What I Learned So Far: Periodization

When I started working out I just wanted to do everything. I watched videos like The 3 [body part] Exercises You Can’t Miss, and If You Only Do 1 Movement For blah blah blah and then I did them all. My first morning work out routine was an hour long, I did it everyday and kept learning.

Til I had too many movements and had to break it into two days.

This is fine for a first year, maybe even preferable because it deeply ingrained the habit of working out. But eventually you’re strong enough to move weights heavy enough that you need more than 24 hours to fully recover.

I learned a lot about insidious lack of recovery recently doing deadlifts twice a week. Recovery isn’t about muscles being sore, I always felt fine on the second day, it’s about the central nervous system. It gets tired and stays tired for a lot longer. I watched my strength-ceiling go down and down and yet I felt fine, felt like it should be going up because I was putting in so much work.

So I backed off. The next phase I had four work outs I did through out the week. Two at home and two at the gym. Plus swimming and running. And squash.

Then I started Eating The Elephant, Tim Ferriss’ bench press protocol. With my deadlifts peaked and needing a break I figured I’d tackle bench press next and sure enough, Ferris has a program for it.

His explanation included why we can’t progressive overload forever. It doesn’t work. You can progress to a point and then burn out. I had no idea.

So armed with 12 weeks of bench press then six weeks of dumbbell chest presses followed by another 12 weeks of bench I thought well shit, I guess I gotta stop doing chest presses 3 times a week now and I filled in other exercises.

So deadlifts and chest presses are no fly zone for 12 weeks and I worked around that. It made me realize I don’t need to do the 3 best lat work outs every other day forever, instead I can progressively overload one for 12 weeks then start over with the next movement.

So I switched out everything. I wrote out everything I did for each body part and found a new movement to hit it for 12 weeks.

The takeaway is its not about finding the best routine with only the best workouts, there’s no correct answers or beat all best practice. The lazy nature of your body will adapt to any exercise and stop growing at best or break down at worst.

It’s about getting a routine together for 3 months and adding 2 reps or 2.5 pounds each week then switching movements. Surprise your body so that it adapts.

It’s neat because it’s one more way this can never get boring. It’s a new game from scratch, deliberately away from your comfort zone and predictablity, rather than mastering one game and playing it forever.


Singer/songwriter, jerk.

Posted in fitness
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