Periodize Your Workouts

When it comes to training, change is good. Learn why manipulating your sets, reps and weight can give you results exactly when you want them.

Woman Kettlebell

It’s never good to stereotype, but it seems a fair bet to say, in general, women are much more meticulous in their planning than men. That’s why we rely on you when it comes to the details — making sure there are enough drink doilies at Aunt Rita’s 65th birthday party, sending out all the Christmas cards well before Dec. 25 and finalizing dog-sitting arrangements so Fido doesn’t get left home alone during the trip to Jamaica.

But for all that planning, one area of a woman’s life is often neglected. Ask yourself this: Do you know what you’ll be doing in your next workout? How about a week from now, or a month? And just what are your ultimate physique goals, anyway?

Knowing exactly what you want out of working out — and when — is the first step to drastically improving your body. With those parameters in mind, you can use something exercise scientists call periodization to give you optimal results and allow you to specifically time your physical peak for a wedding, vacation, class reunion…anything you wish.

The term periodization sounds complex, but the concept is relatively simple: It refers to grouping your workouts into phases, aimed at a particular goal and reaching it on a certain date by cycling through various phases that work your muscles differently. This keeps them from adapting to training and is why physique athletes such as competitive bodybuilders and fitness and figure athletes employ it when preparing for a contest.

“When using periodization, you go one or two weeks — sometimes four — doing the same workout,” explains William Kraemer, PhD, a noted authority on the subject who works in the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine (Storrs). “[One example of a periodization workout] is going from light workouts (where rep ranges are on the high side, 15–20 for 1–4 weeks) to moderate workouts (rep ranges are about 8–12 for 1–4 weeks) to heavy workouts (rep ranges are 3–6 for 1–4 weeks). You rest for about a week or two [enough for a vacation] after those three cycles and then go through them again.”

That’s a linear cycle, explains Kraemer. Another variation is nonlinear periodization, where you alternate workouts of different types — light, moderate, heavy and even power (using plyometrics and powerlifting moves) — from session to session. “You change things up every time you work out each week, with the workouts touching on different components of fitness,” Kraemer adds.

This allows you to hit all areas of the muscles, which is extremely beneficial. It not only prompts adaptations by your body (getting stronger and leaner, etc.) but ensures that you tax your entire neuromuscular system to benefit your health over the long haul.

“A common problem among women today is that they don’t lift heavy weights, and by not doing that, they don’t train all of their [muscle] tissue,” Kraemer explains. “That’s one of the reasons why we’re seeing women entering nursing homes at an age when they aren’t other­wise unhealthy but have lost so much tissue mass that they can’t [function]. We have studies of women in their 70s who can’t pick up a 10-pound weight plate off the floor.”

Why this happens is simple: If you don’t use it, you lose it. “It happens to all of us with age, but it seems to be particularly predominant in women because they have less tissue than men to begin with; they don’t have the reserve of muscle that men generally do,” Kraemer says.

SEE ALSO: How to Change Your Diet and Strength Routine to Reach Your Goals

For access to exclusive fitness advice, interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!