Let’s say your goal is fat loss and you’re doing a program that is very locally metabolic. You build up a great pump and burn in the individual muscles. Usually with higher reps and shorter rest periods.
Progress starts out great. You lose a few pounds, are looking leaner, and the workouts feel great.
Then, your weight stops moving and maybe you even start gaining a little. You are starting to look a little bloated or “watery” in the mirror and you start losing those great pumps before the end of the workout. Or maybe you even have a harder time getting a pump at all.
These are all indicators that you have hit your trainability threshold for that local metabolic stimulus. You may have even overdone it a bit and are accumulating some inflammation that is resulting in the decreased pumps, gaining weight, and looking bloated.
This is where the periodization part comes in.
Rather than just doing less sets or working at a lower intensity (lighter loads, same weight), we might suggest that you transition to what we would consider a neurological type of program. Typically this would be associated with a strength goal, but when designed properly with matching nutrition can work great for fat loss too.
The main benefit in this case is that it allows your muscles to recover from the metabolic stress and decrease inflammation. The second benefit is that you can spend a little bit of time improving your ability to contract more muscle tissue in every rep which will enhance your metabolic training when you return to it. This would also be what we consider a de-load for metabolic training. To learn more about the benefits and how to perform a proper de-load, read “De-Load: Why it Matters”.
After enough time to where your muscles have become re-sensitized to local metabolic stress, you could either return to the same program or a different metabolic stimulus. So in this case your periodization would look like this:
Local metabolic training > neurological (strength focused) training > Local metabolic or systemic metabolic training
The nutrition of course will be a huge factor here as the calories and macronutrient ratios would need to change from program to program in order to continue complimenting your fat loss goal.
This is just a very isolated example, but gives you an idea of how you can continue progressing without just doing “less stuff” as your only tool when you start to plateau or things aren’t going well.