Garage Strength Periodization | The Five Blocks
Creating freak athletes and elite level performers takes time! We are going to show you how to program for stronger and more skilled athletes. The design we’ve come up with is a 5 phase design called parabolic periodization.
It is a system that allows coaches to learn from their athletes and program a long term plan for results specific to their sport. This method can work for any athlete like football players, throwers, basketball players, strength athletes, or anyone else.
At its core, it is developing the key skills that a specific athlete needs to perform at the highest standard they can while addressing weak points along the way. With a mix of technical coordination, absolute strength training, and varied skilled strength, making a plan for key points in a season or a year will bring the most out of your athlete.
In this article, we will give you the best summary of parabolic periodization, how to program for your athletes, and examples of success stories for each phase.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Focus of Parabolic Periodization
The overall goal of this program design is skill development. Keyword: SKILL DEVELOPMENT!
You have athletes. They are training for a specific sport or goal. They need specialized training and a program that caters to their strengths, weaknesses, and training style. Taking all these factors into consideration may seem complicated, but when you know your athlete well you can program properly with some observation.
Parabolic periodization is going to be the system you use for developing adaptations that are desirable for the long term goals of athletes. By focusing on the timeline of an athlete’s desired performance and incorporating their sport training into their gym training, you will improve overall skill development that will heighten performance.
The first part of any workout throughout the 4-5 month training cycle is going to be technical coordination. You need to identify the muscle systems and neural drivers that an athlete will use in their sport.
Technical coordination lifts are going to increase in complexity as you go through the system. You will need to identify weak points in an athlete’s skill base and also improve the skills they are good at.
Technical coordination lifts like cleans, snatches, presses, squats, and all their variations are going to be the key drivers of sports performance in the gym.
Usually after technical coordination, absolute strength will be another key factor that aids in sports performance. By improving overall strength then speed, power, and performance will come along with it.
These types of movements will be the exercises used to grow strength in the technical coordination movements. These will be your bench presses, squats, pulls, and other major compound lifts that will grow athletes to be better performers.
Speed and Impulse
That last performance factor that needs to be focused on during the parabolic periodization cycle is going to be speed and impulse. Although these things will come along with the other lifts you do, you need to make time to specialize and engage the neural drive to work on them.
Speed and impulse will be worked on your athlete and impulse days through reflexive exercises, dynamic trunk control work, and plyometrics. They will often be used as functional movements that are very specific to an athlete’s sport and motions that they go through.
Throughout the phases, speed and impulse will be a key indicator of in-game performance and the overall success of your programming. So now let’s take a look at what each phase looks like and the goals you should be aiming for at different points before it’s time to compete.
Exposure (PHASE 1)
Purpose of Exposure
This is the introduction to becoming a freak athlete. The exposure phase of parabolic periodization is when athletes will be introduced to the movements that will develop key adaptations throughout the program. This is different from linear periodization as it will include long term blocks of planning and programming.
In this phase, you as a coach or programmer, need to identify the goals of the entire program for your athletes or team. You need to prioritize which movements are going to be the focus and how you want to target technical coordination, absolute strength, skilled strength, and hypertrophy.
The skill and performance characteristics will differ greatly between sports like swimming, combat sports, weightlifting, and throwing. In this phase, you want to keep exercises as simple as possible, hence the progressions.
This is an intro for your athletes, not the hardest boot camp known to man. That we save for the next phase of the programming cycle. Let’s take a look at what a workout split would look like for the exposure phase.
Workout Splits for Exposure
We know that athletes, especially those that are committed to daily based training like running or swimming will not be able to workout five times a week. Hang with me here, let’s start with maybe an offseason scenario where an athlete can make it into the gym five times a week.
In a perfect world where an athlete can get into the gym five days a week on top of training, the first day will usually be a lower body power day followed by upper body power for day two. Day three would be an athlete day for plyometrics and day four would be an impulse day for speed. Finishing off the week would be a baller hypertrophy day to stimulate growth.
Now let’s say we have an athlete that can make it in four days a week. We can scrap that hypertrophy day because we want to prioritized sport specific and skill adaptations rather than growth. Growth will come regardless with the proper recovery and nutrition.
As we bring it down to a three day training week, we can ditch the impulse day. Speed will still come with the complex movements and speed work will still be done on athlete day. The reason we want to keep the athlete day is because those plyometrics will put the strength days into functional movements specific to an athlete’s sport.
Since the exposure phase is the intro to a training cycle, the volume will be high. To give you an idea how high, here is an example leg day during the exposure phase:
And here is an example of a workout for your day two power day:
Exposure for Athletes
Throughout this phase, it will be a lot of learning for your athlete, but also for yourself ABOUT your athlete. Here you can learn what kind of athlete they are, how they train, and that will help you program for them specifically.
Athlete reactive analysis is what you’ll need to observe throughout the exposure phase. This is the way you categorize your athletes. Are they zen, social, or exuberant? Each athlete has a style of training so that you can better predict how they will respond to each program and how to get the most of them
Here’s a quick breakdown of which each means:
Zen Athletes (Type 1): These are your quieter, more focused athletes. A good example is going to Hayley Reichardt. These types of athletes will be very much “in-the-zone” during training and be receptive to cues you give them. They will thrive in the exposure and realization phases where movements are kept simple, but may struggle during the ascension and summit phases when the intensity goes through the roof to hit bigger weight.
Social Athletes (Type 2): These will be the middle of the ground athletes that fall somewhere in between zen and exuberant. A good example of a type 2 athlete is Jordan Wissinger. Social athletes will fluctuate a lot during the day to day, as they will have some up days and down days. They want you to explain clearly and in detail the plan ahead when they start to struggle. These athletes may struggle in the ascension phase and summit phase when intensity is at its highest, but will enjoy the realization phase when there is more rest to talk through the motions.
Exuberant Athletes (Type 3): These are your loudest, most energetic lifters that like to go balls to the wall and ego lift a little bit. These are going to be your Jake and DJ’s - absolute MEATHEADS! They get excited to smash big weights, but can hit some serious lows when they fail during a period of high volume. They will often ball out in the ascension and summit phases, but struggle and get burnt during the exposure and comprehension phases.
Comprehension (PHASE 2)
Purpose of Comprehension
Eight to twelve weeks out from the big performance event or season opener, you want to have athletes working in the comprehension phase. Now that athletes have been exposed to their progressions and movements that target specific skills, the volume and intensity will continue to increase.
In the comprehension phase, you’ll start to include more complex exercises to double down on technical coordination and neural drive to target desirable adaptations.
You need to stay in tune with your athletes and really listen to them during this phase as they might start to get burnt out. Yes, the comprehension phase is meant to be hard and challenging. You need to identify where your athletes struggle and find continue to analyze their style of training.
This is important because the comprehension phase builds directly into the most important phase of the parabolic training cycle. Athletes will tend to struggle and fail a lot during the comprehension phase, so it is your job to keep your athletes trusting the path you put them on.
Workout Splits for Comprehension
The weekly splits for the comprehension phase are going to be virtually the same as the exposure phase. Although the specific exercise programming will be of utmost importance.
The first exercise of the day will be mainly focusing on advanced technical coordination movement. Still keeping volume in the four to six rep range, you will be looking for breakdowns in technique and need to compensate with cues.
The second exercise will be focusing more on power and strength. This is where volume needs to be ramped by increasing overall sets and reps. As these will still be compound lifts, this may be where you see athletes start to struggle mentally and physically.
Then as you move into the last compound before accessory work, you will want to get creative with skill strength specific to the sporting goals. This could be an athletic or impulse movement that puts the resistance training into functional practice.
Here is what an upper body power day would look like during the comprehension phase:
Example of Comprehension
An example for using comprehension for athletes is training football players like Nick Singleton before training camp starts. We want to build up their base strength along with preparing them for technical coordination.
By upping the volume and complexity of exercises, these players and athletes will be prepared for the movements they will do with their collegiate or high school programs.
Since team training may not include the same level of variation as a performance program, we want to establish and build up those points before they get thrown into the lion’s den. We want to build those technical skills and sport specific adaptations before volume is increased for actual sport training.
Ascension (PHASE 3)
Purpose of Ascension
The clicking point for athletes will hit during the ascension phase. Now that athletes have gone through the depths of volume, failure, and doubt, it’s time to buy in. The ascension phase will be where your exuberant athletes shine.
The volume needs to go down, but intensity still needs to be increasing. The movements will get even more complex and specialized to the needs of the athlete. Again, we want to focus around skill development and get in tune with smashing heavy weights.
You will still be focusing on a lot of the same stuff from the previous programs, but with more neurological intent since the volume is decreased. Still building speed with that impulse base training and building strength with power movements.
Workout Splits for Ascension
Let’s be honest, the overall layout for any of these phases are going to be basically the same. All the days will stay the same depending on how much your athletes can get into the gym.
The first lift will still be a technical coordination exercise. Remember, the point of ascension is to increase intensity so this movement should be more complex than any of the starting movements from the previous phases.
The second lift will now be an absolute strength movement, instead of a power movement. We may often use this absolute strength movement as a contrast to the first exercise.
The third exercise is going to be where stuff gets interesting. Our 3A exercise will usually want to focus on reflexive strength or skilled strength. Skilled strength is the umbrella term for different types of reflexive exercises. This could be plyometrics, dynamic trunk control exercises, and potentially some hypertrophy work.
Here is what a leg power day during the ascension phase will look like:
Example of Ascension
A good example of using the ascension phase is reactionary training for volleyball. Six to ten weeks from the start of the season, you will want to hone in on movements and complexes that will focus on balance, jump height, and speed.
Sport identification and seeing where an athlete has weaknesses will start to show in the ascension phase. After exposure and comprehension where their baselines are set, ascension is where you can make more adjustments to technique.
As volume is decreasing and intensity is increasing, it is most important to execute each rep with purpose. This also means more sport specific movements on athlete and impulse days. For volleyball players, continue to do jumps, lateral training, and blast impulse exercises to build that acceleration speed.
Summit (PHASE 4)
Purpose of Summit
Here comes the deload! Not the whole time of course, but just for the first week. You want to prepare your athletes for success and to continue smashing massive weight.
Now that your athlete has gone through exposure, comprehension, and ascension, they are almost ready to peak. Usually start your summit phase with a 33% decrease in volume. Once the deload is done, the fun really begins.
The summit phase is where the mind and body come together as one and start to recover synchronously. Your athletes should now be primed to get excited to lift and take attempts at PRs in the gym.
Regardless of the type of athletes you are coaching, all of them should be monitored to make sure they are not burning out mentally or physically during this phase. We are still chasing skill development during this phase, so the exercises will continue to be complex. Throughout this phase, overall volume will be decreased and intensity will skyrocket.
Workout Splits for Summit
The summit phase is going to be almost identical to the ascension phase in structure. The only thing that really changes is the complexity of lifts and a greater decrease in volume.
Since you are aiming for your athletes to push PRs, they will be training close to 90% or above on power days. So anything that’s not an athlete or impulse day.
Here’s an example workout of a lower body power day during the summit phase for a football player or a weightlifter:
Example of Summit
An example of the summit phase is with one of our weightlifters like Hayley or Jake being a little over a month out from a major event like the 2022 Weightlifting World Championships.
About three to five weeks out from the meet, they will start on a deload then hit the ground running with perfecting their competition lifts. They will do a variation of snatch along with clean and jerk every single day except for their athlete day.
Even on their athlete day, they may do a light jerk or snatch variation to address specific weak points in their lifts. This is where you will see Jake hit his massive 140kg snatches and Hayley smashing jerks at 120kg.
We will start to prime their body to get in tune with lifting heavy weight and generating power as fast as possible. The technique should have been reinforced throughout the whole training cycle, so once these athletes get over 90% for their singles, the brain should turn off and focus on smashing the weight in front of them.
Realization (PHASE 5)
Purpose of Realization
Your athletes are ready to roll, perform, and crush the competition. The realization phase is the culmination of 4 months of training, planning, and programming for your athlete. It has prepared them to compete at the highest level they can and they have never been readier.
How can you help them at this point? See the program through!
The realization phase is going to focus on high recovery, simple movements, and increased neural drive. The adaptations we want to target in this phase are final skill development, recovery for maximum impulse, and recovery for absolute strength.
This phase is the shortest phase of the training cycle, often lasting only 10-15 days. This is what most athletes and coaches refer to as a taper. Your athletes will need to hone in one getting their body in shape for the competition and consistently want to be feeling good in the gym.
You may chase a few heavy lifts early in the realization phase, but as you get closer to the competition or game day, you will reduce the intensity and weight to promote recovery. THis phase will also need to be SIMPLE. Keep the exercises very simple so that the athlete is focused on their sport rather than technical cues in the gym.
Workout Splits for Realization
Since the realization phase is going to have an emphasis on recovery, you may only do 2-3 movements a day maximum. The overall intensity of this phase is going to be dependent on the athlete you are training.
The technical coordination movements should be basic and simple like a squat or a bench press. For olympic lifters, maybe just the core lifts of snatch and clean and jerk. The absolute strength exercises should be focused on speed and not maximum load.
After the main compounds, you should have little to no accessories, but include plyometrics specific to the sport.
If there is anything to take away from this section, it’s this: lower the reps, lower the weight, and move FAST AF!
Here is an example workout for the upper body during the realization phase that would benefit throwers and football players:
Example of Realization
One of our favorite examples of a successful realization phase is with thrower Sam Mattis. Sam actually had quite a unique realization phase because it was longer than most athletes.
When we were preparing him for the Tokyo Olympics, his realization phase lasted about 20 days. We started with heavy, but simple lifts like bench press, back squat, and push press.
As we left for Tokyo, we reduced the volume and intensity significantly to promote full body recovery. Since Sam is a very large athlete, he needed additional taper time to recover. This approach allowed him to earn an 8th place finish in the discus at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Parabolic periodization can be summarized as a long term plan to develop skill-specific adaptations for competitive athletes. Sure it can be used for general populations, but the key is having a long term goal in mind.
If your goal is to lose weight or look better, this system might be counterproductive to time-sensitive goals. Although, for athletes, there is nothing that compares. The different phases of exposure, comprehension, ascension, summit, and realization are meant to build an athlete both physically and mentally for competition.
All athletes are different and a standardized programming method will help create a guide for long term goals. The exercises and examples listed in this article are just a fraction of the resources you can use to build a program meant for champions. If you want to get more out of parabolic periodization, check out our entire Garage Strength Program Design course.
If you are an athlete looking to get the best programming available to you, sign up for the Peak Strength app. Peak Strength is a mobile app created by us here at Garage Strength that uses the parabolic periodization system to create customized, long-term programming to help you achieve the goals for your exact sport. Play around with the custom programming ability and compete at the highest level you possibly can!
Yo, It's Dane
Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!
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