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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Periodization: The Secret to Becoming More "Toned"


photo by hrtmnstrft

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My last post discussed the concept of using hard and easy days to maximize your fitness while also increasing your recovery and rest. To maximize long-term gains, measured in months and years, as opposed to days, you need to have a longer term plan for success and that plan should include the concept of periodization. Periodization is a fancy name for focusing on a specific physical adaptation for a short period of time, before changing to focus on another adaptation.

A common fitness goal is to become more "toned". Without using periodization, getting "toned" is an almost impossible goal. As my readers should now be aware, you can't "tone" a muscle. Muscles can only expand, contract, shrink, or grow. What is commonly referred to a "muscle tone" is actually a combination of muscle growth along with a decrease in body fat so that you can better see the muscle growth. The problem is that growing muscle and losing fat require opposite caloric environments. To grow muscle you need to consume more calories than you burn, but to lose fat, you must consume fewer calories than you burn. I'm no rocket scientist, but it seems to me that you can't be in a calorie deficit and a calorie surplus at the same time.

So how is it possible to achieve these seemingly opposite goals? By periodizing your training into segments where your goal alternates between muscle gain and fat loss, you can achieve both over the long term. The only difference between these opposing phases is the number of calories that you consume. During a muscle gain phase, consume a 300-400 calorie surplus while hitting the weights hard, and increase your protein intake a little. You should gain a pound every week or two and the additional weight gain should be mostly lean muscle.

Important points for a muscle gain phase are:

  • Increase your calories to a 300-400 calorie per day deficit
  • Increase your protein intake to around 1 gram/pound of body weight per day. This is higher than the RDA, but not by much. Make sure your body has enough protein to rebuild and repair muscle tissue.
  • Excessive cardio will impair muscle gains. 10 miles of jogging per week probably won't make a difference...50 miles of jogging per week probably will make a difference.
Continue this for as long as you stand the additional weight gain. When you just can't stand to see yourself gain any more weight, switch to a fat loss phase, consume a 300-400 calorie deficit a day and hit the weights even harder. Now you've got to fight to maintain as much of your hard earned muscle as possible while losing fat.

Important points for a fat loss phase are:
  • Decrease your calories to a 300-400 calorie per day deficit
  • Decrease your processed carbs and focus on nutritionally dense foods
  • Intensity in the gym = more muscle conserved
  • Don't decrease your calories any more than suggested. Too strict a diet will cause you to lose your muscle gains
  • Continue cardio during this phase, but too much and your body will consume those muscle gains. Calorie deficit should be mostly from dietary restriction.
Periodization may seem to be complicated. It isn't complex, but it does require some longer term planning on your part. And long term planning means that you might need to decide on a long term goal and a time frame to complete that goal. Oh, the horror! If you just want to lose a few pounds but would rather just put a toe in the water as opposed to jumping in and making that goal a reality, periodization may not be for you. If you have a fitness or weight loss goal and you have the commitment to plan for and make that goal a reality, periodization is a great tool to have in your toolbox.

Do you have long-term fitness goals, measured in months and years? Do you have any fitness goals?

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Lacey and Tyler said...

Thanks for the post. I've been wondering about all this stuff and you've helped me learn a lot!

I weigh 130, I'm 5'2", my body fat is 23% (long way to go). I started working out 3 days a week about a month ago. So I guess my question is-should I concentrate on gaining muscle first or losing fat?

After I started counting my calories this week, I noticed I wasn't eating more than maybe 1400 calories per day. I'm guessing after reading some of your other posts that eating less and not exercising very often-my metabolism slowed down-correct?

What would you suggest be my first step? Also I am going on a trip in 2 months, so I would like to see a little progress by then if possible.

Thanks for any suggestions you have.