It’s not so important for beginners. All they really need to do is focus on simple progressive overload, with the aim of getting strong on the major compound exercises, and they’ll grow just fine.
But once you’ve been training a while your gains will slow down and eventually stop if you keep training in the same way. So you need to introduce some sort of variation into your program in order to keep the gains coming. And the best way to do that is to use some form of periodization.
Periodization is simply the way you plan or organize your training over time, and there are four main approaches you can take to this. So in this article I’ll describe these four types of periodization so that you can decide which of them would best fit in with your current situation and goals.
This is the original periodization model and dates back to the 1950’s.
With linear periodization you increase the intensity (load) and decrease the volume you are doing over time. So you might do the following:
Week 1: 3 x 12; Week 2: 3 x 10; Week 3: 3 x 8; Week 4: 3 x 6; Week 5: 3 x 5 ; Week 6: 3 x 4; Week 7: 3 x 3; Week 8: 4 x 2; Week 9: 5 x 1.
Or something like that; increasing the weight you are using each week.
Linear periodization has come under some criticism as being the least effective method of periodizing your training. But this is not necessarily true. The criticisms were levied at, and are appropriate for, the longer linear cycles of 6 – 12 months. But if you do shorter cycles of around 8 – 10 weeks, this can be a very effective training method, and is well worth using as part of your overall strategy.
You can also do linear periodization in reverse; i.e. by decreasing the load and increasing the volume over time. And although this approach is less effective than regular linear periodization in producing strength gains, it does have a role to play in increasing work capacity. And this can then translate to improved gains in strength and size in your next cycle.
This is where your training variables (sets, reps and load) are waved (undulated) over time.
For instance, with Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP) your training variables go up and down within the training week (microcycle). So you might do 3 x 5 on Monday, 3 x 15 on Wednesday and 3 x 10 on Friday.
But with Weekly Undulating Periodization (WUP) your variables go up and down each week, but don’t change in the training week itself.
Most studies suggest an undulating approach leads to superior strength gains as compared with a linear approach but, as stated above, this may not always be the case.
Also known as concurrent periodization, this approach is based on the premise of developing different traits simultaneously (i.e. within the same training week). For instance you might work on maximum strength (3 – 5 reps) early in the week and hypertrophy (8 – 12 reps) later in the week.
And this again is a very effective way of setting up your training, being not too dissimilar to daily undulating periodization.
Here you are focusing on developing one specific ability/trait for a short period of time (usually around 4 – 6 weeks), whilst putting everything else on maintenance. Then on your next block you switch the focus to a different trait – and so on.
During a block you will use a higher frequency, volume and variety of exercises for the trait being developed, whilst training everything else at a reduced level.
So you could do a maximum strength block, a hypertrophy block, an endurance (work capacity) block or any of a number of body part specialization blocks. And body part specialization blocks in particular are very useful for more advanced trainees who often find it difficult to achieve much in the way of total body muscle growth.
So those are the four types of periodization models you could choose from; although in the real world they are seldom used in isolation, and different aspects of each of them can be incorporated into your training regimen.
For instance you could combine a linear periodization cycle with a WUP setup like the following:
Week 1: 3 x 12; Week 2: 3 x 10; Week 3: 3 x 8; Week 4: 3 x 10; Week 5: 3 x 8; Week 6: 3 x 6; Week 7: 3 x 8; Week 8: 3 x 6; Week 9: 3 x 4; Week 10: 3 x 6; Week 11: 3 x 4; Week 12: 4 x 2.
Or you might want to follow a block periodization protocol arranged in a linear sequence like this:
Weeks 1 – 4: 3 x 8 – 10 (hypertrophy); Weeks 5 – 8: 3 x 4 – 6 (strength); Weeks 9 – 12: 4 x 1 – 3 (power).
Those are just two examples of the numerous ways that you could do it. But as long as you combine some sort of logical systematic variation with an emphasis on progressive overload on your main lifts, you will be certain to make great progress with whichever method you choose.