Periodization or Autoregulation: Which is Right for You?

Posted on 12. Jan, 2014 by in Fitness, Theory to Practice

“A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.” – Confucius

 

I’ve had some discussions lately about periodization models, and about what models I think are most effective and, more to the point, why (seemingly, at least) I don’t follow any periodization model at all in my own workouts.  Even though, that is, I seem to fully embrace the concept and their use by serious athletes.

Well, I’ve covered this topic fairly in-depth previously, in this post.  However, it seems as I may have come off as being “anti-periodization” which, I’ll just state here, for the record, is patently false.  I think good periodization programs are both elegant in design, and can be instrumental in managing an athlete to top tier performances over that athlete’s career.  In other words, they are a must for bringing an athlete up to that athlete’s genetic potential.   My problem isn’t at all with good periodization models, it’s with the blatant misuse, or unintended inappropriate use, of good periodization schemes.  This is along the same lines of my loving the Olympic lift derivatives, yet hating the way I see them programmed in out-of-context ways in some rather grossly negligent exercise routines.

I think we all know what I’m talking about here ;)

Now, I believe that the smart thing to do for the average Joe and Jane who want to push the performance envelope (but who are not necessarily competitive athletes), is to fully understand the whys and hows behind good periodization models.  Here’s a great primer article to get you going in the right direction.  Additionally, Joe and Jane need to come to grips with this simple fact: that a life lived in hectic, 9-to-5 (or, more likely, 9-to-9 — this is, after all, the “new economy”) circumstances just will not allow for proper adherence to these advanced periodization models.  I’ve covered this quite a bit as well, but there’s a big reason behind why, in the old Soviet and East German Olympic systems, athletes were placed on complete lockdown.  Essentially, every distraction was eliminated (or at least the attempt was made to achieve that) from these athletes’ lives.  Recovery and focus, of course, were big reasons, but the even more to the point was the want not to deviate from the periodization course of action.  For full-tilt-boogie periodization to work it’s magic, adherence to the plan (imagine that!) is key.    

Look, I get it.  We all want to consider ourselves “athletes”.  I hate to break it to you though, but unless you can devote the majority of your waking life toward a specific athletic endeavor or sport, you are not – in my definition, at least — an “athlete”.  And this isn’t meant to be demeaning in any way, but rather force you to consider your training in a new light.  So, who is an athlete?  Well, here’s a quick litmus test: (1) are you living at home with no real responsibilities outside of athletic pursuits and Xbox, and with  mommie and daddy carting the bills?  (2) are you on a full-ride college/university athletic scholarship (while majoring in Xbox)?  (3) Is your financial life dependent upon your prowess in a certain athletic event/sport (with Xbox being your sole, outside-of-athletics, social life)?  If you answered yes to any of these, congratulations! Now the downside is, you better have a bad-ass coach who knows modern periodization inside-and-out or your full genetic sporting potential will never be fully realized.

The rest of us (again, sorry to break it to you) are not athletes, but merely driven Joes and Janes who want to be as physically prime as we can be given the limited amount of time and resources that we can devote to that pursuit.  And that includes yours truly — who used to reside on the “athlete” side of the fence (and who, thankfully, had excellent coaches to guide me along), but who has for the past 25+ years, simply and successfully, navigated the oftentimes tumultuous, time return-on-investment seas.

Which brings me back to the elegance of properly designed periodization programs for athletes.  Now, I don’t believe that those driven Joes and Janes need to be full-on experts in periodization by any means, but rather, a good working knowledge of periodization’s inner-workings will enable the stealing of aspects of those systems that can be utilized within Joe and Jane’s otherwise crazy schedules.  Toward that end, the following is one of the best, 30-thousand-foot-view breakdowns of the subject that I have come across in a very long time.

http://www.nsca.com/Education/Videos/Stone-Periodization-and-Programming-for-Strength-Power-Sports/

I’ve long been a student (at least, in a virtual sense) of Mike Stone (PhD), who I believe to be one of the preeminent experts in the subject of exercise programming and periodization. But marvelling at the periodization particulars is one thing; actually implementing them over the long haul is quite another.  And this is true even under the best of circumstances; i.e., as was the case for even former Soviet and East German athletes.

Which, again, is why I have long been of the opinion of *not* going the full-on periodization route for “normal” people.  There are just too many other conflicting variables at play for even the uber type-A Joe and Jane to have to contend with.  And the reason that athletes can (and should!) periodize properly is because their “job” (i.e., the nature of being a full-time athlete) demands that many of these conflicting variables be negated.  It’s not just the stuff of Nike commercials: true athletic prowess does require substantial sacrifice.  

Now I was lucky enough in my youth to compete and be coached under an AAU Jr. Olympic track and field system that, at the time, served as the talent identification and development program for the US Olympic system.  My coaches at that time were well versed in the concepts of youth development and GPP (general physical preparedness) and, as a result, we were encouraged to participate in many sports outside of track and field as reasonably possible.  And ultimately, strength and conditioning periodization was woven into my competitive track and football seasons.  Even my dabblings in martial arts were accounted for.  My reason for saying this is that I know, first hand, just how much good a properly programmed and executed periodization program can do for an athlete.  A hell of a lot of wasted time can be saved, and much can be wrung from even marginal genetic talent.  But I also know the dedication required of an athlete to adhere to these programs, and missing workouts “here and there” due to life events can totally derail even the best, most comprehensive program.  So much so as to render the program no better that a directionally accurate, randomized approach.  More on that, here.

And this is something I had to overcome at the end of my own competitive career.  I still wanted to train hard (and train effectively, of course), but I had to figure out a way to produce the most effective results given the fact that I now had a demanding career and growing family that obviously had to take precedence over that training. And, for the first time in my life, I had to coach myself.  And that, in and of itself, can be quite a daunting task.

Finding yourself in the same boat?  No worries, as I’ve done a good deal of trial-and-error work already. Enter the ideas of autoregulation, waving intensities and weaving modalities, surfing the force-velocity curve, and High Intensity Interval Resistance Training (or “HIIRT”).  None of these ideas are in any way novel, of course; they’ve all been “stolen” from classic periodization ideas.  If there’s anything novel here, it’s simply that I’ve put these ideas together in a way that allows me (and now my Efficient Exercise clients) to effectively wring the most out of those precious few hours of training per week. Does it help to have access to to the latest in cutting-edge S&C technology?  You bet it does.  As always, though, getting the most you can out of what you have is the definition of success.  Never let what you don’t have be an excuse for not doing the work to be your best. I didn’t always have access to this equipment either.  

All of which begs the question: could I be a better athlete if I had a set of narrowly-defined and dedicated goals toward that end, AND had the time and inclination to adhere to a comprehensive and smartly designed periodization program? Absolutely.  But I’m not willing to sacrifice the “conflicting variables” in my life — at this point in my life, anyway — to make that happen. 

So the bottom line is this: I believe that everyone who’s not an “athlete” by definition would get much more out of their S&C investment — and from their lives as a whole — by following an autoregulated, wave-and-weave program as well.  Can this scheme include aspects of an undulated, periodized model?  You bet, and I do just that.  Even if, from the outside looking in (and as mentioned above) it seems as if I do anything but.

And then there’s this -

I’ve recently discussed what I like to call my “3 pillars” approach to health, fitness and wellness, with that “3rd pillar” representing the somewhat controversial (at least, in the Paleo community), intelligent and proper supplementation.  Well, I’ve also posted on why I feel supplementation is necessary, even for someone, like me, who is otherwise fastidious in their diet and that the components of that diet are nutrient-dense and spot-on.  Well, ID Life CEO Logan Stout was recently interviewed on 105.3 “The Fan” in Dallas, Texas, with the talk centered around the whys and hows of ID Life Nutrition.  It’s good, comprehensive stuff, and a great 30-thousand-foot view as to why I think this company will revolutionize the supplement industry. Give it a listen, here.

In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness -

Keith

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2 Responses to “Periodization or Autoregulation: Which is Right for You?”

  1. Frank

    15. Jan, 2014

    Keith, how would you work autoregulation into a kettlebell based workout?

    My gut tells me any adjustments would be made to work and rest periods with a given bell.

    100 1h swings with a 24kg bell in 5 minutes versus 100 2h swings with a 32kg bell in 10 minutes. For me, both has the same amount of work time, 20 seconds for 10 swings, but the 1h swing only has 20 seconds of rest where the 2h swing currently has 40 seconds.

    Reply to this comment
    • theorytopractice

      19. Jan, 2014

      Got an answer coming up in a future post, brother!

      Reply to this comment

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