Cybernetic Periodization: Modifying Strength Training Programs on the Fly
Written on July 22, 2011 at 7:53 am, by Eric Cressey
As I noted in my post earlier this week, I’m doing the Superhero Workout for a nice little change of pace in my training program – and simply because it’s nice to be able to outsource my training here and there to other qualified fitness professionals.
Yesterday’s strength training program included ten sets of three reps on a wide stance squat, and it was all going smoothly until the seventh set, when I started to get a little tight in my right adductor. It wasn’t too bad, but I’m a firm believer in “better safe than sorry,” so I cut back on the weight by 50 pounds, narrowed my stance, and finished my last three sets with no problem at all.
Sure, I deviated from the program, but I completed the session just fine, and have zero issues in the adductor today. I avoided taking an unnecessary risk that could have become a setback in my training, and as a result, I’ll be continuing with the program as-is today.
It got me to thinking about this question for my readers: what would you have done in this situation? It’s a tough – and confusing – decision.
Would you have done what I did? Would you have simply dropped the weight and tried another set with a wide stance? Would you have canned the final sets and reps and moved on to the next strength exercise pairing? Would you have just pushed through it? Or, would you just have taken your ball and gone home altogether?
The answers to these questions – whether they are correct or not – parallel something called cybernetic periodization. I first came across the topic when Mel Siff wrote about it in Supertraining as he referred to programs not always taking “into account the athlete’s subjective perception of the intensity and overall effects of the loading.” Siff went on to say that with cybernetic periodization, “the original preplanned periodisation scheme is regularly modified by subjective and objective feedback obtained from the lifter’s current performance state.”
Traditionally, at least from what I have read, cybernetic periodization has referred almost strictly to load, volume, and training frequency. However, the question I pose today is: why can’t it also refer to exercise selection?
I’m a firm believer that there is always something folks can do in a gym to get better, regardless of their injury or state of mind. Folks may be wildy excited to train, but have physical limitations that need to be taken into account on the fly in the context of exercise selection. To that end, I think it’s important to know what to watch for in this regard if you’re trying to determine whether you should change a day’s training program:
1. Is there a performance drop from previous weeks?
2. Do warm-up sets feel heavier than normal?
3. Do you find that you’re having a hard time getting warmed-up?
4. Did you get poor sleep quality the night before?
5. Do you have unusual tightness, or something you’d term an injury?
These are all questions you can ask yourself on the fly in your strength training program to determine whether you need to change things up. The modification may be an exercise substitution or reduction in volume or intensity. Regardless of the change, it’s extremely rare that the answer is to push through it, as it’s your body’s way of telling you something is wrong – and the correct cybernetic periodization approach is the way to “get things right.”
On a related note, the early-bird special price on the Superhero Workout ends Saturday at midnight. Head HERE for more information.
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