Commander's Fit Tip: Get adaptation on your side

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Panarisi
Now that we understand the mechanics behind our exercise programs (thanks to last editions refreshingly short fit tip!) we need to look at the physiology and how we respond to exercise.

If you want to improve your fitness (note, this is different from sustaining your current fitness level), adaptation will become an obstacle, and the best way over, through, or around that roadblock is a relatively new training regimen the pros call "periodized workouts."

Sounds pretty sophisticated, doesn't it? Here's how it works, and how to make it work for you.

As you progress through a workout program, your body is changing. Muscle fibers are growing, blood vessels are rerouting and expanding their networks, and nerve bundles are learning to work together. These changes tend to occur in parallel, but no single workout routine is optimized for all three simultaneously.

The result...a performance "plateau" as one of these components becomes the limiting factor. Breaking your workout into phases, or "periods" lets you focus your efforts on one at a time, and for this technique, "order matters."

In a "periodized" program, you increase the resistance or load in three distinct phases.

The first phase is analogous to building a foundation...get the footings wrong and everything else suffers. Since most workouts rely on repetitions (a.k.a. "reps") and sets, it's easy to build the phases by adjusting the load to meet a rep schedule.

For the first period, it's all about blood flow and careful execution, so we're talking high reps and low weights. Most trainers will put you on a plan that uses 15-20 reps for three sets in this phase, with the last rep in each set approaching failure. I like to start with 15 reps, and a weight that produces failure in the third set (i.e. you can't complete the third set).

If you can't quite complete the third set, that's OK. If you misjudge the resistance level, and the third set is easy, just do another. The beauty of this approach is that you can get a clear signal of when to switch to the next "period"...when 20 reps at that weight does not produce failure. At three times a week, this will take about a month.

The second period shifts the emphasis to the muscle fibers. Here the classic "three sets of 10" comes in. Except 10 is the minimum, not the target. So, just like the first period, shoot for a weight that produces failure in the last set of 10 reps, and jump to the next period when 15 reps does not produce failure.

The third and final period targets the neuro networks, and challenges you to get all the complicated signals lined up to produce max power. This is like coaching a rowing team...all the rowers are ready to fly, but each one has to put their oar in the water at the right time to maximize the team effort. In this period, the reps are reduced to 4 to 6, and this is the spooky period. Easy to get hurt if you aren't careful when the resistance gets to this level, so patience is key, and if you are using free weights, a spotter is an absolute MUST. It may take a few attempts to find the right weight, but just like the other periods, target 4 reps with failure in the third set, and keep at that weight until 6 reps won't produce failure.

What next? Easy! Start over. You now have a new "engine," and you can reinitiate the sequence. You'll find the resistance needed to produce failure in the third set of 15 reps will be significantly higher than previously, and from that point on you'll see consistent gains in performance.

Note this is a performance building technique, not a body building technique. You will see some increased muscle mass, but you won't be in danger of de-throning Mr Universe.

These "periodized" plans let your body adapt sequentially, and for long term fitness, this is hot ticket. Give this a run for three months, and if nothing else, you'll still sound sophisticated!