Periodization: The Key to an Effective Workout Program

Periodization: The Key to an Effective Workout Program

Have you ever experienced stagnation or boredom with your workout routine? Have you hit a plateau where no matter what you do, you just feel like you’re not making progress? Have you experienced long term exhaustion physically, mentally, or even sickness? These are all symptoms of a manotineous workout program  that is not well planned or a program that you have stuck to for too long. With strategic periodization, you can avoid training plateaus and overtraining. Here’s how to break free and take your training and your results to the next level.

What is periodization?

Strength and conditioning programs cause an alarm phase that provokes our bodies to respond to external stimulus (strength training or cardiovascular training). Our bodies responds by adapting the stimulus so the next time it encounters the same stressor, we will be able to better deal with the stress. This is referred to as general adaptation syndrome (GAS). Homeostasis is our bodies baseline or equilibrium, so anytime we encounter a stress whether physical or psychological we experience a physiological adaptation. This is why it is important to constantly adjust variables of stress (workout routine) through periodization.

To promote long term training and performance improvements, a good training program should include preplanned, systematic variations in training specificity, intensity, volume, and load organized in periods or cycles within the overall program. This allows you to optimize adaptations made from training either from strength training or cardiovascular training.

Periodization for Strength

So, you have to disrupt homeostasis with a progressive overload to cause the body to adapt.  Here are three key training parameters that will drive gains in strength and muscle. 

  1. Mechanical tension: external forces put on the muscles by the weights, resulting in muscle contraction. Lifting a heavy load in big compound exercises (squats, chins, rows, bench presses etc.).
  2. Metabolic stress: the accumulation of metabolic byproducts, referred to as metabolites (e.g., lactate, hydrogen ions, and inorganic phosphate) during and following resistance exercise, which indirectly mediate cell and muscle swelling. Using higher rep sets with shorter rest periods and intensification techniques such as, drop sets, supersets, rest pause and occlusion training.
  3. Muscle damage: referring to micro tears accrued from deliberately lifting weights, usually accompanied by DOMS. Exercises which place a big stretch on the muscle like Romanian Deadlifts, are great at achieving this. Eccentric overload training is also excellent. So, using a weight heavier than you can lift and just doing the lowering phase (you will need a spotter for this). 

Periodization for Cardio

You should also periodize your cardiovascular training for the same reasons—to further challenge your body while still allowing for adequate recovery time.

If, for example, you’re a recreational runner, running for fitness, fun and the occasional short race, you’ll want to allow for flat, easy runs, as well as some that incorporate hills and others that focus on speed and strength.

What you don’t want to do is complete the same run every time. If you run too easily, and don’t push yourself, you won’t progress. And chances are you’ll get bored. Conversely, too much speed or high-intensity training will lead to injury or burnout, and most likely, disappointing race results.

Training Variables to Consider

Here are 5 key variables to consider that will impact your workouts. Now that you know the importance of altering your training program, here is how periodization manipulates these variables. A change in your program doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change all of the exercises, sets, reps, and weight periodically. In some instances, that may be the case, but a change in your program can be as subtle as increasing or decreasing the volume. Or maybe you increase the weight in your strength training routine. Maybe, you increase the weight and decrease the volume respectively. There are many ways that you can alter a program, the most important thing is that your program is adjusted periodically with the end goal in mind so that you get results.

Here are 5 key training variables:

Volume: The number of repetitions per set, or the number of sets of each exercise 

Load: The amount of resistance used and cumulative effective of stress from your workout physically and psychologically.

Frequency:  How many days a week you train a muscle group, movement pattern, or energy system.

Intensity: Rest period between sets or bouts,  exercise type, order of the exercises, types of exercises, weight used for the exercise, and speed at which you complete each exercise.

Specificity: exercise selection that is specific or non specific to your goals

How Frequently should you switch up workouts?

Macrocycle: Traditional periodization models divide the overall program into specific time periods. The largest division is a macrocycle, typically (6-12 months)

Mesocycle: Within macrocycle are two or more mesocycles, each lasting several weeks to several months. The number depends on goal and peak time periods. (2 weeks – 6 months)

Microcycle: Each mesocycle is divided into two or more microcycles that are typically one week long but could last for up to four weeks, depending on the program. This short cycle focuses on daily and weekly training variations. (1-4 weeks)

With this in mind. It is recommended that you adjust your training program at least every 4 weeks to avoid plateaus and negative effects of overtraining.

Types of Periodization

Here are 3 types of periodization methods.

Linear: Most frequently used. Best for beginners. training plan that gradually increases volume, intensity, and work by mesocycles in an annual plan. Progressive overload is a major key to success here.

Non-Liner/Undulated: Relies on constant change in stimuli throughout training cycles. As opposed to a linear periodization that focuses on gradual increase of one variable, this style manipulates multiple variables like exercises, volume, intensity, and training adaptation on a frequent basis. The time frame for these manipulations can be daily, weekly, or even bi-weekly. Non-linear periodization is more advanced than linear and incorporates multiple types of stimuli into a training program.

Block Periodization: Block periodization is arguably the “newest” periodization style. The concept of block periodization focuses on breaking down specific training periods into 2-4 week periods. Each block encompasses three different stages: accumulation (50-75% intensity), transmutation (75-90% intensity), and realization (90%> intensity). The goal behind these smaller, specific blocks is to allow an athlete to stay at their peak level longer.

Periodized training will ensure that you continue to make measurable progress, which will keep you energized and interested in reaching your goals

As you incorporate periodization into your fitness program, keep in mind your body will need adequate rest as well. It’s important to track your workouts and record sets, reps along with the amount of resistance you used. This long-term plan will allow you to stay focused on different goals throughout the year and will support continued and measurable progress.

 


5 Best Exercises to Increase Your Speed

5 Best Exercises to Increase Your Speed

I often get the question, “which is more important for speed, mechanics or strength?” I think it’s important to understand that speed is not a one or the other concept. In order to move fast, you need to have proper mechanics, AND you need to be able to put a lot of force into the ground.

Think of it like a car—if you put a set of racing tires on a Prius, it’s going to control the power extremely well, but that’s not going to make it fast. Alternatively, if you put a Lamborghini’s engine on a lawn mower, there’s not a chance you will be able to control that power. Speed is the same thing. We must have the knowledge and practice of how to move our bodies properly and efficiently, but we need to be building a bigger engine to produce more power through our efficient mechanics. I have compiled what I think to be the 5 best exercises to help you harness that power and increase your speed.

Squat                                                                                                       

The squat is absolutely essential for any speed training program. Squats target many of the important muscles related to sprinting including the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves.

Squats have a unique versatility to them. With numerous variations, they have the ability to strengthen the muscles necessary for sprinting in different ways.

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The RDL is another very important exercise if your intentions are to increase your speed. The RDL is designed to target your Posterior Chain, specifically your glutes and hamstrings.

These muscles are the ones responsible for your top speed. The ability to produce a lot of force horizontally is what keeps you ahead of your opponent.

Sled Push

Sled pushes are an awesome blend of strength training and biomechanics training. They can be done with varying amount of weight to increase or decrease difficulty. Sled pushes give you the ability to focus on sprinting mechanics while building the strength necessary to maximize your speed.

Depth-Drop Jumps

Depth-drop jumps utilize our Stretch-Shortening Cycle (SSC) through means of Plyometric forces. This means that dropping from a height requires your muscles/ligaments to stretch and absorb energy, then rapidly contract and release that energy by jumping immediately after contacting the ground. This exercise gets your lower body producing a lot of powerful force, and when used right, gets you sprinting very fast (and jumping higher too).

Three-Way Plank

A list of exercises to improve speed would be amiss if it did not include something for the core. Having a strong core is essential for speed. Force cannot adequately transfer from your foot to your head if there is a weak spot in-between.

The three-way plank is great because it forces you to strengthen the muscles in your core that you utilize while sprinting.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of exercises that improve speed. And by no means should your training program only comprise of these exercises, but this is a great place to start. What is your favorite exercise for improving speed?


Advance Your Core Training with The Sling System

Advance Your Core Training
with The Sling System

The core is the foundation of your body. It links everything together and provides stability for athletic skills. So simply doing a few Sit-Ups or even Planks won’t cut it when developing an athletic core. The key is developing what is called the sling system. The sling is a group of contralateral (opposite) muscle groups that work in a diagonal fashion and that lie on the anterior (front) and posterior (back) portion of the trunk. The sling can be broken down into the posterior and anterior oblique slings. The primary function of the sling is to stabilize the pelvis and spine during movement, which enhances performance in all sports from track and field, football, baseball, golf and volleyball.

Anterior Oblique System

The anterior oblique sling system includes the external and internal oblique, opposing leg adductors complex, and hip external rotators. The oblique plays a key role in mobilizing and stabilizing gait. It functions by pulling the leg through during the swing phase. Athletic movements involve many moving parts. The anterior sling system helps stabilize the pelvis and spine during acceleration, deceleration and multi-directional movements. The anterior oblique system contributes to rotational forces and hip flexion and stabilizes the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.

Here’s how to train it:

Posterior Oblique System

This system includes the gluteus maximus, latissimus dorsi and thoracolumbar fascia. The glute max and lat attach to the thoracolumbar fascia, which connects to the sacrum. Their fibers run perpendicular to the hip joint so when the opposite glute max and lat contract, the tension built up stabilizes that hip joint, enhancing energy transfer.

The posterior oblique subsystem contributes to propulsion when we walk, run or sprint. It is also a key contributor to rotational forces such as swinging a golf club or baseball bat, or throwing a ball. If there is any dysfunction in the posterior oblique subsystem, the hip joint will become unstable, leading to back pain. Someone with weak glutes and/or lats will most likely have a motor unit recruitment dysfunction leading to increased tension in the hamstrings and will be at a higher risk of recurring hamstring strains.

Here’s how to train it:

Take your core training to the next level by incorporating these exercises to optimize performance!

 


Decrease Injury with Deceleration Training

Decrease Injury with Deceleration Training

Sports are becoming increasingly competitive. In order to even be considered as a potential starter, athletes have to prove themselves. Coaches look for not only the most skilled athletes but also the most athletic. Parents and athletes are more aware of the importance of strength and conditioning training than ever before. As a result, most young athletes are falling into three categories:

  1. Athletes that have not been exposed to structured strength training techniques or speed and agility protocol. This group is at risk of overuse and soft tissue injuries because their joints and ligaments are not resilient and are susceptible to strains, tears, and stress fractures.
  2. Athletes that have been exposed to strength and conditioning along with speed and agility training, but have not been taught by a professional. Learning improper movement patterns and stressing them with high loads is a dangerous combination and will lead to injury.
  3. Athletes that have been exposed to a progressive periodized strength program that is appropriate for their age and experience. This group will have a solid foundation of strength, coordination, speed, agility, and power. They will have the advantage of performance benefits and less injury risk.

If we break down sports or athletics into its simplest form, it is a series of complex movements through multiple planes. Some are predictable and some are unpredictable. In order to prepare for sports, athletes must be able to tolerate the forces produced in their sport. If the forces required in the sport exceed the athlete’s ability to produce or absorb that amount of force, they are at greater risk for injury. It is estimated that there are around 80,000 ACL injuries each year. Let’s look into why these injuries may be occurring.

In the sports performance industry athletes are attracted to buzz words like speed, explosiveness, power, and vertical jump. All of these terms focus on acceleration movements or concentric muscle contractions. Putting a disproportionate focus on power and explosiveness will lead to a deficit in the ability to properly control the body when decelerating. Training specifically in the acceleration phase will primarily use concentric movements. In the leg we find that the quadriceps will become over-dominant and create an excessive amount of stress on the ACL. Therefore, it is important that athletes train athletes to use the hamstrings and glutes when decelerating, should be in our top priorities.

A lot of trainers and coaches don’t teach proper deceleration or landing mechanics. They may assume athletes know how to slow down, stop, and land. Now, they may be right in that most athletes can execute that task. However, the better question is can they slow down, stop, or land “properly”? Research supports that there are IDEAL positions and angles that athletes can put themselves in that will allow them to significantly decrease risk for injury simply by being in the right position while cutting, sprinting, or landing from a jump.

In order for athletes to prepare for the demands of their sport, it is important to incorporate these three elements into training:

  1. Emphasize the end of the drill – When performing agility or sprint drills, athletes should intently come to a complete stop abruptly when ending the drill instead of jogging or coasting. To decelerate, lower the hips and slightly over reach by contacting the ground in front of the hips. This will help enhance breaking ability over time.
  2. Focus on force reduction deceleration technique – Start deceleration drills off with an agility ladder and only perform the drills at 70%.  Really focus on digging the foot into the ground, coming to a complete stop, and maintaining low hips and proper body angle. Progress by increasing speed and more complex agility/plyometric drills.
  3. Add tempo into strength training – Emphasize the eccentric phase or the muscle lengthening phase of the lift. For example, instead of doing regular squats, descend down into the squat slowly for 3-10 seconds to work on controlling the load. Isometrics are also a great way to improve deceleration ability. Let’s use the same squat as an example. Descend down into the bottom of the squat and pause for 2-10 seconds before exploding upwards.

Linear Deceleration Technique

  • Hips down – 45 degree angle
  • Knees bent – Avoid <20 degrees of knee bend
  • Lean back – Contact should be nearly 45 degrees. Opposite of power line
  • Heel contact – Contact should begin with heel, roll to ball of foot, and press firmly into ground
  • Multiple steps – Spreading the force out of multiple steps greatly reduces chance of injury

Deceleration Drills

Linear Cone Drill

  • Set up cones 3 yards apart, sprint to the cones, decelerate into a lunge, backpedal to cones. Continue for designated sets/reps.

Lateral Hurdle Run w/ Pause

  • Set up 3-5 hurdles, laterally run over the hurdles, focus on a deep pause for about 2 seconds when changing direction.

Ickey Shuffle

  • Set up a ladder, run diagonally across the ladder, 2 feet in, 1 foot out. Focus on proper hip/knee angles on outside of ladder.

Depth Drop

  • Drop from a depth of 6”-18”, land simultaneously with both feet, very little/no hip drop, hips back, knees bent. Pause for 2 seconds.

Increase Your Speed with Plyometric Training

Increase Your Speed
with Plyometric Training

When you hear the term “plyometric,” most people think of jumping or jump training. However, plyometric is defined as an action that causes a muscle to reach maximal force in the shortest time possible. We can take the term “plyometric” and directly apply it to speed training. Before we do, let’s review how the stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) contributes to increasing your speed with plyometric training by breaking down the three types of muscle contractions.

  1. Eccentric Phase – This is the lowering phase where the muscle lengthens.
  2. Isometric Phase – The static muscle contraction that acts as the bridge between the eccentric and concentric phase.
  3. Concentric Phase– This is the phase when the muscle contracts and shortens to move the external load.

Anytime you perform dynamic movement you are utilizing the SSC. For example, let’s take a typical squat. When descending downward, your hips move back. Your knees bend. The quads, hamstrings, and glutes lengthen. This is the eccentric phase of the squat. At the end of the eccentric phase, right before you transition upward, there is a slight pause at the bottom of the squat. This is the isometric phase. As you transition upward, your quads, hamstrings, and glute muscles shorten. This causes your knees and hips to extend, completing the concentric phase.

Now that we have gone over the SSC, let’s dive into the relationship between plyometrics and the SSC. We know that plyometric is a rapid, maximal force movement.  The stretch-shortening cycle is a 3-phase muscle contraction involved in dynamic movements. Now how do they relate to one another? Plyometric training helps enhance the SSC by rapidly going through the eccentric, isometric, and concentric phases. This trains dynamic movements like sprinting and jumping to be more efficient and explosive.

So, how can you increase your speed with plyometric training? If we separate the three phases of the SSC and train them individually, you will see an overall increase in speed. We train the eccentric part of a movement to be able to absorb more energy and power. We then train the isometric phase, so that the force we generated and absorbed in our eccentric phase is not lost in transition from eccentric to concentric and actually adds to the force production. Finally, we focus on the concentric phase, ensuring that we get the highest rate of force development out of the movement.

  1. Eccentric – Train slow and focus on your landing! Allow your muscles to recruit the necessary energy in the weight-room and spend 3-8 seconds on the way down in each exercise. When jumping, focus on the initial contact to the ground–don’t waste the energy produced. Avoid knees going in or out, hips swaying, or chest falling forward.
  2. Isometric – Train at a stop, hold the landing! Allow your muscles to maintain the energy that has been produced. Get to the bottom of your exercise and hold it for 3-8 seconds. When jumping, land properly, then hold that landing position for 2 full seconds before standing up.
  3. Concentric – Train fast and focus on exploding! Allow your muscles to use the energy produced, come out of the bottom of the exercise quickly, but don’t sacrifice form!

(Pro tip: Decrease the amount of weight when doing concentric training until you can adequately control that weight.)

When jumping, focus on the up portion being as explosive as you can make it. Throw your chest to the sky, keep your knees in line with your toes, and launch your hips through.

In a relatively short amount of time you will see an increase in speed by integrating plyometric training and emphasizing the SSC. A comprehensive program to increase speed should include an effective warm up, speed training, plyometrics, and strength and power movements. Be sure to rest 48 to 72 hours between plyometric workouts to maximize results!

 

 


Unilateral vs Bilateral Lower Body Training

Unilateral vs. Bilateral Lower Body Training

The unilateral versus bilateral training debate is just about as controversial as what comes first, the chicken or the egg? If you were to ask personal trainers, fitness coaches, or performance specialists which is better, you would get mixed responses. To make things easier for you I am going to break down the differences between unilateral and bilateral lower body training.  The best one for you depends on where you are on your fitness journey or performance goals.

Unilateral Training

Unilateral training involves asymmetrical exercises that only use one side of your body at a time. A unilateral lower body movement involves the use of one leg. There are varying intensities when it comes to unilateral lower body training depending on whether the exercises are done with free weights or machines. Here are examples of unilateral lower body exercises:

Bilateral Training

Bilateral lower body training involves the use of both legs symmetrically. Bilateral lower body exercises are the staples of most strength programs. Here are examples of bilateral lower body exercises.

Benefits of Unilateral Training

Unilateral lower body training is great for improving muscle imbalance, kinesthetic awareness, and stability. The asymmetrical nature of these exercises cause your body to stabilize joints and core muscles to maintain balance while executing the movement. If you have had an injury or dysfunction in your lower extremities, unilateral training will help isolate those weak points, and the appropriate exercise can help strengthen to restore full health and function. Unilateral training puts more isolated stress on the single limb being worked. This allows people to put stress on their limbs without overloading with weight, which can increase risk for injury.

Benefits of Bilateral Training

There are many benefits of bilateral lower body training. These include greater muscle recruitment, strength gains, central nervous system (CNS) adaptation, hormone response, greater metabolic effect, and requires less coordination. When performing bilateral lower body exercises, balance and stability are less of a factor compared to unilateral training. This gives you the ability to lift more weight. If your goal is to increase strength, muscle mass, power, or speed, bilateral training will help you make the necessary gains to reach your goal.

How to Implement Unilateral and Bilateral Training into your Workouts

Both bilateral and unilateral lower body training exercises are beneficial whether you are looking to improve your fitness or performance for sports. The most important thing to consider when selecting bilateral or unilateral lower body exercises is what is your number one goal? Do you want to maximize your strength? Do you want to improve your balance, core strength, or stability? Are you recovering from an injury and looking to strengthen an isolated joint or muscle group? Answering these questions before making exercise selections will help you map a plan of action before putting together an exercise routine.

My recommendation is to combine both bilateral and unilateral training in the same training session. After completing a thorough warm up, start with a compound bilateral exercise such as a squat or deadlift. It is important to do these exercises while mentally and physically fresh because they are more taxing than unilateral exercises. After completing one to two compound bilateral exercises, add in one to two unilateral exercises. Another option to consider is switching back and forth between hip dominant exercises (deadlift, hip thrust, etc.) and knee dominant exercises (squats, step ups, etc.).

Below is an example of a combined bilateral and unilateral lower body training routine.

 

Example 1

Bilateral

Back Squat 3×8-12
Unilateral

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

3×8-12
Unilateral

Dumbbell Lunge

3×8-12
Bilateral Stability Ball Hamstring Curl

3×8-12

 

Example 2

Bilateral

Deadlift 4×5

Unilateral

Bulgarian Split Squat 3×6
Bilateral Nordic Leg Curl

3×8

Unilateral Single Leg Hip Thrust

3×8

 

 


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