When it comes to training, there should always be one goal in mind – to improve. It’s an easy thing to achieve when you first start going to the gym, because moving up in weight is a pretty natural process. But once you’ve been training for a while, it’s not uncommon to find yourself hitting a ceiling, a barrier that you just can’t seem to get through.
It’s at this point you should start thinking about changing something. It’s madness to keep doing the same thing but expect different results right? But then what do you change?
There’s the usual two things to consider – intensity and volume. You could do more sets or exercises, or less of them, or you could change up how intense your workouts are. There is a third option though; you could change them both. This is roughly what periodization training involves.
What is Periodization training?
It’s been around for a long, long time. Used by professional athletes the world over, it’s a proven method of getting better results from your training. Periodization entails a much deeper strategy than most routines – breaking your training down into mesocycles and macrocycles. That’s pretty much just a fancy way of saying you follow a smaller plan for a few weeks which is part of a bigger overall plan lasting a couple of months. If you’re thinking that’s weird, just think of how any professional sports team trains different in their on and off season. Rugby players for example, train for increasing CV fitness and maximum muscle gain during the off season, and spend their season in maintenance of both of these. To increase muscle takes one training style, increasing CV fitness takes another, and maintaining takes yet another. 3 segments. They are using periodization.
What periodization does is segment your training into varying levels of intensity and volume, to keep your body always guessing, and always progressing! Usually training is divided into hypertrophy, strength, power, and endurance, with a short recovery stage afterwards. But the number, and types of stages varies depending on what your main goal is. Bodybuilders for example, will likely have a long hypertrophy phase, followed by a relatively short strength phase, then maybe a week or two for recovery.
The most common example of periodization, is a schedule which starts with an endurance-hypertrophy mix, and progresses to a strength and power routine. In other words, the approach starts high-volume, low-intensity, and slowly the two switch roles until you are performing a low-volume, high-intensity routine. It covers all bases, and any plateau in your training will not last through such diverse stimuli.
Going along the common example theme, here is how a periodization scheme would generally look like – going from endurance-hypertrophy, to strength-power.
|Mesocycle||Total Sets Per Workout||Total Reps Per Set|
It’s a 12 week macrocycle, envolving 2-3 week mesocycles. Starting out with a classic endurance/hypertrophy high-volume, low-intensity approach, and working it’s way down to a classic strength/power high-intensity, low-volume approach.
When you draw it out in a table, it’s easy to see how the volume/intensity change over time. It’s a calculated change though, with an end goal in mind – completely different to if you were to just change up volume/intensity at random. That is periodization training’s biggest strength – it’s based on relatively complicated principles (when compared to standard linear weight progression), but is incredibly easy to follow.
A word about results
In the past there have been a few studies comparing periodization, and its benefits to trainees, to standard linear training.
Of those studies, the most notable was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise way back in 2001, and involved 34 women divided into two groups; one following periodization principes, one following linear progression. Over a 12 week period, the periodization group gained over double the amount of lean muscle mass of the linear group (4.6lbs vs 2.2lbs), with more than twice the fat-loss (4% vs 1.8%). As for strength gains? 11.2lbs vs 6lbs in the bench press, a near double increase.
The results speak for themselves, and for a strategy to be so widely adopted by major sports teams and professional athletes, you’re probably wondering just why you aren’t doing this type of training already. I don’t know… why aren’t you?