Use periodization to build more muscle, burn more fat, and gain more strength!

how to use periodization for better results in the gym from your bodybuilding program

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

15 min read

Periodization is your secret weapon for turning a good training program into a great training program.

It’s a technique which very few people in the gym know about, but once you do, you’ll feel like Thanos with all of the Infinity Stones.

It involves manipulating certain aspects of your training (i.e. rep ranges) at the correct time in order to avoid plateaus, and this is an incredibly powerful tool because it can help you reach your goals (i.e. fat loss, muscle building, strength gains) much faster than ever before, while making you more consistent in the gym, and keeping you injury-free.

This detailed article will show you how to do it.

Table of Contents

What Is Periodization?

periodization

In order to demonstrate the full benefits of periodization, I want to show you three different folks at your local gym and how they train.

First up, let’s look at the folks who do the exact same thing every time they train.

Most gym members will do the same exercises, with the same weight, for the same number of reps, and so on – and it’s no coincidence that most gym members are also riddled with niggling injuries that make them feel like shit.

You see, aside from the obvious lack of variety, the biggest downside to this style of training is the huge toll it takes on the body over time. The vast majority of guys train exclusively in the 8-12 rep range, which means lots of heavy weights, and the build-up of stress to the joints and central nervous system over several months, years, or even decades leaves them feeling more broken than fixed.

This is why most guys over the age of 45 feel like they’re pummelling their body and not even seeing any rewards for it.

Worse still, they’ll reach a ceiling in terms of how heavy they can lift, so the key driver of muscle growth (progressive overload) is no longer being achieved, and therefore results have stopped coming even though they continue to show up and put the effort in.

Sound familiar?

Now let’s look at the folks who go the complete opposite way, inventing their workout on the fly depending upon what they feel like training that day.

There’s more variety on offer here, but it comes at the expense of safety and structure.

Trainees go in search of ever more obscure exercises and/or advanced lifting techniques to keep things interesting, then try to incorporate them into their training on the fly with no previous experience, greatly increasing the risk of injury.

And, of course, it’s almost impossible to achieve progressive overload when the exercises, rep ranges, and individual training methods are being chopped and changed from workout-to-workout-to-workout.

Now let’s look at folks who use periodization:

A periodized program will chunk down your goal into several phases.

The goal is to let you hang around in one particular training style just long enough to unlock all of the results it offers, then swing outta there (and into another training zone) before any of the negative adaptations occur.

You see, each training style brings its own unique set of benefits and drawbacks.

If we trained exclusively in the moderate rep range (8-12 reps per set) this is excellent for muscle growth and pretty good for strength, but in the long-term it generally leads to injury. Alternatively, training in the higher rep range (20-30 reps per set) is also great for muscle growth, and it’s safer on the joints, but it’s not very good for building strength.

Periodization would combine the two, so you could unlock the best of both worlds.


How To Use Periodization

periodization bodybuilding

There are six different variables to use when you are looking to change your program.

They are:

  • Rep range
  • Number of sets per workout
  • Recovery time between sets
  • Tempo of reps
  • Order of exercises
  • Exercise selection

If you have used any of my training programs before, you’ll already know that I typically focus on the top three (rep range, number of sets per workout, and recovery time between sets) – not because they’re superior, just because they’re the most flexible when it comes to designing programs which will be used by thousands of people.

So if your training goal is to gain strength and turn into an absolute shithouse, I would have you progressively decreasing your reps in each phase of the program, building a solid foundation of strength and familiarity with the exercises on offer, and then peaking at a designated point in the future.

Or if your goal is to increase your fitness, I might gradually ramp up the volume (number of sets per workout) in each phase of your program, reaching an apex in the final week.

This will lead to significantly greater results versus winging it – and is essentially the difference between how athletes train versus how regular people train.

Another cool aspect of periodization is that there is no set time attached to it – it all depends upon your individual goals. Most people are mainly interested in seeing what kind of physical transformation they can achieve in a short space of time (6-10 weeks), but the same methods could be used if a trainee had a much longer goal in mind, such as training over a four-year period for the Olympic Games.

Now let’s look at some of the most popular forms of periodization.


Classic Linear Periodization

does periodization help with bodybuilding

Best used for: Strength.
Programs which use this: Classic Size.

Created by Russian sport scientist Leonid Matveyev, the classic linear periodization model is the most commonly used form of periodization. With this periodization model a trainee will steadily increase the intensity (weight) and decrease the volume (reps) in each phase of their program.

For example, you might begin with a hypertrophy phase at 12-15 reps per set, and then move to a power phase which uses 6-8 reps per set with heavier weights, and then finish your program with a heavy phase which uses 3-5 reps per set.

This is fantastic for develping strength, because gradually increasing the intensity in this way forces the body to make certain adaptations during the early parts of the program (i.e. you’ll build more muscle and have greater explosive power), which then help you to unlock significantly better strength gains later on. (1, 3)


Reverse Linear Periodization

periodization to build muscle

Best used for: Endurance.
Programs which use this: Figure of 8.

As the name suggests, reverse linear periodization flips the classic method on its head. That means you’ll start in the lower rep ranges of a power phase, then move through a hypertrophy phases, and peak in the muscular endurance zone (20+ reps).

This makes it a perfect choice for trainees looking to boost fitness and muscular endurance like, say, Rocky Balboa training to face-off against Drago in a gruelling fifteen round contest. In Russia. On Christmas Day. With the whole world on his back. (3)


Undulating Periodization

undulating periodization for building muscle

Best used for: Hypertrophy.
Programs which use this: Biceps Boom Vol.2.

This model is also known as Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP for short), and it’ll have you switching between training styles from workout-to-workout.

So instead of spending long periods of time in one training zone, you could perform an endurance-based full body workout on Monday (20+ reps), then a power-based full body workout on Wednesday (6-8 reps), and a hypertrophy-based full body workout on Friday (12-15 reps), and you’d do this for the duration of your program.

If you’re a long-time bodybuilding fan you might recognize this as the theory of muscle confusion, popularized by the great Joe Weider in the 1970s – and you’re right, that’s exactly what it is!

Oh, and the reason I ditched the word “daily” from the title is because it’s misleading.

You see, if you’re following a full body workout program then it’s quite easy to train in the style I mentioned above – but many people don’t follow a full body program, and they mistakenly believe they can’t use this form of periodization. The idea behind undulating periodization is to stick with one training style until the entire body has been trained, so if you’re using a full body workout you can switch styles in every session, but if you’re following a different split (like push/pull/legs) you’d stick with one training style until your entire body has been worked, which usually takes one week, then move to a different training zone.

That would look like this:

  • Week 1: Endurance phase (20+ reps)
  • Week 2: Power phase (6-8 reps)
  • Week 3: Hypertrophy phase (12-15 reps)
  • Week 4: Strength phase (3-5 reps)

Now, generally speaking, you shouldn’t expect to achieve the same strength gains from this type of programming versus a classic linear model which gradually gets heavier in each phase specifically to help you build strength (although they won’t be too far away), so that’s why I recommend strength athletes should follow the classic linear method. And you might not scale the heights of muscular endurance as well as you could with the reverse linear method, which steadily increases the metabolic aspect of your training in each phase so that you reach your peak at the end of your program, so that’s why I recommend endurance athletes should follow the reverse linear method…

… but undulating periodization definitely has its own audience. Over the years it has become my personal favourite, and it is the best option for trainees who want to build muscle, lose body fat, and need variety in order to remain consistent. (2, 5)

(Which is the overwhelming majority of people who go to the gym, right?!)

It’s also worth knowing that the results you can expect from DUP are far superior to those of a non-periodized routine (i.e. “winging it). Because despite offering more variety than other forms of periodization, there is still a structure here, one which will help you to unlock the benefits of several different training styles over the course of your program – and in terms of hypertrophy it might even be the cream of the crop, as shown in a 2004 meta-analysis which looked at more than 38 years of periodization-based studies. (1, 2, 3, 4)


Pendulum Periodization

how to use periodization to build muscle

Best used for: Hypertrophy.

The three forms of periodization covered above will make up the backbone of most training programs, but now let’s get stuck into some of the more obscure stuff!

One of those is pendulum periodization. This combines both classic linear and reverse linear periodization into one long-form version, starting with a hypertrophy phase (12-15 reps) and moving in linear fashion to a power phase (6-8 reps) and a strength phase (3-5 reps), before switching into reverse linear periodization for a power phase (6-8 reps), a hypertrophy phase (12-15 reps) and an endurance hase (20+ reps).

This type of periodization is best applied to longer training programs where the goal is to achieve a happy medium of all three training outcomes (strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance) and, just like other models, you can stay in one phase for weeks or months depending how long you want to stretch your program over.


Antagonistic Periodization

antagonistic periodization by Russ Howe PTI

Best used for: Hypertrophy.
Programs which use this: MuscleMania.

My antagonistic periodization model has you following both classic linear periodization and reverse linear periodization at the same time.

It’s a periodization model which I designed for advanced trainees, because it works best with high volume training programs.

If you are training six days per week, you will hit your full body with low reps in the first three workouts, then in the remaining three sessions you’ll hit your full body with high reps. As your program continues into further weeks, the low rep work takes you on a path similar to classic linear periodiation (starting in the hypertrophy zone then moving you into a power phase and a strength phase), and your high rep work follows a similar path to reverse linear periodization (starting in the hypertrophy range then moving up into the endurance zone).

So over the course of your program you’ll notice that your rep ranges gradually begin to pull away from eachother (antagonistic).

Check it out:

ScheduleLow Rep DaysHigh Rep Days
Weeks 1 & 210-1212-15
Weeks 3 & 48-1015-20
Weeks 5 & 67-820-25
Weeks 7 & 85-625-30

So your training schedule might look like this:

  • Monday: Chest and back
  • Tuesday: Shoulders and arms
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Chest and back
  • Friday: Shoulders and arms
  • Saturday: Legs
  • Sunday: Off

The low rep structure is in play on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, then you switch to the high rep structure on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. As the weeks go by, your low reps get lower and your high reps get higher. This is not a coincidence; I programmed it this way so that your workouts compliment eachother in order to maximize recovery. This allows you to combine heavy training and high volume, because the switch to high rep work helps your central nervous system recover while still giving you the high volume you enjoy.

Another way to apply this form of periodization is via supersets, as we do in my popular Afterburner program.

Exercise “A” (i.e. chect press) follows the low rep model and exercise “B” (i.e. chest flye) follows the high rep model. As the weeks go by this produces some pretty nasty combinations where you’ll be moving from very heavy weights to very light weights, absolutely frying your muscle fibers and leading to some high quality muscle growth!


Oscillating Periodization

Oscillating Periodization

Best used for: Hypertrophy.
Programs which use this: RPE 20.

At first glance, oscillating periodization can look much more random than other forms of periodization, because it has you bouncing between phases of hypertrophy, power, endurance and strength in what appears to be a no particular order…

… but when we look closer, we can see what’s really happening!

The definintion of oscillating is “to vary in magnitude or position in a regular manner about a central point”. With that in mind, a program which is built for hypertrophy will start in the hypertrophy range (12-15 reps), then the next phase will be a notch below this central point, followed by a phase one notch above the central point, then it will oscillate two notches below the central point, and two notches above it for the final phase.

If you wanted to double the length of this program, you would just reverse the journey from the bottom to the top; gravitating back towards the hypertrophy range.

Oscillating periodization makes more sense to put it into table form like this, rather than in graph form:

Weeks 7/8Weeks 3/4Weeks 1/2Weeks 5/6Weeks 9/10
6 reps9 reps12 reps15 reps18 reps

This evolving rep scheme offers almost as much variety as undulating periodization, and secondly because you’ll be training to failure across various rep ranges, so you’ll reap a good balance of of results with regards to strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance. (6, 7)


Getting The Best Results

how to use periodization to build muscle

You now have several different periodization models which you can try in the gym!

Here’s a loose guide to help you match them to your goals:

  • Strength: classic linear, undulating, pendulum
  • Hypertorphy: undulating, classic linear, oscillating
  • Endurance: reverse linear, antagonistic

But the most important thing to remember (and the thing which I consider to be the best feature of periodization) is that you’re not locked into one style. The vast majority of website members have used training programs which have put them through either all or nearly all of the models shown above. The wicked combination of structure and variety is a sure-fire way to make training both more effective and more fun, and while certain periodization models are definintely better suited to certain goals (strength gains, etc), the fact is ALL of them work!

Experiment with each of them in your own custom program, or jump into one of my most popular ready-made programs below.

Classic Size

An old school 12-week program which uses dropsets, rest pause sets, and classic linear periodization to help you pack on serious muscle mass.

Begin Program

Beach Bum

You want legs to die for? This structured 8-week program is the one for you.

Begin Program

RPE 20

Training to failure has never been so much fun! This 10-week muscle builder will take you on an epic journey using oscillating periodization.

Begin Program

Become War

This program is an updated and simplified version of Stallone’s Rambo II training regimen. You’ll use supersets, tri-sets, and undulating periodization to shred fat and claim victory.

Begin Program

References:

  1. Kraemer W., et al. Physiological changes with periodized resistance training in women tennis players. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2003).
  2. Marx J. O., et al. Low-volume circuit versus high-volume periodized resistance training in women. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2001).
  3. Rhea MR, Alderman BL. A meta-analysis of periodized versus nonperiodized strength and power training programs. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2004 Dec;75(4):413-22. doi: 10.1080/02701367.2004.10609174. PMID: 15673040. >>
  4. Willoughby D. S. The Effects of Mesocycle-Length Weight Training Programs Involving Periodization and Partially Equated Volumes on Upper and Lower Body Strength. J Strength Cond Res (1993).
  5. Peixoto D. L., et al. Muscle Daily Undulating Periodization for Strength and Body Composition: The Proposal of a New Model. Int J Exerc Sci (2022).
  6. Phillips M. B., et al. Tools and Benefits of Periodization: Developing an Annual Training Plan and Promoting Performance Improvements in Athletes. The Sport Journal (2020).
  7. Williams T. D., et al. Comparison of Periodized an Non-Periodized Resistance Training on Maximal Strength: A Meta-Analysis. Spors Med (2017).

Get More From Russ!

russ_howe_pti

I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own russhowepti.com.

My job is to simplify fitness for my readers.

I send out free fitness tips to over 100,000 men and women every week, all in the same no-nonsense style as the article you’ve just read, so if you enjoyed reading it be sure to jump on my email list below.

Website members are killing these training programs, and you can start today!

Classic Size

An old school 12-week program which uses dropsets, rest pause sets, and classic linear periodization to help you pack on serious muscle mass.

Beach Bum

This 8-week program will have you lifting heavy and building legs to die for, just in time for beach season!

Become War

Get ready to carve an action hero physique, with my modernized version of Sly’s insane Rambo II training regimen!

RPE 20

Use the Rest Pause technique to add slabs of lean muscle to your fame over the next 10-weeks.

Get More From Russ!

russ_howe_pti

I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own russhowepti.com.

My job is to simplify fitness for my readers.

I send out free fitness tips to over 100,000 men and women every week, all in the same no-nonsense style as the article you’ve just read, so if you enjoyed reading it be sure to jump on my email list below.

12 responses to “How To Use Periodization For Better Results”

  1. Angela avatar
    Angela

    Oh wow! Thank you so much, lots of great information in this one Russ.

  2. Aldo avatar
    Aldo

    Thanks for this Russ. I’ve been using the classic method with PT clients, but I’m going to see how Undulating works now.

  3. Elsie avatar
    Elsie

    Interesting. I’ll try the one which uses undulating periodisation next, never tried that approach before. Thanks Russ!

  4. Richard avatar
    Richard

    Great information shared.. really enjoyed reading this post.

  5. Joy avatar
    Joy

    I like the efforts you have put in this, regards for all the great content.

  6. AJ avatar
    AJ

    Never seen the antagonistic model before. That looks super cool!

    1. Russ Howe PTI avatar

      It was created specifically for my Afterburner program in 2022. Since then, you can also find it in more recent programs such as MuscleMania & High Frequency Muscle.

  7. Sheldon Mills avatar
    Sheldon Mills

    I just like the helpful information you provide in your articles

  8. Christina Wright avatar
    Christina Wright

    I can’t thank you enough for this post. It’s exactly what I was looking for!

  9. Pranie Tapicerki Wrocław avatar
    Pranie Tapicerki Wrocław

    I wanted to express my gratitude for this helpful post. The information you’ve shared has been instrumental in solving a problem I’ve been facing.

  10. Chris Andrade avatar
    Chris Andrade

    Nice post. I learnt something new today.

  11. Kaycee Bosco avatar
    Kaycee Bosco

    The anecdotes you shared really added to the post. Loved reading this.

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