Programming & Periodization

Is Periodization A Hoax?


I'm nearly convinced that periodization is a total hoax. Maybe not an intentional hoax mind you. But I'm pretty sure it's a crock. Lemme show you how I got there...

I'm a talk-radio addict. One of my pet shows is Coast To Coast A.M with George Noorey (formerly The Art Bell Show). The show is all about alien abductions, the paranormal, conspiracy theories, Area 51, bigfoot, chemtrails, and various other mythological subjects.

One topic that comes up from time to time is the so-called moon landing hoax. As it turns out, there are a number of people who insist that we never landed on the moon. The subscribers to this particular conspiracy theory assert that the whole thing was a hoax carried out in a Hollywood-style set.

That's about as kooky as it gets, right?

Except that some of these moon landing conspiracy kooks are amazingly articulate, logical, and convincing, given the obstacles they're up against (mainly, the obvious fact that we did land on the moon, and more than once at that).

(If you'd like to research this further click HERE for an excellent summary)

Which brings me to periodization, and specifically, the stated purpose of periodization, which is...


Now, I sure would love it if I could design a client's long-term training such that he or she would "peak" on the day of my choosing. I'd even love it if I could get the peak to occur within a 7-day window!

But forcasting your "peak" is probably like forcasting the weather- an exercise in futility. There are simply too many factors which cannot be controlled for. While you might be able to control volume, intensity, density, frequency, and a host of other training-related factors, you'd be hard pressed to eben monitor, let alone control, things like immune system challenges, nutritional intake, social stressors, injuries, financial worries, climatic changes, and all the other day-to-day issues that have very significant effects on performance capacity.

It's almost like trying to "control" your kids- you make every effort to teach your kids right and wrong, you make sure you're a great role model, you pick the best school for them, but unfortunately, you can't control a lot of other stuff that has a profound bearing on how your kids will ultimately turn out.

So if periodization is a hoax, what's the alternative? Well, if I didn't think periodization was a hoax, I'd do it like THIS. But I'll have more to say about the subject on an upcoming post, so stay tuned...

Don't Plan Your "Off Weeks"


Unless you're a competitive athlete of course

I do incorporate a taper phase for my competitive clients— the details vary depending on a host of factors, but the essence of a good taper is a reduction in volume, while maintaining intensity, and maintaining (or in some cases actually increasing) training frequency.

But if you don't compete, I wouldn't recommend that you plan your taper phases or "down weeks." Here's why:

1) It'll happen anyway. Despite your best efforts, you’re likely to lose at least two weeks of training every year due to injuries, illnesses, or unforeseen interruptions, such as holiday festivities, unplanned “emergencies,” and so forth.

2) You’re going to have “slumps.” Almost all dedicated weight-slingers have strings of bad workouts, where for unexplained reasons, their performance is well below par. Last week you pulled 445 like a hot knife through butter; today, you can’t pull 395 high enough to slide a sheet of paper under the plates. When you encounter this type of slump, it’s wise to listen up and make some loading adjustments, even if you were planning on some big numbers this week. Bottom line: your body is requesting a down week. I’d take it if I were you.

3) You might miss a PR. As much as periodization enthusiasts will disagree with me on this, you can’t really predict great performances— all you can do is create a favorable environment for them, and then hope for the best. Often, PRs (or the potential for PRs) sneak up on you when you least expect it— like during a taper week. So my advice is to train as continuously as possible, take a down week when your body needs one, but keep yourself in position to “strike when the iron is hot.” Because a PR is a terrible thing to waste…

4 Reasons Why I Think Undulating Periodization Sucks


Yeah, yeah, undulating periodization is as hot as David Beckham lately... except... I don't know anyone who uses it.

There are only so many ways you can organize your training when you need to develop more than one or two motor qualities:

1) Train all necessary qualities in successive "phases," which might last anywhere from one to six weeks per phase. This is known as "linear" periodization. For example, you might work on increasing muscular hypertrophy for three weeks, then maximal strength for three weeks, and then strength-endurance for three weeks. Linear periodization sucks so bad on so many levels that no one really uses it, and I remain to be convinced that anyone ever used it. The main problem of course, is that by the time you're in your third phase, the quality you worked so hard to develop in the first phase has all but evaporated. It's kinda like studying German in 9th grade, Spanish in 10th grade, French in 11th grade, and Italian as a senior. Every year you start all over again, despite the fact that you never get anywhere.

2) Train all neccesary qualities at all times, but in seperate workouts (undulating periodization) Borrowing from the previous example, on Mondays you might train for hypertrophy, then you'll train for maximal strength on Wednesdays, and finally, strength-endurance on Fridays. It's kinda like "spirit week" at my daughter's school- on Monday it's pajama day, on Wednesday it's hat day, and on Friday it's twin day. Undulating periodization does serve one purpose however, as does spirit week: it alleviates bordom.

That said, I have four fundamental problems with the undulating approach:

• No one actually trains this way. Probably because:

• If you can only use one rep bracket per workout, you're limited to performing many exercises only once per week. As an example, let's say that on hypertrophy day you perform 5 sets of 12 with 90-second rests. For maximal sterngth day you use 6 sets of 2 with 3 minute rests. And on strength endurance day you use 4 sets of 25 with one minute rests. Using this approach, how often can you perform the most valuable lifts, such as snatches, front squats, pistols, deadlifts, push presses, and chins? Answer: once per week. Not enough, even for maintenance purposes. Further, if you're a strongman or kettlebell enthusiast, how often can you perform tire flips or kettlebell snatches? Again, once per week. If you never want to make any progress, that's a perfect frequency.

• When you do "mixed" workouts, late high-rep sets benefit from the previously performed low rep work. OK look- I know everyone says that mixing different motor qualities is inherently evil and all that, but I actually see a synergistic benefit in working heavy to light over the course of a workout- emphasizing nervous-system work early in the workout actually facilitates hypertrophy and/or endurance training later in the workout. And consider this: if you start your endurance training after maximal strength or power training, it's like you've got a head-start, thanks to the fatigue accululation you've already induced.

• Almost every athletic event or physical task starts fresh and ends fatigued- so why not train that way? When you think about it, it doesn't matter if you're talking track and field, tennis, skiing, badminton, or powerlifting- you start off fresh and finish off tired. The aformationed events differ only in extent. This might be the least-appreciated aspect of the specificity principle when I think about it.

Which leads us to the final, best, and arguably only way to organize your training:

3) Train all neccesary qualities at all times, training every quality in every (or at least most) workouts. I've already pointed out the benefits of this approach by picking apart the other alternatives, but perhaps the best argumant for this approach is that everyone trains this way.

At least everyone ends up there, eventually.

Muscles Or Motor Qualities?

The Overhead Squat-Lunge Develops A Host Of Athletic Qualities, Not Just Muscles

(Filmed at Charles Staley's Bed & Barbell, Queen Creek, AZ)

I always used to get the oddest questions when people saw me performing Olympic lifts.

Actually, I still do.

I specifically remember one particular workout "back in the day" at the Dutchess County YMCA in Poughkeepsie (yes, there really is a Poughkeepsie!) New York.

I was mid-way through a power clean session when a well-meaning but hapless inhabitant of a nearby Smith machine asked "Hey- could you tell me what muscle that works?"

"Ya know when you're, say, on a football field, and someone throws you the ball, and you sprint and catch it?" I replied


"It works that muscle."

You could almost hear the gears turning as this poor guy's brain went into overdrive to comprehend my unexpected, albeit sarcastic answer.

All of which leads me to today's question: Why is it that people choose exercises almost solely on the basis of muscle-targeting?

Why is it that no one seems to recognoze that exercises should be selected primarily for their ability to allow the expression of motor qualities?

After all, muscles will be put to work anyway, so why not seek higher ground and focus on motor abilities and athletic qualities?

A few examples to consider include:

• Ovearhead Squats and Planks for core control.

• Kettlebell Snatches for scapular stability.

• Cleans Pulls for explosive power

• Glute-Ham-Gastroc Raises for posterior chain integration and muscular power

• Farmer's Walks for anaerobic strength and lactic-acid tolerance.

Now all of these exercise examples will collectively build enviable slabs of lean tissue on nearly every muscle on the body, but they accomplish an even greater purpose: they build athletic functionality on every level. In other words, they foster improved movement capacity.

The alternative approach (muscle targeting) is an inferior approach. A program consisting of Leg Curls, the Pec Dec, Crunches, Preacher Curls, and Leg Presses may promote muscle growth, but not movement mastery. Isn't it time to move past the "bodyparts" paradigm of modern-day fitness thinking into the realm of skilled athleticism?

Respect The Fatigue Wake

Boatwake400_small "All workouts leave a fatigue 'wake,' meaning they produce fatigue which will affect subsequent workouts to one degree or another. The effects of fatigue are specific. This means that, for example, the fatigue waks caused by a leg workout will have a more negative effect on a subsequent leg workout than it would have on a subsequent upper-body workout. Similarly, the fatigue wake from an aerobic workout will have a greater effect on a aerobic workout than it would have on an anaerobic workout." (From Muscle Logic, p.p. 43):

Contrast Microcycles

FunkpunkOn the "sets and reps" level, when you're actually in there doing the work, you might notice that there's a lot of contrast between work and rest intervals. You perform a set (hard work) and then rest (complete rest). See? Lots of contrast. Because as I've said ad nauseum, contrast promotes recovery. Large contrast promotes large recovery, medium contrast promotes medium recovery, and small contrast promotes small recovery.

That being the case, why aren't we applying the same principle to our training on the microcyclic level? In other words, why aren't more of us implementing contrast microcycles? In my mind, it's a superior way to pack in maximum work and maximum recovery in the smallest possible space. This might be a worthy goal, don't you think?

In practice, contrast microcycles work like this:

Week one might be very light in terms of overall training load. Now there are different philosophies about manipulating volume VS intensity and vice versa, but for the sake of simplicity, let's focus on total load, because if intensity drops much below 85% of current 1RM's you'll suffer a detraining effect.

So week one might add up to 25,000 pounds of total load (Again, don't get tripped up about how to measure this...whatever way you do it is fine, as long as you measure it the same way each week).

On week two, it's time to load up. Plan for something in the neighborhood of 50,000 pounds- double the load used in the previous week. We'll assume that this is heavy for you, but not the most you can possibly do— we need to maintain a margin for additional progression in the comng weeks.

Week three is a deloading week, but it'll still be a bit more taxing than week one. So maybe 30,000 pounds, or 10% more than week one. Week four, 60,000 pounds— again, a 10% increase

That's one mesoocycle with two loading cycles and two contrastive unloading cycles. For the purposes of longer-term planning, repeat the same pattern for future mesocycles, but continuously seek ever higher "peaks" on your heaviest weeks whenever possible.

PS: The fractal image above wasn't by accident...