Can You Be Your Fittest All Year Round? Nope, Here's Why

You can't be in peak physical form all year round and expect to continue to get better. There's a time for everything and if you take the time to develop, you'll be much better off in the long run. I'd rather be highly focused on one thing than be spread out trying to cover many.

Why Can't You Be In Peak Shape All Year?

In training, there are several ways to organize a program. Some try to work on one singular thing and do it very well. Others try to do a good job working on everything at the same time. I have my own personal bias towards programs that work on one thing at a time. I'll get into the major differences between the two then explain some ways this may play out.

Energy is a finite resource. If you could be just as fresh for your last sets as you could your first, it would completely change the game. Because you cannot, your most important things must come first. How you organize your program dictates the areas that you're most likely to improve the most in. Organization of training is called Periodization.

The reason why you cannot be your fittest all year round is that it is hard to maintain peak physical shape. In order to be your strongest, you would regularly need to be lifting heavy weights. Those heavy weights would not be ones that you could lift a lot of volume  with over the long run, so if that was all you did, eventually you would begin to lose some muscle and ultimately strength. That relates to being your leanest all year round.

If you were as lean as you could possibly be all year round, then you would not necessarily be building the most muscle you could be. You build the most muscle in a hypercaloric state which means that you would be eating more food and putting on a little bit of fat along with that new muscle. You also would not be your absolute strongest as you would (relatively) be lifting lighter weights than you would if your main goal was strength.

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There are a few different styles of Periodization but the major two styles that you'll read about on the internet are Linear and Non-Linear or Undulating Periodization. These conversations can be had around sports or they can be had around just looking good on the beach. For most people's purposes they do not need to be concerned with some of the commonly used times in a program when "peaking" is concerned.

Undulating Periodization tries to remedy the problem of trying to develop multiple qualities by having you potentially use heavy light and meduim weights during the course of a week or varied time interval. Linear Periodization takes a different route as you will maintain most of your muscle mass if the intensity and volume is high enough so moving from hypertrophy to strength cycles should not cost you any of your new gains.

Linear progression involves moving from one phase to the next, working on qualities that build upon each other. This might play out in a plan ordered as Endurance, Hypertrophy, Strength (low-speed strength), to Power (high-speed strength) to a phase where peaking for a particular sport is important. Peaking plays out one of two ways for sports, either you try to go through competition seasons in a maintenance phase, or you try to taper and peak for a specific event 2-5 weeks out such as a big meet in power lifting or weight lifting or a conference championship in volleyball. In a bodybuilding sense, peaking might mean being the leanest you possibly can be on stage.

Non-Linear progression might be done on a daily, or weekly basis depending on preference. I've done some non-linear training and it was fun to mix it up. You might work in several repetition ranges all within the same week or same day. You could start off a workout working on Power (high-speed strength) 1-6 reps, then Strength (low-speed strength) 1-6 reps, and follow that up with Hypertrophy (6-12 reps) and end with Endurance (13+ reps). Peaking in this sort of program might still involve the same sort of progression with maintenance or specified peaking.

There are places where you can read more up on the specifics of trial groups comparing linear and undulating periodization programs, one being Brad Schoenfelds famed blog, Lookgreatnaked.com. Published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, he conducted a randomly assigned controlled study measuring the differences in hypertrophy between an undulating and linear Periodization program. The results have largely come out to be fairly equal though it is hard to extrapolate data to different populations as well as the amount of statistical significance. In Brad's study he concluded that for Upper body Hypertrophy there may be a slight advantage in the varied approach but no difference in lower body Hypertrophy. You can read more on that here.

This is where sports are at their highest level of competition. Peaking and the timing of peaking can be thought of as a brief window of opportunity that is hard to maintain for very long. If you're peaking and trying to time up being in your best shape then you want to do it for events like your wedding, high school reunion, big golf game with all of your buddies from high school or even the Chicago marathon. The other alternative might be to be alright being in okay shape all year round. There's no rule that says you have to be in "peak" shape if you're not getting on stage for a body building competition or playing in a competitive sport.

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