Periodization: Terraces, Elevation and Corn
Written by Fritz Nugent

How do these three things come together in a beautiful metaphor for periodization? Well, let me tell ya!

So you want to get stronger and you add weight to the bar. Your body ADAPTS to the new stimulus, and after some time, you can move that weight well. Time to add more weight. This is the general pattern of growth in the gym, in life, and apparently everywhere else on our planet, too. In Machu Picchu, the Incas built massive terraces.

That’s me circled in yellow on one of them in the photo above. The terraces range from 2-5 meters in height, and their depth is similar. Terraces served two functions: 

Structural Stability. Terraces reduce erosion and allow for building structures on hillsides (Peru is mostly hillsides and jungle)Farming. The Incas farmed on these structures!

How does this connect with training theory?  Simple. Corn.

There are a bajillion types of corn and potatoes, and almost all of them can grow in Peru. Corn doesn’t naturally grow well at elevation, so hundreds of years ago, the Incas would grow corn on the bottom terrace. Then they would take the seeds from the best corn and plant that on the next terrace up. This process continued for hundreds of years until they were able to successfully grow corn at high elevations. This allowed people to live at elevation and grow food where they lived.

Every once in a while, they would plant corn up a terrace, and it would not grow well. So they would take two successful corns from the next terrace down and create a hybrid crop, and would plant that. 

How does this connect with training?

Go back to the person putting weight on the bar and adapting. Adding heavier resistance than you usually go is like climbing up on the next terrace. You have to spend some time GROWING there before you can EARN the right to go up to the next terrace. 

However, training gains, and corn (apparently) cannot improve in a straight line indefinitely. Hence the “wait a year, make a hybrid crop, and then you’re ready” plan. In training speak, this could translate to decreasing the load for a week or a month and working on improving TECHNIQUE and TENSION!  

If you are stalled out, I promise that diving deeper into improving your fundamental movement patterns through greater focus on where and how you are producing tension to perform the task – this is the way to move forward. I don’t care if you are a beginner or a world-class athlete.

I see A LOT of young athletes who want to climb a terrace every day. You can do this for a little while when you are very young in training age. However, if you keep this up, you will be a weak little piece of corn all alone on a terrace wondering why you’re all out of kernels. So take your time. Marinate on each terrace. Enjoy the ride.

That’s my rant for the day. I hope you enjoyed this article. Share your feedback!