Setting Up A Workout Routine That Works
This is not going to be an article about what exercises you should be doing or how many days a week you should be working out. Instead, I want to go beyond all of that. I want to zoom out and focus on the big picture and how to set yourself up to become a better, more bad-ass version of YOU over the long-term.
And with New Years approaching fast it’s time to start getting to work. Don’t give up on the fitness goals you set for 2012. No! REACH those goals that you set! You’ve got 3 months to do it in. That’s plenty of time to start making things happen.
I want to share a paradigm, an approach to training, that I’ve used over the last 5 months to get into as good of shape as I’ve ever been. It’s not hard. But it IS smart.
Welcome to Periodization
The word “Periodization” may be familiar to many of you when it comes to exercise programs. If not, don’t worry. What really took my understanding of the term to the next level was a book I read, The Science Of Martial Arts Training, by Olympic Weightlifting Coach Charles Staley. I’ve been using his principles ever since and the results have been worth it!
What is Periodization? It’s a big, fancy word for breaking your workout routine into smaller and smaller chunks with periods of rest in between. That’s all. Sounds simple, and it is. But you can use Periodization to develop a progressive, systematic plan to take you from where you are to where you want to be. And THE KEY IS IN THE PLANNING. As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Here’s how it works:
We’ll start by setting your fitness goals for 1 year. Where do you want to be, health-wise, when we’re approaching the end of 2013? What do you want to have accomplished? Do you want to be thinner? Do you want to be stronger? Be jacked? Possess the speed and agility of an athlete? Are there some physical skills you’d like to master or at least be good at? What kind of flexibility do you want to have? Are there some events that you’d like to train for? How will you look? How will you move? How will you feel? What will people see in your eyes when they look at you?
Start jotting down some goals right now. Get at least 5 to 10 new things. Don’t think about it too much right now. Just write. You can revise later, but brainstorming is how you get your mind to start searching and honing in on the goals you want to accomplish.
Once you’ve settled in on some long-term goals that really resonate with you then it’s time to put them in order.
Lets start by breaking them down into 3 month segments. That gives you 4 “cycles” in the Periodization blueprint. We’ll be breaking those into smaller cycles as well in a bit.
Now look at your goals. What would be the natural flow of things that you would need to accomplish in each cycle in order to reach those goals? This may force you to make some other, smaller goals. Or perhaps you’ll be able to add some bigger goals to the later cycles. Create a timeline and plug each of your goals into 1 of the 4 cycles.
One very important note on plugging your goals into these cycles–since it’s easier for the human body to make just 1 or 2 adaptations at a time instead of several at once it is often considered best to give each cycle a particular focus.
For me, the first cycle was weight loss and general athletic training. My current cycle is focused on muscle building and developing my martial arts skills. My next cycle will be focused more on strength building and sparring.
That should give you a brief idea of how this works.
So now we break each of those 3 month cycles into 2 smaller cycles of 6 weeks each. Do this as you see fit, but what works for me is making it a “4 weeks heavy, 2 weeks light” cycle.
I work out hard for 4 weeks straight, then spend the next 2 weeks taking it a little easier, maybe cutting down the amount of days I train. This not only gives my body a chance to recover but it also helps me stay focused on completing each cycle, knowing that I have a break coming up.
The next step is to plan those 2 mini-cycles so that they lead you toward your next big cycle.
So, for myself, the first 6 weeks I focused more on exercises involving speed and agility of movement. The second 6 weeks I started adding heavier weights to my routine–just enough to prep me for the upcoming 3 month muscle building cycle.
Another beauty of this approach is that your workouts NEVER get stale. Not only do the exercises constantly change, but the purpose and nature of the exercises change as well. Instead of just going through various types of either cardio or weight lifting exercises, you’re changing all of that up as well. This really adds a new element of fun to the whole process. And it’s exciting to see your body change in specific ways as each cycle brings with it a new focus and new benefits.
My 1 Year Periodization Plan
To go a step further, I then broke my 4 weeks of hard training into 2 week cycles, just for variety. I would do one specific workout for 2 weeks, then another complimentary workout the next 2 weeks. Then, during my 2 week recovery period I would go back and just do each of the 2 workouts once for the week. This also allowed me to see the improvements I made over the previous 2 weeks.
Now that I’m focusing on muscle building I’m doing things a bit differently. 4 weeks of muscle building, followed by 2 weeks (recovery) of a couple workouts where the focus will be on building absolute strength in those new muscles (this involves lifting even heavier weights for fewer reps). Then I’ll complete another 4 weeks of muscle building, followed by 2 weeks of some muscle speed training to develop that strength into power.
After that cycle ends I plan on changing it to 4 weeks of absolute strength building with 2 weeks of a couple muscle building workouts, then another 4 weeks of absolute strength building followed by 2 weeks of muscle speed training.
Then it’ll be 4 weeks of muscle speed training and 2 weeks of muscle building, then 4 weeks of muscle speed training again and 2 weeks of absolute strength building.
It’s hard to get all this from just reading, but if you were to put that all down on a timeline you’d see I’m rotating these 3 weightlifting methods, focusing on 1 specific method in each cycle, but still giving some attention to the other 2 as well.
That will complete my 1 year Periodization cycle (I only shared the fitness aspect of it since I’m only using it to illustrate how the process works), and it will be time for me to reevaluate and plan a new 1 year cycle.
You can now see how the process works and how you can blend each cycle into the next so that they act as building blocks one on top of the other.
Besides keeping you focused, making the process more fun, and giving you a winning strategy for designing a workout that WORKS for YOU, you will start to develop a new perspective on creating long-term goals and effective strategies for reaching them. I’ve started applying the principles of Periodization into every area of my life now and it’s created a whole new platform for me to work on setting up the type of life that I want to have. I hope you will take these principles with you and do the same.
Here’s to your self growth!