Understanding Periodization

Bob Kupniewski October 30, 2014 Training Articles

When it comes to working out it is not always about going to a gym and doing the same workout everyday for the rest of your life. Nor is it always going to be that workout split you see in the magazines that tell you to do chest on mondays, back on tuesday, legs on wednesday, arms on thursday, and shoulders on friday. Lifting is much more complex than that and with that said I want to touch on the aspect of Periodization.

Periodization has returned to the forefront of exercise discussion over the last few years with the aid of Mike Zourdos and Layne Norton. Both of these individuals have really added insight with their implementation and utilization of Periodization in their training programs. They have shown just how beneficial it can truly be when you take perform compound movements far more frequent than you think you should. The results have been spectacular and after utilizing something like this on myself (under Layne’s guidance) it showed me that this stuff is the real deal. Since then my training has changed quite a bit and I have been doing a more frequent upper/lower type workouts. This protocol is showing better muscle stimulation results than other programs have provided over the years.


What is periodization?

Basically the definition for periodization could be scripted in multiple fashions in all essence. The foundation of the term “periodization” has to deal with the variance in volume, exercise selection, frequency, and intensity the trainee will be utilizing to help make progress in the gym. Some other aspects you could utilize would be rest periods and rep speeds (tempo training) to help stimulate the muscle to a different degree with a variance in negatives, holds, pauses, and concentric focus on the lift. Some individuals (not just normal gym trainees) use periodization to prepare for events (powerlifting meets or bodybuilding shows). This could also be applied to athletes who play professional sports or use forms of periodization for college and high school sports (Football players, cyclists, baseball players). There are a few types I want to touch on with those being Linear, Non-Linear, and Conjugate.

Linear Periodization

Linear Periodization has to deal with a very basic shift in high volume and low intensity to low volume and high intensity (or vice versa). What I mean by this is that the individual may run a 4 week period of training in the 12-15 rep range through various sets and exercises. The next 4 weeks after that would be in the 8-12 rep range through various sets and exercises, 4 more weeks in the 4-8 rep range, and then the last few weeks may be heavy singles, doubles, or triples.

A common outlook of this would be someone preparing for a powerlifting meet who would then use a program such as above to help peak for the contest and get ready to pull for those numbers or big 3 when they step on the platform. Another good example of Periodization is a program I ran in the past which made a light bulb go off when I started to write this article (and think about it too). This was a program called HST (Hypertrophy Sepcific Training) which was founded by Bryan Haycock.

HST Method

The premise was utilizng the above fashion of periodization (rep amounts) in different week blocks. All exercises for 2 weeks would be in the 12 rep range, 2 weeks in the 10 rep range, 2 weeks in the 8 rep range, 2 weeks of 5,etc and then take a week break and start over again and try to beat the log book next time around. The deload was used to help take a small mental and physical break from the body wearing down over the period of lifting and then trying to go back recharge the batteries and beat what you did in the past.

WestSide Linear Method

A WestSide type program is essentially an upper/lower type split where the individual will work up to the same rep and set schemes over a few week period but change the overall intensity of the lift. For instance a squat, bench or deadlift will be done in a 3×5 (3 sets of 5) or 5×5 (5 sets of 5) fashion for the entire duration of the 4-6-8 week block span. During that time span you are not changing the reps or sets so therefore the rep and set is set in a linear fashion to be followed.

Lyle McDonald Generic Bulking Method

I am a huge advocate of Lyle’s Generic Bulking Routine. This was basically the first program I used to help understand that an upper/lower split is more optimal than a basic 1x a week program. It showed me that more stimulation and more squatting/benching per week provided superior results. Throughout the course of the program the key focus would be building or adding weight to the bar (like a Starting Strength or Madcow type Program for beginners). You can see how popular linear periodization really is, and how often it has been used in the past and will continue to be used in the present.

Non-Linear Periodization

Linear was a form of following the same rep periods for those determined weeks, now in Non-linear you will bounce around with rep ranges and sets through various week. For instance instead of doing a 12-15 rep for 4 weeks you would do this for 2 weeks, then go to 2 weeks of a 10-12 rep range, then 2 weeks of a 5-6 rep range, then go back to the 12-15 for 2 weeks, 10-12 for 2 weeks, and 5-6 for 2 weeks. So you can see non-linear is not the same where linear would be the same or in a downward trend or upward trend in the same fashion.

Poliquin Methods

Charles Poliquin if you have never heard of him use to run programs very similar to the protocol laid out above. Some of his programs have been around for quite a long time and have become quite popular. However, they are a bit different than most programs you will come across with basic linear periodization. This made Poliquin’s programs stand out or raise an eyebrow whenever you first read them.

PHAT Method and Similar Methods

Another way you could use non-linear periodization would be transferring between power and hypertrophy based training for specific blocks like I showed with the rep ranges above. For instance you would do 2-3 weeks of Endurance or high rep type training, and then alternate with 2-3 weeks of power type training (very low rep like 4-6 rep or lower). Getting the best of both worlds in this type of training is because you are going to activate Type I and Type II muscle fibers over the different spans of the training periods and still reaping the benefits of both. Something Similar is Layne Norton’s PHAT (Power Hypertrophy Training) but this is doing it in the given week (2 days of power training and 3 days of hypertrophy). You could run Layne’s split but use all 5 days in the power training (upper/lower, chest/back, legs, shoulders/arms) but keep it all power for 2-3 weeks, then all hypertrophy for 2-3 weeks and then alternate.

Conjugate Periodization

This type of periodization is where you utilize all rep ranges in the same week. This seems to be the most complex and detailed type of training out there. I want to go right into how to example this so you understand it just a touch better. At the beginning of the week (say Monday) you will do a complex movement (Squat for example) in a 8 set of 3 rep range. Then, Wednesday you would perform the same movement but say in a strength type set/rep sequence (5×5 for example). Friday you would then move the squat to a hypertrophy type rep/set setup (3 sets of 10) basically the opposite of the Monday workout.

Westside Conjugate Method

A program that first opened my eyes to this was Westside Barbell Training or West SIde for Skinny Bastards. A very famous upper and lower split that uses Conjugate periodization. Louie Simmons was one of the founders and writers that came up with this type of training to help all athletes activate all forms of muscle fibers. He does this by using hypertrophy training, strength training, and various forms of GPP/HIIT type training. For instance on a Monday you would do an 8×3 on Speed Squats, then 5 x 5 on regular squats (Wednesday), then 3 sets of 10 Friday (Hypertrophy Based Squats). You can see all various forms within one week and how Louie did set it up.

Louie’s setup for training is a basic upper/lower type training, but you could also set it up in a push/pull/legs type training routine over a 4 or 6 day training split. For example Monday/Thursday Upper and Tuesday/Friday Lower. If you wanted to make this a more progressive split it would open up to Upper/lower/upper/off/lower/upper/lower over the 7 day period. The major difference with a higher frequency and higher training amounts means lower volume due to the compensation of training more often. Workouts on a 4 day split compared to a 6 day split may be longer in length, but that is because of the higher volume they can allow for.

What type of periodization is best?

There is no best method. The best method is one that the trainee responds to, and what type of progress they make off of it. Linear Periodization works, non-linear periodization works, and conjugate periodization works, but the factor is how the trainee responds based off of these routines. Some individuals may not be able to recover or tolerate higher frequency or higher volume. Due to this the trainee will need to either cut back a training day or cut back overall volume on a setup from the method of choice.

Individuals should always ramp up their intensity and volume when they are going to progress into the training world. Never try and jump into an advanced program because it will end up tiring them out and running them into the ground. The overall aspect of intensity would be very small compared to those who are experienced and can handle higher intensity for longer periods of time. I would always suggest starting with a Linear type program at least for your first year of training to get a good foundation of training on your big 3 (Squat,bench, and deadlift). After a good year of serious training and making sure your diet is in check you can start to experiment with Non-Linear and Conjugate type training. Of course this is if your body can handle and recover off the variation chosen!

About The Author

Bob Kupniewski, better known as “Chef Bob”, whose creative and original recipes have built a tremendous following on popular fitness industry forums, including Bodybuilding.com. Bob is a competitive Natural bodybuilder who has taken top 5 in both of his shows he has competed in as a Lightweight and is currently growing into a middleweight for the future. You can follow Bob’s Progress at “Bkupniewski” on youtube or Instagram

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