Using Periodization To Maximize Your Results In The Gym
Now most people won’t have a clue what training ‘periodization’ means…
If you are newer to weight lifting, or even if you’ve been working out for a few years, this isn’t one of those things that is essential for you to succeed.
That being said, training periodization is one of those concepts that you should consider implementing when you’re ready to take your workouts to the next level, and really maximize your progress.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what exactly periodization is…
Broadly speaking, periodization refers to specific variations that you’ll incorporate into your workouts – mostly to do with rep range, tempo, or rest times.
However, we’ll be focusing specifically on periodization as it relates to alternating rep ranges, since in our experience that is the most effective.
In this article, we’re going to go through why periodization can be beneficial, the 2 main different types of periodization, and how to put it into practice if/when you’re ready.
The Advantages Of Training Periodization
Now before we get into the specific types of periodization, let’s take a look at why it can be a helpful workout protocol.
In the end, it all goes back to building muscle in the most effective way possible.
In our article about progressive overload, we discussed how it is the most efficient method of spurring new muscle growth?
Well, in that same article, we also mentioned two other mechanisms that can induce muscle growth – cellular fatigue and muscle damage.
While these other 2 methods aren’t as effective as progressive overload, they can still be helpful when you’re trying to build muscle effectively.
In this way, periodization combines the best of all 3 muscle building ‘paths’.
It still focuses on achieving progressive overload, but also allows for greater muscle damage and cellular fatigue as well.
This is because higher rep range work will induce more cellular fatigue than working in lower rep ranges, even if it isn’t as effective at inducing progressive overload.
So, with the proper periodization program, you will be working in a greater variety of rep ranges, and thus taking advantage of all 3 different mechanisms that induce hypertrophy.
And in doing so, you’ll be maximizing both strength AND muscle growth.
The most common type of periodization is known as ‘linear periodization’.
This is where you’ll gradually change the rep range of your workouts, every few weeks or so, resulting in work being done in a variety of different rep ranges over a period of time.
For instance, you might start out doing each exercise in the 8-10 rep range; then after 2 weeks, you move down to the 6-8 rep range; and finally, after another 2 weeks, you shift down again to the 4-6 rep range for most of your exercises.
However, the disadvantage of this type of periodization is that you risk losing either strength or muscle endurance, depending on which stage you are in.
For example, during the weeks where you are working out with higher reps with lower weight, you may lose some strength.
Likewise, during the weeks where you are working out with lower rep ranges and heavier weight, you may lose some muscle endurance.
At the same time, when utilized correctly, linear periodization can be an effective tool to increase your strength over a period of time, and is a favorite approach of many competitive powerlifters for that reason.
The other main type of periodization is called concurrent periodization.
This differs from linear periodization in that you work with a variety of different rep ranges within the same workout, which can also be very effective.
You can do this either by having the rep range vary from exercise to exercise – or by having the rep range vary from set to set within each exercise.
Here’s a quick review of both types so you can better understand the differences.
Concurrent Periodization By Exercise
This approach will have you doing each exercise in your workout in a different rep range.
To better illustrate how this might look, let’s take a look at a typical back workout, and modify it to be done using concurrent periodization.
Deadlift – 2 sets – 2-3 reps
Wide-Grip Pullups – 3 sets – 4-6 reps
Barbell Bent-Over Row – 3 sets – 6-8 reps
Cable Seated Row– 3 sets – 8-10 reps
Now as you can see, the rep range changes for every single exercise.
The first exercise starts with the lowest number of reps and the heaviest weights – but as you progress each exercise is done in a higher rep range with relatively lighter weights.
In effect, this will have you working through a wide variety of rep ranges (anywhere from 2 to 10 reps), allowing you to properly stimulate progressive overload, while also focusing more on the cellular fatigue pathway later in the workout.
Concurrent Periodization By Set
The other type of concurrent periodization is where you will be changing the rep range within the exercises themselves.
One particularly effective concurrent periodization approach is called Reverse Pyramid Training (or RPT), and is pretty much the opposite of the conventional pyramid approach to working out that most people do.
Regular pyramid training has you doing your first sets with higher reps and lighter weights, and gradually working up to doing your heaviest set at the end for fewer reps.
As we mentioned in a previous article, this type of training isn’t very efficient, since by the time you get to your heaviest set you’ll be pretty fatigued, which limits the amount of progressive overload that you’ll be able to achieve.
With RPT, you’ll be doing the exact opposite – starting with your heaviest sets for fewer repetitions, and then doing subsequent sets with lighter weights for more repetitions.
Again, this strikes a good balance between maximizing progressive overload on the initial sets, and then working with higher volume on the later sets to induce cellular fatigue.
Here is an example for how it might work with 3 sets of barbell bench press:
Set 1: 3-4 reps (heaviest weight)
Set 2: 4-6 reps (decrease weight by 10%)
Set 3: 6-8 reps (decrease weight by 10%)
This would mean that you start with your heaviest weight for your first set, aiming for a lower number of reps.
For the second set, you would reduce the amount of weight (say by 10% or so), and then aim to get 1-2 more reps than you were able to get for your first set.
Then for the third set, you would again reduce the weight (by another 10% or so), and aim to get 1-2 more reps than your second set.
After the first week of training like this, you should progress with each of these sets independently from one another, while staying in the appropriate rep range, based on the amount of weight/reps you were able to do for that particular set the previous week.
Should You Incorporate Periodization Into Your Workouts?
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, periodization is a more advanced concept.
If you’re newer to weight lifting (2 years or less), then you don’t need to unnecessarily complicate things at this point.
You’ll still make nice, consistent gains working primarily in the 4-6 rep range for most of your exercises.
However, if you are a bit more experienced – and are looking for something to add a bit of extra oomph to your training – then we’d strongly recommend giving one of the concurrent periodization methods a try.
You can still use your existing workout for the most part, just modifying the rep ranges that you focus on.
Also, this doesn’t need to be all or nothing.
For instance, if you decide to incorporate Reverse Pyramid Training, you don’t need to do it for every single exercise in your workout. You should feel free to mix and match.
As a general rule, though, you’ll want to focus the lower rep work / heavier weight work on your compound exercises, which are done more at the beginning of your workout.