Changing Up Your Routine

Periodization is a training system that changes workouts at regular intervals of time. The concept originated from the former Eastern Bloc countries of the Soviet Union and East Germany and was developed to assist world class athletes succeed in competition. Today periodization is recognized as an integral component of exercise training for all fitness athletes.

In fact anyone who wishes to improve their game and ability to perform can apply these principles.

Periodization involves the manipulation of training variables, such as the number of repetitions performed per set, number of sets performed per exercise, total number of sets performed per workout and number and choice of exercises performed.

Other related variables include frequency of workouts, frequency of body parts exercised weekly, order of exercises, timing of training routine, variation in percentage of maximum weight lifted, changes in hand or foot spacing and rest periods between sets.

Periodization prevents stagnation and greatly reduces those frustrating training plateaus. It keeps workouts fresh and alive. Changing our training pattern at regular, seasonal preplanned intervals prevents boredom and diminishes risk of injury.

One major cause of joint injury, besides incorrect form, is the continued pressing of heavy weights day after day without variation. Eventually, the stress is just too much for the immune and neuromuscular systems of the body to handle.

In the context of periodized training, intensity is modified and varied as a strategy, so that the stress of lifting does not accumulate to the point where training paradoxically undermines good health.

A study designed to examine the effect of training periodization on upper and lower body strength was conducted by Darryn Willoughby PhD at Baylor University in Texas.

This study was conducted on college age males with previous weight training experience. For 16 weeks three groups trained three times weekly. Group 1 performed five sets of 10 reps at 79% of maximum weight (1-RM). Group 2 performed six sets of 8 reps at 83% of 1-RM. Group 3 changed their routine every four weeks. For the first four weeks, they performed five sets of 10 reps at 79% of 1-RM. During the next four weeks, they performed six sets of 8 reps at 83% of 1-RM. For the next four weeks they performed three sets of 6 reps at 88% of 1-RM and for the remaining last four weeks, they performed three sets of 4 reps at 92% of 1-RM.

Strength gains in both the bench press and squat were significantly greater in the third group that varied reps and percentage of 1 repetition maximum compared to the two other groups that trained without any variation. This study was published in the July 1993 edition of Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.

In sports competition, principles of periodization are adjusted and made in relation to the timing of important sporting events and annual competition. The goal is to prepare the athlete for maximum performance at specific events and prevent injury. Volume of exercise, skill training and intensity of exercise are all varied according to distinct periods of time.

In Europe the year is broken down into preparation phase, first transition, competition phase and second transition. In America, the most common terminology used is pre-season, in-season and off-season.

In American strength & power circles athletes train according to time segments referred to as hypertrophy, strength and power, peaking and active rest.

Training phases vary in length and can be broken down into segments of time based on specific goals and training patterns which vary according to the calendar.

The three periodized cycles I will now describe are known as the Macrocycle, the Mesocycle and the Microcycle.

A macrocycle is normally used to describe a full year of training. It’s also used to describe the region of time which occurs between major competitions. A macrocycle provides a birds-eye or telescopic view of changes that will occur in intensity and volume of exercise, training format and timing of competition.

For example, the World Masters Athletics Championships occur every 2 years, whereas the Summer Olympics occur every four years.

A mesocycle usually refers to a time period of four to six weeks, or as long as two or three months. A mesocycle could reflect changes made to ensure optimal gains in physical conditioning after training a certain way for 6 weeks or refer to the off-season period when athletes prepare for spring football camp.

A microcycle refers to one week or seven days of training. Microcycles define the specificity of training routines week-by-week and day-by-day.

One day might include high-intensity low-rep training, whereas the next day may vary this approach with moderate-intensity, higher reps and less weight. Changes in routines are based on specific objectives and the science of periodization, not just for the sake of random variation.

Now let’s talk about my own periodized training plan to provide a practical example. My event is the Mens hammer in Masters track and field. My age category is 60-64 and my hammer weight is 5kg.

The hammer is all about speed and power. It demands tremendous precision and skill, so to perform well you have to combine excellent technique with great physical condition, and to make progress as in all sport, you have to stay injury free.

My one year macrocycle began October 1st 2017 and will end September 30th 2018. I break my 12 month calendar year into 4 three-month mesocyles.

Right now I’m lifting hard and heavy. Low reps like 6’s and triples. My focus is to build strength and power, so each workout in terms of microcycle revolves around a basic compound lift including BB Squats, BB Bench Press, BB Deadlift and BB Overhead Press.

During this first mesocycle, I train four days in a row in a four day split, then take one day off and repeat the cycle for 12 weeks. I think of each training day in my head as Legs, Chest, Back or Shoulders.

I walk 2 km at a brisk pace to get to the gym then 2 km back home. During this walk I hike up and down a steep hill, jump over a creek, climb over a fence and walk along a 4 foot high concrete narrow beam. All of this variation in random movement patterns helps my 60 year old brain maintain a healthy and functional neural network. The result is improved balance and sustainability of basic motor skills related to movement.

When I get to the gym, I do a mini stretch warm-up that includes joint rotation and several twisting movements. I call it Circles and Twists. After that I perform four weight training exercises, then finish with some solid core training. Core strength is critical in the hammer throw.

Beginning January 1st, 2018, I will add a fifth training day that includes hammer rotation drills using kettle bells and medicine balls.

This is followed by 3 x one-minute high-intensity sprint intervals on the lifecycle with marginal rest between intervals, and then a nice relaxing yoga style stretch routine on the floor.

My second mesocycle goes like this. Day 1 is Legs. Day 2 is Chest. Day 3 is hammer drills, cardio and stretch. Day 4 is an off day. Day 5 is back. Day 6 is shoulders and day 7 is hammer drills, cardio and stretch. My lifting goal is to maintain most of the strength and power I gained in the first mesocycle.

I’ll repeat this microcycle sequence over and over again for 12 weeks until the next mesocyle begins April 1st 2018. By the way, all of this is written down on a 12 month calendar pinned to my office wall. I look at it every day. To hit the bull eyes you have to keep your eyes on the target. This is why I also watch a ton of hammer throw and training videos on YouTube. During this second mesocycle I will also travel to Kamloops BC to practice actual throws at their indoor throwing facility every second weekend.

In the third mesocyle beginning April 1st, hammer season begins. Lifting in the gym now changes to a supplement and heavy weights are no longer the main priority. Heavy lifting is generally not advised in-season.

Skill, technique and all round physical conditioning is the focus and I will need to accept what always happens; I will have to trade some of the power, strength and muscle size I gained in the off-season for hammer related skill and technique. In the circle, speed is everything, but you can’t generate speed unless you have fantastic footwork and incredible technique. And you can’t develop incredible technique without a lot of practice.

The third mesocyle routine goes like this. I’ll throw at the track on Monday. Each hammer throw workout is about 2 hours; I’ll throw maybe 40-60 times and focus on relaxation, breathing and a low center of gravity. I practice the three phases of the throw independently, namely the wind, the turns and the release. Then I’ll to my best to blend them all together in unison with good form in one, two and three turn throws.

The goal is to become one with the hammer and create perfect synergy between the hammer head (steel ball) and my body with my arms completely extended and relaxed.

Believe it or not, the hammer actually leads the thrower after you get it going in an ideal circular orbit, but at the top of the throw when the hammer reaches its maximum height just as you begin to turn on your heel, the athlete must learn to ‘push’ the hammer or said a different way, you have to pull the hammer down to the floor which creates more acceleration. This part is real tricky because if you don’t do it right you’ll lose control and fall on your ass.

For those of you wondering what it’s like to throw the hammer, all I can say it that once you get to the level of being half decent, it’s a fantastic rush. Something like riding a roller coaster.

The next day after throwing I’ll hit the gym beginning first with hammer rotation drills. I use the aerobic studio and just practice spinning around in circles with 8kg kettle bells and medicine balls.

This is followed by four relative light weight training movements, then core, interval training and a stretch. Training sequence is over six consecutive days.

It goes like this. Day 1 Throw. Day 2 gym. Day 3 throw. Day 4 gym. Day 5 throw. Day 6 gym. Day 7 is an off day. This sequence is repeated for 12 consecutive weeks until July 1st which begins the final mesocyle, during which time most of the major competitions are held including the world masters championships next September in Spain.

During this last mesocyle my focus is mainly preparing for and recovering from competition and once again, staying injury free. The goal is to throw as often as possible and concentrate on technique. I’ll throw two days in a row, hit the gym on day three, take the next day off then repeat the cycle until hammer season ends at the end of September. I usually rest two days before a competition, take one day off after and then get right in the saddle. It’s my love for the sport that drives me, not the notion of winning.

In the gym I’ll perform some plyometric drills, some conditioning exercises that are hammer throw specific, practice rotation and footwork drills, do some cardio and finish off with a good floor stretch. Everything now is about performance. It’s time to reap the rewards from all the work I have sowed. In sport and in nature, there is no free lunch.

By season end, I’m ready for a change. My neck, back and shoulders all need a rest from throwing, and that’s exactly where I am right now in November. Hammer season is over, as track is typically a summer event, but this past summer was a great one as I exceeded my throwing distance expectations. I set a new provincial record in my age group at the BC Senior Games 55+ in August 2017 and look forward to setting more next year.

These days I’m hungry for power and strength and have no injuries, and because I’m not throwing or doing any intense cardio, my strength is soaring, which feels really good. Each workout is stronger than the last.

Meanwhile I’m really excited about competing next year, know exactly when and where all the meets will be as they are mapped out on my calendar, and look forward to starting my hammer rotation drills in January.

Let me conclude with this. One of the most important and essential keys for making progress in any sport at any age is to stay focused and hungry. You have to exude enthusiasm for training each and every day and it has to be natural. You can’t fake it because Mother Nature can see right through you.

How can we make any progress if we’re injured, tired, infected, burnt-out or lack energy? Personal happiness is a factor, as are relationships, family, work, environment and home life. Humans are emotional creatures and we must find a find to control them.

Other variables including sleep, training, nutrition and supplements must be considered and intellectually mastered. In addition, you must constantly think about and visualize how to improve your performance without compromising your personal health. To compromise health is to compromise your very life.

In the hammer event, only one thing counts. Distance…in large amounts! But in the sport of life only one thing counts, whether you succeed or not at staying well. Stay hungry for health my friends.

Pursue health and performance will follow!

Photo by Fraser Pitkethly from Burst

“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Periodization: Audio Podcast Version

As always...Stay Well and Live Free!