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To periodize, you work in cycles that get harder and harder. If you want to build muscle and strength, this is the best way to prevent yourself from overdoing it on volume, effort or load.
Essentially, a training cycle (usually 10-12 weeks) will have a gradual increase in load volume. This can come from increasing sets, loading, or using more intense training methods. But you must start from a low level at the start of the cycle (still enough to produce gains) and then increase as the cycle progresses.
When the cycle is over, you unload for 1-2 weeks and start a new one. The new cycle will start again at a lower, but slightly higher training stress level than the previous cycle began, and replenish.
You do 3-4 such cycles per year. This is how you can keep progressing for the long haul without burning out.
Let’s review some general concepts:
- Concept 1 – Hypertrophy is more volume dependent.
- Concept 2 – The force depends more on the load.
- Concept 3 – There must be an increase in the key improvement factor to keep progressing.
To do a strength training cycle, 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, primarily by doing fewer reps per set to allow for higher loads to be used.
To cycle your training for muscle growth, you will need to gradually increase training volume (mostly from a higher number of sets) over 10-12 weeks. Unlike you would for strength, you won’t even have to worry about using heavier weights. You can add weight if the previous weight is too easy, but I prefer that you focus on adding sets and/or reps.
Here is a very general example for both, for illustrative purposes only:
Example of Strength Development
This is a suggestion for intense exercise only, and I only suggest one per session.
- Week 1 – 4 sets of 8
- Week 2 – 4 sets of 8 (with more weight than week 1)
- Week 3 – 4 sets of 8 (with more weight than week 2)
- Week 4 – 4 sets of 5
- Week 5 – 4 sets of 5 (with more weight than week 4)
- Week 6 – 4 sets of 5 (with more weight than week 5)
- Week 7 – 4 sets of 3
- Week 8 – 4 sets of 3 (with more weight than week 7)
- Week 9 – 4 sets of 3 (with more weight than week 8)
- Week 10 – 1×5, 1×4, 1×3, 1×2, 1×1
Example of muscle growth
For hypertrophy work, 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 method
- Week 2: 60 total sets/week, of which 8-10 can use intensity methods
- Week 3: 60 total sets/week, of which 12-15 can use intensity methods
- Week 4: 70 total sets/week, no intensity method
- Week 5: 70 total sets/week, of which 8-10 can use intensity methods
- Week 6: 70 total sets/week, of which 12-15 can use intensity methods
- Week 7: 100 total sets/week, no intensity method
- Week 8: 100 total sets/week, 8-10 of which can use intensity methods
- Week 9: 100 total sets/week, of which 12-15 can use intensity methods
- Week 10: 100 total sets/week, up to 20 can use intensity methods
Note that this is the volume for hypertrophy work; it does not include strength sets. And it’s up to you to distribute that volume in a way that best suits your purpose.
After your cycle, you would do a discharge for 1-2 weeks during which you would significantly decrease the workload. The ideal volume for discharges is one-third of the highest volume you have reached during your cycle.
No, it will not lead to muscle loss; you can maintain full size and strength for over 12 weeks if you only grow one-third of the volume you used to grow. More importantly, it will re-sensitize your body to the training stimulus (greater mTOR response), although two weeks of unloading is better than one for this purpose.
This will make you feel better, eliminate fatigue so you can start your next cycle with slightly heavier loads (for strength work) and use a little more volume (for hypertrophy work).
Do this four times a year and you can continue to grow and get stronger without feeling like crap.