Key Takeaways

  1. Periodization is a method of organizing your training that involves emphasizing different aspects of your fitness at different times.
  2. Most periodization systems are best suited to intermediate and advanced weightlifters, not beginners.
  3. A simple way to periodize your training is to gradually increase intensity (load) and decrease volume (sets or reps) as you move through a training period, deload, and repeat.

Periodization is a hotly debated topic in many weightlifting circles.

It’s also a muddled one that’s hard to navigate unless you already have quite a bit of specialized knowledge.

For starters, it’s hard to find a consistent, simple definition of what periodization even means. 

Some say it means changing your rep ranges every so often. Others say it means taking planned deloads. Others still say it means continually changing your exercises.

And regardless of how it’s defined, there’s often a debate as to its merits.

One school of thought claims periodization isn’t a fundamental component of effective training, like progressive overload, but instead an advanced tactic for scaling the final summit of your genetic potential, in the same vein as supersets, rest-pause sets, blood flow restriction, and the like.

According to another line of thinking, however, more or less everyone should be following a periodized workout plan, and if you aren’t, you’re missing out.

Who’s right? 

The short answer is periodization is a valuable technique for lifters of all stripes and ability levels, and you should include at least some form and degree of it in your training.

That said, most periodization systems are best suited to intermediate and advanced weightlifters, not beginners.

And in this article, you’ll learn why, including . . . 

  • What periodization is
  • Why people periodize their training
  • Whether you should periodize your training
  • The best kinds of periodization
  • An easy and effective way to use periodization to gain muscle and strength faster
  • And more

Let’s begin.

What Is Periodization?

periodization training

Periodization refers to how you organize your training over time, typically leading up to a competition or an attempt to set a new personal record.

At bottom, periodization splits your training into different periods (hence the word) in which you focus on different aspects of your fitness. 

For example, if you’re preparing for a powerlifting meet, you want to focus on heavy, low-rep compound training in the month or two before the competition so your muscles are primed for the demands of the meet.

The month or two before that, however, you might do slightly lighter, higher-rep training with more accessory exercises to strengthen the same muscles you use to squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Hence, your training would be periodized as you’d be working in different rep ranges on different exercises over the course of two to four months.

While there are many different theories on the best way to periodize your weightlifting, the most viable ones are all based on a few simple principles: 

1. Your training involves progressive overload in the form of more weight, sets, or reps (in the case of weightlifting), or faster pacing, longer distances, more complex movements, less rest, or some other method in other sports.

2. Your training shifts from less specific to more specific as you progress through the plan. 

In the case of weightlifting, as competitions involve lifting very heavy weights for single reps, this principle generally means progressing from lighter weights and higher reps (less specific to the sport) to heavier weights and lower reps (more specific).

3. Your training includes planned breaks to allow for additional rest and recovery.

To understand the rationale behind these axioms, it helps to understand a bit of the history of periodization.

The roots stretch back to research conducted in the early 1950s by a Hungarian endocrinologist named Hans Selye.

Selye developed a theory of how the body responds to stress known as the general adaptation syndrome, and while we don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty details here, the general idea is the body can adapt to stress—including exercise—in two ways:

  1. If given enough rest and resources, the body recovers and becomes stronger. This kind of stress is known as eustress.
  2. If not given enough rest and resources, the body doesn’t recover and becomes weaker. This kind of stress is known as distress

As an athlete or someone who just wants to get more jacked, you obviously want to expose your body to more eustress than distress.  

Inspired by Selye’s findings, Russian physiologist Leo Matveyev began analyzing the training programs of successful and unsuccessful Soviet athletes from the 1952 and 1956 Summer Olympics. 

He found that either deliberately or accidentally, the most successful athletes in a variety of sports trained according to the principles of Selye’s theory. 

That is, they continually pushed themselves to become stronger, faster, and more skilled, often to the limits of their ability, and then reduced training intensity or volume to allow for more rest and recovery. 

Additionally, their training was planned in undulating cycles of first honing the fundamentals and then focusing on competition-specific workouts.

Matveyev organized and codified these practices, creating a system we now know as linear periodization. Fundamentally, this approach called for increasing intensity and decreasing volume as lifters approached their competitions, with planned breaks throughout to avoid overtraining.

Matveyev’s system was adopted across the USSR and East Germany and to great effect—these countries quickly became the dominant forces in Olympic lifting and many other sports and stayed on top for the next several decades.

Other successful methods of periodization have been developed since then, but in most cases, training is broken up into three distinct phases or periods.

1. First, you have the longest phase, the macrocycle, which is a long-term view centered around preparing for a particular event or improving body composition or physical conditioning. 

For recreational lifters, this generally means setting a new personal record or improving body composition through muscle gain and fat loss.

Macrocycles can last anywhere from a few months to several years, depending on the activity, individual, and goals. In bodybuilding, they generally last three to six months (around the length of a typical lean bulking or cutting cycle). 

2. The second longest phase is the mesocycle, which focuses on developing a particular skill or quality (muscle growth, strength, etc.). 

A mesocycle generally lasts one to four months, so in bodybuilding, there are usually a couple mesocycles within each macrocycle. 

3. The shortest phase is the microcycle, and it’s typically defined as the longest amount of time you’ll go without an easy day or day off. 

For example, you might train five days on and two days off, which would be a seven day microcycle. A microcycle generally corresponds to a week’s worth of training, but some people use shorter or longer microcycles.

You don’t necessarily have to set up your training this way to periodize it, but that’s how most people go about it.

Summary: Periodization refers to how you organize your training over time, and generally involves creating plans that revolve around macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles.

Why Do People Periodize Their Training?

The main reason people periodize their training is it helps them make faster, more consistent progress than with non-periodized training.

To understand why, you have to understand how most people get on in their weightlifting journey.

When they first begin, progress is easy, and especially if they’re following a well-designed workout routine. They simply show up to the gym a few times per week, get a couple more reps or lift a little more weight than the last time, eat halfway intelligently, and get bigger and stronger.

It can go like this for the first six months or even longer, and during this period, there’s often no need for deloading or taking special precautions to avoid getting injured.

There are two reasons for this “honeymoon phase”:

  1. When you’re new to weightlifting, your body is primed to gain muscle and strength quickly.
  2. The weights you’re lifting often aren’t heavy enough to pose any major risk of injury.

These “newbie gains” only last for so long, however, and eventually come to an end, and you enter your intermediate phase.

At this point, progress slows dramatically and the risks of poor technique and programming rise as well as the likelihood of hitting a plateau where you simply aren’t gaining any muscle or strength to speak of anymore.

Many people who get their first case of the ruts respond by simply training harder. They train to failure more often. They do more sets. They try harder exercise variations and rep schemes.

This can lift them out of the doldrums, but it also starts to take its toll on their body in the form of achy joints and tendons, weakened motivation, impaired sleep, and other symptoms related to overtraining.

Other people respond to a plateau by with complacency. They keep showing up to the gym but just go through the motions, maybe adding a little weight when they feel good and removing a little when they don’t.

This allows them to maintain much of the muscle and strength they’ve gained, but more or less halts any further progress.

Periodization is an effective way to avoid these pitfalls.

When used intelligently, it allows you to thread the needle between stress and recovery by providing enough stimulus in the way of volume and progressive overload to keep the needle moving but not so much as to court injury, overtraining, or burnout.

This is why athletes of all stripes, including bodybuilders, powerlifters, gymnasts, cyclists, runners, swimmers, basketball, football, and soccer players, and even golfers, handball players, and surfers, use periodization in their training.

Summary: Periodization balances training and recovery in a way that allows you to make consistent progress without getting stuck, injured, overtrained, or burned out.

Does Periodization Help You Gain Muscle and Strength?

Yes, but how you should go about it will depend on how experienced of a weightlifter you are.

For instance, if you’re new to lifting, all you need is a simple, linear style of periodization that has you striving to gain reps and add weight to the bar each week for a couple months or so before deloading and repeating.

Two good examples of this kind of training are my Bigger Leaner Stronger program for men and my Thinner Leaner Stronger program for women. 

In these programs, you work within specific rep ranges, take hard sets to within a rep or two of technical failure, push to gain reps over your previous week’s workouts, add weight to the bar (or dumbbells) when you reach the top of your rep range, and deload and change up your exercises every 8 weeks.

Simple, straightforward, and powerfully effective, as evidenced by the hundreds of success stories from men and women of all ages and circumstances.

For example, check these guys and gals out . . .

asadullah-b

robbie-m

brad-w

jenny-c

jean-g/

melanie-e

These people (and many others) are living proof you don’t need a complicated periodization plan to get fantastic results in the gym. In fact, many people have used Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger for years before having to change things up.

Remember: When you’re a beginner, your body is so primed to build muscle that basic programming is all you need to to maximize muscle growth. More advanced forms of training, including periodization, would simply be a distraction.

After your first year or two of proper training, however, the game changes and a more sophisticated periodization plan starts to make more sense.

You can find good evidence of this in review study conducted by scientists at Appalachian State University that involved the analysis of 15 studies comparing periodized training programs to non-periodized programs.

The researchers found that in 13 out of the 15 cases, people got stronger or improved their performance more with a periodized training plan versus a non-periodized one. 

What’s more, the two studies that found periodization didn’t improve performance were shorter than the others and involved newbie lifters, who are the least likely to benefit from periodized training.

These findings are supported by a meta-analysis conducted by scientists at the University of Alabama. The researchers reviewed 18 studies from 1988 to 2015 on periodized and non-periodized training and strength gain.

After examining 81 sets of data from these studies, the scientists concluded “ . . . the magnitude of improvement in 1RM following periodized resistance training was greater than non-periodized resistance training.”

In other words, on average, people who followed a periodized training plan got stronger than people who didn’t. 

Finally, another piece of evidence in favor of periodization comes from an unpublished meta-analysis of just about every study on periodization and strength gain in the literature conducted by strength coach, researcher, and writer Greg Nuckols. 

After parsing through 27 studies on the matter, Nuckols concluded that on average, periodized training plans helped people gain strength 22% faster than non-periodized training plans.

He also addressed a number of studies whose abstracts seem to indicate periodization isn’t helpful for gaining strength. 

When you read the full papers, however, you learn that in just about every case, the scientists agreed periodized training leads to more strength gain and improved performance in most sports. 

What they questioned, however, were the most effective ways to use and study periodization and measure its benefits.

That is, their disagreements were regarding the technical details of periodization, not its fundamental merits.

Another claim you may have heard is periodization is good for improving strength but not muscle growth.

This isn’t entirely off-base but isn’t exactly correct, either.

It’s true that most of the studies on periodization show it’s more effective for gaining strength than muscle, but most of the studies also lasted just four to eight weeks. As you can gain strength faster than muscle, this simply isn’t enough time for the muscle-building benefits of periodization to manifest in a statistically significant way.

And especially considering how slowly intermediate and advanced weightlifters gain muscle.

For example, let’s say periodization can increase muscle gain by up to 10% over non-periodized training.

And let’s say subjects in an eight-week study were able to gain 5 pounds of muscle with non-periodized training and 5.5 pounds with periodization.

In most cases, that wouldn’t be enough of a difference to be considered statistically significant, but over time, it would add up to a real advantage.

There’s also a good reason to believe periodization would indeed increase muscle gain: as you become a more experienced weightlifter, the most reliable way to gain muscle is to get stronger.

And as we know that periodization can accelerate strength gain, it’s reasonable to assume it can accelerate muscle growth too.

What’s more, periodization is easy to set up and doesn’t require any additional time in the gym, so there’s no downside to incorporating it into your training.

Summary: Research shows periodization improves strength gain over time, and it probably increases muscle growth as well.

What Kind of Periodization Is Best? 

There are many ways to periodize your training, and many opinions as to which is best.

Some people say classic linear periodization is all we need. 

Others say undulating periodization is better. 

And still others still say different methods like block periodization, reverse linear periodization, or conjugate periodization are the clear winners.

Who’s right? 

Well, before we get into that, let’s quickly define the most popular periodization systems out there.

Linear periodization involves increasing intensity (weight) and usually reducing volume (reps or sets) over the course of a macrocycle.

Reverse linear periodization is similar to linear periodization, except each macrocycle starts with heavier weights and less volume and progresses to lighter weights and more volume. 

Undulating periodization involves changing the weights, reps, and sets you use day to day or week to week, but not the exercises.

Block periodization involves focusing on a handful of exercises for one mesocycle (generally a month or two). 

Conjugate periodization involves changing your exercises, weights, reps, and sets day to day or week to week. This is very similar to undulating periodization, although a bit more haphazard.

Each of these periodization systems also involve increasing the weights lifted over time, usually according to a regular pattern, like every workout or week, for instance.

So, which method is the best? 

Well, none of them.

First, although they have different names and protocols, they’re more alike than different in that each follows the three principles you learned earlier:

  1. Your training involves progressive overload in the form of more weight, sets, or reps (in the case of weightlifting), or faster pacing, longer distances, more complex movements, less rest, or some other method in other sports.
  2. Your training shifts from less specific to more specific as you progress through the plan. In the case of weightlifting, this generally means moving from lighter weights and higher reps to heavier weights and lower reps.
  3. Your training includes planned breaks to allow for rest and recovery.

Second, each method has inherent advantages and disadvantages, so instead of wedding yourself to one, it’s probably best to use a mix of different styles.

That’s not just my opinion, either—there’s strong evidence that using a combination of different periodization techniques is optimal for strength and muscle gain. 

A good example of this is a study conducted by scientists at the University of Sao Paulo that split twenty 21-year old lifters into two groups:

  1. Group one followed a traditional linear periodization workout plan, which involved gradually increasing intensity and decreasing volume throughout the study.
  2. Group two followed a daily undulating periodization workout plan, which involved a mix of high intensity and high volume training throughout the week.

The scientists tested everyone’s bench press and leg press one-rep maxes (1RMs) before and after the 12-week study.

They also ensured both groups did the same number of total reps and sets and the same exercises with the same technique.

All of the lifters were fairly advanced, too, with an average of 5 years of lifting experience.

Here’s what the two periodization plans looked like: 

Linear-vs-Daily-Undulating-Periodization

As you can see, both groups trained with 80 to 90% of their 1RM, but group one spent a month training at 80%, a month training at 85%, and a month training at 90%, whereas group two cycled through them each week.

The result?

Group two gained nearly twice as much strength as group one.

That’s right—despite doing the same amount of work, spending the same amount of time in the gym, and doing the same amount of volume, they got twice the results.

Specifically, group two improved their bench press 1RM by 29% versus 14% for group one and their leg press 1RM by 56% versus 26%.

The takeaway from this study and several others like it is varying your rep ranges over a shorter period of time produces better results than varying your rep ranges over a longer period of time.

It’s not entirely clear why this is, but it’s likely training in different rep ranges stimulates different muscle-building mechanisms in the body. 

Therefore, by only training one rep range for long periods of time, you may be failing to fully activate other “pathways” for muscle and strength gain.

So, should you go reprogram your training to ensure you’re rotating through different rep ranges every week?

Not necessarily. 

Remember—the participants in the study we just reviewed only did two exercises: the bench press and leg press.

Most workout routines are going to involve more exercises than this, and unless you’re following a fairly high frequency powerlifting program, you won’t be doing the exact same exercises more than once per week.

For example, in the first week of my Bigger Leaner Stronger program for men, you train bench press on Day 1 (usually Monday), seated dumbbell press on Day 3 (usually Wednesday) and close-grip bench press on Day 5 (usually Friday). 

If you were to follow the same daily undulating periodization plan as in the above study you’d work with 80% of your 1RM on the bench press, 85% on the dumbbell press, and 90% on the close-grip bench press.

I don’t like this setup for a couple reasons: 

1. You’re changing your exercises in addition to your intensity and rep ranges, which adds complexity to your programming and is unlikely to improve your results.

First, the point of varying your rep ranges is to stimulate your muscles in slightly different ways. You can accomplish the same thing with different exercises, but doing both at the same time is probably overkill.

As a general rule I want my programming to be as simple as possible (or no more complicated than it needs to be, if you want to look at it that way), and changing rep ranges, intensities, and exercises throughout the week adds an additional and unnecessary layer of complexity to an otherwise effective and simple program.

2. Some exercises don’t lend themselves to very high or low rep training. 

For example, most people find that anything above 10 reps on the deadlift is at a high RPE is grueling if not dangerous, but not on the bench press. Similarly, a heavy set of 5 reps of side raises is all kinds of awkward, whereas heavy biceps curling is perfectly viable.

Dumbbell exercises also generally don’t jive with low rep ranges.

For example, although you can do triples on the seated dumbbell overhead press with about 90% of your 1RM, it’s difficult to get them into position and potentially dangerous as you approach technical failure. 

This is why I typically don’t use more than around 85% of 1RM on dumbbell exercises, and why I wouldn’t apply the periodization model used in the previously mentioned study to my Bigger Leaner Stronger or Thinner Leaner Stronger programs.

So, the bottom line on daily undulating periodization is this:

It can work well if you’re doing the same exercise multiple times a week, like the people in the study discussed were, but even then it’s generally unnecessary.

Why? 

Well, as mentioned previously, some exercises are better suited to higher reps and others are better suited to lower reps. 

As a rule of thumb, most compound exercises are better suited to lower reps, and most isolation or accessory exercises are better suited to higher reps. Thus, if you use slightly different rep ranges for your compound and isolation exercises throughout the week, you’re already doing a form of daily undulating periodization. 

For instance, you might work in the 4-to-6 rep range on your compound exercises and the 8-to-10 rep range on your isolation exercises, like in Bigger Leaner Stronger.

Additionally, with daily undulating periodization you’re doing the same workouts week after week, which can become just as boring as standard linear periodization.

So, how should you periodize your training, then?

What I prefer and recommend is referred to as weekly undulating periodization

Instead of changing your rep ranges and exercises throughout the week, you change them from one week to the next.

For example, here’s how to use weekly undulating periodization to progress on your bench press. 

Week 1

8 reps at 75% of 1RM

Week 2

6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Week 3

4 reps at 85% of 1RM

Week 4

Deload

As you can see, this approach has you increasing weight (intensity) and reducing reps (volume) each week, which gives you the benefits of undulating periodization while being easier to plan and track.

It also gives you a slightly different challenge to look forward to each week, which can help keep your training interesting.

Another productive way to introduce more variety into your training is to use multiple exercises to train each muscle group.

For example, a study conducted by scientists at the University of Sao Paulo found using a combination of exercises to train the leg muscles produced more hypertrophy than doing the same amount of volume with squats alone. 

In this case, they found that workouts consisting of the squat, leg press, deadlift, and lunge produced significantly more strength and muscle gain than the same amount of volume of just squats, and particularly in the hamstrings, which are less involved than the quads in the squat.

The same goes for most other muscle groups: spreading your volume over several exercises is generally more beneficial than doing a bunch of one or two exercises.

I like to take this one step further and use slightly different rep ranges for my compound and isolation exercises because, as you know, some exercises don’t play nice with certain rep ranges.

For instance, the dumbbell side raise, dip, and skull crusher are often uncomfortable and strangely difficult in sets of less than 5 or so reps, and the squat, deadlift, and military press are often uncomfortable and strangely difficult in sets of more than 10 reps. 

Many people also experience joint pain when doing heavy isolation exercises like the side raises, curls, and triceps pushdowns, and significant form breakdown when doing higher-rep squats, deadlifts, and military presses.

This is why I generally recommend you use slightly higher reps for your isolation exercises and slightly lower reps for your compound exercises (more on how to do this in a moment).

Another key element to effective periodization is ensuring you’re getting stronger over time.

That is, the weights you’re handling should be going up from one macrocycle to the next, even if it’s just a slight improvement.

My favorite way of accomplishing this is known as wave loading, which involves increasing the amount of weight you’re lifting over the course of a mesocycle or macrocycle (or both), punctuated by periodic reductions in intensity to enhance recovery.

Practically speaking, all you need to do to accomplish this is to increase your training weights for the various exercises you do regularly from 2.5 to 10 pounds every mesocycle.

Here’s an example of wave loading over the course of three mesocycles.

Let’s say you’re going to use weekly undulating periodization for a 4-week mesocycle, and you start week 1 benching 225 pounds for 3 sets of 8 reps. 

Then, on week 5—at the start of your second mesocycle—you’d use 230 or 235 pounds for 3 sets of 8 reps.

And then, in the first week of your third mesocycle, you’d use anywhere from 240 to 245 pounds for 8 reps, and so on.

In this way, you’re gradually increasing your training intensity over time, which is one of the best ways to continue building muscle when your newbie gains are long since gone.

So, while there’s no single “best” kind of periodization for everyone, an ideal approach for most intermediate to advanced lifters is this: 

  1. Use weekly undulating periodization to gradually increase the intensity and decrease the volume of your workouts throughout each mesocycle.
  2. Gradually increase your average intensity throughout your macrocycle by increasing your training weights at the start of each new mesocycle.
  3. Use slightly lower reps for your compound exercises and slightly higher reps for your isolation and accessory exercises. 

Summary: There’s no single “best” kind of periodization, but most people do well with a system that gradually increases workout intensity and reducing workout volume week to week, and that uses slightly different rep ranges for compound and isolation exercises.

The Easiest Way to Use Periodization to Gain Muscle and Strength

benefits of periodization training

First of all, if you’re new to lifting weights, you don’t need to use a fancy periodization system.

Instead, you just need a well designed workout routine that has you add weight or reps every week and deload every 6 to 8 weeks or whenever you hit a plateau

Something like my Bigger Leaner Stronger program for men or Thinner Leaner Stronger program for women will be perfect for you.

Eventually, however, a simple, straightforward program like BLS or TLS won’t be enough to keep making progress. For most people, this occurs sometime in their second year of proper training.

For these people, a slightly more advanced periodization system is in order, and I recommend weekly undulating periodization.

I also recommend you use two slightly different methods of periodizing your compound and isolation exercises. 

There are a couple reasons for this:

  1. Compound exercises are responsible for most of your strength and muscle gain, so you want to give them special attention in your programming.
  2. You can generally train with heavier weights more comfortably on compound exercises than isolation exercises.
  3. Compound exercises are easier to add weight to because most involve a barbell, which you can add anywhere from 2.5 to 10 pound. Most isolation exercises involve dumbbells, however, which move up in 10-pound increments (5 pounds per dumbbell) unless you have microplates.

Now, some people only periodize their compound exercises (because they matter the most), and don’t bother periodizing their isolation work.

This isn’t a major mistake, but I think isolation exercises are worth periodizing as well because slightly better increases in strength on these exercises can still add up to significantly more muscle over time.

My philosophy is if an exercise is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing as optimally as possible, and periodization helps accomplish this.

So, here’s the periodization system I recommend you use to periodize your compound exercises: 

1. Each mesocycle should last 4 weeks, with the 4th week being a deload.

2. Do one to two compound exercises per workout and 3 to 4 sets per exercise.

3. Start your first week with 75% of your 1RM and do 8 reps per set.

This will have you ending each set roughly two reps shy of technical failure, which corresponds to an ~8 on an RPE scale.

4. Each week, increase the intensity by 5% and reduce each set by two reps. 

For example, on week 2 you should be using 80% of your 1RM and doing 6 reps per set.

5. Continue increasing the weight and reducing the reps in this fashion for a total of 3 weeks.

6. On the 4th week, do just two sets with 85% of your 1RM.

On the first set, do what’s called an AMRAP set, which stands for “As Many Reps As Possible.”

This means you take this set to technical failure—doing as many reps as you can before your form starts to break down. 

Then, on the second set, use the same weight and aim for two fewer reps than your first set (two reps shy of technical failure).

7. Use a 1RM calculator to calculate new estimated 1RMs based on how many reps you got on your AMRAP sets.

For instance, if you started a mesocycle with a 225-pound 1RM on the bench press and then got 8 reps with 190 pounds on your AMRAP set, your new 1RM would be 235 pounds.

8. Calculate your working weights for your next mesocycle based on your new estimated 1RMs.

Continuing with the above example, your new bench press 1RM of 235 pounds would mean you’d start your mesocycle with 175 pounds on the bar (75% of 235 is 176, and I like to round to the nearest 5-pound increment).

Let’s say, however, that you only got 6 reps with 190 pounds on your AMRAP set, putting your new estimated 1RM at 220 pounds. In this case, you’d start your next mesocycle with 165 pounds on the bar.

And here’s a quick illustration of this approach to periodization for someone whose estimated bench press 1RM is 225 pounds:

Sample-4-Week-Periodization-Plan

Now, for periodizing your isolation exercises, here’s the system I recommend: 

1. Do two to three isolation exercises per workout and three to four sets per exercise. 

2. At the beginning of each mesocycle (week 1), pick a weight you can do 10 to 12 reps with, while staying 1 to 2 reps shy of technical failure.

3. Try to add weight or reps every week using double progression.

That is, work with a given weight to gain reps and once you hit the top of your prescribed rep range, bump up the weight. Rinse and repeat.

4. On week four, do two sets per exercise.

For these sets, stick with your 10-to-12-rep weights and take your first set to technical failure and your second set to two reps shy of technical failure.

5. In the next mesocycle, reduce the high and low ends of your rep range by two reps.

In other words, aim for 8 to 10 reps per set for all of your isolation exercises in your next mesocycle. 

6. On week eight, do two sets per exercise.

For these sets, stick with your 8-to-10-rep weights and take your first set to technical failure and your second set to two reps shy of technical failure.

7. In the next mesocycle, reduce the high and low ends of your rep range by two reps (to 6 to 8 reps per set).

8. On week twelve, do two sets per exercise.

For these sets, stick with your 6-to-8-rep weights and take your first set to technical failure and your second set to two reps shy of technical failure.

And then the entire cycle repeats anew.

You go back to doing 10 to 12 reps per set for your isolation exercises with weights that keep you 1 to 2 reps shy of technical failure, and these weights should be getting slightly heavier over time.

Here’s how this might look with dumbbell side raises over the course of a couple macrocycles:

Mesocycle 1

35 x 10 to 12 reps

Mesocycle 2

40 x 8 to 10 reps

Mesocycle 3

45 x 6 to 8 reps

Mesocycle 4

40 x 10 to 12 reps

Mesocycle 5

45 x 8 to 10 reps

Mesocycle 6

50 x 6 to 8 reps

Mesocycle 7

45 x 10 to 12 reps

Mesocycle 8

45 x 8 to 10 reps

In this way, you’re still progressing in weight on all of your isolation exercises over time, but at a slower pace than your compound exercises. 

(And in case you’re wondering why mesocycle #8 is starting with the same weight as #5, it’s to illustrate that you won’t necessarily be able to increase the weight on every exercise every macrocycle).

A couple other notes on how to make this periodization system work better for you: 

1. Feel free to swap exercises every 8 weeks. 

You don’t need to change your exercises if you’re making good progress, but it’s a good idea if you’re getting bored, your joints are starting to complain, or you’ve hit a plateau. 

I recommend you stick with exercises similar to those used in your previous mesocycle, though. For example, you could do front squats instead of back squats or high-bar squats instead of low-bar squats, and instead of barbell curls, you could do dumbbell curls. 

2. Lower your estimated 1RM(s) if you’re consistently missing reps.

If you find yourself regularly failing to hit your prescribed number of reps in your workouts, reduce the estimated 1RM for the exercises you’re struggling with by 5%.

For example, if you get four reps on week two when you should get six, and it’s not due to something obvious like a bad night’s sleep, undereating, or a particularly stressful day at work, reduce your estimated 1RM by 5%. 

This will usually be enough to put your reps back where they should be, but if it’s not, feel free to shave another 5% off your estimated 1RM.

Unless you’re cutting, if you need to reduce your estimated 1RM by more than 10% in the middle of a mesocycle, chances are good you either overestimated your 1RM or are making other mistakes such as undereating, undersleeping, or overtraining (usually through additional activities outside of the gym).

If you are cutting, however, you may need to reduce your 1RMs several times as you lose more and more fat, as a calorie deficit significantly impairs muscle and strength gain and post-workout recovery.

The Bottom Line on Periodization

Periodization is a method of organizing your training that involves emphasizing different aspects of your fitness at different times.

The main reason people periodize their training programs is it allows you to effectively balance stress and recovery. You gradually push yourself closer and closer to your limits before backing off and giving yourself time to recover and grow. 

In this way, periodization can help you gain muscle and strength faster.

The “best” kind of periodization for you depends mostly on how experienced of a weightlifter you are.

If you’re new to lifting weights, a simple linear periodization system is all you need to optimize strength and muscle gain. 

One practical way to do this is working with a handful of good exercises and trying to add weight or reps to the bar (or dumbbell) every week for several weeks, followed by a deload.

This style of periodization is what you’ll find in my Bigger Leaner Stronger program for men and Thinner Leaner Stronger program for women, and it typically works gangbusters for the first year or two.

Eventually, however, it’s worth exploring more advanced periodization strategies like weekly undulating periodization and wave loading.

When used properly, these two methods can produce significantly better results than standard linear periodization for intermediate and advanced weightlifters and be just as effective as more complex styles of periodization.

In fact, with the plan I’ve given you in this article, you should be able to keep getting bigger and stronger for the many years to come.

If you liked this article, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you like to hang out online! 🙂

What do you think of periodization? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

Readers' Ratings

5/5 (13)

Your Rating?