Correlations: How The Media Ruin Science

We’ve all seen those headlines and articles claiming something along the lines of “Scientists prove that [food or beverage] causes [adverse medical condition].” For example, meat and cancer (which I debunked here).

The problem with a lot of these claims are that most of these things are not “proven” and there is usually not enough evidence to establish causality (one thing or action causes a certain effect to occur every time you have that thing or do that action). Many of these headlines pull their “facts” from a type of research known as observational study.

These studies essentially follow people and record a certain behavior or pattern and look to find any common trends between the people being observed to develop an association or possible link between “behavior X” and “outcome Y”. These are your meat and cancer studies or red wine and heart health studies (you’ve probably seen basic moms post about that one to justify their alcoholism, I know I have!).

Why does this matter you might ask? Well science gets reported often in the news and state and local representatives, in an ideal world, want to protect their constituents, so they will do what they can to service their community. If a study gets misreported by media claiming that meat causes cancer or dihydrogen monoxide is harmful to our health, then misinformation may be spread by the representative who is simply trying to help their community by banning water or meat because the public who watches the news demands they do something about this travesty!

Here’s another example of why we can’t rely on solely observational studies to make our decisions. Ice cream and drowning. Maybe you’ve heard this before. Ice cream sales are highly correlated with drowning deaths. This means that as ice cream sales increase, so do deaths from drowning. Does ice cream lead to drowning? Or do drownings lead to buying ice cream? Probably not for either. There’s something else at work here known as a “confounding variable” that is clouding the conclusion. Ice cream sales increase likely during the Summer and more people are also likely in the pool during the Summer, also leading to increased potential for drownings.

We have to be careful with news stories that reference research studies because observational research is popular among journalists because they can make bold claims like the ones mentioned before; however, as we’ve seen, those claims don’t actually hold up/are not what the study is actually saying.

On a related note: Be very careful of the word “proven”. Rarely is something proven in science by research and when it is, it has been studied over and over and over and over and over and over and…you get the point. It takes a long time, potentially decades, to establish causality or proof that one thing causes another. We can make associations about things, but causality is a completely different concept because it has to happen 100% of the time. If meat really did “cause” cancer, then there would be an actually be an outright ban on meat to protect the public; however, it’s only an association and it’s weak at that. Not everyone who eats meat will get cancer.


To demonstrate how hard it is to prove something, consider this: Gravity is still a theory. Our explanation of why we observe the effects of gravity is only a theory, meaning we’re pretty sure but not 100% sure. So when someone says that science has proven that processed foods are cancerous or that this causes that, put on your skeptic hat because that person is probably speaking in hyperbole to argue their point rather than present fact.

You may have also heard that insulin causes obesity or “this one thing” causes obesity. Put your skeptic hat on for a minute: There are so many aspects to our lives that could contribute to weight and fat gain, how is it possible that we can pin all the weight gain for the billions of people that gain weight and fat every year? I’m willing to say that it’s impossible. While this may start to sound like a rant, I think it’s appropriate to say because many people will blame one issue when there’s a plethora of other potential things going on.

If you approach someone’s weight problem thinking that there’s only one underlying issue and you try to treat just that one thing, you’re probably going to fail because they could have other factors or behaviors in their life that could be adding onto the complexity of obesity. It’s also belittling to the person to say they just need to stop doing “x” and when they do it, they’re still obese. Don’t be a dick. Be an empathetic non-dick and realize obesity is a complex issue that has many potential causes and it’s up to the trainer or care provider to find those causes and help the person get through them instead of blaming insulin, processed foods, or their lack of motivation. That’s being a dick.

All of this leads to the famous phrase said by many people in the sciences: Correlation does not equal causation. I hope I’ve burned into your mind why this is. I also hope that, if you’ve stuck around for this long to read this (thank you by the way), then you understand to be more skeptical when you see a sweeping headline claiming causality or that science proved something.

Because if we can’t even be 100% sure about gravity, how the hell are we going to be sure about a food causing cancer? 

Thanks for reading! What questionable shit have you seen online or on the news?


We Get It. You Hate Cardio. But Here’s Why You Might Want To Do It.

I hear from people all the time, including myself, that they absolutely despise cardio. They hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns! It’s definitely not for everyone, but cardiovascular training does do some good things for you that I personally think some in the fitness community overlook because they don’t want to lose their gains.

Before I move on, I want to provide an observation that I have about the fitness space that will prime this conversation: as fitness enthusiasts and those of us who are a bit more focused on our training more than the typical gym-goer, I think we can sometimes be quick to forget the point of all the training and eating.

We get caught up with #grinding and chasing our goals of a better physique or being a stronger lifter that we forget all the other amazing things exercise does for us. In this case, cardio in particular.

This article will serve as a refresher to understand some of the things that cardiovascular exercise can do for our health and why we should care collectively as a fitfam community. I will also talk shortly about times when you should not do cardio at the end.

Your Heart Will Love You Long Time

“Cardio is good for my heart. No shit. Next!”

You’ve heard the what but perhaps never the why or how. When you do cardiovascular exercise, your heart has to pump more blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your cells. As you continue to exercise over time, your heart, like other muscles, will adapt to the workload that you’re doing through hypertrophy (increase in cell size as opposed to number of cells).

As a result, your heart literally increases in size to handle the exercise demand. This is known as physiological cardiac hypertrophy¹. There’s another form of cardiac hypertrophy known instead as ‘Pathological’ because it results from excessive stress on the heart from pressure in the heart’s chambers. The heart will still increase in size but will have a reduced output and function, leading to heart disease over time.

When you do cardio, your heart gets stronger by increasing the stroke volume (SV). SV is the amount of blood that gets pumped out with each heart beat. Since SV increases, your heart can beat slower and still deliver the same amount of oxygen throughout your body. This is why athletes have a slower heartbeat than a non-exerciser. Fun facts!

Cardio can also aid your training because it may help you get through high RPE sets (8, 9,  10 RPE). If you’ve ever pushed yourself really hard, you know that you begin to breathe heavily and a lot. If you include cardio in your training, you may be able to reduce the depth and amount of breaths during these sets, allowing you to focus on executing the reps safely and effectively.

To conclude this portion, cardio is a great option for long-term health and function. If you want to stay moving for a long time, cardio is a good idea to do throughout your life in some shape or form.

Do Away With The Diabeetus

I had to say it. Diabetes (more specifically Type 2) complications can be alleviated with cardio training. Even if you don’t have it, it can control your blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, both important factors in longevity and overall health. Cardio-and most forms of exercise, frankly-cause your muscles to demand more glucose to give your muscles the energy to continue training. To coordinate this, your pancreas secretes insulin to shuttle the glucose into your cells and out of your bloodstream. This action increases your muscles’s sensitivity to insulin since their demand for glucose is greater than normal².

Interestingly, when people with Type 2 exercised, their level of glucose that was taken up by the cells in response to the activity was that of a normal person without Diabetes when it is normally impaired³.

While lots of people live happy and healthy lives with diabetes, it can certainly be an obstacle to reaching your fitness goals of strength, weight loss, or a greater physique. You must become mindful of your blood sugar level. If you’re not, you risk the complications of hyper- or hypoglycemia leading to weakness, fainting, excess urination, and a bunch of other annoying and potentially life-threatening issues. Last thing you want happening while mid-squat is fainting.

What I am NOT saying is cardio is going to fix all of your problems. What I AM saying is that cardio is a tool in your toolbox for managing your health over time. It’s an effective way to maintain and/or improve your health along with resistance training; however, as we saw in last week’s post, it’s not that great for weight loss on its own.

When To NOT Do Cardio

There are certainly situations where I believe cardio should not be implemented.

Cardio should be used as a tool for reaching your goals and for achieving or maintaining good health. If it makes you extremely anxious to miss a session, cut it short due to time constrains, or you feel an inexplicable expectation  brought on by yourself that you must do cardio to reach your goals, then you should not do it. Fitness via any method is meant to improve and support your life, not take it over. If you’re feeling anxious about it in any way, it’s time to take a break from it.

Additionally, if you’re using cardio because you feel that it’s the only way to lose weight or fat, then you should also separate yourself from it because that is 100% not the case and only causing you unnecessary stress and anxiety.

While the benefits I mentioned above are certainly important, they are not the only things that cardiovascular training does. I didn’t go into the mood-enhancing and cognitive benefits of cardio but there certainly are some. Give it a try. Next time you run or do something cardio-y, take note of how you feel before, during, and after, and I’m willling to bet you’ll feel an increased perception of happiness and self-efficacy after you do it.

Let me know how you feel in the comments! Thanks for reading!


¹Physiological and Pathological Cardiac Hypertrophy

²Exercise and type 2 diabetes: molecular mechanisms regulating glucose uptake in skeletal muscle

³Splanchnic and muscle metabolism during exercise in NIDDM patients.



Rest Periods and Tempo Training: Do They Matter?

We’re rounding out the last post about how to design an exercise program! We’ll be quickly discussing the value or rest periods and tempo training and whether they actually matter for strength and/or hypertrophy. This concept was originally developed by Dr. Eric Helms, you can find the original post here about the Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid and its corresponding videos. Let’s wrap up!

Rest Periods

Rest periods are similar to dieting, there’s no best rest period time, it’s more about doing what works for you and giving yourself adequate time to recover before your next set. Contrary to popular belief, it’s likely more beneficial to make sure you have had enough time to rest as opposed to constantly making yourself work or only giving yourself half a minute even if you’re still sucking in air. Why?

When you don’t give yourself enough time to recover from your sets, you run the risk of hindering your performance for the following sets. If your program calls for squats at 85% of your 1RM for 4 reps and you only rest for a minute, you’re not likely to get the same amount of reps and only get 2 or 3, reducing your volume. You then rest again for only a minute, you’re probably going to do even worse and get only 1 or 2, further reducing your total volume. It’s not worth it to try to “beastmode” it up and keep your breathing up while doing heavy or high-volume work. Remember, you’re lifting weights, not doing cardio. The focus in the gym should be on building muscle or improving your strength, both of which require you to be well-recovered for each rep and set.

Now, there are occasions where it’s okay to decrease rest periods-by intensity. For example, if you’re pressed for time and just need to fit in as much as you can, you may need to lower he rest periods so you can fit in more volume. Another case may be when you’re finishing up your workout and doing a metabolite-accumulation exercise (BFR, supersets, ngatives, etc.) These techniques are meant to pack in a lot of volume in a short period of time and accumulate a lot of metabolic wastes and by-products in the muscle tissue. The thought behind this is that it leads to increased hypertrophy¹ (not strength). Conversely, these techniques do contribute to a lot of fatigue, and should be completed at the end of your workout. These strategies should not be implemented every workout since they do increase fatigue, they also increase potential for injury.

To conclude, give yourself enough time between sets to recover. It’s advantageous to do so because it will allow you to complete your reps and maintain your volume rather than lower your volume because you’re too tired. Less rest time may be beneficial if you’re on a time-crunch or when doing metabolite training.

Carl Juneau does a fantastic podcast on Sigma Nutrition Radio about rep ranges and other strategies with manipulating the rest periods to optimize hypertrophy.


The very last piece of the pyramid: Tempo! Tempo is simply the velocity at which you’re lifting weights from an eccentric or concentric standpoint. Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to say about it because it’s at the top of the pyramid for a reason; it’s just not that important. Sure, doing negatives every now and then may feel good and give you a good pump and burn, but you’re reducing your volume so you can increase the time under tension, mitigating the degree of hypertrophy you can obtain from that set.

Dr. Helms has a great video explaining this concept and why it’s not as important as one may think. You can check it out here.

Tempo training is an even worse idea for strength training. Think about it: your goals is to be stronger. With tempo training, you must reduce the load to lift at a slower tempo. Not only do they work completely against each other, but heavy weights near 1RM are going to determine the tempo, not you. It’s nearly impossible to control the tempo of a heavy weight because gravity is bearing down on you. If you’re focusing too much on tempo, you won’t even be able to complete the lift and run the risk of hurting yourself.

In the end, the tempo you do regularly is perfectly fine and should be the tempo that you spend most of your time doing. Just make sure it’s enough to where you’re controlling the weight on the eccentric portion (part of the lift when gravity/the weight is working with you, not against you) rather than gravity doing most of the work because let’s not forget that the eccentric portion also contributes to hypertrophy!

Tempo training is fine to do every now and then, but in the end, volume is the primary determinant of hypertrophy and drives strength gains. Don’t invest too heavily into tempo work.

Alright everyone, that’s it! Thanks so much for reading and I hope you really enjoyed my series on the Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid aka the hierarchy of what’s important for hypertrophy and strength training. If you want to read the series in order, here’s how you should do it from top to bottom:


¹Role of metabolic stress for enhancing muscle adaptations: Practical applications

Exercise Selection Specifics For Strength and Hypertrophy

We’re nearing the end of the Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid series. Again, this was originally a concept developed by Dr. Eric Helms, but I’m breaking it down for a fresh beginner, so they can use it to design their own program. Let’s dive into how you should pick your exercises based on your goals. I broke it down by strength athletes and bodybuilders, because the recommendations are quite different.

Exercise Selection For Strength Athletes

When talking about exercise selection, the key here is, like our discussion on intensity: specificity. Your goal and sport are largely going to determine which exercises you should and shouldn’t be doing.

Strength athletes like powerlifters and weightlifters have a bit more rigidity in their programming because they need to excel on certain lifts like the squat, bench press, deadlift, or clean & jerk and snatch.

For this reason, much of the training for these athletes should be focused on improving those lifts either from a skill or strength perspective. Consider that these are sports; like football or basketball, there are certain skills that must be practiced to maximize your potential as an athlete. The big three lifts for a powerlifter and snatch and clean & jerk for a weightlifter are the skills they must practice to be the best. Lifting is absolutely a skill that needs to be improved over time to continue seeing results.

When it comes to exercise selection, this allows the strength athlete many options on which exercises they can do despite having a focus on certain lifts. For example, the deadlift can be broken down to multiple levels despite being a single movement. Some lifters struggle with locking out at the top; they can rip it off the floor, but the last few inches are the major grinder. Instead of simply deadlifting more, they can perform rack pulls to improve their power at the top of the lift. Additionally, they can also use bands to increase resistance at the top, so they can practice the sticking point without having to load the bar near the actual weight that they get stuck at. Those are just two examples, but every compound lift can be broken down with more specific exercises to enhance the athlete’s abilities and improve weak points.

Something to keep in mind is that it’s going to be ideal to focus on the actual lift as you approach meet day. It’s not advised to be using bands, chains, and complementary exercises like I mentioned close to the day of the competition. This is because as you approach the competition, you’re also likely dropping some weight and levers on your body are changing with the weight and fat loss causing some factors of your lift to feel different or off. You’ll want some time to account for this by practicing the competition lifts in their entirety. Of course, if you’re facing an injury and can’t perform the lift without pain, then you should stick to what you can do pain-free. In summary, the closer you get, the more specific and rigid you should be unless an injury is present.

Exercise Selection For Bodybuilders

Bodybuilders have the luxury (and curse) of having more flexibility with their training. Having more chance of variability is going to be important for a bodybuilder since their focus is on crafting a symmetrical and properly proportioned physique; with this comes benefits and drawbacks. The benefits being the increased flexibility allows them to use an endless variety of exercises to reach their goal. For a bodybuilder, no one exercise is required. If benching hurts your shoulder but machine pressing doesn’t, that’s perfectly fine and will work just as well to develop your chest. Another benefit is that variety is going to keep things interesting. It can get pretty mundane doing the same lifts over and over. Obviously, you want to have some repetition to track progression, but you have so much to choose from that a training block never has to be the same thing for the sake of improving a specific lift.

One drawback of less specificity includes a lack of focus/ambiguity. Since there is no specific lift that is necessary, it can be easy to simply go through the motions of exercises with no clear goal in mind since you don’t have to lift a certain weight on a meet day. To combat this, you can set your own strength or rep goals for lifts. For example, you can set a goal to leg press 5 plates on each side 20 times. Now, you have some structure to your training and can design weekly progression to reach that goal. Once you do reach it, set another goal!

Some quick rules of thumb for exercise selection for bodybuilders:

  • Since you are working to build a well-rounded physique, select exercises that are going to cover each muscle group. Don’t simply leave one behind. If a muscle group is too big and is throwing off your proportions, simply drop the volume to maintenance for some time to allow other muscles to catch up. See Dr. Mike Israetel’s posts on Maintenance Volume (MV) and volume landmarks as good baselines for determining your MV.
  • Find exercises that you enjoy. This is very important because if you pick exercises you feel are “necessary” but you hate them, you’re going to just go through the motions and not focus on the contraction or push yourself on it. Don’t underestimate enjoyment while you train.
  • Spend some time on the exercises you land on instead of bouncing around all the time. While you don’t need to lift a certain weight for any competition, spending 4-8 weeks on a static group of exercises will help you improve your skills of lifting. You can also establish familiar movement patterns and feel more comfortable in that exercise as you push yourself further. In addition, the more time you spend on a lift, the better you can establish a mind-muscle connection with it rather than focusing on simply doing it right, leading to additional hypertrophy!

Should bodybuilders do the big three lifts? I think so! They allow you to accumulate a lot of volume and train lots of different muscles at one time. If you’re strapped for time, compound lifts will be your best friend, but they are also useful for covering your bases. For me, I try to incorporate one heavy compound lift for that muscle group, then I’ll complement it with some isolation exercises so I can cover my bases and then hone in on the details.

That’s exercises selection! If you feel that I missed something or just have a question, shoot me a comment, and I’ll get back to you! Next week, I’ll probably finish this series off and aggregate rest periods and tempo together. Thanks for reading!

Designing Progression Into Your Program Pt. 2: Periodization

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.

Linear Periodization

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)graph

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.

Block Periodization

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

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 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.

Image result for undulating periodization

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!




Designing Progression Into Your Program Pt. 1

You laid the foundation by considering adherence and how to make your program fit into your life. Then you decided how your volume will be distributed via frequency and intensity. It’s specific towards your goal, so you should know which intensities you’ll be in more than others and how often you’ll be training.

Now, it’s time to factor in improvement and actually getting better so you can see your gains increase over time. The most fundamental concept of progression in exercise science is Progressive Overload.

It’s very simple and intuitive, so I won’t spend too much time on it but it’s this: Doing more work over time. In strength/hypertrophy training, we measure “work” by your training volume, so that should increase over time.

How can you increase your volume over time? There’s plenty of ways to do so. Bret Contreras, a well-respected and very accomplished researcher and glute-training extraordinaire devised 12 ways in which you can increase the work amount of work you do in this article:

  • “Lifting the same load for increased distance (range of motion)
  • Lifting the same load and volume with better form, more control, and less effort (efficiency)
  • Lifting the same load for more reps (volume)
  • Lifting heavier loads (intensity of load)
  • Lifting the same load and volume with less rest time in between sets (density)
  • Lifting a load with more speed and acceleration (intensity of effort)
  • Doing more work in the same amount of time (density)
  • Doing the same work in less amount of time (density)
  • Doing more sets with the same load and reps (volume)
  • Lifting the same load and volume more often throughout the week (frequency)
  • Doing the same work while losing body mass (increased relative volume)
  • Lifting the same load and volume and then extending the set past technical failure with forced reps, negatives, drop sets, static holds, rest pause, partial reps, or post-exhaustion (intensity of effort)¹”

All of these methods will increase the amount of work you do over time, so you have plenty of tools at your disposal. It’s not a matter of simply increasing the weight every week. That’s also not possible for some exercises.

Now that you have an understanding of progressive overload and some strategies on how you can apply the concept, let’s move on to some considerations and things to remember when developing your program and how you’re going to progress.

Progress Will Be Different For Everyone

Your progress will be different from your friend’s and that of a professional athlete. The amount you progress will depend on the training stimulus you give yourself, training age, and genetics.

Think about it: Progressive Overload. You should be structuring your program to be rigorous and feel like it’s difficult to complete. In reality, training never gets easier. You just get better and “used to” the feeling of getting your ass kicked by the weights. That’s not to say that you need to kill yourself in the gym every time; but find that balance where you’re progressing with some sessions that feel like shit, but it shouldn’t be every single time.

Training age is a huge factor for the amount of progress you’ll experience. When you’re brand new to weight training, the gains you’ll experience are going to be insane! You’ll increase your muscle mass and strength weekly and feel like a god. After a few months, that will begin to slow down, and you’ll really need to be smart about your programming, playing with different training variables, exercises, and other elements of training.

Once you become an intermediate trainee, the gains come frustratingly slow. I’m currently cutting at the moment after an aggressive bulk for 6 months (I put on about 25-30 pounds). My lean mass, which measures all non-fat tissue and substances in your body including muscle, is coming in just 5 pounds above where I started. So as of now (and I’m not done cutting yet), I’ve netted 5 pounds of muscle. But, that’s going to decrease further as my body fat percentage and weight drops. I’ll probably have netted only 1-2 pounds of muscle gained in the past year and a half.

While this sounds terribly slow and not worth it, it has been because my strength has increased dramatically. Anyway, that was just an example of how progression decreases significantly over time. That’s why it’s important to love the process of training and enjoy this beyond the way you look in the mirror.

The last bit is genetics. Genetics pay another role because people as experienced as me can still possibly see newbie gains or similar to it simply because they’ve been an athlete forever or their parents were. Keep this in mind though, if your genetics aren’t that of a pure bred athlete, you shouldn’t quit because you aren’t progressing like someone else. Part of training is overcoming the difficulty and struggle you put yourself through each session. That’s an award in itself. Be proud of ANY progress you experience because it’s yours and no one can take it from you.

Progression Is Not a Linear Process

This is huge to keep in mind because it’s easy to get into the mindset that you need to be increasing weight, reps, frequency, etc. all the time. That’s just not true. As your training age increases, improvements are going to come slower, and you may even get caught up in some stale programming and lose progress. This is also normal and completely part of the process. The chart of progression is not a straight line to the right. It’s up and down forever. The important thing is that, over time, it’s generally increasing. Whether that’s a week, month, year, 10 years, etc. it’s different for everyone, so buckle up and be ready for the long haul of getting better.

During some periods, you may hit the wall and feel crappy or simply not want to push too hard. When you feel this way, it could be worth it to do a de-load. A de-load is simply reducing the volume you’re doing for a period of time, usually one normal cycle of training. I’m de-loading right now because I had food poisoning last week and it set me back a bit, so I’m reducing my volume, so I can recover fully and be ready to hit it hard again next week. There’s nothing wrong with reducing your work for a bit to give yourself enough time to recover and honestly just take a small break from training.

It can be taxing on your body and mind to lift often. You’ll need to de-load sometimes just to recharge physically and mentally, and that’s perfectly fine. Just make sure you’re not taking a month long hiatus!

Next week, we’ll discuss some ways you can structure your training so you can plan your progression in a calculated and intelligent way.

I hope you found this useful on how to progress over time. The real meat of how to progress will be in those 12 training variables I shared at the top, so I encourage you to look at those and see how you can make those fit into your own program. In addition, progress is just as much about improving mentally than it is physcially. Patience is something you’ll have to learn to adopt as part of your strategy because this endeavor of strength/hypertrophy requires a lot of it.

Good luck. Please let me know how else I can help.


¹The Ten Rules Of Progressive Overload

The Interaction Between Volume, Intensity, and Frequency: Why Each Matters

As mentioned last week, adherence is what should be considered and addressed before doing anything else. What should you do after you answer those 4 questions? Understand VIF.

VIF stands for Volume, Intensity, and Frequency. These components that I quickly defined in a previous article influence one another greatly. These components are the “bones” of a training program while periodization is the tendons and ligaments that connect bones together in a sensible and familiar way.

I’m going to use this article to help you put VIF into context in respect to program design but raising some questions for you to think about and providing some insight on how to structure the elements of VIF.


As mentioned previously, volume is simply a calculation of the total amount of work you perform (Sets*Reps*Weight). If you did 3 sets of 10 curls at 60 pounds, your total volume would be 3*10*60=1800 pounds of total volume. As I will discuss in a later post, volume should, over time, increase. This should be pretty intuitive if you consider the definition: you should be doing more work over time if you continue to improve your body composition and/or strength.

My two cents on volume relates to structuring your volume and how much work to do on a weekly basis. The volume needed to progress is a highly relative element for trainees. What I mean is that the work needed to progress depends on factors like training age (how long you have been training).

When designing a program, take into account how experienced (or inexperienced) you are. Individuals who have never trained before often acquire “newbie gains” for a period of time before making progress gets more difficult than it was before.

If this sounds like you, DO NOT GO NUTS ON THE VOLUME. Aka: don’t go crazy in the gym because you saw a monster athlete doing it. He/she is able to go crazy because they built up the tolerance and adaptations necessary to work that rigorously. You as a newbie will not be able to work like they do and risk potential injury if you try to do so.

So what should a newbie do? Newbie gains will drive a lot of progress in the beginning with little training volume. This is an opportunity to learn correct exercise technique and form while still making progress. Building good habits and movement patterns from the beginning will pay off greatly when you really start training hard because you will mitigate injuries and be able to handle more work, leading to more gainzzzzz.

Newbies should start with little to no weight on the bar or very light dumbbells to learn the movement patterns and correct technique. It’s likely you will increase strength and mass quickly (possibly weekly), and the weight you used last week will be very easy. Take advantage of the quick gains and increase the weight, sets, or number of sets you do. Somehow, increase volume. What’s important when you do increase volume is to not overshoot it. Take it gradually and intelligently. If you’re unable to complete the extra reps/sets/weight with good form but you want to do more than last week, don’t. The focus right now is the habit formation and proper technique. There’s nothing wrong with slow, steady increases because the weight will come with time.

Another thing to know is to not load up on volume on one day because you will likely get too fatigued to finish or complete the reps with satisfactory weight. Give yourself enough training days to reach your volume while not loading up too much on any given day to avoid injury and excessive fatigue.

One last thing: My next portion is about intensity and I go into how people should train given their goal. This doesn’t really apply for brand new trainees because strength and hypertrophy will come with just lifting. Point of this is just get your ass in the gym and learn to lift carefully and have fun with it. Specialize when you have more experience under your belt.

I will cover what intermediate and greater trainees should do in my progression post because I will basically be repeating myself if I write it here too.


Intensity is, simply, the weight you lift for a certain exercise. More specifically, it’s the percentage of the athlete’s 1RM. The closer the weight is to 1RM, the greater intensity it is said to have or be.

Intensity matters because it will drive certain adaptations depending on the intensity used for training. For example, if your main goal is to get stronger, you should be training mostly in the high intensity area. A 2014 study by Brad Schoenfeld and others showed that strength gains were greater in the group who trained at a higher intensity than the moderate-intensity group¹. What’s interesting about this study is that the volume was equated in both groups, so it makes it more likely that intensity was the telling factor here. In that same paper, hypertrophy was similar between the groups¹. What this means is that certain goals require more specialization of your volume more than others.

Typically high intensity training is thought of as the “low reps, heavy weight” idea and low to moderate intensity being “moderate to high reps, moderate to light weight”.

If your goal is strength, training heavy more often will be greater than training with light or moderate weights. If your goal is to build muscle and get bigger, you can train either heavy, moderate, or light. It comes down to a matter of preference because the research shows it will be the same IF the volume is or would be equal. That’s the important distinction because volume is often lower when training at higher intensities because the lifts are much more taxing on your body than light or moderate lifts, and may leave you feeling beaten down.

The takeaway from here is to experiment and see what works for you to 1) Reach your goal and 2) Allow you to achieve the volume you need. If you find that you don’t like training heavy and you just want to build muscle, it’s perfectly okay to spend more time training light to moderate, for example.


Here is where we tie at all together. Frequency is the number of times you train in a given time period, often measured in a week. Thankfully, there is not magic frequency that will maximize your gains. What’s important here is to learn what works for you and provides you enough time to recover. Maybe you want to train every day of the week, but you’re brand new to training. That’s not actually necessary or better than training 3-4 times. You may not recover your muscles quickly enough risking injury.

Find out the frequency that will allow you to work, recover, and enjoy other aspects of your life. Maybe you want to train daily, but you can’t do anything else with your time if you do. If it takes a toll on your relationships, work, or other matters in your life, you should most likely reduce the frequency or adjust another variable. It’s not essential to train every day. I can’t stress enough to find what works for you. Typically, you want to give your muscles 24-48 hours to recover before you train them again, so ensure you give yourself at least that much time. Depending on your volume for the previous day(s), you may need more or less time.

Frequency is a useful variable for structuring your volume because you can allocate volume to training days depending on how often you’re going to train or what day is going to be what focus to allow you to complete the exercises you have set out for yourself (to maintain adherence). For example, If you’re squatting, benching, and deadlifting once a week and training 3 times a day, but you find yourself struggling to recover or see progress you could increase your frequency and space out some of the volume so you can recover since you’re training less on any given day and. Maybe you could move half of your squat sets to the 4th training day if squatting is wearing you out on that day.

It’s all about structuring your training to allow yourself to remain compliant. It comes back to adherence being the most important variable in any training program.

To conclude, VIF is what comes next as the most important set of factors when designing a program. Volume is important to increase over time as it will drive your progress (make sure you do it intelligently). Intensity is important to  adjust and structure based on your goals. Frequency is a useful tool for managing adherence and adjusting your volume to ensure you can hit certain intensities and giving yourself time to recover.


¹Effects of Different Volume-Equated Resistance Training Loading Strategies on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men