1. Periodization has one major purpose, to easily and effectively guide which is the next program to choose, thats gets you closer to your goal
Periodization is often made way too complicated.
Periodization is simple. But not easy.
A definition of periodization is:
Periodization is a systematic approach to the planning of training by dividing training for intermediate and end goals into multiple different training blocks and programs.
With one major goal: To be able to make consistent progress in training.
And the number one reason why we need periodization is because there is no single program that allows us to make progress forever.
Some beginners can progress with a given program for 8 weeks before they plateau. Some more advanced lifters need to change their program every 10 days to still continue to progress.
Not a single program out there works forever. That's why we need to change and use different programs.
And instead of just using different programs randomly from week to week and month to month based on what you feel like training, kind of like the gusto of the month, you need to precisely decide which program to choose.
It's like the difference of cruising around in your car with no real destination and hoping to get somewhere. Or using a GPS which will tell you when to switch to which road to get to the chosen destination the fastest way possible.
Rarely one road will take you straight to the destination.
As rarely one program will take you straight to your training goal.
You need to know on which corner to go left or right or stay straight.
You need to know which program to choose after the current program is done.
A GPS will give you directions on the road.
And periodization will give you directions in program design.
Periodization will primarily structure the training parameters, first and foremost reps and sets, or more precisely the changes in intensity in volume, from phase to phase.
And secondarily periodization also structures exercise selection which is critical and often underrated aspect of periodization. Which exercises to do after you have completed the current ones.
Periodization will give clear guidelines based on principles that allow you to make better decisions in choosing which program is next.
That is the single major purpose of periodization, to easily and effectively guide which is the next program to choose thats gets you closer to your goal.
Through rational planning instead of emotional guessing.
2. Periodization isn't a subject were current science actually matters
Science is important. Its important to define general statements, correlations and causations, that allow us to make better choices in real life. When it comes to periodization though, its currently pretty much useless. For multiple reasons.
And the two major ones are:
The majority of periodization research is done with a study length of 6 to 16 weeks with very very few studies lasting longer than 6 months. Which is way too short to actually be relevant. Everyone who started out training knows that. In the beginning it doesn't matter that much what you do, as long as you do something. The longer you train, the higher the odds that you plateau, which means the more thorough you need to plan to bust and ideally avoid plateaus in the first place.
Which will enable you to make more continuous progress.
6 to 16 weeks is just not a relevant time frame where planning plays much of a role.
Especially considering the second major downside of periodization research. That is that the largest part of periodization research is done with untrained participants or poorly trained participants like pencil necks that bench press 80kg.
Which next to the poor length of studies doesn't correlate well with longer and especially more continuous planning as well as intermediate to advanced lifters.
What gets you from a 60kg squat to a 90kg squat will not correlate well with what gets you from 120kg squat to a 150kg squat. The more untrained and weaker one is the less relevant it will how well training is planned.
"Just do something" is enough at that stage for the absolute majority.
Thats why periodization isn't a subject were current science actually matters. As the science on periodization currently available is too limited to be relevant in real life mid- and long-term.
The reaction of untrained or poorly trained pencil neck sports science students to a set of programs in a 6 to 16 week time frame just isn't very relevant in how you approach periodizing programs with Gen Pop clients and athletes for months and years.
So, how to learn and apply periodization?
There are two primary approaches to apply periodization in general. And ideally you combine them both.
First, learn about and understand the different approaches to periodization. The upsides, downsides and ideal scenarios of application for each one. Every periodization model has its upsides, downsides and scenarios it works best in. Once you know them and their why, you can easily choose which is the ideal periodization model to use in which case.
Second, understand that you need to be flexible in your programming within a periodization model. Nobody can predict the future. You can guess the future. And the more competent you are the better you can guess. Still, things will happen, a muscle strain, a short-notice business trip, a week of the flu, a vacation, a stretch of poor sleep, and many other things.
Once you understood the principles of a given periodization model you can precisly choose which periodization model to use for who and also easily adjust your programming when life throws some rocks on road. And still continue to get progress.
When you don't know the main periodization models and their principles yet, small problems can completely throw off your training and progress. What you want is to know these main periodization models and their principle so you can easily decide which step to take next and continue to make progress in training.
Successful periodization is all about principles, not rules.
Rules are many, principles are few, rules will change, principles never do.
As there are very few valuable sources out there to learn periodization from, I teach Periodization in the YPSI Semi Private Internship , the YPSI Advanced Program Design & Periodization Seminar that I hold every couple years and I have also created the YPSI Online Module C on Periodization to provide every trainer, every coach and every ambitious athlete who wants to dig deeper into the practical and most up to date approach to periodization a great resource to learn from.
More articles from the "2 Things I Know For Sure About..." series:
Pic: Planning is everything.