Most people who go to gyms get into a routine, turn up on the same day at the same time, and often perform the exact same workout. This is not a bad thing! If you are training three to four days per week, every week, for decades you will be living a healthy lifestyle, and should reap the benefits for doing so.
However, if you are looking to build muscle and increase strength, then this type of training is not going to work.
Building strength when you are brand new to the gym is easy, pick up a weight, perform some repetitions, and bam! Within a couple of weeks you’ll be able to lift a heavier weight. It’s not unusual to see a new gym-goer doubling their bench press within just a few weeks. But once you’ve been training for a year, you will almost certainly plateau.
Once you’ve mastered the technique for bench press, deadlift, or squat; you’ll need to employ training cycles into your program in order to set new PR’s.
This is known as periodization.
What is Periodization?
Did you know that an elite athlete can only maintain peak performance for a maximum of 2-3 weeks? Imagine you were an Olympic athlete, you’d want your peak performance to coincide with the two week window where the Olympics are going on rather than the week beforehand wouldn’t you? Well, coaches and athletes plan their entire careers around peaking at just the right time. So do bodybuilders, and powerlifters, as can you.
A well designed program will start off with lower weights and higher reps, and gradually increase the weights used while lowering the reps until you are peaking (lifting the heaviest weight you can), then there will be a week where you lower the intensity and use that time to recover. This would be one training cycle.
The reason you do this is to manage your fatigue, as the intensity of the session increases, so does fatigue. If you don’t control fatigue it will lead to diminishing results. By slowly increasing intensity and then dropping intensity after you’ve peaked, you can manage your fatigue and slowly increase your strength and muscle size.
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A Basic Training Cycle
Periodization is a complicated subject that would take a lot of articles to fully cover, but most people will not need that. If you are a powerlifter or bodybuilder then you definitely should understand periodization, but then again, you’d need a coach to create one specifically for you.
If you are just a regular person looking to build some strength then all you will need is a simple training cycle that you can follow. We will be looking at what is known as Linear Periodization, over a period of time your volume (how many reps you perform) will go down as intensity (how much weight you lift) goes up.
Following the 5×5 strength program is a good place to start. Perform five sets of five reps on bench press, deadlift, barbell squat, and power clean. Then the next week add 5lbs onto each exercise. Do this for a period of 3 weeks, and then lower the weight in the fourth week (your recovery period).
Start again but with a slightly higher weight than you started the last block. Increase each week for three weeks and then lower the weight in the fourth week again.
This will work well for new lifters and intermediate lifters. Advanced lifters should look at conjugate training, such as the Westside Barbell System.