We talked about the concept of progressive overload and I introduced some strategies to progress continuously beyond simply doing more reps, sets, or weight. You can find that here. On part 2 of the progression post, I will provide you some simple models/structures you can use to create the actual framework of your program, rather than just throwing some exercises at the wall and choosing what sticks. Here are some of the periodization methods you can use when designing your own training program so you can have a firm pan in place when attacking your goals!
Before I go on, I want to quickly say that periodization is simply planning. It’s putting together a plan of attack to reach your goals, whether it’s detailed or not, the sitting-down and writing something out is periodizing. Obviously, there are structured ways to go about this, but this does not have to be a complicated, hair-pulling out concept. All it is is planning for progress.
Typically, periodization models are in the context of competitions such as powerlifting or weightlifting meets, so they’re usually designed to increase the intensity while simultaneously decreasing the volume over time (read this article to understand those terms further). Basically, you start light-moderate weight with lots of reps and progressively get heavier and lower the amount of reps you’re doing.
The goal of this is to prepare someone to lift the maximum amount of weight at their competition. But what if you don’t care about strength or that’s simply not your goal? Should you decrease the volume and increase the intensity for hypertrophy? It’s possible, plenty of strength athletes do possess a great deal of muscle from their training, but it’s not the only way of doing things.
This is a very fundamental way of building your training program; however, this does not mean that it’s an old or out-dated way of doing things. If you have it set up correctly, you will make progress on a linear program. The set-up is exactly what it sounds like. It’s designed to be perfectly linear in terms of volume and intensity. Think about a line graph: Over time, volume should only be falling while intensity should only be increasing until competition day (with the exception of a taper, but that’s another story)
This chart does the job of showing what these changes look like conceptually. Don’t use this graph solely as a means of designing your program. As you can see, between each week, the volume/intensity stays the same, simply because you’re not increasing/decreasing these variables every single workout. You decide on a certain volume and intensity for that week (or however long your average cycle of lifting is before you start over again [this is known as a microcycle]).
For example: Say you’re a powerlifter and you want to do your big three lifts at 85% of 1RM this week for 4 reps. With linear periodization, you would continue to lower volume and increase intensity for next week, so you would do your lifts at 87.5% or 90% of 1RM and decrease the reps to 3 per set. Once again, this is relative, and you set it up however it works best for you. This is simply an example. But what about using this model for hypertrophy?
An important distinction between strength and hypertrophy when designing a program is that strength training is specific to high intensities and that usually is accompanied by low volume, so linear periodization focuses on getting the athlete to those lower intensities over time; however, hypertrophy is driven by volume independent of the intensity of the load. So why aren’t we increasing the volume over time in this case? Because this is simply a snapshot in time.
What I mean by that is powerlifters will generally decrease their volume and increase the intensity as we have discussed here. So looking at the chart above pretty much captures their entire macrocycle (the entirety of their training for a meet), but for a bodybuilder, the chart may simply be a snapshot in time because their volume should be increasing over time. If you’re looking for muscle gains, you can definitely implement linear periodization as part of your macrocycle by making the first phase a strength-building phase which will allow you to lift heavier weights next time around so you can start even higher than before because you’re stronger now. Another way you can use this style of periodization is to simply flip it. Increase volume and decrease intensity over time linearly.
For example: if you finish one go at the chart above and start over again at it, you can start with more volume (hence, more muscle growth and progressive overload) because the weights you’re lifting are heavier at the same rep ranges you had before. Instead of squatting 200 for 8s, now you’re squatting 225 for 8s! More gains for you!
Maybe my explanation is a bit strange, but plug in the numbers for yourself and assume your strength increased by 10% after your first round of linear periodization. When you go again, you will theoretically start 10% higher than you did before and stay above what you did before.
This is a long game, so being able to deploy patience is going to be vital to making progress over time.
To summarize linear periodization, you drop volume and increase intensity both in linear fashions. Powerlifters can do this for the entirety of their training cycle and perform well in their sport. For bodybuilders, they may want to run through multiple cycles (pun intended only if you’re not natty) to accumulate strength and hypertrophy over time.
This style of periodization focuses on a certain skill or goal at a specific point in time. For example, if your goal is to be stronger, then you’re doing a strength block. If you want to build more muscle, you have a block of time dedicated to hypertrophy training. These blocks can vary greatly. Typically, they last from 4-12 weeks, focusing on that specific area before they move on to something else.
In this case, the volume and intensity depends on what the focus of the block is, rather than adjusting it in a linear or regular fashion over time. Now, in utilizing block periodization, many people will still decrease the volume and increase the intensity as they go through different blocks, but you can set it up however you like. In addition, block periodization is typically not used as a method exclusively on its own, meaning it’s incorporated in with other models such as linear or undulating periodization, which is the next model we’ll discuss.
Undulating periodization is simply adjusting (or undulating) the reps, sets, and weight at regular intervals. They two most common ways of doing this are daily (DUP) and weekly (WUP). The idea behind UP is that you never miss out on different adaptations from training because you’re always hitting different rep ranges and intensities. You’ll have some degree of heavy load training for strength and some high volume training for hypertrophy, and everything in between.
For DUP, you change the training variables every day that you train. If you squat 2 times a week, you would undulate the reps, sets, and weight to be different each time. Perhaps one day is a heavy day at 80% for 5-6 reps for 3 sets while the second day is a higher volume day where you’re squatting 65% for 10-12 reps for 4 sets, for example. For DUP, it’s just changing the training variables every day so they’re not the same for any day.
For WUP, you change the training variables weekly. If you’re a bodybuilder and you train each muscle group once a week, then you would adjust the following week. For example, you do pulldowns the first week for 10 reps at an 8 RPE. Next week, you would adjust and do 10 reps at a 9 RPE. Or you do 8 reps at an 8 RPE, etc. etc. It doesn’t matter what you cange, so long as you’re changing something.
Undulating periodization models usually look like hills tightly packed together when graphed because volume and intensity usually switch whenever you undulate your variables. 1st undulation: High volume, low intensity-2nd undulation: Low volume, high intensity. Or somewhere in between. It doesn’t always have to be on the extreme end of either side (nor should it be). This graph from Strongerbyscience.com perfectly shows what an undulating program would look like. Once again, this graph doesn’t show any progression, however, it just shows the concept. In reality, the lines would be trending up or down to show increased volume or intensity over time depending on the goal.
To summarize Undulating Periodization, you’re simply adjusting training variables daily, weekly, or however frequently you want to to achieve different training adaptations. You can manipulate volume or intensity. Typically, undulations involve swapping volume and intensity for one another on which is high/low.
Incorporating Different Models Into One
I mentioned before that block periodization is not a method typically used in isolation. It’s incorporated into other models to further provide structure and a focus to the training. It’s possible to have a linear block periodization program. You could have a strength block that focuses on higher intensities and lower volumes then a hypertrophy block that starts at a higher volume than the strength block and gradually decreases volume for high intensity, but never as low as the strength block. It’s simply a way for you to focus your training and specify your goal further.
You could also incorporate block periodization into your DUP or WUP program. Have a strength block that undulates mostly in higher intensities but perhaps has one hypertrophy week every 4 weeks and vice versa for hypertrophy blocks: undulate at higher volumes mostly with a strength-training week every 4 weeks OR HOWEVER YOU WANT TO DO IT. The beauty with all of these periodization models is that you can design it however you want it to look like. It’s 100% up to you on how you want to structure your training. These are simply methods of organizing it.
I hope you gained something valuable out of this, and that it wasn’t too confusing. If so, here is a podcast that sums up the different periodization models very clearly.
- Periodization is simply planning your training with some degree of organization
- Linear, block, and undulating periodization are models to help you further structure your training in a way that makes programming progression easier to track and measure
- These models are not mutually exclusive, and can be combined with one another however you like
- Try putting together a program for yourself and then compare it to the graphs I have posted here. Do the volume and intensity trends look similar? If so, you’re probably doing it right!
- Don’t overthink this! Just dive in and practice it.
Next week, we will talk about exercise selection and how to factor that into training. Leave a comment if you have any questions or feel like I didn’t cover something as much as you had hoped!