There exist some fundamental concepts for maximizing muscular force and size. Training sessions must use progressive overloads to surpass previous fitness thresholds. A bodybuilder must remain specific to a certain training goal – to gain muscle, lose fat, increase endurance or strength – which is especially crucial to the success of sports-specific training. Resistance training programs must also contain variations for long-term progression. The methodology of periodization provides structure in continuous training programs in a way that allows a fitness stimulus to remain optimal. The idea is to map out a plan for progressive overloads with variations in training.
It’s amazing how some people will remain consistent with the same resistance training program – some spend years being consistent in the gym, yet acquire little as a result. Bodybuilding is about building the body – it’s about progression in muscular size and force producing potential.
The muscular systems grow best in spurts. This is evident all through adolescents; when the body transitions through numerous stages of puberty that contain physical growth spurts. Adult bodybuilders must properly prepare and create these open-window opportunities in their resistance training programs – and then take full advantage of them! Create a strong potential for growth, then hit it with everything that favors anabolism. Eventually, a stage of resistance will occur; also known to bodybuilders as training plateaus.
After a growth spurt is exhausted, continuing to overload the muscular systems with the same high level of intensity, or volume, can lead to signs of overreaching. The state of alarm occurring within the body during periods of progressive overload training cannot be maintained indefinitely. Performance reductions from overreaching can evolve to serious mental and physical conditions consistent with overtraining syndrome. One a summit is reached in a progressive resistance training cycle, the athlete needs to then enter a stage of active rest, or detrain with no activity – long enough to allow full recovery from the previous cycle.
Periodization is believed by many bodybuilders to reduce the risks of overtraining. It also helps separate aerobic and anaerobic efforts. Within advanced bodybuilders, skeletal muscle is unable to optimize both strength and endurance training simultaneously. The effects of endurance and strength training can compliment each other, but only if they are trained progressively within different phases.
To understand how periodization helps progression, it’s important to understand some universal definitions. Each annual plan contains macrocycles of typically six to 32 weeks in duration, dedicated to a particular goal. Macrocycles consists of mesocycles, frequently of two to four weeks of overload training. Mesocycles are usually followed by unloading microcycles, usually a one-week block of limited or no training.
There are two common variations of periodization models: classic (linear) or undulating (nonlinear). The classic method is most commonly used by bodybuilders – whether intentional or not. It is designed to emphasize a particular physiological adaptation in each training cycle. It is usually characterized by high initial training volume, with low intensity. As training progresses, volume decreases and intensity increases.
The undulating program enables more variation in intensity and volume. Typically changes occur within each seven- to 10-day cycle. Some common cyclic-ketogenic diets use this method to optimize muscle retention during fat loss. When scheduling periods of carbohydrate refeeds, or “cheat meals,” a depletion phase increases fat loss with heightened training intensity; but after a reefed, a power-training session is introduced to help preserve muscle mass and increase glycogen uptake. The CKD method of fat loss and muscle retention is often an example of the nonlinear method.
To use the periodization methodology, a bodybuilder should first define the total duration of the plan, such as a typical training year. Then, macrocycles of training can be identified; for example: prime for growth, build muscle, lose fat, maintain conditioning or cruise in transitional phases of unloading. Microcycles can then be inserted to define sub phases; such as high-volume or high-intensity resistance training, high-volume or high-intensity endurance exercise, or perhaps stages of dietary manipulations.
Sample bodybuilding periodization table:
The use of pharmacological ergogenics, such as anabolic-androgenic steroids, does not change the need for a structured program – in fact, it increases it! AAS amplifies periods of growth, as well as introduces tricky transitional phases after cessation of drug use. When plugging AAS use into the annual plan, be sure to allow plenty of time for a transition back to natural. A common rule of thumb amongst bodybuilders administering AAS is “time-on equals time-off”; however, the actual required length for a transition from exogenous androgen use will depend on the drugs used, and duration. Deca Durabolin, known generically as nandrolone decanoate, is notorious for heavily suppressing endogenous expression of androgens.
The methodology of periodization is a great way to maximize training intentions. It offers detailed planning for a progressive training year. As always, a training journal should be used to track daily variables, key to determining progressive overloads – as well as create a written reference log of the entire training year.
Progression and Resistance Training. President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digest. Series 6, No. 3, September 2005.
Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004; 36: 674–688.
Position Stand. Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 34(2):364-380, February 2002.
- High-intensity training
- Developing a big bench
- Barbell squats build muscle
- Advanced Volume Training
- Three days for a faster run