Training Gains That Keep Coming: A Primer on Periodization That Works

Your nervous system gets bored of everything.

Whether it is ads or porn, it gets bored. Unless we increase the intensity of the stimulus or change its nature, we don’t respond anymore. We are just wired this way.

That is why no matter how great the product is, companies have to change the marketing program on a continuous basis. But notice that they don’t do that every day, they only change it when the marketplace is just about to fail to respond.

This of course also applies for training; it is the basis of the science of progression in strength training. A great coach will put you on a program just long enough for you to begin adapting to it, then switch it on you.

The Science of Periodization

I find that undulating patterns work best for most individuals. In fact, my own model on undulating loading patterns has been compared in the scientific literature to other modules of training, and has been shown to be superior, particularly when training the upper body.

As a rule of thumb, I would say that the musculature and the nervous system respond best when both high-volume phases (known as accumulation phases) are alternated with high-intensity phases (known as intensification phases).

The respective length of each phase will be affected by a variety of factors such as nutrient intake, neurotransmitters ratios, hormonal make-up and fiber-type make-up.

Accumulation phases are normally characterized by the following:

• High number of exercises (2-4 per body part)

• Higher reps (7 reps or more)

• Lower sets (2-4 sets per exercise)

• Higher volumes (no. of total sets x total reps)

• Lower intensities (below 80 percent)

• Shorter rest intervals (30 to 90 seconds)

A typical accumulation phase may consist of 3 exercises of 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting an average of 75 seconds between sets.

Intensification phases are characterized by:

• Low number of exercises (1-2 per body part)

• Lower reps (1-6)

• Higher sets (10-12 total sets per body part)

• Lower volumes (total no. of sets x total no. of reps, e.g., 6 sets of 3 reps=18 reps of volume)

• Higher intensities (80 percent and above)

• Longer rest intervals (3-5 minutes)

A typical intensification phase may consist of 2 exercises of 5 sets of 4-6 reps, and resting an average of 3-5 minutes between sets.

Keep in mind that depending on the strength quality trained, these figures would change accordingly. Particularly for the accumulation phases.

For example, for a weightlifter 6 would be the max rep used in an accumulation phase. While a kayaker may work in the 20-30 rep range in accumulation phases. So a weighlifter’s accumulation phase may be a kayaker’s intensification phase.

Coach Charles R. Poliquin