Start a Periodization Workout and Achieve the Biggest Gains Possible

Basics of Periodization

So you're ready to make some fitness gains, are ya? Well, you've come to the right place! Periodization is a proven method to help even the most chiseled of athletes reach their fitness goals.

Here's a basic outline of what's on this page...these links will take you to the various sections on this page. You will NOT be taken to another page!

How does it work?

Start Planning Your Workout

Microcycles, Mesocycles and Macrocycles

Your new workout program

Let's begin!

So, how does this work?

The key is to blast right through that dreaded "plateau"! This is what periodization is known for - making gains past any other generic training routine. Here's a list of just a few of the benefits...

- Improved muscular strength/growth (hypertrophy)

- Increased muscular endurance

- Increased power

- Improved self confidence

Let's have a little comparison...

periodization plateau Studies have shown that circuit training leads to an inevitable plateau because the same exercises are done over and over - same exercises, same repetitions (reps), same ranges of motion, slightly fluctuating weights.

Periodization, on the other hand, leads to muscle confusion, forcing your body to adapt to a wide range of exercises, weights and reps. It has been shown that the periodization method blows right through that plateau! Let's see how it all works...

Basic periodization follows a pattern of peaks and valleys of training intensity over the short and the long term, allowing for maximal results in the shortest amount of time. In this case, intensity refers to the weight lifted in relationship to your one rep max (or the amount of weight you can lift one time, using correct form) or your multiple rep max).

As an example, if you can manage to muster one bicep curl at 35 lbs using correct form, then your one rep max is 35 lbs. The intensity of an exercise is often described as a percentage of your one rep max. So, if you performed 6 reps of bicep curls at 25 lbs, then you're training at about 70% maximum (25lbs/35lbs = 71.4%)

Along with training intensity, volume is another term used often in a periodization, referring to the number of sets, reps and exercises that are performed in a given workout. This is sometimes given as a product of the 3 items (sets x reps x weight).

For example, if you're doing 3 sets of 8 reps at 50 lbs of a particular exercise, then your volume is 3 x 8 x 50 = 1200. Then again, if you're performing 2 sets of 10 reps at 40 lbs, then your volume would be 2 x 10 x 40 = 800. (More information on sets, reps and weight can be found at the basic weight training page.)

dumbbells and periodization Generally, as intensity increases in your workout the corresponding volume should decrease (and vice versa). This will help prevent injury and speed your recovery time. Anytime you include both high intensity and volume in one workout, you'll more than likely do more harm than good.

In order for your program to be successful, intensity and volume should be varied throughout a period of time (weeks, months, even years!). For instance, if all your workouts are high intensity and/or high volume, your recovery time will suffer, you'll hate going to the gym and you'll actually end up losing muscle mass!

This mistake is known as overtraining and is actually more prominent than you might think. As with anything else, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Avoid this and you'll be well on your way!

On the other hand, constantly working out at low intensity and volume will not be enough to stimulate significant muscular gains. Remember that list I put up at the top of this page? Train consistently at a low intensity and volume and you can throw that list out the window along with those rippling abs you always wanted!

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Essential Workout Planning

Now that you understand the basics of periodization, let's start planning your workout. Can you see your beach body yet?

As I mentioned earlier, periodization will not work without proper short and long term planning. Without this planning, you'll be like a guitar player out-of-tune and off-beat. Maybe that wasn't the best analogy in the world...but there it is.

All I'm saying is that you'll just be going to the weight room to "work out", doing exercises in a very random and unorganized fashion. This is what most people do!

running jogging periodization At the start, periodization was invented for athletes to train in the offseason as a way to plan their workouts in order to get to a "peak" at a certain time and to maximize their gains. The very nature of an athlete revolves around being ready at a given time. This is where periodization shines!

For example, a marathon runner wouldn't want to reach one of his "valleys" the day before the big run. He wants to be at the top of his game, at his peak. Although not all of us are marathon runners or professional athletes, we can all use periodization to our benefit, even if we're not training to reach a peak at a certain time.

The first thing you want to do when beginning a strength training program is to sit down with a sheet of paper and write down your goals (both short and long term). Fitness goal setting is extremely important when beginning any sort of strength training program. Be sure to review this before planning your workout routines and cycles!

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Workout Cycles

Even if you're not a professional athlete, you still have goals and want to achieve them. The key is proper planning! Basically, there are three different planning "cycles"...

1) Microcycles - short term planning

2) Mesocycles - a bunch of microcycles bunched together (medium term planning)

3) Macrocycles - a bunch of mesocycles (long term planning)

Just as an example, let's say you've devised a series of 4 unique workouts to be performed in a week. That set of workouts is called a microcycle. Repeating this microcycle while varying intensity and volume for a period of, let's say, 6 weeks is a mesocycle.

Now, taking this mesocycle and repeating for about 6 months will be a macrocycle. Simple, right?

bench press, chest exercises, pushup workouts Now, let's say one of your short term goals is to increase your one rep max for bench press by 25 lbs. Your long term is being able to outlift your buff gym friend. More than likely, at the end of a few mesocycles, you'll be well past your previous one rep max. But, at the end of a macrocycle, you may be able to outlift your buddy!

One thing to consider is the length of each cycle. Some may find it boring to stick with one goal for a long period of time. You may find it easier to break up your goals into smaller, easier goals. This will help keep you motivated and chugging along.

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Your Periodization Workout

You've got the background and basics of periodization, so now let's take a look at the five different phases of a mesocycle (made up of microcycles). This is especially useful for beginners!

1) Prep - prepare for the challenge!

2) Pump - systematically begin to increase your intensity

3) Push - heavier weight, fewer reps, more sets!

4. Peak - heavy lifting: high sets, low reps, more rest

5. Rest - light lifting or no lifting

Each of the 5 phases should last at least 2 weeks. As usual, the length of time spent in each phase should point towards your goal.

Periodization Prep Phase

periodization workout prep phase

This period simply involves preparing your body for the training program. Never start out with high intensity - this will result in burnout. In this phase, use light weights, 12-15 reps, 1-3 sets per muscle group and a 90-=second rest between sets and exercises.

Periodization Pump Phase

periodization workout pump phase In this period, you'll be increasing the intensity of your workout gradually. Use moderately heavier weights, 10-12 reps, 3-6 sets per muscle group and a short 1 minute rest between sets and exercises.

Periodization Push Phase

periodization workout push phase Increase the intensity a little further in the push phase. Do 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps per set with a short 30 second rest in between for each muscle group. Do not do more than 4 exercises per muscle group in this phase!

Rest and Recovery

periodization workout rest phase This will be used to get ready for your peak phase!

Periodization Peak Phase

periodization workout peak phase In the peak phase, you'll be achieving your maximum strength in this mesocycle. Use heavy weights while performing 15-20 sets, 6-8 reps and a 2 minute rest in between sets and exercises. I know that sounds daunting, but you'll really feel like you're making great strides in this phase!

This is where you'll find out how far you've come! Be sure to consult your strength training log to monitor this progress.


periodization workout rest phase Let yourself recover from the last phase - either continue with very light workouts (as in the prep phase), or you can simply take a complete break from the gym. Stop lifting!

This phase is crucial. You must allow yourself to rest. If you continue to workout, your muscles will begin to break down and you'll lose all the progress you made through this mesocycle. Just like with anything else, rest can be a good thing!

Begin the entire cycle again (prep phase) well-rested and ready to go!

This is a simple, basic periodization scheme and is in no way the only periodization method. It is, however, the easiest to follow. Have fun, good luck and enjoy!

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Return from Periodization Workout to Basic Weight Training

Return from Periodization Workout to the Smart Strength Training Homepage

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"Use heavy weights while performing 15-20 sets, 6-8 reps and a 2 minute rest in between sets and exercises."

do you mean per exercise, or sets per …...

Number of Sets in the PUSH phase Not rated yet
Is the number of sets in the PUSH phase correct?

Only at the top of the workout it states

"3) Push - heavier weight, fewer reps, more sets!"

yet …...

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How are you supposed to do 15 to 20 sets of an exercise with 2 min recovery in peak phase even doing just one exercise would take about an hour or more, …...

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