Periodization Training

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Bodybuilding Periodization Weightlifting Workouts

Why Periodization Works

by Chuck Grissom
I spent a good deal of time training HIT before I swtiched to 
periodization, but *not* high volume.  Anyway, here it is.

   Since I'm starting to get into another HIT vs. periodization
squabble, I'd like to put a stake in the ground to explain what I
mean by periodization, and explain how my definition relates to
HIT and some other specific periodization models you may have read

   First, let's make some definitions.  I'll give my own definitions for
some standard words we've been using.  If they're different from *your*
preferred definitions, just bear with me long enough to understand what
I'm saying below.

   * Intensity -- For a given number of reps, this is the percentage used of
                  the weight for which the trainer could not perform an
                  additional rep (i.e percentage of the weight which would
                  cause positive failure at the given number of reps.)  For
                  example, if you can bench press 200 lbs. for 8 reps but
                  would fail to get the ninth, but you do a set of 8 reps
                  at 160 lbs., that set would be at 80% intensity (i.e.
                  160/200 = 80%.)

   * Volume --    This is number of sets x number of reps over a fixed
                  period of time, like a workout or a week.

   * Periodization-- A workout scheme where the volume and/or the intensity
                  of training is varied over a period of time.  Note that
                  this is a general definition which does not include any
                  restrictions on *how* the volume or intensity is varied
                  or on how the period of time is determined.  This is *not*
                  the 'theoretical models of periodization based on
                  percentages of 1RM' that Rob Spector likes to harp on
                  ad nauseum (although it *contains* such models as special
                  cases -- see below.)  Also, this definition doesn't say
                  *anything* about any other specific aspects of the
                  training, such as high reps/lower weight vs. low reps/
                  higher weight, how body parts are split (or not split)
                  over training days, rep speed, etc.

   Now I'll show how this definition not only doesn't *conflict* with HIT,
but *contains* it as a special case, as well as all of the specific
periodization models I'm familiar with.

Example 1:  HIT

   In HIT, one trains at 100% intensity (i.e. all sets to failure) and low
   volume over an entire training period.  The period isn't pre-planned,
   but ends when the trainer instinctively feels he is overtraining and
   takes a 'periodic break' from training.

   As a more specific example, suppose a trainer employs an HIT plan for
   8 weeks before feeling he is overtraining (or not making progress) and
   takes a 2-week layoff from training.  If we graph intensity vs. time,
   it would look something like this:

   100% | --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---                     |
    90% |                                                     |
    80% |                                                     |
    70% |                                                     |
    60% |                                                     |
    50% |                                                     |
    40% |                                                     |
    30% |                                                     |
    20% |                                                     |
    10% |                                                     |
     0% |                                 --- ---             |
           1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10  11  12  13    Week

Example 2:  Barry's pre-planned powerlifting cycle

   Suppose our hypothetical lifter can bench press 290 pounds for 5 reps
   and is aiming to hit 300 pounds for a set of 5 reps at the end of an
   8 week cycle.  He starts at 250 pounds for a set 5 and adds 10 pounds
   for the first three weeks, and then 5 pounds each week thereafter.  He
   begins at 86% (250/290) intensity and bumps it up gradually until he
   is at 100% by week 6 and continues at 100% trying to improve to 300
   pounds by week 8.  This is the classic one-step-back-two-steps up
   type of plan, trying to coax the body to hit a new peak at the end
   of a preplanned period of time, maybe to coincide with a competition.
   The time x intensity graph would look like:

   100% |                     --- --- ---                     |
    98% |                 ---                                 |
    97% |             ---                                     |
    93% |         ---                                         |
    90% |     ---                                             |
    86% | ---                                                 |
           1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10  11  12  13    Week

Example 3:  Classical 'percentage of 1RM' powerlifting cycle

   This is the model Rob Spector likes to rag on, pointing out how
   he can 'prove' that this doesn't work.  Lots of powerlifters
   have done quite well, thank you, on a program like this, including
   Ed Coan and Tamara Rainwater-Grimwood (first woman to bench 400+ lbs--
   ouch!)  It makes sense that the percentages chosen should be fine-
   tuned to the lifter in question, but really this just gives a way
   to lay out a plan of gradually increasing intensity similar to Barry's
   plan above.

   Consider a hypothetical lifter who can do a max single of 285 lbs.
   in the bench press and is aiming to hit 300 lbs. for a single at
   the end of a preplanned 9 week cycle.  One way to lay out such a
   plan is to take a percentage of the projected max and start week 1
   with 2-3 work sets of 10 reps at this weight.  Then each week he
   adds another 5% of the projected max and drops a rep or two.  By
   the end of the cycle he is applying maximal effort to low rep sets.

   More specifically, a plan might be:

      Week     %max      Reps      Sets
      ----     ----      ----      ----
       1        60%       10         3
       2        65%        9         3
       3        70%        8         3
       4        75%        7         3
       5        80%        6         3
       6        85%        5         3
       7        90%        3         2
       8        95%        2         2
       9       100%        1         1

   The intensity each week would depend on the lifter's physical
   characteristics (which explains why it might be better to choose
   percentages more finely-tuned to the lifter, which takes some trial
   and error) but the graph might look like:

   100% |                             --- ---                 |
    97% |                         ---                         |
    93% |                     ---                             |
    89% |                 ---                                 |
    87% |             ---                                     |
    85% |         ---                                         |
    80% |     ---                                             |
    75% | ---                                                 |
           1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10  11  12  13    Week

Example 4:  Stuart McRobert's 20 rep squat cycle

   Here is part of a workout plan Stuart McRobert published in one of
   his 'Hardgainer' columns in IronMan magazine a couple of years ago.
   He says to start the cycle with a weight you can do comfortably for
   20 reps in the squat.  Then add 5-10 lbs. per week until you can't
   get 20 reps anymore.  By the end of the cycle you're doing 20-rep
   squats to failure which is definitely a killer.  Suppose our lifter
   starts with 225 lbs. (he can do 275 for 20 reps to failure, but he
   doesn't know it.  He doesn't need to know it to use this program.)

   He starts out at 82% (225/275) intensity, works up gradually to 100%
   intensity and then keeps going 'til he peters out.  Assuming he tries to
   add 10 lbs. per week and finally fails to get 20 reps at 295 lbs., his
   intensity graph might look like:

   100% |                     --- --- ---                     |
    96% |                 ---                                 |
    93% |             ---                                     |
    89% |         ---                                         |
    85% |     ---                                             |
    82% | ---                                                 |
           1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10  11  12  13    Week

Some notes about these examples:

   The main difference (intensity-wise) between Examples 2-4 and Example
   1 (HIT) is that in the last three examples the lifter starts out at
   less than 100% intensity and gradually increases to 100%.  In each case
   the lifter is training basically HIT-style at the end of a cycle, but
   in the last three examples he 'ramps up' to the high-intensity stuff.
   For some people, I strongly believe this fits more closely to the
   body's longer term adaptation/recovery cycles, which may span a few
   weeks.  This belief is based on my personal experience (and lots
   of experiences I've read about) and on the well-known fact that
   elite athletes are *not* able to maintain peak condition over a long
   period of time (I'm not talking about football players here, Rob.)

   For some people (I believe it's a small number) maybe it works best
   to do the all-or-nothing thing from example 1---either train all-out
   (100% intensity) or lay off.  For most folks I claim that it's better
   to start out with some subfailure training and crank up the intensity
   gradually to coax a higher level of performance (and resulting
   development.)  The subfailure training at the beginning serves two
   purposes--providing some 'active rest' to allow the body to recover
   from previous all-out training and to help maintain and solidify prior
   gains *and* to help coax it into a strong high-intensity period at
   the end of the cycle.  I'm certainly not claiming one-size-fits-all
   or that periodization is the 'ultimate' system.  In fact each lifter
   must figure out just how to best 'ramp up' (if at all) to get the most
   out of his high-intensity training.  But at least this gives a framework
   for figuring this out, unlike the standard HIT party-line, which
   specifically excludes subfailure training.

   I haven't even discussed the varying of volume part of this stuff,
   but it's easy to see that having another variable to tweak would
   just give a lifter another way to try to improve the 'fit' of the
   program to his body's adaptation/recovery ability.  In fact, there
   are those who believe that increasing volume is necessary for
   advanced lifters to reach higher levels.  We'll save that hot and
   controversial topic for another article.

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