Engaging in strength training as a beginner is a pretty magical feeling. If you’re smart about it, you can practically count on watching your progress shoot up on a weekly basis. Many coaches will tell you to embrace your newbie gains, as they’re pretty much a once in a lifetime thing. At the same time, some of these coaches might also tell you that training needs to be periodised in order for it to be effective, no matter the stage you’re at. So, what should little ol’ you do?
The standard definition of periodised training is one that involves a systematic structuring of an athlete’s training in order to maximise physical performance for the sake of competition. This allows for an athlete’s off-season and in-season time to be taken into account when it comes to logistics and planning.
Right off the bat, we see several factors up for consideration upon being presented with this question. Is the beginner in question an athlete? Are his/her goals athletic in nature? What kind of training structure is being utilised? The fact of the matter is that the answer is not so cut and dry. Context is of great importance and should be applied accordingly.
There is no one model of sports periodisation with which to standardise an approach. Linear, non-linear, undulating, reverse, block – they all work and have proven track records. It’s hard to argue which is superior because again, context is lacking. What may be better for a 20-year-old looking to make pure strength gains may not be the best choice for a 40-year-old looking to improve body composition.
Similarly, not all periodisation models are similar in terms of rigidity. Undulating periodisation is typically more flexible as there are no fixed stages per se, meaning that an athlete can repeat the cycle as many times as needed before moving into the competitive phase. That is not to say that rigidity is undesirable; the psychological aspect of sports periodisation is designed to keep athlete’s focused and dialled in when it comes to training.
For the sake of objectivity, let us assume that the end goal in question here is an overall improvement in athletic performance, as is what sports periodisation is designed to deliver. Performance in these terms is quantifiable and measurable – lifting more, running faster and jumping higher. Must a beginner adhere to periodised training in order to see improvements?
Keeping a beginner (athlete or not) on a clearly defined path not only keeps them accountable, but also aids in the development of good habits. Turning up for training, doing what is assigned for the day, knowing when to back off and pushing when necessary are all required for long-term progress. Periodisation aids in this by providing clear metrics to aim towards. As opposed to being just a random assortment of checkpoints thrown together, these metrics are designed to feed into one another to produce the desired outcome.
More importantly, intelligent periodisation takes the demographic of the beginner into account. A young training age doesn’t equate to physical age; there are seniors who can be considered beginners as well. Periodisation’s focus on maximising adaptation while minimising exhaustion means that training programmes must be tailored according to the individual’s physical capacity and recovery ability. This places it at a huge advantage over blindly following cookie-cutter routines.
While there is no question that newbies will continue to see improvements using a non-periodised approach, utilising periodisation confers certain advantages that only become apparent as the beginner advances in training age. As periodisation is both individualised and dynamic, the needs and goals of the adherent should always be taken into account during planning. From the coach’s perspective, it allows for an accurate gauge of the beginner’s progress while offering some degree of forecast with regards to athletic potential. For the bright-eyed individual just starting out with training, it provides one of the best ways with which to begin their journey.