Proper periodization of training & nutrition is one of the biggest reasons my online clients get such great results
It’s something that I’ve talked about A LOT on this blog in the context of nutrition, but less so when it comes to proper training for your leanest, strongest body.
Now, in case you’re wondering…
“WTF does periodization even mean?”
…let’s start with the definition of periodization used in the Nutritional Periodization blog.
Periodization: Splitting a period of time up into blocks. Each block is focused on creating a different adaptation or outcome – but all of the blocks synchronize to push you towards one specific goal at the end of the time period (e.g. squatting a specific weight, reaching a certain body fat percentage).
See, your body WANTS to maintain homeostasis (it wants to chill at a comfortable level of body fat and/or muscularity). The longer you push your body in any one direction – building lean muscle, losing fat, etc. – the stronger your body’s adaptations to prevent further change become.
→ For fat loss – these adaptations are increased hunger, decreased energy expenditure, and mental fatigue.
→ For lean muscle growth – these adaptations are the need for MORE hard sets & training stress in order to continue to spark muscle growth.
In either case, the purpose of periodizing… injecting phases that don’t directly push you towards your intended outcome (e.g. a maintenance phase in the middle of a diet, or a lower volume phase when focusing on muscle gain)… is to decrease these adaptations and re-sensitize your body to the stimulus (think: calorie deficit OR training volume), to make your future progress easier/take less of said stimulus.
Periodization of both nutrition AND training is key to maximizing results, minimizing negative adaptations, and building your leanest, strongest body.
As a loyal reader of this blog, you’re undoubtedly familiar with what a nutritional maintenance phase is.
…But just in case you’re new around here, it’s basically a time where we decrease the stress of dieting by returning calories to maintenance levels. As you spend more time at maintenance, the negative adaptations to dieting decrease – hunger lessens, your hormones & metabolism improve. Taking time at maintenance sets you up for easier, more successful fat loss in the future.
The re-sensitization phase is to your training, what the maintenance phase is to your nutrition.
When you implement a training re-sensitization phase, the amount of training you need to do to elicit the same result in the future DECREASES from where it is currently.
Again, the further you push your body from homeostasis, the stronger the preventative adaptations become – in the case of muscle growth, the further you push your body, the more volume (think: number of hard sets) it takes to continue to grow.
*A NOTE ON MUSCLE GROWTH:
Both the men AND women I coach online go through phases of training focused on muscle growth.
Most guys want to look lean and athletic – muscle growth is key here.
Most women want to be more toned & defined – muscle growth is ALSO key here.
A muscle only grows larger or smaller – we DON’T train differently depending on if you want to “tone instead of bulk”, because there is no way to “shape” your muscles depending on the sets, rep ranges, or weight you use.
The key to training without getting bulky ISN’T avoiding heavy weights. It’s following a nutrition strategy like my online clients do that keep you lean, and applying most of your training volume to the right areas.
Here’s a few examples of my online clients who have spent MONTHS focusing on building muscle and strength with heavy weights↴
Muscle growth is a MUST to build a lean, strong body. Dedicated phases of muscle growth are what most women and men alike who HAVEN’T been able to build lean, strong bodies are missing.
Ok, now that we have that cleared up and everyone is onboard with building lean muscle, back to what I was saying…
Your calorie maintenance intake is mostly a product of how much you’re eating, moving, and your current size.
Your “maintenance volume” – the amount of training you need to do to maintain your current physique – is similarly a moving target.
Let’s say you just deadlifted 225×5 for the first time.
Dope! You’re making progress – but you also know that by the principle of progressive overload, you need to gradually increase the amount of work done in order to continue to grow.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t continue to see progress if you come back next week and deadlift 22×5 again.
As your body adapts to deadlifting this weight, over time you’ll get less and less growth – but you’ll still make progress with this for quite some time.
Basically, as we increase training volume over time (given intensity is adequate), our body adapts more and more to this style of training. This means we need to keep increasing volume to further push growth.
Over time, as our body adapts to this style of training as a whole, we get less results out of the amount of training volume we’re doing. Muscle pumps decrease (which signals less nutrient delivery to your muscles), and joint aches and pains start to set in.
Another interesting adaption is your muscle fibers.
Your muscles are composed of primarily two fiber types:
→ Type 1 “slow twitch” fibers: These fibers are geared for endurance. They fatigue slowly, but also are poor at creating explosive movement, and have very limited potential for muscle growth.
→ Type 2 “fast twitch” fibers: These fibers are geared to be explosive. They fatigue much quicker than Type 1 fibers, but also have a much greater capacity for growth.
Whereas it used to be thought that muscle fibers were stuck as either slow twitch or fast twitch, it’s now been shown that your muscle sit somewhere on a spectrum of slow to fast, and move more towards one of the other, depending on your lifestyle and how you train.
When we’re training for hypertrophy, which is generally includes lots of relatively higher rep (10+) work, it’s thought that our muscle fibers actually shift more towards “slow twitch” characteristics, as an adaptation to the fact that you’re hitting your body with primarily higher rep sets, where endurance can become more of a priority than being explosive.
Since slow twitch fibers have a smaller capacity for growth, a shift towards slow-twitch is obviously not conducive to your muscle growth.
In a nutshell, the primary concern here is…
1. You want to continue to build muscle
2. You understand that implementing overload is essential to continuing to build muscle
3. You also understand that you can’t keep linearly progressing your training volume, due to the ever increasing amount of fatigue & stress you create with increasing volume
…so eventually, you hit a point of diminishing returns.
The goal here is shifting your focus away from muscle growth for a period of time, in order to re-sensitize your muscles to lower training volumes. This decreases your “volume needs” in the future, and will allow you to make more progress with lower training volumes.
So, we need to decrease your training volume, but not so much that you lose muscle. It’s been shown that to maintain, you need ~1/3rd of the training volume it takes to you grow.
→ Reps – 3-8. As we’ll discuss shortly, the goal in the resensitization phase is to decrease volume, and increase intensity. The lower rep ranges are more conducive to this.
→ Sets – Decrease by ~40% of your minimum effective volume (the minimum number of hard sets you can grow on) per muscle group. For example, if you could start seeing glute gains at 15 hard sets per week, you would decrease to 9.
→ Intensity (Meaning Load) – should be higher here. In fact, I like Bryan Boorstein‘s recommendation to use the resensitization phase as a “strength phase”. The increased load per set here helps compensate for the decrease in volume. It’s also smart to use a progression scheme that brings your sets closer to failure (increasing intensity) over the course of 3 weeks, before deloading. But generally, you’ll be training with anywhere from 3-1 reps in the tank.
→ Length – 1-2 4 week blocks. Implement a resensitization phase like this every 3-5 months, AFTER periods focused more exclusively on muscle growth.
(*Note: much credit for these recommendations, AND the content of this blog as a whole, is due the boys over at Revive Stronger. Especially their excellent blog series and ebook on The Primer Phase.)
Post resensitization phase, you can expect to come back to hypertrophy (muscle growth) focused training with increased sensitivity to training volume, better pumps, and overall quicker progress.
Whether we’re talking nutrition or training, too much of a good thing eventually becomes a bad thing. So when it comes to building your leanest, strongest, and most confident self, periodization is key.
The beauty of having a coach is, I’m here to help you plan and periodize the proper doses of EVERYTHING across the course of months and years.
Click here now to apply for online coaching.
Jeremiah Bair is a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the online coaching business Bairfit. Check out his Instagram and Podcast for more applicable strategies for building your leanest, strongest, and most confident self.