Periodization is an important concept to any workout program. You can't always be working towards the same goal because your body needs time to both recover from training a certain aspect after so long and your mind needs a change of pace in order to keep you motivated to keep going.
This means that it's a good idea to focus on one particular goal for a period of time and then switch it up to another goal after a set period of time. Often this can be seen in a bodybuilders program, where they cycle periods of bulking with cutting (or fat loss).
This allows them to focus all their energy on gaining muscle mass (which is hard to do, if not impossible if you are eating a hypocalorie diet necessary for fat loss) and then focus on losing body fat afterwards. You don't have to be a competitive bodybuilder though to benefit from periodization however you may just wish to set it up differently.
One great way to set up your program is with the seasons. Seeing how most people are always trying to lose fat come summer you can take this concept and build your training around it. A good plan would be to focus on building muscle mass during the winter, focus on fat loss in the spring, take the summer to relax, rest and enjoy some outdoor sports, and the fall to build a good base. Here's what to focus on throughout each season.
In order to make this your 'gaining lean muscle' phase, you are going to have to focus on your weight training and let your cardio take a bit of a backseat. You can still do cardio a few times a week in order to keep your heart in shape, as this is important too, however if you are doing 5 hour long cardio sessions everyday, chances are you aren't going to be gaining very much muscle.
| What is important to remember is that if you are going to do cardio, you are going to have to eat more in order to replace those calories burned. A good idea would be to incorporate 2 or 3 interval sessions instead as these tend to be more anabolic in nature. Skiing is also a great way to burn some calories. Cross country skiing at a medium pace will burn about 400 calories in 30 minutes.
Then get on a good strength training plan, such as a 4 day split or a full body workout done 3 times a week. You need to make sure you are taking a few days off weights every week as well in order to allow your muscles time to repair and grow.
Along with your training program you also need to make sure you have a good nutrition program to go with it. Don't think that just because you are trying to gain muscle you can eat whatever your heart desires. You still need to focus on clean sources of carbohydrates and protein along with healthy fats at each meal. The only difference is now you will be eating greater quantities of each food.
This is going to be your leaning out phase so you can show off your new muscles come summer. In order to do this you are going to have to rework your diet and add a bit more cardio into your program. Don't get stuck into the thought process though that it's a good idea to go and do hours of cardio a day, this will only cause you to waste away your new muscle mass and your body will eventually adapt to this high amount of cardio meaning you will only have to do more and more to see results.
Instead, incorporate more HIIT sessions, along with 1 to 3 steady state sessions for optimal fat burning. During this time you will generally want to keep your weight training fairly similar to what you were doing, only maybe cutting down slightly on the volume so that you can make a little more time for your cardio training.
On the diet side of things, this is the time to start watching your calories a little more close, especially on the carbohydrate site of things. Already assuming you are eating clean sources of carbohydrates, try cutting down on your intake later on in the evening when your body likely needs less fuel.
Try and focus more on eating complex carbohydrates in your morning meals and around your workout as this is when you need them most, eating vegetable sources later on in the evening. You may also wish to give carb cycling a try, as this helps many people shed excess bodyfat in a relatively quick period of time.
This involves having lower, medium and high carbohydrate days that are cycled around your training program. Finally, be sure you are drinking lots of water to help your body flush out any toxins as well as help ensure you don't eat due to dehydration rather than hunger.
Now that your spring training has paid off and you are sporting a newly chiseled body, this is a great season to enjoy the rewards and relax a bit. It's always good to have a few months of the year where you can rest a little more and let your body recuperate and prepare itself for the following year of training.
During the summer you are most likely not going to want to spend so much time inside the gym when it's warm and sunny out, and would rather be on the beach playing volleyball or Frisbee.
In terms of diet - luckily summer is a season when people normally crave lighter foods since no one feels like eating too much in the heat. Focus on incorporating lots of different fruits into your diet, as this is the season for them, along with fresh vegetables and lean cuts of meats.
It's the time for barbecuing, which is a great, low-fat method of cooking that you should take advantage of. One point to consider is alcohol consumption. Summer is usually the season when most people drink a little more regularly and you will want to monitor this because the calories in many popular beverages can add up quite quickly and if not careful, your new beach season bod will be a thing of the past.
The final season in your year long plan is dedicated towards building a good fitness base. This means developing good core strength along with a good cardio base so when you go to incorporate sprint training into your program you don't suffer too much.
In order to do this, try getting in 4 or 5 longer cardio sessions in at a moderate pace. This will build up your endurance, thus helping you to train for a longer period of time without fatiguing. On the weight training aspect, focus on major muscle group movements, such as squats, deadlifts, chest presses and bent-over rows to target many muscle groups at once.
These types of exercises will give you the biggest bang for your buck meaning you won't have to spend all day in the gym in order to see results. You will also be able to dedicate all your energy to training the major muscle groups, thus helping these to become stronger so when you focus on smaller muscle groups, these muscles are not fatiguing first. Once again, try weight training 3 to 4 days a week, ensuring you are still allowing yourself at least one day off a week for recovery.
In terms of diet, now is the time to just try and eat a healthy maintenance level diet. You don't need to focus on trying to lose weight during this time, and you will be doing enough cardio and lifting that you shouldn't have to worry to much on cutting back on your food intake.
Any excess calories should go towards building muscle tissue from your strength training however you don't need to make a special effort yet to consume over and above your needs yet, since you aren't in the 'bulking' phase of your year yet. Just try and eat balanced meals 5-6 times a day, allowing yourself to indulge once a week or so to keep you psychologically sane.
Don't follow too strict of a routine or else you might find you burn out over the winter and spring when your diet does have to be more structured.
By periodizing your training program you can help prevent reaching a plateau and will constantly keep your mind psychologically fresh and ready to workout. Your body can really only train for one goal at a time if you wish to see 100% results on one goal, so by focusing on one aspect for 4 months or so, you can really give it your all.
By focusing on goals relative to their seasons, winter, when you can easily cover up being a time for weight gain and spring being a time for weight loss, seeing how summer is right around the corner, you will have an easier time realizing your goals for each period.
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