Thinking Ahead: Periodization

by Cary Raffle

Whether you're new to exercise or you've been hitting the gym for years, a few weeks from now you might feel that your routine is getting stale, or that you aren't seeing the results that you saw earlier in your program. Periodization, which involves changing the design of your workout at regular planned intervals, can help you stay on track and reach your goals.

Around Valentine's Day, you'll be ready for a change. That's because your body adapts to the particular type of stress (exercise) that you put on it within 4-8 weeks. When this happens, you are likely to see diminishing results over time if you stick with the same exact program. Some people also start feeling aches and pains from doing the same exact movements over and over again. Effective periodization involves more than just taking the weights up every couple of weeks or using a different brand of machine that works the same muscles in pretty much the same way.

There are any number of variables that you can change or progress:

Number of sets and repetitions

Tempo or time and type of muscle action, ie, emphasizing the isometric, eccentric (negative) or concentric phase to hit different muscle fibers

Frequency of training and organization of routines, change the exercise order and reorganize your split routinesl Even better, progress to a totally different mode of training

Unstable exercises to build core strength, if you're usually on fixed machines or benches

Plyometrics to build explosive power and deceleration

Consider a phase of muscle building, ie, heavy weights if you usually train light
Try incorporating different activities like yoga or an alternate form of cardio training. Often, these changes can reenergize your routine, keep you interested and on track, and serve as a springboard for getting to the next level with your fitness program - no matter if your goal is losing weight, gaining muscle, sports performance, or anything else for that matter.

When you think of it, Spring is just around the corner, so start thinking of Periodization now, and feel free to let me know if you need any help. I'll include some specific ideas in the next newsletter that comes out just before Valentines Day.

Is your workout wasting your time?

By Paul Scott, Best Life
According to this author, it's likely that most of what you're doing at the gym is nearly useless - and might be ruining your chances of getting fit. With all the fancy equipment and with all the desire out there to look good, why can't we keep the weight off? Why can't we stick to our gym workouts? Is it our fault? Or does the fault lie elsewhere?

"The health-club culture tries to create a dependency on machines," says Vern Gambetta, a trainer with 38 years of experience training professional and recreational athletes, and the author of Athletic Development: The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning. "If you have a limited amount of time to work out, you're better off ditching the machine to do different kinds of body-weight and whole-body exercises. You'll get more caloric burn for your time spent." Critics also charge that a traditional machine-centric regimen has other downsides.

There is potential for pain in any workout. The key to preventing injury is to find your weak links and then modify your exercise to fortify your weak links, while also not putting stress on them, says Nicholas DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and author of FrameWork: Your 7-Step Program for Healthy Muscles, Bones, and Joints. The most common strength-training-related injuries Dr. DiNubile sees are rotator-cuff problems, knee issues, and lower-back pain. While these are not exclusive to machine-based training, the nonfunctional movements that some machines require, coupled with heavy loads and less-than-perfect form, can cause problems - especially in men over 40 whose joints are getting creaky.

Research from the University of Kentucky studied 23 patients with knee pain to see what made them stronger: a step-up test or doing leg extensions. They found that both became stronger at doing leg extensions, but only those doing the step-ups became stronger at stepping up and functional activities. Chris Powers, a biokinesiology researcher at the University of Southern California, determined that the mechanics of the leg-extension machine doesn't simulate functional activity (e.g., walking, running, or going down steps). "The leg-extension machine puts a lot of strain on the knee ligaments and the patella," says Tim Hewett, PhD, a professor in the departments of biomedical engineering and pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati. "I would never consider letting our athletes use a leg-extension machine."

Bottom Line: Machines are a great way to get your exercise routine started and can be incorporated into any routine ... but a risk in any exercise program comes from repeating the same motion over and over again. The fixed path of the machines can exacerbate the problem, and machine workouts don't burn as many calories as total body exercises.

To read the full story, click here for MSN Health and Fitness.

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