Periodization 2.0: Modern Tactics for Periodization

Last month we discussed the principles of periodization, how it may (or may not) be useful, and when it can be utilized within our reconditioning process. This previous discussion lays the groundwork for a deeper understanding and implementation of progressive overload through the lens of periodization.

If you have not already, I encourage you to read that portion here first!

As we have all learned through experience, too much of a “good thing” can quickly have negative effects. Exercise is no different. One of the utilities of periodized approaches is that they can assist in finding the “sweet spot” between doing too much and not providing enough of an adequate stimulus.

To be clear, by no means in periodization the holy grail of performance or rehabilitation. However, it can be a very powerful and objective lens when prescribing and advancing exercise dosage and intensity.

Expanding upon these previous discussions, we can now dive into some examples of specific utilization and potential shortcomings of periodization to better understand when and how it can be applied to reconditioning and rehabilitation.

Let’s start with an example of linear periodization:

Linear periodization looks to increase volume and intensity of training in a progressive and linear fashion over multiple sessions while utilizing the same exercise (hence the name!). We can use a weekly squat program for context:

Session 1: 3 sets x 10 reps @ 70% 1RM (or any other metric of intensity!)

Session 2: 4 sets x 10 reps @ 70% 1RM

Session 3: 3 sets x 10 @ 75% 1RM

Session 4: 4 sets x 10 @ 75% 1RM

The above example shows the escalation of volume first (session 1–>2 adds an additional set at the same intensity of previous session) followed by an increase in intensity with reduced overall volume (session 3 reduces reps from previous session, but adds 5% intensity).

Lastly, the last session shows a relative increase in both intensity and volume as compared to session one. This mandates that the individual performing such a program is performing more overall physical work while also performing it at a higher intensity when comparing the first session to the last! 

While this is a very simplistic example, this framework can be applied in countless ways and across multiple domains to elicit favorable performance and health adaptations. 

Let’s utilize running as another example:

Session 1: 6 miles @ 8:00 min/mile

Session 2: 2 miles x 3 rounds with 2 min rest between rounds @ 7:30 min/mile

Session 3: 6 miles @ 7:50 min/mile

Session 4: 2 miles x 3 rounds with 2 min rest between rounds @ 7:20 min/mile

Session 5: 6 miles @ 7:40 min/mile

This particular example illustrates alternating longer steady state running (6 mile runs) with 2 mile repeat runs at a faster pace (for a total of 6 miles). Similar to the squat example from earlier, there is a graded increase in intensity as the sessions progress (-:10 sec/mile). The difference between this example and the previous is that the volume of distance covered remains exactly the same while the speed of those miles steadily increases.

From this standpoint, the volume of running remains unchanged, but the intensity of each mile run continues to increase.

Understanding the inverse relationship between volume and intensity affords the coach a seemingly limitless number of programming possibilities as we do not have to be confined to specific templates or parameters.

This methodology provides the ability to consistently tweak the “intensity” and “volume” dials of our training stressors that encourage fluctuations in an upward trend over the course of days, weeks, and months. 

When viewed through a flexible lens, here are some of the tremendous benefits of utilizing periodization principles:

  • Offers the ability to track chronic workloads while incrementally increasing levels of physical stress over long periods of time. The more data points accumulated, the more accurate the coach can predict and update future plans based on past responses.
  • Provides tangible short and long term plans that can easily be adapted and updated based on the needs of the individual and their response to previous sessions.
  • Makes for excellent home exercise programs for individuals recovering from post-operative conditions and those that are currently sidelined from sport/activity. If the goal is improving work capacity and strength over a period of time, linear periodization is a vastly underappreciated tool! Simple does not mean ineffective.
  • Holds the athlete accountable to consistent training while also providing them with an overview of long-term plans that are relevant to their unique goals.

Unfortunately, as with all theories, periodization is NOT a perfect science. We will touch on some of these pitfalls now.

Below are some of the common pitfalls of relying entirely on periodization principles:

  • Blind reliance on periodization can prevent progression to higher difficulty or higher intensity activities for those that may be ready to handle them. This is especially true during the early phases of rehabilitation where improvements in function and tolerance may occur in a matter of days.
  • The best laid plans cannot account for unexpected outcomes. If the individual is having an off day or is not recovering between sessions due to outside stressors, an overly rigid program does not afford the opportunity to adapt on the fly. The ability to pivot and adjust is vital to accommodate such situations. Having an individual push through a session with poor execution simply because it “was on the program” is not ideal.
  • Monotony. Oftentimes, prolonged periodization programs utilize identical exercises, reps and set schemes, and offer very little variation. While the point of periodization is to be specific and consistent over time, many individuals lose interest and motivation when performing the same (or very similar) exercises each day.
  • Using periodization as a one-size-fits-all or cookie cutter approach to programming can be detrimental to success. It is very important to appreciate that the same program will likely result in very different outcomes across multiple individuals.

  • Mike Reinhardt, PT, DPT


Article: Low-load blood flow restriction training induces similar morphological and mechanical Achilles tendon adaptations compared with high-load resistance training. – Christoph Centner et al. Journal of Applied Physiology

Research surrounding blood flow restriction (BFR) and favorable muscular adaptations has been around for some time, but this is one of the first pieces of evidence that BFR can also elicit changes in the morphological and mechanical properties of tendons. Such findings provide the basis for utilizing BFR when rehabilitating tendinopathies that do not tolerate significant loading.

Podcast: The Body of Knowledge: Chapter 1

In this first chapter, Kenny Kane and Andy Galpin dive into the science and applications of physiological adaptation. This episode is the first of a series of incredibly informative and insightful podcasts that aim to shed light into the human’s ability to massively alter its physiology through exercise and nutrition.

Book:  Scientific Principles of Hypertrophy Training (Renaissance Periodization)Mike Israetrel

This book by Dr. Mike Israetrel is a phenomenal and comprehensive resource for all things hypertrophy. This book is directed toward the goal of increasing muscle growth; however, the principles and ideas discussed can be adapted and utilized for all populations. Topics ranging from the physiology of hypertrophy to exercise selection, modification, and program design are covered in great detail.

Social Media Follow: @coach_brettb   Brett Bartholomew

Brett is an incredible speaker, author, coach, and all around good human being. Brett is a tremendously skilled communicator who understand and teaches the importance of matching your style of communication with that of your audience.

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