Week 4 is upon me. This week is key, because it is a re-assessment week. I will find out how well my program has been working for me.
I just weighed in, and I am currently 220lbs, and 22% body fat. Things are moving in the right direction! I have to say I’m pleased with these results. They are modest, but progressing at a sustainable rate over the long term.
I’d like to talk a little bit about why I chose a 12 week body transformation challenge. For that matter, why does everybody choose 12 weeks as the optimal time frame for exercise programming? Well, the easy answer is that the research supports it.
Our bodies have an immediate response to exercise: in the form of an elevated heart rate, energy, heat and water production, as well as lactic acid production. Over time, with on-going, regular activity, we become more efficient while performing the same exercises. This is due to changes in our metabolism in response to exercise. (Our heart rate doesn’t get quite as high at the same speed on the treadmill, for example). After 12 weeks of sustained commitment to regular exercise, our metabolism will adjust “permanently” to the new, higher metabolic rate.
This 12 week “period” is what we trainers use within a general program called “Periodization”. Much of the research around periodization is attributed to Tudor Bompa, a former Olympic athlete and coach from Romania, who now teaches at York University. It was designed for athletes who needed to customize training schedules around their competition season. Typically, off season would be a time for higher intensity workouts, so as not to risk overtraining during the season.
On a practical level, for the average gym member who just wants to stay in shape, there is much to learn from periodization. The most important thing is to think about one’s commitment to the gym in terms of a 12 week commitment. Any less than that and the changes you make to your body will disappear faster than a snowball in spring as soon as you stop exercising. If you maintain your workout schedule for the full 12 week period, you will reap the rewards!
The other important thing to take away from periodization is the importance of changing up your routine. Introducing a new series of exercises causes your muscles to respond. However, after three to six weeks of the same exercises, your body is no longer “shocked” by the activity, and ceases to respond in the same way. This is important to know. For anyone reading this that has been doing the same workout routine for three months or longer, it’s time to change it up! Excessive repetition of movement patterns can lead to muscle imbalances, repetitive strain injuries, or at the very least, diminished returns on your workout.
Within a 12 week period, I advocate to my clients to make “wholesale” changes to their routine every month. This usually involves a progressive increase in volume, intensity, and duration of a workout, in order to reflect your body’s increased capacity for work. Below is a sample of a monthly progression over three months.
Sets Reps # of Exercises
Month 1 3 15 6
Month 2 3 8 – 12 8
Month 3 4 8 – 12 10