Relaxation Periodization-How to Plan Your New Year

In training, there is a concept called periodization. The idea is that you plan out workouts, with thought going into different categories. The categories are generally  weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. You can do it for lifting, conditioning, or even nutrition. The big yearly goal gets broken down into blocks of months, quarters, and weeks. Volume, load, intensity, and many other variables can be considered. Generally speaking, periodization includes ramping up intensity, having planned easier weeks, and times to peak performance. Essentially, it’s the opposite of linear progression, which expects you to get better at a constant rate. We know this doesn’t work very well, so we plan on “down” times to prevent injury and to maximize performance.

One variable we tend to ignore in our busy lives is parasympathetic work. The parasympathetic system is essentially your rest and digest section of your nervous system. It’s the opposite of “fight or flight”. Our workouts tend to be “fight or flight” type of intensity (from the pump up music to the idea that we must be sweating and exhausted at the end of every session). Rushing to work, not getting enough sleep, stressful jobs, stressful family schedules, the inevitable holiday travel, investments….all can contribute to our fight or flight (called sympathetic system, weird name, I know).

Focus on Recovery

When does our rest and digest, easy going, Jimmy Buffet, Jack Johnson, parasympathetic system get a little TLC? It gets ignored too often, because we don’t plan for it. We plan for the crazy stuff, not the relaxing stuff. Once our necks are sufficiently tense and knotted up, our sleep is poor, irritability is high, and our joints hurt, we go for a massage or spa day. It’s the SAME as gaining weight all year and crash dieting in January. It can’t work.

We need to plan our relaxation, regeneration, and rest time.

Looking at it from a periodization model, here are some examples.

Yearly goals: reduce and maintain blood pressure to normal, live many more years, get and keep a low resting heart rate…

quarterly goals: Looking at seasons is really important. What stressors may be present?

fall: busy travel, halloween candy, thanksgiving travel

winter: it’s F’in cold out, short days (kinda depressing), holidays and the travel and shopping,

spring: need to crush workouts to get in shape for summer! Taxes.

summer: summer travel, stays lighter longer (less sleep?), cover coworkers time off, kids are home from school

You get the point. Try and pick out yearly things that come up like clockwork. Next, let’s try and match up workout periodization. From there, we’ll pair each workout goal with a relaxation goal.

For example:
Thanksgiving to New Years

This is usually a busy time. Lots of parties, shopping, traveling, and wrapping things up for the work year.

Workouts should be short and sweet

Nutrition intake isn’t perfect (which is a physical and emotional stresssor, potentially)

This is where relaxation variables should be peaking. You need to keep stress at bay and really enjoy your family time.

Ramp up:

sleep awareness. Set alarm on phone to get to bed at a time where you will get 7-8 hours. Write notes to yourself, make sure you wind down, and get all your stuff done during the day so you can maximize sleep.


deep breathing exercises or meditation for 5-10 minutes in the morning

foam roll or stretch an extra 5 minutes before and after a workout (even if it means shortening your lifting or cardio time)

go for a walk outside at lunch

You get the point. Not that you should ignore this stuff at other times of the year, but extra focus should be taken to counteract other stressors. We want a balance.

Now, let’s say spring is pretty open for you. Time to hit some tougher workouts, and just maintain a 1:1 relationship between tough workouts and recovery time (sleep, massage, stretching, etc). When life stressors are added in, like in our example above, you may want something a bit more like a 2:1 ratio recovery to intense workouts.

Plan your year out, break it down to quarters, months, and weekly goals. This would be an AMAZING New Year’s resolution that would absolutely make a true difference in the coming year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Name *