Although a combined aerobic and resistance training program improves whole-body fitness and athletic performance, repeating the same workouts every week will eventually lead to plateaus in strength and performance. Likewise, continuously adding intensity with insufficient recover periods increases the risk for injury and overtraining. Therefore, coaches and fitness specialists have adopted the concept of periodization -- they vary the training specificity, intensity, and volume of training within a given period of time to focus on specific goals. Such goals include building endurance or improving maximal strength. A 12-week periodized program for a recreational athlete can similarly provide well-rounded improvements in hypertrophy and endurance, basic strength and power strength. This will set you up for top athletic performance.
Weeks 1 to 4 for Hypertrophy and Endurance
The goals of this phase are to build lean body mass and increase cardiovascular and muscular endurance to provide a foundation for the higher-intensity training in later phases. Strength training during this phase should include three to four sets of 10 to 15 repetitions at a moderate-intensity weight that allows you to complete the exercises with proper form but still challenges your muscles. Rest between sets should be relatively brief, about 30 to 60 seconds. Your cardio routines should fall between 30 to 60 minutes, for four to six times per week, at a pace that allows you to converse.
Weeks 5 to 8 for Basic Strength
This phase increases the training intensity and specificity to improve strength and endurance for your activity of choice. Your strength training should include exercises specific for your activity. If you are a runner, lunges are a more specific exercise than leg curls. Complete two or three sets of six to eight repetitions at a high-intensity weight that fatigues you by the final two repetitions. Rest between sets should be two to three minutes to allow more complete recovery than the hypertrophy phase. Your aerobic training should include four to five sessions per week, with one or two of those focusing on long intervals or tempo training at an intensity that you cannot converse easily. Aerobic training volume in this phase should be the same or slightly less than the hypertrophy phase to allow for more intense training.
Weeks 9 to12 for Strength and Power
This phase includes exercises focusing on strength and power to fine-tune the strength and endurance built over the previous eight weeks and optimize performance output. Strength training decreases in volume to two or three sets of three to five repetitions, but includes more power exercises such as lunge and squat jumps, hang clean and push jerk exercises with a barbell. Aerobic training volume should decrease but still include two sessions of short-duration, high-intensity intervals to maintain speed and explosive power. These sessions should be spaced by short, moderate-intensity sessions to promote recovery.
After 12 Weeks
A 12-week periodized program will prepare you for an optimal athletic performance as long as the program is specific to your sport. For example, a cyclist should focus on lower-body and core strength training rather than upper body strength. Taper your volume appropriately before your event. This 12-week cycle can be repeated throughout the year; however, you may need a week or two between cycles to recover physically and mentally. You can also do this periodized training if you are noncompetitive and simply wish to add variety to your training.