with a good tempo during conditioning. Breaks between sets should not be longer than 30 seconds. Your heart rate should stay between 70-90% for a session between 20-45 minutes.
Phase 2 [Hypertrophy]
Hypertrophy means to build muscle. This style of training is often associated with the aesthetics of sculpting and toning. The best types of exercises for this are making muscles burn using light to medium weights between 10-15 times per set. The key component is that the weight is light enough to lift at least eight times but heavy enough to make your muscles shake and or burn sufficiently by the end of lifting it 10-15 times. It’s recommended to perform 3-6 sets per muscle group with 30-90 seconds of rest between those sets in a workout session.
Density sessions are a unique and effective strategy during hypertrophy training. This is when you pair 2-3 exercises to do sequentially in a fixed amount of time. Typically, each exercise will focus on a different body part or region. The idea is to let one muscle group rest for the recommended 30-60 seconds while you’re exercising in a different region. Density training allows you to get a large amount of work done quickly, making this an extremely efficient workout option.
Phase 3 [Strength]
Strength training is where you’ll explore using heavier weights with compound movement exercises such as bench presses, squats, and deadlifts. The massive benefits of strength training are now becoming fully appreciated. It enhances hormone profiles and reduces the risk of chronic illnesses. Strength is also one of the most significant predictors of how long a person can care for themselves later in life.
To do it properly, you need to lift a weight heavy enough to be challenging between 2-6 times. After your set, it’s recommended to rest between 2-5 minutes before using that muscle group again to make sure you’re fully recovered. Finally, you’ll want to do 3-6 sets of this heavy lifting per muscle group in a session.
A final note on strength training is that it’s recommended to ease or even eliminate cardio during this portion of the cycle. You want to avoid mixing cardio and strength training because they use different muscle fiber types. You can’t be your absolute strongest and have peak conditioning both simultaneously.
Accessory Movements & Mobility
I consider accessory movements the vitamins and minerals of exercise. They require you to slow things down and focus on the deeper fine-tuning muscles. Posture, technique, and movement patterns are prioritized over burning a few extra calories.
Examples include core stability, athletic training, and yoga types of movements. The goal is to work joints through full but controlled ranges of motion. Accessory movements are meant to promote healing and longevity within the musculoskeletal system.
Mobility also needs to be part of a good program to protect joints and minimize risks of injury. It should be mentioned that mobility is different than flexibility. Flexibility refers to the stretching capacity of muscles and connective tissue around a joint. Mobility refers to how well your muscles and nervous system control and stabilize a joint during movement.
Accessory movements and mobility can and should be done throughout the entirety of a program if injury prevention is a priority. At Embody Personal Training, we sprinkle these movements in every workout.
The Other 24 Hours
A final consideration is what you do to fuel and rest your body between sessions. For example, consuming foods that nourish the body, minimizing foods and substances that deplete the body, and getting appropriate rest.
Diet and nutrition are for more than just weight and fat loss. Nutrition is essential to how you feel and perform, and the older we get, the more true this becomes. Keep in mind that nutrition often needs to be personalized. For some basic tips on nutrition, visit this series of posts by Dr. O’Guin.
Adequate rest and recovery are not discussed as much as nutrition for performance. However, this is frequently an overlooked aspect of a perfect fitness program. The body needs 7-9 hours of quality sleep to perform optimally and fully replenish and repair.
If you’re interested in nutrition or lifestyle coaching, we can help you develop a game plan to set you up for success. Use our contact form and tell us your story. We would love to support you.