To periodize, you work in cycles that get gradually harder. If you want to build muscle and strength, this is the best way to prevent yourself from overdoing it on the volume, effort, or load.
Essentially, a training cycle (typically 10-12 weeks) will have a gradual increase in volume-load. This can come from an increase in sets, load, or the use of more intense training methods. But you must go from a lower level at the beginning of the cycle (still enough to produce gains) and then increase over the cycle.
When the cycle is over, you deload for 1-2 weeks and start a new one. The new cycle will start again at a lower level of training stress, but slightly higher than the beginning of the previous cycle, and builds up again.
You do 3-4 such cycles per year. That’s how you can keep making progress over the long run without burning out.
Let’s go over a few general concepts:
- Concept 1 – Hypertrophy is more dependent on volume.
- Concept 2 – Strength is more dependent on load.
- Concept 3 – There must be an increase in the key improvement factor to keep progressing.
To cycle your training for strength, gradually increase the load over 10-12 weeks. You shouldn’t worry about increasing your volume. In fact, it should decrease over the 10-12 weeks, mostly from doing fewer reps per set to allow for higher loads to be used.
To cycle your training for muscle growth, you’ll have to gradually increase training volume (mostly from a higher number of sets) over 10-12 weeks. Unlike what you’d do for strength, you won’t even have to stress about using heavier weights. You can add weight if the previous weight is too easy, but I’d rather you focus on adding sets and/or reps.
Here’s a very general example for both, for illustration purposes only:
Strength Development Example
This is a suggestion only for the heavy exercise, and I only suggest one per session.
- Week 1 – 4 sets of 8
- Week 2 – 4 sets of 8 (with more weight than on week 1)
- Week 3 – 4 sets of 8 (with more weight than on week 2)
- Week 4 – 4 sets of 5
- Week 5 – 4 sets of 5 (with more weight than on week 4)
- Week 6 – 4 sets of 5 (with more weight than on week 5)
- Week 7 – 4 sets of 3
- Week 8 – 4 sets of 3 (with more weight than on week 7)
- Week 9 – 4 sets of 3 (with more weight than on week 8)
- Week 10 – 1×5, 1×4, 1×3, 1×2, 1×1
Muscle Growth Example
For the hypertrophy work, the volume is the total amount of hypertrophy work per week, including all muscles, NOT for each muscle.
- Week 1: 60 total sets/week, no intensity methods
- Week 2: 60 total sets/week, 8-10 of which can use intensity methods
- Week 3: 60 total sets/week, 12-15 of which can use intensity methods
- Week 4: 70 total sets/week, no intensity methods
- Week 5: 70 total sets/week, 8-10 of which can use intensity methods
- Week 6: 70 total sets/week, 12-15 of which can use intensity methods
- Week 7: 100 total sets/week, no intensity methods
- Week 8: 100 total sets/week, 8-10 of which can use intensity methods
- Week 9: 100 total sets/week, 12-15 of which can use intensity methods
- Week 10: 100 total sets/week, up to 20 can use intensity methods
Note that this is the volume for the hypertrophy work; it doesn’t include the strength sets. And it’s up to you to spread that volume the way that better fits your goal.
After your cycle, you’d do a 1-2 week deload during which you significantly decrease workload. The ideal volume for the deloads is performing one-third of the highest volume you reached during your cycle.
No, this won’t lead to muscle loss; you can maintain all size and strength for over 12 weeks if doing only a third of the volume you used to grow. More importantly, it will re-sensitize your body to the stimulus of training (greater mTOR response), although two weeks of deload is better than one for that purpose.
It’ll make you feel better, get rid of fatigue so that you can start your next cycle with slightly heavier loads (for the strength work), and use slightly more volume (for the hypertrophy work).
Do that four times a year and you’ll be able to continuously grow and get stronger without feeling like crap.