To periodize or not to periodize? Our college courses and textbooks are all for it, as are, to an extent, our credibility as a fitness professional. Periodization is flashy. It gives us a sense of credibility that may separate our unique abilities from those tourist trainers-trainers that love to undercut rates and training value who offer cookie cutter programs to their client base with whom they very rarely if ever interact on a regular basis. Periodization gives everything reasoning. It allows us to tell our clients why we’re doing this movement at this rest interval for this amount of reps at this tempo. In other words, it makes us look good, right? Not right! Wait, Todd, didn’t you just spend the entire first paragraph of this article praising periodization? Not really. I just simply regurgitated the perceived benefits of periodization in the eyes of fitness professionals who are simply trying too hard to impress everyone.
Unless you’re a strength and conditioning specialist or a personal trainer who specializes in working with high school, collegiate, and professional athletes, you need to stop periodizing your workouts. Why is that? Because most of our clients aren’t athletes. They don’t play sports for a living and they have hectic lives that are trademark in today’s fast paced American lifestyle. They hit the gym three to four days a week and when they are hitting the gym, it’s simply to burn off steam and look for someone to turn to. Stop periodizing now. It doesn’t work for the average American. They simply won’t keep up with the program. These people have goals and it’s your job to make them hit those goals. But you also have to be realistic about their work and home life. And the program has to be able to fit into their schedule. If a client can only workout for thirty minutes, four days a week, then you have to adhere to this and design a program SPECIFICALLY FOR THIS LIFESTYLE. This is what you’re being paid to do, so do it.
Know when I became a terrible trainer? When I tried to periodize every single workout for every single client. I thought it would make me look more credible. In a gym where we have doctors, physical therapists, and even those with exercise science degrees, I thought I would look a little more credible by designing workout programs that made it look as if all of my clients were professional athletes. Want to know what happened? They caught on I even got the implication that I had regressed as a trainer. I did. When that was going on, I started questioning my own talents as a trainer. For someone who had a nice, happy client base with my own style and workouts that were geared to get them into and out of the gym on their own time, the second I became complex, I regressed. Again, you simply cannot periodize for the general population. The best trainers refuse to periodize and never try to impress their client base by doing so. The best trainers connect with others on a professional level and show a genuine interest and respect in the client’s current lifestyle.
So when is periodization a good idea? Do you train any athletes? Or better yet, do you train anyone who knows how to workout and they are in the gym at least five times a week at any time of the year? This is when you periodize. This is a different type of client. It’s a different breed of client. It’s someone who knows how to workout and get themselves into the gym. So why do they train? Because they know you have the ability to design an effective program. They’re paying for multiple things: Effective program design, motivation, and accountability. Why accountability when they know how to get into the gym and workout? Because we all have those exercises we flat out refuse to do on our own. I hate burpees and steady state cardio, but if I have a workout partner who wants to engage in those two movements that I hate doing, I’m going to do them to the best of my ability. I’m not going to let them down and these clients aren’t going to let their trainer down.
So when it comes to periodization, only do so for the athletes and the hardcore gym rats. In fact, many of those hardcore gym rats are the ones who believe they don’t need to invest in the services of a trainer. Prove them wrong by showing them what effective program design really looks like. These are the prospective clients who could use an effectively periodized, scientifically backed workout regimen.
As for the general population, get them into the gym and design their workout regimen around their lifestyle. Always give them workouts for their goals, but don’t be too complex about it. For the majority of these clients, their lifestyles are borderline ovewhelming as it is so do them a favor and make them want to come back to you by NOT overwhelming them! They have a lot on their plate and they really can use your expertise on how to fit in an effective thirty to forty minute workout four days per week. They’re coming to you because they want to be active and they have a limited time to do so. Show them how to do that and they will reach their goals.