PROGRESSION & PERIODIZATION FOR PHYSIQUE ATHLETES

Written by: Josh Bradshaw

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What do you do when you can no longer add weight to the bar? Do you ever feel like your progress has stalled, gone stale, and growth is hardly noticeable anymore?

It’s time to make changes to your training regimen!

For those of you who are in school, were your study habits during your final semester the same as when you were in 3rd grade? Probably not. Ideally you would make the necessary changes to your plan of attack to accomplish a much harder goal. Progressing in the later stages of a training career is no different. Enter Periodization.

Periodization is essentially the “smart” way of adding variation to your training plan.

There are several ways to periodize your training and when done right, it can take you to the next level in your sport. This variation or undulation can happen on a day to day, week to week, or even month to month basis. We’re going to touch on the main or most common applications and strategies to ensure long term progression and give you a large tool box to base your future training.

For the sake of clarity, here are some key terms defined that may be useful when reading:

  • Microcycle – 1 training week
  • Mesocycle – consists of multiple training weeks from deload to deload, typically 4 to 12 weeks long depending on your program (also called a “block”)
  • Macrocycle – composed of two or more mesocycles
  • RIR – repetitions in reserve
  • RPE – rate of perceived exertion (scale from 1-10)

Undulating Periodization (DUP & WUP)

The two main forms of undulation are on a daily and weekly basis. These are known as “Daily Undulating Periodization” (DUP) and “Weekly Undulating Periodization” (WUP).

DUP is commonly seen when changes are made within the same microcycle of training. For example, if you have two lower body sessions in a week, one of them could be a heavy squat session where you are pushing as much weight as possible in a 6-8 repetition range followed by light(er) deadlift sets. Conversely, the second lower body session of the week could be the opposite – deadlifting heavy and squatting light.

Here’s an example:

Lower A

Lower B

Back Squat

4 x 6-8

Conventional DL

4 x 6-8

Romanian DL

3 x 8-10

Front Squat

3 x 8-10

This is just a textbook example, and you are definitely not limited to this method. However, this is a good way to do things as getting stronger in a wider variety of repetitions is important for optimizing growth.

Zooming in, you may want to consider how you organize your work within the training session. Let’s take the Back Squat on Lower A for example. The sets and rep range are defined already, but there are many different approaches to progress. For example, if you’re really stuck on a certain weight, you may want to consider doing a “top set” as shown here:

Back Squat – 4 x 6-8

Set 1: 6 reps @ 82.5% 1RM

Set 2-4: 6+ reps @ 75% 1RM

So let’s say your 1RM on a Back Squat is 315lbs. Your first set would be 260 x 6, followed by back off sets of 235 x 6-8. These are just example percentages and you’re not limited to these exact numbers as everyone is different. The main idea is having one really tough set, followed by back off sets. How you organize that is up to you. You could even hold your “hard” set until the last set of the exercise like this:

Set 1: 245 x 6 @ 2 RIR

Set 2: 245 x 6 @ 2 RIR

Set 3: 245 x 6 @ 1 RIR

Set 4: 245 x 7 @ 0 RIR

Again, everyone is different, so organize your plan where you feel you can give your best efforts and produce the most amount of volume. This will take some time and individual data collection.

Moving on, WUP is going to focus on alterations from microcycle to microcycle. As seen in the Extreme training program, the sets and reps are altered in a weekly fashion. The entire week you focus on sets of 5, then the following week sets of 8, and then sets of 10-12.

Week A

5 x 5

Week B

4 x 8

Week C

3 x 10-12

DUP and WUP are both very good ways to manipulate acute training variables to prevent a plateau. Nearly every intelligently planned program utilizes these principles.

Block Periodization

Taking a step back even further to a mesocycle to mesocycle time table (perhaps month to month basis), Block Periodization incorporates changes from block to block. For example, one month you may focus on getting stronger in a given repetition range and only make a change after deloading and starting a new mesocycle. This is a good method to use if you are at a beginner level and can still achieve linear progress day to day.

Progressing Within A Microcycle

The models mentioned above primarily apply to your main compound movements, but some of the same principles can be applied to isolation work as adding 10lbs to a bicep curl is much harder than a squat. In single joint movements, the weight increments will be too great to increase load day to day (and often week to week). So how can we go about increasing volume on your accessory movements? A good way to do that is to use a “Double Progression” method. Here, you won’t increase the load used until you can perform all sets at the top end of the given rep range.

Example:

Bicep Curl – 3 x 10-12

Week 1 – 30 x 10, 10, 10

Week 2 – 30 x 11, 10, 10

Week 3 – 30 x 11, 11, 10 …

Week ? – 30 x 12, 12, 12

The following week – 35 x 10, 10, 10

If the given rep range is 10-12, you keep performing this exercise with the same weight until you can get 12s on each set with good technique. Progress won’t always look like this (adding one rep each week) – it can come faster or slower. Don’t get concerned about the time table here. Often times you may even hit the rep goal the first week after a deload if it doesn’t come during the current mesocycle.

Over the course of a training career, using a double progression scheme in a strict rep range will get extremely difficult and every set will be high in intensity and adding even one rep will be almost out of reach, even week to week or month to month. So we can utilize the concepts addressed above.

All of the SoG programs will already have you targeting each muscle group at least twice a week, so you could utilize undulation and have a day where you focus on progressing in a 10-12 rep range, and have the second day focusing on progressing in a 15-20 rep range using a double progression method.

Example of DUP + Double Progression on an isolation

Tricep Isolation (i.e., Skull Crusher)

Upper

Push

Week 1

10, 10, 10

15, 15, 15

Week 2

11, 11, 10

16, 15, 15

Week 3

12, 11, 11

17, 16, 16

Week 4

12, 12, 12

17, 17, 17

Alternatively, you could dedicate an entire mesocycle to progressing in one rep range then your following block altering the rep range.

Final Notes

It is important that your technique is the same across all rep ranges and loads to really ensure progress. There are so many variables in exercise science so the more things you can keep static and standardize, the better. If your form doesn’t look pretty enough to upload to Instagram, it can be improved. Also, keep your tempo the same week to week and month to month. For the most part, the weight will dictate the speed of the rep, but I don’t advise super fast or super slow reps. Keep in mind, if your tempo is too slow, you will limit the amount of volume you can produce, and if too fast your risk of injury goes up. Use a controlled tempo and maintain it. It should be obvious that you added a rep or weight. There should be no question if you actually got that extra rep. Never sacrifice your form for the sake of adding volume. Quality over quantity.

I want to cover all bases for you guys to ensure you maximize the benefits that can come with these concepts, so of course, I have to mention nutrition. No matter how perfect your plan looks on paper, no matter how hard or consistent you are with training, there is no amount of work that can mask poor nutrition. Consider this, your body is an engine and the calories you consume are like the gasoline used by the engine. You can sit in the car and step on the gas pedal all you want, but if you’re always on E, you’re not going to get anywhere. Yes, it has been proven you can build muscle while being in a caloric deficit, but in order to maximize growth, you need to be in a surplus. Having proper nutrition and ample amounts of fuel will help you recover from a greater training stress. This means more volume. You don’t need a restrictive diet. Hopefully around 75% of your diet is composed of nutrient dense foods, the rest can be energy dense/high calorie foods. Tracking macros during a massing phase isn’t necessary, however hitting a daily calorie and protein goal is recommended.

I hope you have learned something new about progressing as an intermediate to advanced trainee and organizing your training in an efficient way. Personally, these concepts have taken my training to a different level.

Thanks for taking the time to read, and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!

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