Periodization, Programming, and Muscle Function

The Best Periodization Model For Strength Training and Performance

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.


There are numerous periodization models employed by coaches, trainers, athletes, and weekend warriors.  Although each method has its own unique attributes, strengths, and weaknesses, I tend to rely on my own specific methodology.

When it comes to periodization I believe in an auto-regulatory, undulating periodization model.  Simply put, I focus on pushing my athletes and clients with ample intensity while at the same time trying to keep them relatively fresh and recovered throughout the week.  We do this by incorporating various types of workouts including heavy strength, hypertrophy-style, speed and power, stabilization, motor control, body part emphasis, etc.  However, rather than completely relying on a set schedule to determine what the specific workout will be, we adjust the workout and customize it based on specific physical and psychological factors for any particular day.  

For instance if I have an intense and heavy workout planned for a client but their body feels slightly more fatigued and sore than normal then we’ll modify that workout and focus on other biomotor qualities such as stability, mobility, motor control, etc. and wait until they feel more recovered to push the iron with heavier loads and intensities.  In addition, if I happen to notice, or a client points out a specific weakness or physical symptom that needs immediate attention (i.e. small compensation patterns that have recently become more obvious) then we may alter the workout and focus on eliminating these issues.  Similarly, if I have a recovery workout planned for an athlete but notice that he or she is feeling unusually strong and recovered during that workout we may push the weights and take advantage of their heightened physiological state.

So again I use an auto-regulatory, undulating periodization model by employing a variety of stimuli, protocols, intensities, and programming strategies. Although I prepare a general plan of attack for each session, I rely more on the day-to-day physiological condition of each athlete to dictate individual aspects of that specific workout. This truly describes the art of coaching as you learn to continuously customize for each client’s needs, physical conditions, and goals rather than sticking to a pre-determined plan.

Trying to predict human physiological responses and precisely plan every training scenario ahead of time for a several month block is futile as there are too many physiological and psychological factors to account for.  Strength coaches that spend inordinate amounts of time designing training programs expecting that their athletes will respond in a precise fashion on a particular day will never maximize the results or performance capabilities of their athletes.  Unfortunately, many of these coaches and trainers who think they can precisely predict and pinpoint the physiological responses of their athletes are living in a delusional fantasy land with little grasp of how human physiology and psychology works.  When designing a program the trainers, coach, and or trainee, should create a general game plan and realize that it will require small, moderate, and sometimes significant adjustments on a semi-continuous basis dependent on the athletes’ physiological and psychological state for that day, all of which can never be exactly predicted.

Finally, it’s important to highlight the importance of technique and movement execution in regards to programming and periodization.  In reality, the better one’s movement mechanics, muscle function, technique, and exercise execution are, the less important specific details of programming and periodization become as each repetition of every movement produces a therapeutic effect rather than a contra-therapeutic one.  In contrast, the worse an individuals’ training technique, movement mechanics, exercise form, and motor control are the more important programming and periodization become as detailed strategies must be meticulously implemented to deal with the negative ramifications produced from each movement aberration and dysfunction.

In summary, the more efficient your motor programs and overall lifting technique are, the less important exercise programming becomes.  I’m not saying programming isn’t important as it definitely has its place.  However in comparison to using the correct movement patterns and ingraining the appropriate neural blueprints, exercise programming and periodization falls a distant second. 

You can take the world’s worst lifting routine and actually achieve incredible results as long as the proper technique and form are followed on the basic exercises.  However, you could also take the world’s greatest training program and if technique is not proper the results will be marginal at best.

Many of today’s strength coaches, trainers, and self-proclaimed “performance experts” place too great a focus on programming, periodization, tapering, and deloading, having turned strength training into a numbers game that would confuse even the most sophisticated mathematician.  Instead they would be better off focusing their attention on how to move correctly by ingraining the proper neural blueprints into their’ athletes’ nervous systems. 

Some of the most effective ways to accomplish this are by incorporating eccentric isometrics, hanging band technique, eyes closed training, bottoms up movements, rapid eccentric isometrics, offset training, and other advanced methods that emphasize motor control and technique.  Stay tuned for my book due out later this year on eccentric isometrics and other advanced training methodologies.