Periodization for the Everyday Athlete

Program707

If you’re over the age of 30, chances are you realize you can’t train like you used to.

Back in the day, you could go four, five, or six days week for 90 minutes to two hours in the gym with no problem.

But now, things are a bit different.

You’ve got real, live sh*t to do and think about.

A job.

A girlfriend/boyfriend/significant other/spouse.

Maybe even a kiddo or two running around.

So how in the heck do you balance all the spinning plates?

How do you keep yourself in great shape and dominate the other areas of your life?

Easy – you have to periodize your training just like an athlete would.

Albeit with a concession or two along the way!

Here are four simple things you can start doing right now, today, to get more out of your training.

#1 – Rotate Your Training Goals

As we age, one thing that becomes readily apparent is you can’t go to the same well forever.

Yes, you can train for maximal strength.

Yes, you can train to be super fast.

And of course you can train to be explosive, powerful and athletic.

But if you continue to train and exploit the same physical quality for too long, you’re more likely to break down.

It’s common sense, but think about it for a second: You can push some pretty heavy weights for a couple months, get stronger, and come out unscathed.

But when you keep pushing and grinding?

That’s when the little aches and pains come out.

Instead of continuing to beat that drum, pivot with your approach.

Focus on maintaining your strength, but put a bigger emphasis on speed or power development.

Or if you’ve picked up a few extra pounds along the way, consider taking 2-3 months to lean out a ibt.

I know that both Dan John and the Strength Faction boys use an approach like this, and it’s one that flat-out works.

Especially as we age.

#2 – Plan Training Around LIFE

Training pro athletes, in many ways, is easy.

The have a predictable schedule.

You know how they’re going to feel on a day-to-day basis.

And perhaps most importantly, their life revolves around their training and competition schedule.

You are not a pro athlete.

You are not a cyborg (unless you’re Eric Cressey or Bill Hartman)

So instead of developing this “perfect program” where everything has to go right for you to succeed, why not build a program that is realistic and revolves around YOUR LIFE?

A super secret ninja trick here is to front load your training week – make Monday your hardest workout of the week.

And from there, allow things to trail off a bit.

Friday is a great day to focus more on body weight exercises, working on imbalances/asymmetries, or just getting some extra arm work in.

Consider the flip side:

You set up your training program with the goal of hitting a max effort deadlift on Friday night after work.

But you have the week from hell.

Your boss is on you all day everyday at work.

Your wife is pissed off at you.

And little Johnny isn’t sleeping at night.

By the time 5 pm on Friday rolls around, what are the chances of you actually hitting that PR deadlift?

No way Jose.

Dialing in your training week is huge, but you can go even deeper.

Instead of just front-loading the training week, set up your training schedule to account for the high-stress times in your life.

Personally, I know that there are certain periods of time where work it going to take over.

For instance with my Physical Prep Summit coming up in October, I know those last two weeks aren’t going to be my most productive training wise.

So why on Earth wouldn’t I take that into consideration when outlining my program?

Instead of writing a perfect program, I’m going to write one that I know I can be successful with.

I’ll probably go hard from mid-September to mid-October, and then focus more on maintenance those last two weeks of October.

Some may think of it as giving in, but I look at it as being realistic.

#3 – Focus on Recovery

One thing that frustrates the hell out of me is when people constantly bitch and moan about their age.

News flash: You ain’t getting younger friend!

So why bother complaining about it?

The bigger issue here is how most of these people take care of their bodies outside of the gym.

recovery-bucketAs we age, it’s not that we can’t train hard – we absolutely can.

I feel better now at 38 than at any point in my life.

BUT, we’re not 22 or 23 anymore, and there are other things taking up our precious recovery resources.

So you can train hard, but you have to realize that the training takes a bigger toll now than before.

And you inevitably have more stressors on you now, which also eat up those precious recovery resources.

If you’re going to empty the tank with your training, make sure you’re filling it up with better recovery.

Now I’ve written about recovery many times before (like here and here), but here are just a few boxes you need to be checking off every single day:

  • High quality sleep (including a pre-bed routine),
  • Proper nutrition and supplementation,
  • A focus on proper breathing, etc.

Don’t think for a second that just because you’re older that you can’t train hard.

But, you’re going to have to earn those hard training sessions with better recovery.

#4 – Follow the Flow Chart!

The final piece of this puzzle is doing things in the right order.

The flow chart below is something I introduced two years ago at the Elite Athletic Development 2.0 seminar.

Flowchart

As you can see, there’s a process to building a lean, strong and athletic client or athlete.

And this chart applies regardless of age.

It starts with your foundation and your ability to recover (which we addressed above).

Next, movement quality is huge – getting the Ferrari tuned up and aligned before you take it out on the road.

The next step is building work capacity.

And from there, the sky is the limit.

Whether it’s changing body composition, getting stronger, or building explosive power, you can do this regardless of age.

Keep in mind as well that you can train the right-hand side of the chart at all times. You don’t have to wait until you lean, strong and explosive to train speed.

But keep in mind you’ll never be as fast or explosive as you can be if you’ve got 50 pounds of extra body fat holding you back.

The pieces on the left facilitate and drive the pieces on the right.

When you’re outlining that next big program, think about what your limiting factors are and address them first.

Doing so is guaranteed to get you to your end-goal faster and more efficiently.

Summary

So there you have it – four simple strategies to better periodize your programming as you age.

But this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list – what strategies would YOU include to improve your performance?

I look forward to continuing the discussion in the Comments section below!

All the best

MR

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21 Comments

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  1. Hi Mike! I’m 30yo and play soccer in Italy, we train 3/4x week at night + games on Sunday. During the off-season I tried to train all aspects from mobility, speed, plyo, power, strength and conditioning at every session for about 1.5hrs 4x week and I was feeling ok. As soon as the pre-season started I kept working out in the mornings but I’ve started feeling very hard to recover and some pain in the hip flexors / adductors also came out. I recently read your last article on training the Indy 11 guys, and I started training every other day on same practice days leaving a day off for recovery; my question is should I take off stuff like plyo, speed and conditioning and focus only on strength training during the season? Also the way I’m periodizing it is 3weeks low reps “high” weight, followed by 3weeks high reps body weight. Does it makes any sense to you? I’m just an amateur player how tries to not get injured while playing. Thank you very much!

    • Andrea –

      I think trying to train all of those qualities OUTSIDE of sports practice is going to be too much.

      Get your speed work in as part of the warm-up, and before you actually train.

      Conditioning needs should get covered in the practice session.

      You perform hundreds (if not thousands) of explosive movements in a training session, so plyos aren’t necessary.

      So yeah, keeping your strength up to snuff with 1-2x/week lifting sessions is probably all you need.

      Hope that helps a bit!
      MR

      • Mike,
        Thanks a lot for writing me back! Your answer makes a lot of sense and it really turned on the light in my brain. It’ll definitely help me!
        Just a thing please, by getting the speed work done in the warm-up do you mean something like skip drills and agility ladder or should I also sprint for reps?

        Thank you very much again, and aside from waking up at 2am I really loved your webinar on core training and breathing you’ve done with stack a couple of days ago.
        I was into breathing already but was missing something and now I understand it way better. Thank you!

        • Andrea – I would do the ladder and skipping as part of your warm-up/prep work, and I’d try to get in a few sprints (even if they’re short) prior to training.

          Also, thanks for the kind words on the webinar. Sorry the timing was poor for you but I appreciate your support!!! – MR

  2. The other big issue is dealing with chronic injury. One may be well away on the flow chart only to have arthritis, dyskenisis, back pain etc, occur. The challenge is to continue some form of training without sacrificing achievements too much

    • Agreed. I would also say that if they have those issues, they need to take a few steps back and re-visit the movement quality piece. Even with arthritic changes you can still (most likely) improve quality of movement, and therefore reduce stress

  3. Hey Mike! This is the first article that I’ve read of yours, and I really enjoyed it! I especially liked the analogy of keeping the bucket full. Did you draw that? 😉

    • Hahaha you’ve obviously never seen my art skills in action 🙂

      I got the pic from JamesClear.com, but I’ve seen numerous people with different versions of it

  4. Most definitely a great post. So many fail to realize how important recovery is especially as we get older. Love the little info graphic showing how important it all is. Keep up the great work.

  5. Great post!! Definitely agree with this philosophy. I think as we age it’s important to realize our limits and focus on our overall health, not just one aspect.

  6. Great post Mike. I’m guilty with grinding in one phase for too long and need to change it up more. I just love how you threw Bill and Eric under the bus. I’m sure they appreciate it. 🙂

  7. Good info, Mike! You said “I’ll probably go hard from mid-September to mid-October, and then focus more on maintenance those last two weeks of October. Some may think of it as giving in, but I look at it as being realistic.”
    Consistency is the most important attribute of a training program: doing something (realistically) rather than nothing.

  8. Great article, just wish I’d read it 20 years ago when I was 39.
    I have been training for about 40 years and my observations as an aging athlete are:
    At 50ish I went from 4 days a week lifting (M,T-T,F) to 3 days (M,W,F) and found my recovery improved dramatically.
    My dead lift is strong and improving on a Pavelesque 2 sets of 5 every other workout.
    Squats are harder on both my cns and ageing joints, so higher reps and occasional replacement sets of leg presses keep me going.
    My bench is down from a best ever 1rm 300 to around 260, due to a lack of a regular spotter and an inability to maintain the workload to improve – 2×5 doesn’t cut it for bench.

    Old codger advice is to leave your cell in the car and get off the cable crossover.

    I would love to see more articles on training for 50 – 60yr olds. The gyms are full of us, and we are mostly neither beginners nor geriatrics who need to be told how well we are doing. What we do need is good training advice the same as every other.

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