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The Number One Thing Holding Back Your Workouts: Periodization

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How Progressive Programming Perpetuated Progress

Yesterday, my co-author Matt and I were talking about one of my online clients—a true super hero, as you’ll find out—and our discussion turned into a very in-depth conversation that I thought was really profound, and could be useful to a lot of you.

This particular client, Colin, got really incredible results—he lost 18 pounds of fat and gained 4 pounds of muscle in the first 8 weeks alone.

Not a bad start, right?

Well, Colin then went on to drop another 40 pounds while gaining more muscle and increasing strength over the next few months.

While those results are fantastic, that isn’t what sticks out in my mind when I think about his transformation.

To my mind, the most interesting thing about this is that not only are these the best results he’s ever gotten. Far more interesting is the fact that our time working together is one of the only times he’s seen consistent progress over an entire duration of a program.

The final results? A whole new man.

At just about 50 years old, Colin is now in the best shape of his life. He jokes about being an “old man,” but can out-lift guys half his age. Now, Colin isn’t a professional athlete, or a genetic freak. He’s just like you—a regular person with a job and a family. While he’s certainly dedicated, he had other responsibilities during his transformation, and he didn’t make it the only priority in his life.

And, like you, this wasn’t the first time Colin was hitting the gym; quite the opposite. Colin has spent years under the iron, and has competed in a number of powerlifting meets—so we can’t attribute his progress to “newbie gains.”

This leads me to the point that I want to make: Even though he’s been training for years, if you were to graph out Colin’s results over the course of that time, it would mostly be a flat line, interspersed with a series of “blips” that were few and far between.

However, during the time he and I have been working together, he’s made progress, week after week.

Why the change? Is it because I have some magic up my sleeve?

No—contrary to popular belief, I did not attend Hogwarts, I do not ride a broom, and I cannot do magic of any kind.

However, I DO get results that are well beyond the ordinary, and that does require a certain level of near-magical knowledge, because it involves a simple “trick.”

That trick, simply, is to avoid the mistakes that most people make. 

If you can manage to avoid some of the more common mistakes, I guarantee you’ll see your progress skyrocket.

And one of the biggest mistakes, by far is a phenomenon known as program hopping—which is when clients move from program to program to program, often without even finishing them.

Even when they DO finish a program, these hoppers don’t really think about the overall structure of their training as a whole, and move to whichever program seems cool at the moment.

As you can probably guess from the tone of my assessment, I don’t think highly of this; in fact I consider it to be the number one mistake that is holding people back in their training.

Now, let me just say that I completely understand the desire here: you want muscle, so you do a muscle building program; then you want fat loss, so you do a fat loss program. From a logical perspective, that does make a great deal of sense and things SHOULD go well.

Regrettably, logic and physiology don’t always play nicely together. 

Here’s the problem: when you jump from program to program, these training methods often vary from each to a very significant degree.

Of course, on occasion, that works out well, and the “change” in stimulus can lead to increased metabolic disturbance and force an adaptation—which means you can lose fat, gain muscle, or both.

Unfortunately for us all, most of the time, though, that’s not the case.

You see, your body is a tricky organism, and while variety definitely has its place, it’s only TRULY effective if you structure that variety in a way that allows these programs to build off of each other.  The truth is that in most cases, it’s the opposite that occurs.

For example, if you perform a muscle-building program that utilizes very low reps, you’ll increase strength in that rep range (and, assuming volume is high enough, you’ll gain mass).  However, your strength endurance will drop—meaning, your ability to train effectively with high reps decreases.

After that program, you jump onto a fat loss program, and most of those programs require you to train with high reps; however, your body is now deconditioned with regard to such training.  In order to do the program, you have to lighten your weights considerably.  So, yes, you’ll burn some fat, but you’ll also get weaker.

After that, maybe you want more muscle…but now the problem is that your weak(er), so you have to focus on strength as well as muscle.  Not the worst thing in the world, sure, but it slows your progress down substantially.

You can see where I’m going with this.  People seem to put a lot of thought (hopefully) into the program they choose—but all that consideration won’t mean much if you don’t put as much thought into the ORDER in which you perform those programs.

And that brings us to the important part of this article.

In the strength-training world, we refer to a concept known as “periodization.”  

This is a term that refers to setting up your training into specific blocks of time (or periods), with each period focusing on a specific fitness quality.

The goal is to periodize in a way which allows the qualities you develop to build upon one another, creating a system where each period is more effective because of the ones that came before—this is known as  “progressive programming.”

If you set up your programming in the right way, you’re consistently making progress, because each week you’ll be utilizing qualities developed the week prior to that.  This, by the way, is why my client Chris is getting such great results.

Contrast this with the example I gave above, where you’re consistently trying to play “catch-up” just to regain what you lost during a previous program or period.

Instead of a series of two-steps-forward-one-step-back cycles, you’re making consistent, forward and direct strides towards your goal.

Periodization and progression are worked into everything I design, and that’s especially true with my new program, Super Hero Fat Loss. 

You see, SHFL is a 12-week program that’s broken into 3 phases—each phase focuses on a different quality, as we discussed above.  All of the phases are designed for fat loss, but approach and encourage that via a difference mechanism; this allows them to work first separately and then in concert with one another. Phase 1 focuses on strength, phase 2 on strength endurance and fat loss, phase 3 on muscle gain, and phase 4 on density and overall fitness.

To give you some insight into why that’s so effective within the context of the SUPER HERO Fat Loss, I want to walk you through how your body will react when you perform that program.

During Phase One, you’ll get considerably stronger; however, because of the structure of the workouts, you’re going to lose fat and gain a bit of muscle. This occurs because you’re doing hybrid workouts that have a strength component with heavy weights early in the session (think 5×5), and finish with some metabolic work, like complexes. During the four weeks of Phase One, you’ll always be challenging yourself and building strength, but never pushing too far to inhibit recovery from the fat burning metabolic aspects.

During Phase Two, your focus is eliciting an increase in muscular endurance while burning fat. This is accomplished through the use of density training, where progression from week to week is based on doing more work in less time. Because of Phase One, you’re now a lot stronger and more explosive; this allows you to use heavier weights during the fat-burning density workouts of Phase Two, which in turn means you’ll be burning more fat and increasing strength endurance. In addition, the density based design of the workouts themselves allows you to maintain a high level of absolute strength.

From there, you move on to Phase Three. This phase brings in both the strength-building aspects from Phase One and the endurance-enhancing aspects of Phase Two, continuing to cultivate both power and stamina, while adding in workouts containing elements that develop speed. The design of Phase Three requires you to call on each one of these qualities one day per week each—so during that phase, you’ll continue to increase strength, burn even more fat, and build more muscle, SPECIFICALLY because your body has become more efficient (and proficient) at each one.

THAT’S the power of periodization and progressive programming—it creates a system wherein the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the result is that each part of your training will benefit from everything else you’ve done prior.

And, as I alluded to earlier, this concept can be applied either to a single program, like the SUPER HERO Fat Loss, OR it can be applied to strategically moving from one program to the next.

Understanding this concept is the KEY to brining your training and your results to the next level.

Remember, it won’t matter how good a program is if your body isn’t primed to get the most out of it—you simply won’t get the results you deserve.

If you can avoid the mistake of running from program to program, and learn how to choose programs and schedule them in a way that builds off of each other, you will consistently make progress.

One way, of course, is by picking up the SUPER HERO Fat Loss during the launch, for 30% off of the normal price.

But act fast—because the sale ends FRIDAY at midnight.

Okay, sound off—who’s been guilty of PROGRAM HOPPING?  You know who you are!  If not you, then someone you know =)

About the Author

John Romaniello is a level 70 orc wizard who spends his days lifting heavy shit and his nights fighting crime. When not doing that, he serves as the Chief Bro King of the Roman Empire and Executive Editor here on RFS. You can read his articles here, and rants on Facebook.

  • Eugene

    What helped me to come to the next level with my workouts was one special nutritional supplement. After a year in the gym I noticed that my workouts have not been improving anymore. I needed some additional push, and it was perfectly provided by military grade supplements. Their pre-workouts are awesome. They give you quick boost of energy and enhance your physical capacities. My progress has been substantial. I am gaining muscle and strength, my shape is now better than ever.

  • Maurice Moore

    Sounds like a good program Roman! I’m new to your blog and I do plan on sticking around for the good content.

  • It is amazing what he has done in a short period of time. Nice job.

  • Sonia

    It feels good to look good :) Thank you for sharing and I am learning to love myself.

  • You are right! People should concentrate on one program and don’t give up too soon! Focus on your goal and you will soon succeed.

  • DanielAipa

    Awesome write up. We all need to be reminded of this. The progression pictures of Collin says it all. Great work Roman.

  • Robbie

    Wow thats a cool article. I really like the concept of continually and effectively building upon the hard work that you have already done. makes total sense.

    http://markwahlbergworkout.com/

  • Buck

    Great ideas. I wonder what to do after SHFL. Plus I am just begining the program and I will not have access to barbells and wonder what dumbbell exercises I can substiture. So far I have sent emails and posted on Roman’s facebook page and I can’t get any replies to my questions.

  • Patrick Timpone

    Periodization sounds interesting. Do you know about the time under tension idea? I always wonder, is it time under tension during each rep or a total time under tension of your entire set that counts?

    http://www.oneradionetwork.com/

  • Dennis

    Great stuff, as usual. I always get something good out of your posts.

  • Robbie

    John this is such critical info that everyone needs to grasp and I know more than anybody. I use to program hop like nobody business.

    I love training so much that I wanted to do all the new and cool programs I saw even though I knew I was short-changing myself, insanity I know.

    A big thing that has helped me the past several months is writing down my training philosophy and principles I want adhere to year-round. After all the reading, researching, and training I’ve done I know what works best for me and the majority of people.

    My philosophy is all about simplicity and minimalism. Looking back at guys like George Hackenschmidt and Arthur Saxon, these guys knew what was up.

    Great, great post bru.

  • Chris

    Soooooo guilty of it! I”m also guilty of collecting programs and never getting to some of them! Now I just need to set my mind to running through SuperHero Fat Loss, followed by SHW. The best results I’ve had were with FPFL when I stuck with the program to the end and had some great reshaping, and recently when I went through an 8-week program which periodized strength training and increased my 1-RM DL from 365 to 425, and my bench from 185 to 235. Consistency and periodization work.

  • Clement

    I was previously guilty of programme-hopping. As a result, I didnt milk out the best of my newbie gains period. I’b been on the Adonis Index Systems, Muscle Gaining Secrets and Stronglfts 5×5, but none of them on a consistent basis.

    In the past 3 months, I’ve totally rebooted my training philosophy to a minimalist one, focusing solely on gaining strength. I cannot tell you how quickly results come when you’re consistent – the numbers below in the past 12 weeks speak for themselves:

    – bench: 55kg x8 to 62.5kg x5x5
    – squat: 70kg x8 to 90kg for 5×5
    – deadlift: 85kg x7 to 100kg x4

    I feel that regardless of the programme, beginners should really concentrate on their main goal and work towards it. Invariably, it will be muscle and strength gain. Provided you don’t start gorging yourself, your body will experience recomposition. More muscle is always good! And of course, varying the rep ranges will help you gain holistic strength and conditioning.

    Great article, Roman, that emphasizes that consistency and yet getting strong in all the rep ranges and also in your mental focus with regards to diet is key to achieving extraordinary things. I hope this programme turns into a blockbuster – the fitness world’s version of TDKR!

  • toni

    Got the best results of my life with a periodization program (New Rules for Women). At 45y.o. it totally transformed my most stubborn areas (legs!) without ever an injury. However, it was a 9 mo. program and after 4 yrs. my joints weren’t tolerating the increased weight I was using. The first trainer I hired (at age 49) pushed me through metabolic workouts that were totally debilitating and led to a nasty lumbar/hip injury. Looooong story, Roman, how does a hypermobile 50 yo bodyworker (seeing 20 patients a week @ 5’2″ 118#) do periodization safely over the long haul? I’d LOVE to get back to the strength, stability and lower body fat I enjoyed then.

    • Hi Toni, I am a physical therapist and personal trainer for athletes and non athletes of all ages with and without injury issues. If you want massive strength gains, fat loss and safety in your workouts you need to talk with me. I work out of the Seattle area, you can reach me at http://www.human-function.com. If you are in our area I can show you how, if not we may need to Skype you in.

  • k-bizzel

    Guilty…love starting new programs but am prone to slack off before making any significant progress, so much so that the newness of starting another program takes over. It’s all messed up! Roman, you’ve seen it personally…sorry about that. Stories like Colin’s are inspiring, thanks!