Today we are going to talk about periodization, which is the key to unlocking superior results from your workout program.
I’ve spent my whole life in gyms, and I can confirm that there are two types of people in there.
They train in very different ways, but they share one common complaint – they would like to see better results!
These people do the exact same thing every time they train. Same machines, same weight, same order of exercises, same number of repetitions, and so on, and they’ve been doing this for as long as they can remember.
These people do a different workout every time. They invent their session on the fly, always using new exercises, etc.
So why aren’t either group seeing the results they want?
Well, the main problem for trainees who have been doing the exact same thing is that their body has adapted to the workload. They usually train exclusively in the 8-12 rep range, and have hit a ceiling in terms of how much weight they can lift (which rules out muscle growth because there is no progressive overload occurring), and eventually injuries begin to mount up as their joints succumb to the pressure of heavy iron, and the trainee just keeps plugging away with what they know.
In some ways it’s like watching a movie with the same plot again and again, and then wondering why it never hits you like the first time.
Meanwhile, the folks who train instinctively have their own set of problems. Their desire for something new leads them to get bored very easily, so they never train for long enough to see any results from it, and their need to always switch things up renders progressive overload pretty much impossible, which has stopped them from seeing any progress.
This is like watching your favourite football team take to the field with no game plan, and then wondering why the opposition broke them down.
Neither of those situations is ideal, right?
So check this out:
There’s a third group of trainees.
That’s right, I’m talking about those annoying motherf**kers at your gym who seem to find results easier to come by than anyone else. It’s like they just set a goal, they crush it, and they move on to the next one. Bosh!
These trainees use periodization, and I want to put you in this group!
Table of Contents
- What Is Periodization?
- Most Popular Forms Of Periodization
- Classic Linear Periodization
- Reverse Linear Periodization
- Undulating Periodization
- Pendulum Periodization
- Antagonistic Periodization
- Oscillating Periodization
- Getting The Best Results
- Who Is Russ Howe PTI?
What Is Periodization?
Periodization is the structure which sits underneath your training program, like the foundations of a house.
When you follow a program which has been properly periodized you will have several phases which are designed to enhance certain attibutes (strength, power, hypertrophy, endurance), and the primary goal of this is to allow you to reap the maximum benefits from one phase then swing into another before any of the negative adaptations associated with that type of training begin to take hold (such as the injuries from constant heavy lifting, or the loss of explosive power from endless high rep training, etc).
The main way I like to apply periodization is to move a trainee between different rep ranges (strength, power, hypertrophy, and endurance), but there are several other variables which you could play with:
- Rep ranges
- Total workout volume (sets)
- Exercise selection
- Exercise order
- Recovery time between sets
- Tempo of reps
Another cool aspect of periodization is that you can change the length of each phase depending upon when you want to reach your peak.
For example, when you use my training programs I’ll generally have you switching phases every few weeks because I’ve found this approach to be highly effective for helping most people unlock great results while keeping each phase short enough so that trainees remain consistent. However, if an athlete is training for a long-term objective, such as the Olympics, they could also periodize their prep by stretching it over a whopping four years, so that they reach peak performance levels exactly when they need to.
This enables you to move away from how most people train (“winging it”) and lean towards how an athlete trains.
In doing so, you’ll be able to structure your workout program to line up with your goals (like more muscle growth, better fat loss, or improved athletic performance), and you can do so with a reduced injury risk thanks to proper programming.
That’s why all of my programs use a form of periodization.
Most Popular Forms Of Periodization
Different forms of periodization work better with different training goals.
(i.e. some work better with fat loss plans, others for building muscle, and so on.)
Let’s take a look at some of them now.
Classic Linear Periodization
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
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)
And just like the classic linear model, you can adjust the length of each phase of your program from weeks, to months, or even years depending what you’re training for.
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)
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.
Best used for: Hypertrophy.
Programs which use this: Afterburner.
My antagonistic periodization model has you following both classic linear periodization and reverse linear periodization at the same time.
Some of your weekly workouts will be designated low rep days (starting you off in the hypertrophy zone and then moving you through a power phase and a strength phase), and the remainder of your workouts will be designated high rep days, beginning in the hypertrophy range and then moving you up through the endurance range.
So over the course of your program you’ll notice that your rep ranges gradually begin to pull away from eachother (antagonistic).
It’s a method which I reserve for more advanced trainees, because it works best when a training program has plenty of volume and/or frequency.
Check it out:
|Schedule||Low Rep Days||High Rep Days|
|Weeks 1 & 2||10-12||12-15|
|Weeks 3 & 4||8-10||15-20|
|Weeks 5 & 6||7-8||20-25|
|Weeks 7 & 8||5-6||25-30|
So let’s say your schedule looks like this:
- Monday: Chest and back
- Tuesday: Shoulders and arms
- Wednesday: Legs
- Thursday: Chest and back
- Friday: Shoulders and arms
- Saturday: Legs
- Sunday: Off
You’d use the low rep structure for the first bunch of workouts, then switch to the high rep model for the second bunch of workouts. Notice how the difference between the rep ranges gets wider as each week of your program passes by? This is not a coincidence. It ensures that your workouts compliment each other in order to enhance recovery. For example, if you’re packing a lot of volume into your routine and you want to incorporate lower rep work with heavy weights (5-6 reps), switching to very high reps (25-30) for the remaining workouts keeps you safe from injury and allows your central nervous system to recover, while still giving you the high volume you enjoy.
Like DUP, this is a lot of fun and generally leads to greater consistency with higher volume, and the fact that you’re training across several different rep ranges is tremendous for muscular hypertrophy, so that’s why you’ll see me deploy this method in programs where the primary goal is to gain muscle!
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!
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 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 with a hypertrophy goal will begin in the hypertrophy range, then spend the next two phases oscillating one notch below and above this central point, and then the next two phases oscillating another notch below and above.
So instead of looking random like this:
- Weeks 1/2: x12 reps
- Weeks 3 /4: x9 reps
- Weeks 5/6: x15 reps
- Weeks 7/8: x6 reps
- Weeks 9/10: x18 reps
It makes more sense to put it into table form like this:
|Weeks 7/8||Weeks 3/4||Weeks 1/2||Weeks 5/6||Weeks 9/10|
|6 reps||9 reps||12 reps||15 reps||18 reps|
You may have also heard me refer to this as Slalom periodization, because of the way it looks in graph form (see above), and if we wanted to double the length of this program we’d simply reverse the journey from the bottom to the top, gravitating back towards the hypertrophy range.
There are two reasons why I enjoy this format.
Firstly, because 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
The one thing I want you to take away from this article is that periodization works.
The goal is to provide a trainee with the structure and consistency they need in order to see results.
It’s this method to the madness, this controlled chaos, which affords a trainee the luxury of being able to hang around in one particular training zone just long enough to reap most of the rewards on offer, and then get out of there before any of the negative addaptations occur. Research clearly demonstrates that periodized programs are more effective than non-periodized programs, and no matter whether your goal is to gain strength, to build muscle, or to improve athletic performance, there is a periodization model which can help you. (1, 2, 3, 4)
And now for the BEST part:
You’re not locked to one style!
Sure, a strength athlete may wish to stick to the periodization models which are most linked with strength gains (classic linear, undulating) but in my 20+ years working as a personal trainer I’ve found that the specific goal which the vast majority of people are training for is that they just want to look great.
That means you can try them all out, and see which ones you enjoy the most! Many of my clients (and all website members) have used various forms of periodization across several different training programs, and the end result is that you come out of it leaner, faster, stronger, and more conditioned.
- Kraemer W., et al. Physiological changes with periodized resistance training in women tennis players. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2003).
- Marx J. O., et al. Low-volume circuit versus high-volume periodized resistance training in women. Med Sci Sports Exerc (2001).
- 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. >>
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- Williams T. D., et al. Comparison of Periodized an Non-Periodized Resistance Training on Maximal Strength: A Meta-Analysis. Spors Med (2017).
Who Is Russ Howe PTI?
As featured in Men’s Fitness magazine and voted in the world’s top 50 fat loss coaches by HuffPost, Russ is among the UK’s most subscribed personal trainers with 105,223 men and women receiving his free weekly fitness tips e-mail.
In the gym, clients range from busy parents, to models, to athletes and actresses. Russ also worked alongside the UK government for 8 years in a venture combating childhood obesity in England.
Outside of the gym, he’s a proud Dad to three young lads.
You can receive free tips by joining the e-mail list above, or you can hit the big button below to unlock full workout programs!
Leave a Reply