The importance of programming/ periodization for weight training and nutrition is a topic that has been covered in depth in numerous textbooks and shown to be the most effective approach in countless studies. For the purpose of this brief outline, we will be focusing on two main principles: Overload and Fatigue Management.
When you first start lifting weights, you can pretty much do every random thing possible and still make progress because the stimulus is novel to the body i.e. it overloads your novice tissue and your body adapts. You accumulate some fatigue but generally the training isn’t hard enough for you to be concerned with how to manage potential over- reaching. However, as you become more trained with years spent in the gym, the same random workouts and weights you have always lifted don’t overload the body in the way they used to, therefore doing what you have always done won’t result in the progress you obviously desire by attending the gym in the first place. Herein lies the importance of overload. Overload basically means providing the body with a stimulus that is more challenging than it has been exposed to before, whether it be an increase in weight, reps, sets, tempo or also change exercise itself. However, the over application of variation is not a smart option either, as this again doesn’t allow you to work on exercises long enough for them to be stimulating enough to cause adaptation.
Programming allows for deliberate variations in volume (sets x reps x load) and intensity (weight) so that the exercise stimulus is always novel and progressive on the body thus allows for the greatest overload. As training should, over time, get progressively harder by increasing one of the above variables, it is also important to manage fatigue as this training will by nature be more strenuous. Fatigue management encompasses all other aspects of life other than lifting weights. This is the art of programming. Lifting weights and exercising is only one small slice of the pie that make up our lives: work, relationships, study, kids, hobbies etc. All these things need to be considered in fatigue management and thus the program is always “live” in the sense that it should be modifiable each month, week and even day depending on your levels of fatigue and stress, it is never set in stone. This ensures you don’t tread water, are not running yourself into the ground and are always moving forward. Remember the saying “strive for progress not perfection”! In a nutshell, managing fatigue allows for periods of hard training overloading the body followed by periods of lighter training allowing for recovery and adaptation to this overload. It sounds complicated, but it is actually very simple.
Programming, or following some sort of plan is also just as important for nutrition. If you are thinking this means you have to cut out all your favorite foods you are wrong, it means you can eat whatever you like but with the awareness of moderation and balance. There is so much great information and so many awesome people leading the way in nutrition at your fingertips, you just need to know where to look. If you want to gain muscle, lose fat, improve energy, and improve overall health: whatever the reason you are exercising in the first place, you will shoot yourself in the foot if you aren’t aware of how to eat properly. Eating with an awareness of a balanced intake of macronutrients, micronutrients, and amount calories you are putting in your gob allows you to vary your food and enjoy the things you love whilst making progress in your health!
There are so many good coaches out there, look around and INVEST in your health by finding someone who has a good understanding of how to program nutrition and exercise. Even if it is for a short period to get some guidance, it is an investment that will teach you skills you will be able to use for the rest of your healthy active life. Exercise and nutrition don’t have to be main priorities in your life, but health should be, and you might as well make the time you spend in the gym as efficient as possible.