Guest Blog from Darren Pratt on Periodization

Darren wrote up this nice review on training, honestly, “for the rest of us.” He references a point made in an earlier blog, that you can find here.

The issue of Standards shows up a bit here and you can always find mine in the oddly named post “Sleepless in Seattle.”

Speaking of standards, a lot of people reading this blog enjoyed Sgt. Nick’s FitRanx. I had a lot of additional follow up emails, but just go to the site for more information. It ties in well with the Standards article. Fine more here.

Darren has had a long a varied sports career.  From age 10 to 17, he raced stock cars.  At 19, he set a race record in the Avon Descent, an 83 mile white water kayaking race.  Five years later he set a new record which has stood for nearly 20 years.  He represented Australia in sprint kayaking.  He holds a teaching grade in Tsutsumi Hozan Ryu jujitsu and most weekends can be found teaching children’s classes.  In recent years, he has completed HKC and SFG kettlebell certifications and attended a Primal Move workshop.  Married with 4 children and with a busy career as a trial lawyer, he finds himself firmly in the middle of Quadrant 3. 

Foxes and hedgehogs: periodization in Quadrant 3


Let’s clear a couple of things up before we start.


First, if you’re going to tell me that periodization translated from the Russian just means “waviness of load”, then I already know that. But it can mean a whole lot more than that too – it’s just that it’s much harder to say “emphasizing different qualities at different times according to an annual plan ” in a bad Russian accent.


Second, this is an article directed to those of us and our clients who are in Quadrant 3.


If you don’t know what I am talking about when I talk about the four quadrants then you need to go and buy, borrow or steal Dan John and Pavel’s book Easy Strength and read it. Better to buy one or steal one because if you borrow it, you won’t give it back which is kind of dishonest.


But the idiot’s guide to Quadrants goes something like this:

So periodization, what’s up with that?


Well first of all, you need to be training for something and not just be engaged in random acts of variety. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to be training for something. It’s just that not training for something is a bit like dancing with your sister, you’re going around but you’re not really getting anywhere.


So pick something – a certification, highland games, tactical strength challenge, whatever. I’ve been training for the TSC, so I’ll use that in the examples below.


Then, let’s divide our training up into 4 phases:-


Phase 1: Motor control and symmetry Phase 2: Hypertrophy and general preparation Phase 3: Specific preparation Phase 4: Competition


Let’s have a look at each of these in a little more detail.


Phase 1: Motor control and symmetry


As advertised, in this phase we are going to focus on motor control and symmetry.


Do you or your client have any particular weaknesses or left/right imbalances? Now is the time to iron them out.


Let’s spend a few weeks doing stuff like:


Obviously, you are going to have to scale these according to your or your client’s capabilities.


If after a few weeks, these are all going swimmingly and there are no signs of any asymmetries, then we can move on. If not, then best spend a bit longer here.


Phase 2: Hypertrophy and general preparation


After 40, muscle mass is like physical superannuation. This is the time to bank a bit of it by spending 6 to 8 weeks focusing on building muscle and a foundation of strength for whatever is going to come later.


Back squats are probably a good idea whenever something has hypertrophy in the title. And complexes, definitely complexes. Rep schemes like 5 x 5 and 8, 6, 4 are a good choice here. Think programs like Southwood, Big 5 and Mass Made Simple.


A bit of same but different applies here too.


Let me give you an example: if I’ve decided that I want to compete in the TSC, I’m going to have to be ready to do lots of kettlebell snatches. So in this phase, I might focus on building a big kettlebell swing. Sets of 20 with an 88 or a 105 ought to do it. I’m also going to have to be doing lots of pull-ups for the TSC but in this phase I might focus on building my back with some form of horizontal rows.


If the goal event has a cardio component, then this is the time to build some easy volume at low intensities.


If you need to learn a new skill, then now is the time to begin practicing it. Notice that I said practicing, not working out.


Specific preparation


Now we are getting to the business end of things and for the next 8 to 12 weeks our preparation needs to become specific to whatever it is that we want to do.


If we are training for the TSC, then we’re going to need to be focusing on the lifts themselves – deadlift, pull-ups and snatches.


If we are training for something like a throwing event, then a program employing Easy Strength principles is a good option here to free you up to get out and practice your throwing.


If the goal event has a conditioning element, then we need to up the intensity here. Progressively.




Specific preparation and competition can fade into one another.


If your competition involves doing something that involves a big strength move like a deadlift, then you’ll have been running a peaking cycle from early in the specific preparation phase, which is going to take you all the way up to the day of your competition.


Otherwise, we are here dealing with the last 2 weeks or so before the big day.


We are now in the terrain where nothing we do will make us better, stronger or faster but what we do can make us very much weaker and slower. Moderation and recovery are the key. Keep enough intensity to make you feel strong and mean but back the volume off until you are hungry for more.


I like to freehand my tapering. It really is all about how you feel from day to day and what you need to do to reach the big day feeling in great shape physically and mentally.


After the big day, it’s as easy as rinse and repeat!


Back to top