Periodization for Athletes

How to Plan Strength Training for Maximum Performance
By John Paul Catanzaro

The famous adage “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!” applies to strength training as it does to just about any other endeavor. Arriving to the gym with no plan will lead to haphazard results. Tudor Bompa, considered by many as the father of periodization, puts it this way: “In training nothing happens by accident, but rather by design. Do you want to be successful? Plan for it!”

Periodization is simply a way to organize or plan training into phases. Every lifter should map out their training to a certain extent, but you need to be careful about planning too far in advance because things may change. All it takes is one injury to disrupt your plans!

A typical periodized plan for athletes involves the following sequence of training:

Endurance → Hypertrophy → Strength → Power

However, as you move from one phase to the other, the attributes of the previous phase(s) begin to decay. A more efficient approach involves the conjugate method, which allows you to train multiple motor qualities at one time.

Al Vermeil is a proponent of the conjugate method. He’s also the only strength and conditioning coach to have world championship rings from both the NFL and the NBA, so when he talks, you should listen!

Vermeil believes that all motor qualities should be trained simultaneously – only the volume and intensity of each will vary depending on the needs of the athlete. When one component or method is being emphasized, the others must be reduced but never eliminated.

Periodization Between Programs

In general, three methods of periodization exist: standard, linear, and alternating. To improve strength over several weeks, research indicates that linear periodization is superior to standard periodization, and alternating periodization is superior to linear periodization.

Methods of Periodization

    Figure 1
The standard (constant variables)
method of periodization.
  Figure 2
The linear (step/staircase)
method of periodization.
    Figure 3
The alternating (undulatory/wave)
method of periodization.

The standard method of periodization is appropriate for beginners during the initial stages of training since greater emphasis should be placed on form and technique over any other variable. Most individuals, however, will experience excellent progress with the linear method of periodization, and even greater success can be achieved with the alternating method. The dashed lines in the figures above reflect rate of progress – the steepest slope, and thus the greatest rate of progress, occurs in the last method.

Although research shows an improvement in strength with daily, weekly, and biweekly undulating periodization models, recent evidence from Germany suggests a longer period for significant morphological (i.e., BIG muscle) adaptations to occur when rotating between hypertrophy and strength/power phases. Individual rate of adaptation will ultimately determine the duration of each program, but on average, a 4-week period for most individuals works well.

Periodization Within Programs

I’ve combined undulatory loading with a conjugate approach of training to come up with the following models for maximum strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance. Power is also promoted in these models since the intent of all concentric actions are performed in an eXplosive manner.

Maximum Strength (A Exercises)

Month 1 2 3 4
Sets 4-6 4-6 4-6 4-6
Reps 4-6 2-4 3-5 1-3
Tempo 50X0* 50X0 50X0 50X0
Rest Interval 180s 180s 180s 180s

* Understanding Tempo: a 50X0 notation would mean a 5-second eccentric phase (lowering the weight), no pause at the bottom of the lift, an explosive concentric (lifting phase), and no pause at the top of the lift.

Hypertrophy (B Exercises)

Month 1 2 3 4
Sets 3-4 3-4 3-4 3-4
Reps 10-12 6-8 8-10 4-6
Tempo 30X0 30X0 30X0 30X0
Rest Interval 90s 90s 90s 90s

Muscular Endurance (C Exercises)

Month 1 2 3 4
Sets 2-3 2-3 2-3 2-3
Reps 20-25 12-15 15-20 10-12
Tempo 10X0 10X0 10X0 10X0
Rest Interval 30s 30s 30s 30s

Each training session consists of 3 pairs of exercises – the A pair of exercises, the B pair of exercises, and the C pair of exercises – using the parameters outlined above. Depending on the training status and availability of the athlete, a 2-day or 3-day split may be used as outlined below.

2-Day Split

Day 1 – Upper Body Day 2 – Lower Body
A1) Lying, Seated or Standing Press
A2) Chin-Up, Pull-Up or Row
B1) Elbow Flexion
B2) Elbow Extension
C1) Wrist Flexion
C2) Wrist Extension
A1) Squat or Deadlift
A2) Knee Flexion
B1) Split Squat or Step-Up
B2) Hip/Trunk Extension
C1) Hip/Trunk Flexion
C2) Ankle Flexion/Extension

3-Day Split

Day 1 – Upper Body Day 2 – Lower Body Day 3 – Upper Body
A1) Seated or Standing Press
A2) Chin-Up or Pull-Up
B1) Elbow Flexion
B2) Elbow Extension
C1) Wrist Flexion
C2) Wrist Extension
A1) Squat or Deadlift
A2) Knee Flexion
B1) Split Squat or Step-Up
B2) Hip/Trunk Extension
C1) Hip/Trunk Flexion
C2) Ankle Flexion/Extension
A1) Lying Press
A2) Seated, Bent-Over or One-Arm Row
B1) Elbow Flexion
B2) Elbow Extension
C1) Wrist Flexion
C2) Wrist Extension

You have a considerable number of exercise options at your disposal with this plan. Here’s an example of what a 2-day split would like over 4 months using the alternating conjugate system.

Month 1

Day 1 – Upper Body

A1) One-Arm Dumbbell Press: 4-6 x 4-6 @ 50X0, 180s
A2) Close-Neutral-Grip Chin-Up: 4-6 x 4-6 @ 50X0, 180s
B1) Seated Zottman Curl: 3-4 x 10-12 @ 30X0, 90s
B2) Flat EZ-Bar Triceps Extension: 3-4 x 10-12 @ 30X0, 90s
C1) Seated Cable Wrist Curl: 2-3 x 20-25 @ 10X0, 30s
C2) Seated Reverse-Grip Cable Wrist Curl: 2-3 x 20-25 @ 10X0, 30s

Day 2 – Lower Body

A1) Back Squat: 4-6 x 4-6 @ 50X0, 180s
A2) Lying Leg Curl: 4-6 x 4-6 @ 50X0, 180s
B1) Cable Split Squat: 3-4 x 10-12 @ 30X0, 90s
B2) Semi-Stiff-Leg Barbell Deadlift: 3-4 x 10-12 @ 30X0, 90s
C1) Supine Cable Knee-In: 2-3 x 20-25 @ 10X0, 30s
C2) Seated Calf Raise: 2-3 x 20-25 @ 10X0, 30s

Month 2

Day 1 – Upper Body

A1) Flat Barbell Press: 4-6 x 2-4 @ 50X0, 180s
A2) Sternum Chin-Up: 4-6 x 2-4 @ 50X0, 180s
B1) Incline Hammer Curl: 3-4 x 6-8 @ 30X0, 90s
B2) Parallel-Bar Dip: 3-4 x 6-8 @ 30X0, 90s
C1) Seated Dumbbell Wrist Curl: 2-3 x 12-15 @ 10X0, 30s
C2) Seated Reverse-Grip Dumbbell Wrist Curl: 2-3 x 12-15 @ 10X0, 30s

Day 2 – Lower Body

A1) Bent-Knee Deadlift: 4-6 x 2-4 @ 50X0, 180s
A2) Standing Leg Curl: 4-6 x 2-4 @ 50X0, 180s
B1) Back Step-Up: 3-4 x 6-8 @ 30X0, 90s
B2) Reverse Hyperextension: 3-4 x 6-8 @ 30X0, 90s
C1) Decline Sit-Up: 2-3 x 12-15 @ 10X0, 30s
C2) Standing Calf Raise: 2-3 x 12-15 @ 10X0, 30s

Month 3

Day 1 – Upper Body

A1) Incline Barbell Press: 4-6 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 180s
A2) Mixed-Grip Chin-Up: 4-6 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 180s
B1) Standing Reverse-Grip EZ-Bar Curl: 3-4 x 8-10 @ 30X0, 90s
B2) Tiger Bend Push-Up: 3-4 x 8-10 @ 30X0, 90s
C1) Standing Radial Deviation: 2-3 x 15-20 @ 10X0, 30s
C2) Standing Ulnar Deviation: 2-3 x 15-20 @ 10X0, 30s

Day 2 – Lower Body

A1) Front Squat: 4-6 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 180s
A2) Seated Leg Curl: 4-6 x 3-5 @ 50X0, 180s
B1) Rear-Foot-Elevated Dumbbell Split Squat: 3-4 x 8-10 @ 30X0, 90s
B2) Standing Good Morning: 3-4 x 8-10 @ 30X0, 90s
C1) Hanging Leg Raise: 2-3 x 15-20 @ 10X0, 30s
C2) Seated Cable Tibialis Raise: 2-3 x 15-20 @ 10X0, 30s

Month 4

Day 1 – Upper Body

A1) Standing Barbell Press: 4-6 x 1-3 @ 50X0, 180s
A2) Mid-Grip Pull-Up: 4-6 x 1-3 @ 50X0, 180s
B1) Seated One-Arm Preacher Dumbbell Curl: 3-4 x 4-6 @ 30X0, 90s
B2) Decline Close-Grip Barbell Press: 3-4 x 4-6 @ 30X0, 90s
C1) Seated Barbell Wrist Curl: 2-3 x 10-12 @ 10X0, 30s
C2) Seated Reverse-Grip EZ-Bar Wrist Curl: 2-3 x 10-12 @ 10X0, 30s

Day 2 – Lower Body

A1) Snatch-Grip Deficit Deadlift: 4-6 x 1-3 @ 50X0, 180s
A2) Lying Negative-Accentuated Leg Curl: 4-6 x 1-3 @ 50X0, 180s
B1) Front Step-Up: 3-4 x 4-6 @ 30X0, 90s
B2) Glute-Ham Raise: 3-4 x 4-6 @ 30X0, 90s
C1) Cable Woodchop: 2-3 x 10-12 @ 10X0, 30s
C2) Barbell Jump: 2-3 x 10-12 @ 10X0, 30s

Of course, numerous modifications can be made depending on the individual and the situation. For example, if the athlete requires more scapular stabilization and rotator cuff work, I’ll substitute those movements for wrist flexion and extension. Just use the models above as a template, and use your judgment to make any necessary changes.

Double/Triple Split System

If you can barely squeeze in 3 or 4 workouts a week, do not read any further. Just do what’s outlined above and don’t piss your wife off anymore than you already do. For fulltime athletes, students on summer break, locked-out government workers, and those that don’t mind occasional family disputes, consider a double split or even a triple split system for maximum results. Breaking up the training over 2 sessions (A exercises in the morning, B and C exercises at night) or 3 sessions (A exercises in the morning, B exercises in the afternoon, and C exercises in the evening) will produce better results, and catching a nap between those sessions produces the best results!

Don’t think for a second that this plan is limited to only athletes of “non-subjective” sports. Physique competitors and anyone else who wants to look “swole” would also benefit from this approach. One knock against bodybuilders is that they rarely venture into the low-rep range, but doing so in a structured manner will help to break out of a training rut and boost strength. By incorporating low, moderate, and high rep training, you activate a wide spectrum of muscle fibers (slow-twitch type I and fast-twitch type IIA and IIB) for maximum growth.

Take advantage of all the positive effects that periodization has to offer – use linear loading within programs and alternating loading between programs, and make sure to use a conjugate method of training various motor qualities in your workouts.

About The Author

John Paul Catanzaro is a CSEP Certified Exercise Physiologist with a Specialized Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and Health Science. He owns and operates a private facility in Richmond Hill, Ontario providing training and nutritional consulting services. John Paul has authored two books, The Elite Trainer (2011) and Mass Explosion (2013), and has released two DVDs, Stretching for Strengthening (2003) and Warm-Up to Strength Training (2005), which have sold copies worldwide, been featured in several magazines, and have been endorsed by many leading experts. In 2013, John Paul released two new webinars, Strength Training Parameters and Program Design and Body Composition Strategies, providing the latest cutting-edge information to fitness professionals. For additional information, visit his website at www.CatanzaroGroup.com or call 905-780-9908.

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