New Years just hit, and a lot of people are headed back to the gym to meet some fitness and health goals this year. If there's anything we've realized over the last two years of dealing with a global pandemic, it's how important taking care of how your overall health is important for preventing illness and improving your quality of life.
Now, many are out posting about goal setting, writing inspiring blogs, or creating hype videos. If you're reading this for something inspiring or flashy, you won't find it here. What you will find is two practical ways to plan out and make progress towards your health this year. Both of these methods are simply different ways of doing what coaches and trainers call periodization.
What is periodization? Periodization is an approach to training which breaks down a time frame for goal achievement into specific periods to focus on qualities needed to obtain the goal. Think about it like building a house: you grade the land, set the foundation, let the foundation settle, set up the floor plan, walls, roof, and finish by completing the interior and decorating. Your fitness can be broken down in a similar way to help meet the final goal (as can your nutrition).
Here's two common ways you can do this:
This is the most simple way to approach your goals and break them down into manageable chunks. With a linear periodization, you're going to divide your goal into several sub-goals and give them each a time frame. Say for example, you want to build muscle mass and lose bodyfat (or recomposition, as it's technically considered). Losing weight and building muscle at the same time can be challenging for some, so instead of trying to do both at once you can split them into separate periods. You may work on building muscle for one month, then on fat loss for the next month. It could be two months and two months, or even two weeks and two weeks. The big thing is sticking to those goals for the time period you choose.
The nice thing about linear periodization is how easy it is to track progress and even progress different goals. Want to gain strength? Simply aim for adding 5lbs to the same exercises each week for a weeks on end. Want to improve cardiovascular capacity, increase your time durations by a minute or two each week (or add distance). One of the downsides of linear periodization is the monotony which may accompany doing nearly the same thing every week for a period of time.
Undulating Periodization/Concurrent Periodization
This style of periodization is becoming increasingly popular. Especially if you're a type B personality and enjoy a lot of variety and spontaneity in your life. What Undulating or Concurrent (the terms are used interchangeably) periodization does is work to improve multiple qualities of a goal at the same time. Many times this is by having daily goals set to focus on specific aspects of your goal. Sticking with our recomposition goal from earlier, instead of a month or two dedicated to one aspect of recomposition, you allot a different day to each goal. Where in linear periodization you may focus on building muscle for a month and losing fat for a month, an undulating periodization would have you build muscle on one day and lose fat on another.
The nice thing about undulating periodization is how engaging it is, and how you can continue to see progress towards your goal on a daily basis. Again, it's also a great method to use if you're more of a Type B/spontaneous individual. Undulating periodization can be very exciting and the variety helps prevent training from becoming mundane or boring. One downside to it, unfortunately, is how it can be easy to lose sight of the main goal during the process.
Now, if you're a coach or personal trainer reading this, you may be thinking, "This is an oversimplification of a complex topic." And you'd be right, it most definitely is. But for the majority of individuals periodization will only be a structure to use as a guide. Especially when you consider some of the things which happen on a daily basis in our lives, periodizing a life filled with work and relational stress, odd time constraints, and the occasional circumstantial inconvenience. We need to be aware of how beneficial a basic understanding of this topic still is. The more we understand the basic tenets of periodization, the greater our ability to take ownership of our goals and outcomes.
So as we head into the New Year, consider breaking down your goals into chunks or dedicating a day or two each week to develop each week. Spend periods of time dedicated to single aspect of your goal, or at least part of your week, and watch your improvements skyrocket!