Periodization For FireFighters: Part 2

In the first post of this series, found here, I introduced 3 main methods of periodization and discussed concurrent mostly while making a super drawn-out poop joke.

I’m sure after the post, when I hinted that there was plenty more to come, many people were left uttering the immortal words of Canada’s pop-punk princess,

“Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”


Well, Susan, training is complicated but I’m doing my best to make it as simple as possible. There have been thousands, read: probably millions of pages written on periodization and I am attempting to put it into maybe 3 or 4 posts of 1000 words.  It’s like wiring a house, to do it right you need to know more than just wires go in the walls.  If you don’t want to take the time to learn how, it’s a good idea to hire somebody to rewire your house… or write your training programs.  However, for those of you that want to know more about doing it yourself… don’t read the reverted-back-to Ontario sex ed curriculum read on and I’ll try to keep it simple.

By now you should know that the concurrent method of periodization involves training all aspects of fitness at the same time and usually in the same workout. Concurrent training can be an appropriate method of programming for anyone with a low training age, generally 0 to 12 months.  It is also a good method to use for anyone with a lower training frequency.  If you’re training 2 to 3 times per week or less you’ll be fine sticking with concurrent training. You’ll progress all attributes evenly without much variation in focus phase to phase.

Conjugate periodization is like concurrent training in the sense that all trainable attributes are included in each phase.  The difference is that the focus of a program will change every month or two in order to elevate certain areas of fitness as dictated by the end goal. There’s a new “focus” each month, but the backbone stays the same.

Conjugate periodization is a good choice for firefighters because of the fact that no area of fitness is neglected.  Firefighters should have competency in all areas of fitness.  There are no specialists in the fire service.  We are all jack-of-all trades here.  So, if we are training with job performance in mind then conjugate should be considered.

When this approach is used correctly you can make significant strides in specific areas while maintaining the rest.  It’s basically effective fitness multi-tasking.  To gain in one area we don’t have to completely stop training other areas as in block style periodization.  Gains in any one area may not be as drastic as block training but they would still be greater than using a concurrent format.  This is because not 100% of training time will be spent on max strength for example. Also, aerobic training would be in direct competition with strength gains.

Where conjugate training gets more complicated than concurrent is planning monthly and weekly focuses (known by mesocycle and microcycle in the biz). As training frequency increases to 4 or more training sessions per week and the intensity of those sessions increases you’ll want to consider using high and low days.  This is also important when factoring in that as a firefighter you’ll be working shifts and have nights with broken, little or no sleep.  Your training schedule should take into account when you work to avoid burn out.  Crushing yourself after those nights might not affect you now but it will catch up with you eventually if you make it a habit.

Conjugate training is not randomly changing the focus from strength to endurance to power to endurance and so on.  The point of periodization is to systematically approach an end point.  We generally will be changing the focus from general endurance to general strength to max strength to power to power endurance and finally to a transition phase.  For some there might be a specific hypertrophy phase in there.  These phases can last anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks and the specific methods used will vary with the phase.

Aside from the performance benefits from using conjugate programming, it will help keep things “fresh”.  Boredom is often the reason for program hopping but with a little bit of preplanning you can avoid the boredom and keep focused on your goal. Every month is going to have some power work, some strength and some endurance training, all weighted differently month to month.

If programmed and progressed correctly this style of programming can also help prevent injuries.  Walk into any gym and observe the bros trying to hit new PRs session after session.  They’ll hammer 1 rep maxes over and over. Hello stagnation.  Hello pain.

Really, any good periodization method will help prevent those overuse, high stress injuries but what I think conjugate brings to the table is that you keep touching on strength in other phases, albeit with other methods, so you’ll never feel like you’re starting from zero when you get back to a max strength phase.  Similarly, you’ll always be touching on power development even in strength and transition phases, developing elasticity and eccentric strength so you don’t feel quite as slow beginning a new power phase.  You’re always moving forward just swaying side to side as you progress.

Looking at conjugate programming over the year you’re generally going to focus on each attribute 1 to 2 times per year for 1 to 2 months at a time.  Using max strength as an example, for two months we might focus on general strength by working in the 6-8 rep range then progress into a month increasing the load and lowering the reps to 4-5.  In both general and max strength phases we will utilize interval training to maintain aerobic fitness while also including a small amount of plyometric and other power training methods.

Following this max strength phase, we might transition into a power phase or an endurance phase.  This depends on the results of an assessment and the long-term plan.  Following this month of power, we’re going to go back to general strength for a month and follow that up with 2 months of max strength training working down to 1-3 reps over the 8 weeks.  This could very significantly with goals and training history but we just got through 7 months of training without overdoing the strength training.  The remaining 5 months could go into a few months of focused endurance training or on the opposite side we could go to power development and power endurance depending on the end goal.

So, there you have it, I gone-done it and made it all complicated again, hopefully not too much.  After all of the words you just read I hope you can appreciate that for continual progression it does take some long-term planning and using the conjugate method to accelerate your results over concurrent programming.

Periodization is both a science and an art.  The science being all the research out there and parameters to use for developing the plan and the art being the ability to apply the science to your own situation and adjust when needed.  Once again, this series will go on, just like Celine’s heart.

For you viewing pleasure

2 Replies to “Periodization For FireFighters: Part 2”

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