Training Programming and Periodization

Training programming is essentially the plan of how you change the basic workout variables (exercises, order, intensity, sets, reps, tempo and rest) over time. Basically, how you organise your training.

Strict programming is usually better than regulation in respect of getting a better hypertrophic response although thats only the usual case for beginner lifters.

This is where training programming Periodization shines, as it solves the issues posed by strict linear programming which are usually reduced muscle growth and strenght gains.

TRAINING PROGRAMMING AND PERIODIZATION

Periodization is simply the art of mixing up training in reps, weight, sets, and conjugation to get stronger more efficiently. This is done any number of different ways in the powerlifting and weightlifting worlds, so let’s look at a few examples.

Linear Periodization

This is probably the simplest form of periodization. As the training block goes on, work in higher and higher percentages of your 1RM with the goal of PRing at the end of the block. Maybe week 1 is 3×[email protected]% and then week 2 is 3×[email protected]% and so on.

This is basically what a lot of people do, though maybe without a super formal structure.

Block Periodization

This form of training breaks a cycle up into blocks. First is usually a hypertrophy block to get bigger, then a strength block to get better at using the new muscle, then a peaking block to prepare for a meet. This is probably not ideal for bodybuilding, so I won’t go into too much detail here.

Daily Undulating Periodization

This is one that I think a lot of people here would benefit from. The idea is to use several different rep ranges over the course of a week. Example would be for benching 3 times in a week, you could do [email protected]% or 6×[email protected]% or 8×[email protected]%.

Conjugate Periodization

Sometimes called the Westside Method, conjugate periodization revolves around getting better at a lift by not doing that lift. As counter intuitive as it seems, it’s possible to get stronger at benching by doing closely related things to bench (board press/spoto press/floor press/incline bench/etc). To a degree, bodybuilders do this by incorporating bench like things in a push or chest day.

Elements of Periodization

The most basic elements that we’re going to look at changing within your workouts fall under 3 broad categories:

  • The overall number of reps for a given exercise or pattern. Volume
  • The difficulty of exercises you are doing, which progression you are working at. Intensity
  • Which exercises you are doing.

There are some general terms often used to describe how we change the program from workout to workout:

Linearity:

Progressive overload by increasing the training stimulus. This can be an increase in the number of reps performed, and/or the intensity. The eventual aim of nearly any program is a linear increase to create an upwards trend (if you don’t have this, you never get any better).

How long it takes you to see a linear increase is a pretty solid way to determine your level:

  • Novice/Beginner – Linear increase every workout
  • Beginner-Intermediate – Linear increase every couple of workouts or every week
  • Intermediate-Advanced – Linear increase after longer workout cycles (2-10+ weeks)

Undulation:

 The up and down of your training programming, using decreases in either volume or intensity with the intention to increase them again. For example using a decrease in overall volume so you can increase intensity, and then eventually increase the volume at that new intensity, or vice versa decreasing intensity and increasing volume.

Not only does this give you another avenue to work on strength improvements, but it also enables you to work on different qualities in your training (for instance higher intensity to work on maximal strength, or higher volume to work on hypertrophy) many of which are synergistic in nature, meaning improvement in one quality can help you work on another.

Conjugation

Very similar to Undulation, Conjugation is changing the focus of training from one goal or quality to another. Changing the volume or intensity is one way to accomplish this, as is changing your exercise selection. Changing your exercise can help you shore up a weakness in a particular area, or can be used to help build an exercise quality (such as working an exercise which allows you to work with an explosive tempo, to build power).

You can combine multiple training qualities in any given time period. This can help combat the detraining effect that occurs when you aren’t training a particular quality (you may lose some maximal strength if you aren’t doing any maximal strength training, and only doing hypertrophy, for example), and can again have a synergistic effect. Some training qualities aren’t compatible though, such as training for maximal strength and muscular endurance simultaneously, which each interfere with the adaptations of the other.

Program Examples:

For instance if we look a simple 5×5 powerlifting program that increases weight every session, it would usually be described as a linear progression model, which is one of the most simple periodization methods.

If we look at the beginner routine, the aim is to increase the intensity of each exercise, but in a range of reps from 5-8, meaning that although the programming is largely linear, the volume undulates for each exercise as you work your way up to 8 reps, then drop back down to 5 while increasing intensity.

Doing a program that has light and heavy days is one that uses undulation heavily. As you add intensity of volume to each day though, that is a linear element to the program.

A training programming that splits the training week up into volume/hypertrophy days and intensity/power/strength days, or a program that has a volume/hypertrophy phase followed by a intensity/power/strength phase, are both examples of utilising conjugation over different time scales. By changing the number of reps and intensity, it uses undulation to create the conjugation. As you move from phase to phase or session to session, the goal will be to either increase intensity for a given volume or volume for a given intensity, and that is the linear element.

Why do we need to periodize?

Firstly, and mainly, because you can’t keep on increasing intensity every workout. It just doesn’t work. If it did, you’d be squatting 500kg after 3 or so years. Utilising a range of phases, volumes, intensities and training goals, it allows you to keep on making progress, whether it’s session to session, week to week, or month to month.

It also allows you to become more rounded fitness wise. Specific adaption to imposed demand (SAID). You only improve at what you work at, so if you never work out with intensity, you won’t be very good at intensity. If you don’t workout with a large amount of volume, you won’t build up the capacity to work with larger volumes. This is important in periodizing for sports, as many sports require you to display many strength qualities during competition. For hypertrophy, both intensity and volume are key to building muscle. And of course, many strength qualities build upon one another, amplifying your success.

Periodizing helps you recover. Adaptation to exercise requires you to over-reach your capabilities to some degree, and then recover from that over-reaching. Changing the intensities of your workouts allows you to increase the size of your acute over-reaching and then recover from it appropriately, allowing for a greater level of adaptation.

 As you workout, you accumulate stress, both physical and mental, and that level can continue to accumulate from week to week, you’re never going to be able to train at the perfect intensity, and are always going to either be under-training, or over-training. It is better to be over-training slightly and then use the undulation of your programming to recover from that over-training periodically, forcing adaptation. This change will also help you deal with the psychological stress of continuously pushing the intensity from session to session.

So What do I do With This?

In short, periodize your training. Smashing your head into the wall by trying to bench 255 for 5 reps every week until you finally get it isn’t the most effective way to get stronger. Even if it’s something as simple as recording a training max, then doing 5×[email protected]% on push 1 and 3×[email protected]% on push 2 and upping the training max 5lbs if you make every rep without grinding.

A bit more in depth version is Here, with an example spreadsheet of what a 5 day program based around DUP would look like. The progression would just be adding 5 lbs to the training max every time every rep was hit on a lift that week.

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