Periodization: Setting 12 Week Goals

The Extended Bell Curve

Maximizing Your ROI (return on investment)

An important part of any workout program that is often overlooked is “Periodization“.  What that means is varying your training over larger time-domains (as opposed to the variety in everyday workouts that FreeFit already stresses) in order to:

  1. Keep your body fresh by allowing for back-off weeks.
  2. Focus your daily training on short-term, attainable goals.

While at first it may sound tempting to train only for ‘health and longevity’ or ‘fitness for the unplanned and unknowable’, those terms all too quickly become ABSTRACT enough that we crave more definable progress.  Sure, we can measure bio-markers of health and spend a fortune on blood-work every couple of months, but is that really necessary?  Or even beneficial?  How can we create a program that allows us tangible rewards and variety, as well as a vibrant level of fitness that is sustainable long-term?

The answer (you guessed it):  Periodization.  By understanding how to program periodization into our training regimen, we can maximize our fitness while achieving short-term goals within the larger ‘health and longevity’ framework.

Choosing a Time-Frame

Though the choice of a time-frame is somewhat arbitrary, there are several key points we want to keep in mind.  It should be long enough to make definable progress, but short enough to provide a focus to your daily training.  Also, it should provide you with ample rest-time so that you can keep living intensely your entire life, not burn out within a couple of years of OVER-TRAINING. (#adrenalfatigue)

This close to New Years, you may be thinking about setting numerous YEAR-LONG health/fitness goals, and while I encourage you to set long-term goals like Craig Traiger, this is too long of a time for our purposes.  As anyone/everyone (including me) who has failed to keep a New Years Resolution can attest, maintaining focus for that long is hard – we need variety to stay happy.  This also helps us to keep making positive gains and avoid plateauing (leveling off without any more recognizable progress).

Spealer says that learning to listen to his body is the key to his success

Moreover, our bodies need down-time from training. I cannot stress this enough.  OVER-TRAINING is one of the biggest potential problems with Crossfit-style training.For some crazy reason, people love the feeling of getting beat-up in the gym.  (Maybe that’s why spending 45min-1hr on a treadmill is so popular?)  In fact, many friends/clients I’ve worked with say that don’t feel like they worked out until they reach that point of near exhaustion.  I myself have struggled with this in the past.  However, even top-level Crossfit Games legends like Chris Spealer (#personalhero) (pictured left) have admitted that learning to listen to your body and not overdoing it is essential to maintaining a high level of work-output.  Another competitor put it this way:  you only have 3-4 times a year where you can really leave it all out there.  That’s all your body can manage.  The rest of the time, you need to train your body, not kill it. Even if you feel you are making progress with such continuous training, giving your body time to rest (deload-weeks/refresh-weeks) WILL enable you to continue training with intensity LONG-TERM. The point is to make sure you can live with vitality throughout your life.  It may not register now, but 5 years down the line your body will be grateful for it.

Keeping these things in mind, a good time to start with is 12 weeks.  This provides for plenty of time to see progress, and seems to be a nice balance between work and rest.  The fact that our potential 12-week program fits so nicely into 1 year (4 sets of: 12 work-weeks, 1 rest-week) is an added bonus.  This means that within any one year, you can focus your training on 4(+) goals, and then proceed to make definable progress towards them.  This should provide enough variety, intensity, rest-time, and skill acquisition to keep you going for years to come.

Picking a Goal

Now that we’ve decided on a time frame, the next step is to pick your goal.  At this point, it’s totally up to you.  Part of what makes FreeFit work is its adaptability.  Maybe you are just starting off, and want to spend 12-weeks working through the Fundamental Movements?  Maybe you want to cut some body fat, get stronger, increase your vertical jump, or be able to run a mile without stopping?  Maybe you have a specific sport that you’d like to train for?  Or maybe you have a new Beast Skill that you want to pick up? The choice is yours.  And that’s what’s great about it.  By focusing on skill acquisition and not just capacity (the ability to perform work), we not only make our training more technically demanding, but more FUN!

Focusing Your Training

This is where having some experience with training theory or access to a personal trainer/fitness-savvy friend comes in handy. And while I can’t go into all the limitless variations here, let me give you an example of how I would program for a new skill:  Handstand Push-Ups.

Sample 1st 2-weeks of Programming

Example of MOVE w/ HSPU progression workout:

As Many Rounds As Possible (AMRAP) in 12 minutes of:

  • 5 Handstand Push-ups (Progression 1 or other scaling) ;
  • 10 burpees

…and so on.  There is no absolute, one-size-fits-all way to do this.  The program will still be varied and you won’t be working on HSPU (Handstand Push-ups) everyday.  The idea is to weigh that MOVEMENT a little more than others for the duration of the 12 weeks, and to spend some ENJOY and RECOVERY time on it as well.

REFRESH/Recovery Week

grosse fatigue ...

Learning when to rest is just as important as knowing how to workout

This is the time for your body to recover, both physically and mentally, from the demands of the past 12 weeks. For the first 4 days, you shouldn’t even THINK about working out/programming/gyms/etc..  Just sit back, relax, and take a load off.

After your rested well and good, THEN take some time to look back at the progress you made.  How much more comfortable are you with the Fundamental Movements?  Did you shave off some body-fat like you wanted?  How are those handstands coming along? Whatever your goal was, CONGRATULATE yourself on making progress towards it.  It’s important to be appreciative of what our bodies can do, and not frustrated.  Feeling bad about yourself doesn’t help anybody, especially you. If needed, spend a little bit of time analyzing what did/did not work for you within the 12-week scheme.  Make adjustments, both to your goals and your programming.  Then, gear up for another 12 weeks!  After a week of resting, you’ll probably be bursting at the seems to get ACTIVE again, and that’s a good thing.  Your batteries are recharged, and you’re ready to go.

(Final Note:  Just because there are 4 chances to set goals within a given year, that doesn’t mean they have to be drastic.  You could easily choose goals such as “spend more time outside” and program in some different workouts/hiking trips/family activities/etc. to meet that.)

What goals do you have for your training?  What skills do you want to acquire?  How would you spend your DREAM rest-week?

Cheers, and stay healthy everybody.


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