Many kids growing up have dreams of winning gold on the biggest stage on the planet, the Olympics. If and when these kids train hard enough to get to the next level and have the Olympics in their sights, their training gets really regimented. If a potential Olympian starts training 4, 5 or 6 years away from the olympics they will have a detailed periodized training protocol that will keep them on track leading up to the Olympics. Periodzation is basically broken down into Micro, Meso and Marco cycles.
"The planned implementation of the meso and micro cycles within an overall marcocycle is the basis for changing (varying) the program design variables."
- NSCA Essentials of Strength & Conditioning
MicroCycles can be 1 to 4 weeks long
MesoCycles can be 1 to 3 months long
MacroCycles can be 1 to 4 years long
Depending on the sport of the athlete these cycles would include different types of protocols: Hypertrophy phase (increase muscle mass) , Strength & Power Phase, Endurance Phase, In season training, Pre season training, General Conditioning or Active rest phases. There is a lot going on in these Macro cycles that help the athletes peak at the right times without getting injured or burnt out.
This is all great if you are training for the Olympics but chances are you aren't standing on the podium anytime soon. Normal people, like you and I have to train a little differently. The reality is that most of us have jobs, kids, spouses, soccer practice, our bowling leagues and of course, Bingo night down at the local watering hole. All of this real world stuff stops "normal humans" from sticking to their Micro, Meso or Macrocycles. This doesn't mean you cant train your ass off and get amazing results, I have a couple hundred happy clients that will tell you training only 2 or 3 days a week really helps (if you're doing the right stuff).
So what does this all mean? I have no idea! Ok, just kidding - Heres what it all means:
Make training a priority, it will make the quality of your life better. Set a goal of training days per week and hit it, if you miss a day or two here and there you wont die. But these missed days and weeks can be huge set backs. If you are just starting to master basic movement and all of a sudden you go to the shore for a month and drink 13 alcoholic beverages per night and move less than a slug, you've definitely set yourself back a little bit. That means that your next time back at the gym should be grooving movement patterns (squat, hinge, mobility). One week isn't too bad but if you stop for a month or longer, going back to the gym and expecting to crush the same weights you were crushing before you stopped is not going to happen. Our egos may tell us to try to push that pace again but this is a recipe for disaster and injury is close behind.
Training year round without rest can be detrimental to your over all health. A good rule of thumb (depending on the intensity and density of your training) is to take off 4-7 days every 6 weeks of hard training. And by off that means just swim, walk or just doing things at a low intensity, but no resistance training. Even if your goal is to lean out and not put on muscle mass (hypertrophy), a couple weeks of training with a hypertrophy protocol can be beneficial; (you wont bulk ladies) the same can be said for the opposite, if your goal is to bulk up you should do full body, metabolic workouts also to change things up. Your body is a master at adapting, this is what makes us the amazing machines we are, but its vital to switch things up once in a while to avoid boredom and plateaus.
Keeping it simple is the way to go: Train hard often, eat pretty clean and make water your main fluid!