A Simple Breakdown of Periodization

John Gillham
3 min readOct 11, 2015


The fitness industry can be convoluted and narcissistic but full of good intentions. The body is a complicated thing. Everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another. Heavy weights might get results with someone while circuit training may get results for another. Low carb vs high carb and all that rigmarole. CrossFit has done a lot of good for the fitness industry because it has brought to light the importance of training with variety and skill.

As a personal trainer in Lafayette, California one of the first things I do when starting with a new client is ask them about their current fitness routine, nutrition program and what their goals are. Time and time again they have been doing the same routine for years (yes years!) eat too much crap, don’t sleep well and want to work on their “core” and “tone up.” My clients get results because I provide them with scientifically proven routines specific to their goals and vary the exercises and intensities to fit their goal. So with out further ado here are the basics of fitness.

Flexibility → Stability → Strength

This basic concept will save you from a lot of injury. If you don’t have the flexibility to touch your chest to the floor when you do a push up DON’T DO IT! You must work on your flexibility, stretching your chest and shoulders until you gain that range of motion, don’t force it. If you can’t touch your toes don’t do a stiff leg deadlift….you get the idea. The no pain no gain mindset rarely leads to long term success and ultimately leads to injury and burn out. I know first hand.

Strength routines should be started using circuits and/or high reps with little rest. This will allow you to build up your endurance, cardiovascular health and connective tissue.

3 sets of 15–30 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets is a great way to build endurance and a great foundation.

You should work on strength endurance for 4–8 weeks before advancing to functional hypertrophy which will lead to more muscle mass i.e burning more calories per day and looking more “toned” At this point you should also change the exercises you are doing to avoid pattern overload. Simply stated pattern overload can happen when you do the same motion over and over again. Joints can wear out and results can plateau due to the body adapting. So if you were doing db incline bench change to push ups, if you were doing reverse lunges change to side lunges, pull ups, bent over rows….get it?

4–6 sets of 6–12 reps with 45 seconds to a minute rest between sets is the best way to build muscle.

Give that another 4–8 weeks and then it is time to change it up again. Change the exercises and change the sets and reps scheme again. Now here we have a couple choices. You can go into a power phase or you can change the exercises and slightly vary the sets and reps to focus more on strength and less on hypertrophy.

Say you were doing 4 sets of 10 reps for the last couple of months. Now we can change it to 5 sets of 5 with heavier weights and 90 seconds rest.

I rarely do much power with my clients but I will touch on it briefly. Power is about acceleration, speed and force. Medicine ball throws of all kinds and jumps come into play here. The sets last just a few seconds and the rest periods are 3–5 minutes. Most people don’t see the point in a power phase and it is best left at power endurance in which you still move fast but with higher reps and shorter rest periods i.e 10 box jumps or 30 second battle ropes or 10 medicine ball slams. This sort of work is generally more functional for the everyday person.

5 sets of 5 reps is generally accepted to be the best blend of strength and hypertrophy (muscle building)

So there you have it. I brief overview of fitness periodization for anyone starting out on their fitness journey. Feel free to reach out to me at john@marathonjohn.com or cruise by my gym in Lafayette for a training session.

Yours in Fitness,

John Gillham



John Gillham

Trainer.Runner.Gentleman Helping people move right and have fun in their strong bodies Play Hard. Rest Hard