To the Day Periodization?


IMG_2727Training means having a plan. It actually is part of the definition of the word showing up and doing whatever is called working out, or exercising.

If fitness, athletics, or aesthetics are your goal, there is nothing that should be unexpected.  I don’t think that you have to be ready for “anything” but you do need to be ready for exactly what you want.

Traditionally, planning for your training means periodization. In some form or the other (undulating, conjugate, linear, etc) periodization can help you achieve that goal.

My view on periodization has changed a lot in the last 15 years or so, but so have my views on Brussels sprouts, professional wrestling, and how to get women. While 16 year old me thought that every rep had to be planned out to a T, Brussels sprouts sucked, Goldberg was the pinnacle of man-dom, and chicks liked it when I called them “chicks,” 31 year old me knows that there can be a little wiggle room in the master plan.

Today I have a better understanding of how to REALLY use periodization to get the best out of my program

Spectrum of Periodization

I grew up in 3 types of training environments.  I talk all the time about my days as a young weightlifter and my burgeoning young man crush on what weightlifting could do for me. I also lifted at my local high school under the guidance of our football coach. Lastly I held a membership to a 24 hour gym where I would go if I needed to get some extra snatches in (or curls and dozens of sets of bench press).

Sometimes I would train at all 3 places at once (in the general sense, not the metaphysical “I am here AND there” sense), but most of the time I was just doing Olympic lifting and high school lifting, with the occasional visit to the 24 hour gym.

You can imagine that the programs at all 3 places were vastly different.

My Olympic lifting program was periodized down to the exact amount of weight I would lift per session, per week, and per training cycle. It was planned 12 months in advance. It was nailed down to the T for me.  If the plan said I was going to get a certain result, then you can bet your sweet butt that I got that result.

My high school program minimally planned out. In hindsight, I can remember repeating the same program pretty much every 4 weeks, it was highly focused on 3-4 movements and those movements alone. It resembled something like “the world’s most popular training plan for high school athletes.” (which I will choose not to name), but not to a “T”.  Being that I was 15-18 years old, this program also got results.

The “plan” at the commercial gym was even further across the periodization spectrum. Sometimes I would just go in and do what I want because spring break was coming quickly (and abs don’t “pop” unless you’re doing bicep curls bro), other times I would find the strongest guy in the gym and ask him what he was doing, and I would do that for 4-6 weeks. Mostly, though I would do some snatches, and some cleans, and work up to a max when I felt like it.  It wasn’t planned out, but I lifted some good weights there


Today the influence of all 3 programs can be seen in the way that I train and the way that I write and coach programs.

I plan programs as far in advance as I can: If I know I have a football player for the next 3 months until his season starts, I have an outline of what I will do with that athlete, specific qualities I want to train within specific time periods. We’ll get to this later but my plan is changing everyday, and certainly every 3-4 weeks. Too much happens in an 8 week or 12 week program to actually stick to it completely.

I focus on a core set of movements: With both my weightlifters and my athletes I focus on a set number of movements.

Athletes: Explosive, Push, Pull (the upper body variety), hinge, squat, single leg versions, and loaded carries.

Lifters: Clean, snatch, squat, and heavy pulls (the OL variety).

Choosing what movements matter to me, or to my athletes, can help me to avoid the junk in a program.

Most importantly this is the biggest one,

I do what feels right: Each session is the effect of communication between the athlete and me, or in my case, between my body and me. If the plan says one thing, but all the other feedback I am getting says another. I choose to listen to the feedback.

To the Day periodization

Call it biofeedback, biometrics , call it whatever you want, I call it to the day periodization.

Ultimately, it means, we are training in a dynamic system that cannot be precisely planned for months in advance.  if you feel like crap don’t do it, if you feel good it might be okay to push things a bit harder.

My weightlifters know that my first question to them will be,” how do you feel today?” If their answer is on the spectrum of  “sore”à “crap” then a modification of the day’s training program is in order.

If the answer is “good” à “great” then we may have the opportunity to work up to some heavy numbers or add a couple sets of work.

We can get even more in touch with how one feels by tracking HRV, using the iPhone Tap Test , or using a simple method of biofeedback like measuring ROM. These methods can give you trackable data which means more stuff from which to learn.

What if you feel bad?

Keep this guy handy...

Keep this guy handy…

Our simplest way of adjusting the daily load is to just reduce the volume by 20%. Intensity can stay relatively high, but the overall volume for the day can be reduced. By purely anecdotal experience, this seems to work well. We abstain from attempting maxes, but will still hit numbers as high as 90% of a 1 RM.

What if you feel good?

When you feel good the normal plan for the day is used. Complete what is written on the day. You have one goal, hit the weights prescribed for the reps prescribed.

What if you feel great?

When my athletes feel great, we absolutely take that opportunity to hit the best numbers possible for them in the gym. It could be a repetition maximum, or it could be a true maximum, but there is not a chance in hell that I will let a day of feeling great not be used to the maximum potential.

This method is not unprecedented. In the most basic sense, the Bulgarian method of weightlifting was based on “to the day” periodization. Working up to the best single rep available to the athlete on a given day.


Earlier this week I noticed that I was feeling really good. All signs (HRV, ROM, and Tap test) were up, and I just felt good as soon as I got out of bed. On that day I chose to increase the volume slightly to really lock in my jerk (Clean and Jerk Complex).

Taking advantage of that good feeling on the day, has paid off as later this week I hit a really good single in the jerk (on another day when my signs, and feeling said it was a great day).

Pay attention to the myriad of signs your body gives you and do not just stick to a plan for the sake of getting it in.

The last important lesson is, well, important. Even with all the feedback, they don’t always have to be in alignment for you to have a good day or a bad day.

If you need help laying out the program (that may get modified) check out my Program Design System that I launched with the IYCA: PROGRAM DESIGN SYSTEM