Breaking It All Down
As weightlifters, it’s pretty easy to go to the gym and immediately get to work. After all, you have awesome size and strength goals to meet; there is no time to lose! Sometimes, it’s easy to get so engrossed in your training, that things can start to become, let’s say, a little disorganized. You start doing all kinds of stuff (e.g. reps, sets, exercises) that occasionally, your training can start to lack any real methodical structure.
Without any structure, it can often make it harder for you to monitor, manage and further optimize your weightlifting training. This of course doesn’t mean you have to get all overly technical and scientific about your weightlifting. But, having some kind of order to things in your training can often mean the difference between setback and progression. Having a little structure to your program can make it so much easier to pinpoint potential problems and, implement possible strategies for improvement. That I can imagine, becomes a whole lot tougher if everything is disorganized!
The First Of Its Kind: Linear Periodization
Linear periodization (LP) goes back along way. Simply put, coaches wanted to find out the best possible training methods to improve the performance of their athletes. LP was just the first of its kind for achieving this. Although you might be thinking: coaches, athletes, this kind of seems like something reserved for top-level sports competitors? Absolutely not, in-fact, if you are in this for the long run, the only way you will make long-term gains in size and strength, is through some form of periodized training. Periodization, is really just organizing your entire training plan over the year, into smaller, more manageable parts, so that you can optimize the results you get from it. The good thing is, for you, it doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be as simple as you want it to.
“Periodization, is really just organizing your entire training plan over the year, into smaller, more manageable parts”.
When it comes to strength and size, volume and intensity are going to be your two main go-to training variables. Setting volume and intensity up in a LP fashion, is pretty easy. In LP it’s all about splitting your volume and intensity work into two different training periods: hypertrophy and strength respectively (the full training period of an entire LP scheme can vary, but can sometimes be as much as a whole year!). Really, how long these time periods are, is completely up to you. The high-volume (hypertrophy) training period of your LP scheme, will serve to increase muscle size. This will occur through the higher reps/sets that you will perform. The strength period immediately following will utilize this newly built muscle tissue and stress its force production capabilities (your ability to actually lift the weight on the bar). This will happen through your lower set/rep training. Typically, you will start a LP scheme with a period of high-volume/low-intensity training (high reps/sets and moderately low weight on the bar). Gradually, the volume of work you do will become lower (reps/sets are reduced) and the intensity of work, increased (more weight on the bar). As you move through your LP scheme, you will transition from mainly hypertrophy- to predominantly strength-based training. Usually, you will have a short period of rest/reduced training (also known as a deload), before working up to a max weight (a new 1RM). The cycle then repeats, and you begin the entire process again with more weight/more volume than previously.
A Template LP Scheme
Here is what a typical LP scheme might look like for deadlift:
Working towards a 500lb deadlift 1RM (3 times per week training).
Week 1: 430 x 8, 420 x 9, 410 x 11
Week 2: 440 x 7, 425 x 8, 420 x 10
Week 3: 450 x 6, 430 x 7, 430 x 9
Week 4: 460 x 5, 435 x 5, 440 x 8
Week 5: 470 x 4, 440 x 4, 450 x 7
Week 6: 480 x 3, 445 x 3, 460 x 6
Week 7: 490 x 2, 450 x 2, 470 x 5
Week 8: (Deload) 425 x 5, 425 x 5, 425 x 5
Week 9: New 1RM Test Day: 500 x 1
Week 10: Start All Over
As you can see, the general setup of a LP scheme is pretty simple. Over a 10-course period you are splitting your training between high-volume and high-intensity work. Over time, as your intensity (weight) increases, you are going to have to reduce the volume (reps/sets). Whatever LP scheme you look at, the general premise will always be same (for all compound exercises): from high volume/low intensity to low volume/high intensity. Although there are other elements in this scheme (I will talk about these in later periodization articles), for now, it’s important just to have an idea of what LP actually is.
Is LP Really That Beneficial For Size and Strength Gains?
If I am honest, LP probably brings more drawbacks than positives when it comes to making optimal size and strength gains. Although gains are possible on a LP scheme, the very nature of LP itself can act as a major roadblock in your journey. If you look at a typical LP scheme, the splitting of volume and intensity into two distinct training periods causes significant drawbacks. In the first phase of your LP scheme, you will focus on increasing muscle size (hypertrophy) through the use of high volume set/repetition work. In the second phase, you will then focus on increasing strength (neuromuscular adaptation) through low rep/set, high weight work. At first glance, you would think that there is nothing wrong with this approach. Well, you are definitely getting size and strength gains! But, over the long-term, it’s just going to become a nightmare for you.
“LP probably brings more drawbacks than positives when it comes to making optimal size and strength gains”.
An important question to ask yourself is: what happens if you focus for a period of time, on just strength or hypertrophy training, while neglecting the other? Simply, one is expected to improve, the other, get progressively worse. That is of course, not what you want! The problem primarily with LP is that you generally don’t focus on hypertrophy and strength simultaneously. You might go weeks, or even months focusing on one, before progressing onto the other. Imagine! You have spent 10-weeks of your hard earned energy massing out on high-volume to get those muscular size gains, only to lose a significant chunk of it when you reach the strength phase. Since the strength phase is composed of low volume work, it’s very unlikely this would be sufficient to maintain your size gains from the previous phase. Likewise, if you made awesome strength gains and now you are moving back to the hypertrophy phase, it’s unlikely that your high volume work would be sufficient enough to hold onto most of this new strength. Talk about utter setback and demotivation! Unfortunately, this is the major pitfall of LP, the ability to maintain and improve both size and strength over the long-term. As volume and intensity play a complementary role in size and strength development, making long-term gains with LP becomes nothing more than a slow and depressing task. Without more muscle mass, your strength potential over time, will never improve. Bye strength gains! Conversely, without improved strength capabilities, your capacity to do more volume with time will cease to go up. By size gains! If you can’t maintain those improved size and strength gains with time, it’s likely that you will at some point with LP, be taking one step back, rather than taking two steps forward. That really doesn’t sound great!
“The problem primarily with LP is that you generally don’t focus on hypertrophy and strength simultaneously”.
Honestly, when it comes to LP, it doesn’t matter if your training period is 2-, 5 or 20-weeks. I am just not a fan of splitting training periods up like this if optimal gains in size and strength are your ultimate goals. As you know, getting your body to adapt, takes a lot of work and effort! Your body is not going to change if it doesn’t need to. If the volume and intensity training stimuli are not there (or maintained), then no further resources or energy will be diverted to preserving the new muscle mass and strength you have developed. Can you imagine, going for long periods of time without either high volume or high intensity training! It doesn’t sound too great for your strength and size goals. If you ask me, when it comes to maintaining your new size and strength adaptations, you need to focus on continuously testing your body. That means, alternating on a more frequent basis between volume and intensity. Rather than splitting your hypertrophy and strength training into two distinct training periods, it’s more optimal to mix them in together (this I will go into much more detail in the next few articles). This allows volume and intensity to reinforce each other. This will ensure that you consistently maintain the size and strength gains you have made throughout your entire training period. Now, you don’t have to worry about loosing any gains!
As a weightlifter, being simple in your approach can usually be the most effective way of achieving your goals. But, being too simple, can work against that. LP is a very simple way to program your training. That’s its problem however, it’s too simple in the way it approaches training. For instance, you can’t always expect to keep increasing the weight and/or volume all the time. If you are passed the beginner stage of weightlifting, then eventually, simply more weight onto the bar, or doing more sets/reps to make gains, is not going to cut it. Your body catches on quick! It becomes more resilient and stubborn. Think: the biological law of accommodation (I told you he would be back!). Eventually, if you were to keep your training in a LP fashion, then the only gains you could make (if any!) would come through huge amounts of (unmanageable) volume or weight. At this point, you would be doing more harm than good – Using so much volume and intensity, is likely to give you more in the way of recovery and injury problems, than gains itself! Simply put, your body just doesn’t respond to this manner of training efficiently anymore.
“You can’t always expect to keep increasing the weight and/or volume all the time”.
The lack of exercise variety also becomes a problem. In a LP scheme, you will typically stick with the same exercises (squat, bench, overhead press, deadlift and a row), but the most basic variations! There are many different variations of these compounds at your disposal, but will never be utilized! In a LP scheme, you are just too restricted. The risk here is if you always utilize the same exercises in your program, your body just becomes less responsive to them (the whole law of accommodation thing!). In order to keep those size and strength gains coming in, you have to make sure your body is continually adapting. That means, making sure there is enough on-going variety in your program to challenge your body.
LP: New Weightlifters Vs. Those More Advanced
If you are a new weightlifter, then LP is probably something nice to start off with. It’s simple to set-up and follow, you can utilize the main, basic compounds and, simple increments in volume and intensity are enough to get you making those fast, awesome size and strength gains. As a beginner, you don’t really have to worry about not having enough variety in your program. You have it easy! Since you will respond quickly and significantly to the iron, the volume and intensity required, will not be excessive. I would say LP would probably be a perfect framework (provided your routine is based on compounds and is more full-body based)
“As a more advanced weightlifter, you need to be making more adjustments, on a more regular basis”.
If you a more advanced, than, I am sorry to say, a little more homework is required (but not too much!). As a more advanced weightlifter, you need to be making more adjustments, on a more regular basis to keep your body challenged. Using LP at this stage of your training would just prove for you inefficient and, sub-optimal. When you become more advanced, your body becomes harder to challenge. It therefore becomes essential that you know how to program your training (e.g. in terms of volume/intensity/exercise selection) in order to combat this. Over the next few articles, I will show you the secret weapons of periodized training needed to help push you through some these potential weightlifting barriers.
If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below. Have you ever heard of periodisation? Do you use it in your own training?