Proper Periodization for Consistent Long-Term Progress

Updated on August 9, 2018
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David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.

Use periodization for consistent long-term gains
Use periodization for consistent long-term gains | Source

Use Periodization for Better Gains

If you want to make consistent long-term gains and reach the limits of your genetic potential you need to understand how to use periodization in your training.

It’s not so important for beginners. All they really need to do is focus on simple progressive overload, with the aim of getting strong on the major compound exercises, and they’ll grow just fine.

But once you’ve been training a while your gains will slow down and eventually stop if you keep training in the same way. So you need to introduce some sort of variation into your program in order to keep the gains coming. And the best way to do that is to use some form of periodization.

Periodization is simply the way you plan or organize your training over time, and there are four main approaches you can take to this. So in this article I’ll describe these four types of periodization so that you can decide which of them would best fit in with your current situation and goals.

Linear Periodization

This is the original periodization model and dates back to the 1950’s.

With linear periodization you increase the intensity (load) and decrease the volume you are doing over time. So you might do the following:

Week 1: 3 x 15: Week 2: 3 x 12; Week 3: 3 x 10; Week 4: 3 x 8; Week 5: 3 x 6;
Week 6: 3 x 5 ; Week 7: 3 x 4; Week 8: 3 x 3; Week 9: 4 x 2; Week 10: 5 x 1.

Or something like that; increasing the weight you are using each week.

Linear periodization produces better gains in strength than non-periodized training. However, despite this, the technique has come under some criticism as being the least effective method of periodizing your training. This is because the size you gain during your high rep training phase tends to diminish during your low rep period; and the strength you build up during your low rep phase decays when you are training with high reps.

But linear periodization was originally done in very long macrocycles of 6 - 12 months, or even longer, and this was obviously a big problem over that sort of time period. But if you do shorter cycles of around 8 – 12 weeks, this can be a very effective training method, and is well worth using as part of your overall strategy.

You can also do linear periodization in reverse; i.e. by decreasing the load and increasing the volume over time. And although this approach is less effective than regular linear periodization for producing strength gains, it does have a role to play in increasing work capacity. And this can then translate to improved gains in strength and size in your next cycle.

Undulating Periodization

This is where your training variables (sets, reps and load) are waved (undulated) over time.

For instance, with daily undulating periodization (DUP) your training variables go up and down within the training week (microcycle). So you might do 3 x 5 on Monday, 3 x 15 on Wednesday, and 3 x 10 on Friday.

But with weekly undulating periodization (WUP) your variables go up and down each week, but don’t change in the training week itself.

A number of studies suggest an undulating approach leads to superior strength gains as compared with a linear approach. But this is really only seen in more experienced trainees and over shorter time periods, and when they are compared over a longer period of time there does not appear to be much difference.

Conjugate Periodization

Also known as concurrent periodization, this approach is based on the premise of developing different traits simultaneously (i.e. within the same training week). For instance, you might work on maximum strength (3 – 5 reps) early in the week and hypertrophy (8 – 12 reps) later in the week.

And this again is a very effective way of setting up your training, being not too dissimilar to daily undulating periodization.

Block Periodization

Here you are focusing on developing one specific ability/trait for a short period of time (usually around 4 – 6 weeks), while training everything else at maintenance (or not at all). Then on your next block you switch the focus to a different trait, and so on.

For instance, you could do a maximum strength block, where you would train solely with heavy weights and low reps. Or you could do a hypertrophy block, using moderate weights and a medium rep range. Or an endurance (work capacity) block, where you would use lighter weights and higher reps.

Or alternatively you could do any of a number of body part specialization blocks, in which case you would use a higher frequency, volume and variety of exercises for the muscle group being specialized on, while training everything else at a reduced level.

Body part specialization blocks are ideal for anyone who wants to bring up a weak muscle group, or for more advanced trainees, who often find it difficult to achieve much in the way of total body muscle growth.

So those are the four main types of periodization models you could choose from, although they do not have to be used in isolation of course, and different aspects of each of them can be incorporated into your training program.

For instance you could combine a linear periodization cycle with a WUP setup like the following:

Week 1: 3 x 12; Week 2: 3 x 10; Week 3: 3 x 8;
Week 4: 3 x 10; Week 5: 3 x 8; Week 6: 3 x 6;
Week 7: 3 x 8; Week 8: 3 x 6; Week 9: 3 x 4;
Week 10: 3 x 6; Week 11: 3 x 4; Week 12: 4 x 2.

Or you might want to follow a block periodization protocol arranged in a linear sequence like this:

Weeks 1 – 4: 3 x 12 – 15 (work capacity)
Weeks 5 – 8: 3 x 8 – 10 (hypertrophy)
Weeks 9 – 12: 3 x 3 – 5 (strength)

Those are just two examples of the numerous ways that you could do it. But as long as you combine some sort of logical systematic variation with an emphasis on progressive overload on your main lifts, you will be certain to make great progress with whichever method you choose.

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