Whether you’re a member of Curves, Orange Theory, a small group, a private client, or just working out on your own…are you training with a purpose? In other words, are there various forms of intensity incorporated in your routine to prevent a plateau? If the answer is no, then read on to learn how to optimize your training. If the answer is yes, are you training progressively in the right order? Read on to learn where to start, and how to progress safely with results.
Step 1: Baselines
In order to figure out where to start, there needs to be a baseline. This should be done during an assessment with a coach or trainer. Typically, we look at posture (where are you imbalanced?), flexibility, and movement with a few screens. The FMS movement screening process (my go-to’s are: Hurdle step, Overhead Squat, Stork Balance Test, Straight Leg Raise, Sit to Stand) can determine A LOT about a person. If you haven’t gone through this process, start there. You’ll need a set of eyes to determine your score. Seek a trainer for this if you don’t have one!
After determining your posture and movement “starting point,” a performance test or two is encouraged. This can be a 12 minute Cooper Test (go as far as you can in 12 minutes after a good warm up), a VO2 ramp test, FTP bike test, a 1-3 rep maximum test out on bench, squat, or deadlift; a maximal pushup, plank, or pull up test, a one mile or 5K test, or a 40 meter dash test. The list goes on, but the idea is each individual is tested based on their training goal. I try to pick a test relative to a client’s goal, and one that is appropriate for them based on an assessment. Someone who is fairly imbalanced or de-conditioned, for example, should not be doing a maximal test.
Once you’ve done an assessment and established some baselines, you’re ready to begin some structured training.
Step 2: Periodization
Let me be clear: Fitness is not about cool new exercises that make you sore. Fitness is programmed stimuli that encourages neuromuscular adaptations to take place. In other words, without new intensities, modalities (various equipment), variable rest and reps, how can we experience growth? Soreness is not a measure of how successful a workout is, though it can be a bi-product of a hard session. Take your assessment and baseline test, and work through the following stages:
- Stability: Focus on balance training and “fixing” some of those mechanical issues that showed up in your assessment. It’s ok to incorporate this stage into later training phases!
- Endurance: Focus on building your endurance, now that you’ve got a stable base! Reps are higher, rest is shorter.
- Muscular Hypertrophy: After building a stable base, and a formidable platform of stamina, begin pushing. This means some overload sets: strong intensity with fairly short rest.
- Maximal Strength: This is an advanced stage of training. Reps are LOW, intensity is HIGH, and rest is long. In order to be successful in this stage, you’ll need an excellent foundation of form, technique, stability, mobility, endurance, and strength or you will most likely suffer an injury. Try not to stay in this stage for an extended amount of time: decompression/ rest weeks are key in preventing injuries and overtraining.
- Power (if applicable): During the power phase, an individual is focused on producing the greatest amount of maximal strength in the shortest amount of time. Basically, after going through maximal strength training, the idea is to increase the rate of force produced. (NASM) Athletic movements that involve a lot of force are incorporated into training, and rest, volume, reps, and sets vary based on the complexity of the movement and the athlete/client.
Training Phase Chart:
*Typically each phase of training lasts 2-4 weeks, but varies based on the individual and his/her goals. It is also common to go back to phase or two before moving forward. It’s all about the individual!!!
Step 3: Decompression/ Re-Test
After going through a cycle of training (typically 12-20 weeks) an individual should go through decompression phase. This looks different for everyone. A cycle of training can lead to a race, strength test out (1-3 RPM), competition, etc. It is a good idea to take 2-4 weeks of decompression and active recovery, before going through another training cycle. Depending on the individuals goals, the baseline test completed at the beginning of training can be repeated, either before the decompression stage, or after the time rest and recovery. This is then used to program and build the next training cycle.
The recovery and decompression phase is a perfect time to go back to step one and work on imbalances created during a training phase. General movements patterns that work across the body, on one leg, etc. will help your mind and body be more efficient as you work towards a new goal. Training in phases prevent plateau’s, injuries (if done well), and increases retention and results. If you’re not training in phases, start. Why not?
Lastly, I encourage you to be humble and patient. It’s easy to get excited about progress and jump ahead, or stay at high intensities. It’s not super sexy and cool to work on balance and stability, but we all need it. Sometimes this means staying in an early phase of training a bit longer, or recycling to a stability phase before moving on. Please reach out if you have questions regarding phases of training and program design!