Periodization is a formal way to describe how you schedule your training. In its simplest form, periodization consists of cycles repeated over time. The most popular type of periodization in CrossFit is the “three on, one off” schedule. In that arrangement, the training period spans four days. The first three contain one training session each, and the fourth is a rest day.
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In the three on, one off schedule, four days make one microcycle. This is the smallest cycle your training program contains. More commonly, microcycles are one week in duration. A weekly microcycle makes training consistent with our other life commitments. A common weekly microcycle in CrossFit is as follows: three training days in a row, followed by one rest day, followed by two more training days, followed by another rest day.
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In most sports, elite athletes group these microcycles into mesocycles. Each mesocycle is usually between 4 and 10 weeks in duration. Specific milestones are set for the end of the mesocycle.
These mesocycles are then combined into one macrocycle. One macrocycle usually lasts for one full calendar year. The macrocycle is scheduled around a certain event, usually a competition.
In CrossFit, most elite athletes use these three cycles to structure their training. Often, the first few months following the Open consist of mesocycles with a greater emphasis on strength and skill development. When the Open draws closer, the emphasis shifts more to conditioning.
Periodization is a useful tool to create a long-term plan for improvement. By breaking down the training year into smaller parts, your training becomes more focused. This is especially important for skill and strength development, which demands structured training approaches over longer periods of time.
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How to use the five principles
Taken together, these five principles of training provide us with practical applications:
• Use it or lose it. Do not let too long pass between training the things you want to improve. If you want to increase strength, conditioning, and skills, you should train all three frequently.
• Manage your training load. Some of you will want to go to the box almost every day, while others just a few times per week. Fewer sessions can work well with high volume and intensity in each session. In contrast, more sessions mean that your volume or intensity in each session needs to be lower.
• Vary your training. Use Metcons to tax all three energy systems regularly. Lift weights over a wide range of intensities, not just as heavy as possible. And practice skills both regularly and consistently, because they require less rest.
• Create milestones. Use periodization and cycles to create milestones and specific goals with shorter time frames (a few weeks) in addition to the one big annual goal (the Open).
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