Use Periodization and Never Hit a Plateau Again

Has your motivation been sapped lately? If you have the best intentions regarding your workout, but lately, no matter how hard or how often you workout, you just can’t seem to progress any further, then you’ve probably hit a plateau. Many people stick to the same routine because their comfortable with it and it doesn’t require much planning and thinking. However, repeating the same exercises and workout patterns will eventually cause your body to adapt to it; thus, you’ll stop seeing results. If you want to continue to make progress, you need to “surprise” your body a bit and give your muscles a new challenge periodically. That goes for both strength and cardiovascular training. Incorporating periodization into your fitness regimen will ensure that you continue to make measurable progress and never hit a fitness plateau again! Periodization is a training style in which you cycle through pre-structured phases of training with the intent of athletically peaking at the appropriate times. Essentially, periodization is a long-term exercise plan. Periodizing your training and changing your training program at regular intervals will keep your body working harder, while still giving it adequate rest. This helps to reduce injury, and avoid both mental and physical burnout. Research shows that a periodized program can produce significantly better results than a non-periodized program. In one particular study, Group 1 performed 1 set of 8-12 repetitions to muscle failure 3 days/week for 12 weeks. Group 2 performed 2-4 sets of 3-15 repetitions, with periodized volume and intensity, 4 days/week during the 12-week period. As seen in the chart below (Figure 1.0), the periodized group showed more substantial gains than the non-periodized group.


*Figure 1.0 – A study conducted at the Human Performance Labaratory at Ball State University (2001) has shown that a periodized strength-training program can produce better results than a non-periodized program.  

In many cases, periodized programming is built for many months or even an entire year, and it includes smaller segments known as cycles within that time frame (see figure 1.1 below). The overarching plan is known as a macrocycle and it’s created with a specific goal in mind. For example, a female may have a specific weight loss goal of losing 30lbs. before her wedding next year, so her year-long training program will prepare her for the one-day event. A year-long workout program can seem overwhelming, which is why smaller mesocycles are included to break things down into smaller blocks of training. Mesocycles are smaller blocks of training that have a specific goal that will contribute to the overarching goal of the macrocycle (mesocycles typically last about 4 weeks but can be anywhere from 2 weeks to a few months). For example, the bride-to-be might be devoted to a “hypertrophy phase” where she is increasing her muscle mass so that she can improve her basal metabolic rate and burn more calories at rest; thus, contributing to her overall weight loss goal. A microcycle is the shortest training block that includes daily and/or weekly training variations based on the purpose of the mesocycle (microcycles typically last one week but can be up to 4 weeks long). For example, the bride-to-be might be devoted to performing the “Ten Sets Method” (a high volume method of training that encompasses 10 sets of a single exercise) for a different targeted muscle group each session for one week to increase her muscle mass.


*Figure 1.1 – Periodization Cycle Hierarchy

If you are serious about reaching your health and fitness goals, you’ll need a periodized program tailored specifically to your needs. Yes, you can find programs available online, in books and magazines, and from some health clubs. However, not just any cookie-cutter program will do. And no, randomly changing the number of sets and repetitions in your workouts won’t cut it either. To have a proper program designed for your goals, you (or your trainer) need to know your strengths, weaknesses, postural deviations and limitations. Everyone has their own sets of circumstances and factors that make their needs very specific. People love to idolize those who have achieved what they themselves are trying to achieve. As a result, people try to find out what those individuals are doing so they can copy them. However, what that athlete is doing now is rarely, if ever, what they did to get to the elite level in the first place. Everybody is different, and some may have issues performing exercises due to: body proportions, flexibility, mobility, injuries (existing/past), equipment limitations, etc. Not only do people have different requirements, but everyone’s requirements change over time as their body adapts.

This may sound way too complicated for your needs, but the truth is everyone can benefit from implementing elements of periodization into their training. Whether you’re a newbie gym member, a weekend warrior or an avid gym enthusiast, the trick is to borrow and integrate the periodization principles that work for you. Here are a few reasons why you should consider applying periodization to your fitness regime.


  • Having a pre-structured plan can help turn a fitness “wish” into a reality. Many people have a desire to get fit, but without a structured plan, your goals are nothing more than wishes.
  • Using a structured training plan can result in long-term success because they help to ensure your goals are specific, appropriate, measurable, and realistic.


  • Periodized programming helps you mentally push through intense workouts. Having pre-set rest days, or even full recovery weeks, can be extremely motivating. It can be easier to work through intense blocks of training if you know the intense workouts are goal-appropriate and temporary.
  • Recovery periods allow you to have a physical and mental break from your training program as the intensity and volume of your workouts are supposed to be significantly lighter and easier compared to usual. This is a great opportunity to try different workouts (e.g. swimming, yoga, dance class, etc.) or focus more on mobility and flexibility.
  • If you know your workouts are helping you work towards a specific goal and you know you have a break from training in the future, you’ll be less likely to skip a workout.


  • Everyone has weaknesses. If you know what your weaknesses are, you should periodize your workouts so you can cycle through workouts that emphasize your weaknesses.


  • Consistently repeating the same exercises can lead to overuse injuries. Plus, a lack of adequate recovery puts you at risk of overtraining.
  • Your brain and body both need breaks from the monotony of working out. Athletes often recover by taking an “off-season”. For the average gym member or recreational athlete, an “off-season” is not necessary since most people don’t train at the frequency or intensity of elite athletes. Most people only require about a week off from their training regime. This may consist of low impact activity, doing unconventional exercise, or taking a full rest (e.g. vacation).
  • It’s vital to have recovery periods to avoid injury. Recovery will also help you return to your preferred discipline with more alertness, both mentally and physically.

Need help with periodization? XLR8 Fitness offers unique, individualized periodized programs to our personal training clients, gym members, and online clients. We offer programming for numerous different domains including major weight loss (60+ lbs.), strength and conditioning, endurance, injury rehab and chronic pain management, chronic disease, functional training, sport-specific performance (powerlifting, olympic lifting, bodybuilding, running, boxing, etc.) and more. By incorporating periodization into your fitness regime, you may just reach new fitness heights and meet your goals!


  • Marx, J.O et al. (2001). Low-volume circuit versus high-volume periodized resistance training in women. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33, 635–643.
By | 2017-03-17T14:27:57+00:00 March 17th, 2017|Uncategorized|22 Comments


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