So, How About That Progress
So in my blog I have talked quite a bit about different forms of periodization and why I am a firm believer in certain forms periodization for optimal long-term size and strength gains. But, the question you have all probably been asking for some time now is: how on earth do I actually make progress on a periodized scheme?
This is a fair question! After all, periodization is a new concept to many everyday gym goers and when you take a look under the hood and explore it further, you do start to wonder just how progress is actually achieved. I know how you guys feel. When I first started exploring the field of periodization in more depth, I was also scratching my head thinking: how can you make progress if you are constantly changing different things in your program all the time? Even if you are new to the concept of periodization, progress comes back to one major concept: progressive overload. I guess the tricky thing you are probably asking is: where does this fit into a periodized scheme? Well, let me put your minds to rest with this article. Hopefully by the end things will become much clearer to you.
Getting The Creative Juices Flowing
If you are no longer a novice weightlifter (longer than 6-12 months of lifting) then you are probably finding out now that your typical 5×5 linear starting strength scheme (or some variation of it), no long works. You keep the reps and sets the same, but you can no longer add weight on the bar every session like you used to. Well, welcome to the club! You have now joined the ranks of the more advanced weightlifters. Up until this point, you have now acquired all the newbie gains you can get.
Now, it’s time to get the creative juices flowing. That means you now have to get a little more creative and start approaching your training in a slightly different manner that was you are used to: this usually means using some form of Daily Undulating (DUP) or Conjugate Undulating Periodization (CUP) in your new training plan. But don’t worry! It doesn’t mean your training has to get complicated, it just means your approach is going to change so that your training can remain effective.
“Now, it’s time to get the creative juices flowing.”
So what are we saying here? Well, when it comes to making progress you need to be doing more work over time. That’s a given in the world of weightlifting. No way around it. For the most part, this work comes through the gradual increase in BOTH volume and intensity over time. So simply, you should be looking at a combination of more reps, sets and weight overtime. The kicker is, most programs people use don’t do a great job of managing volume and intensity in the long-term. In fact I will be brutally honest: it’s a great big disaster for those looking for continued progress.
In most programs, volume and intensity tends to be handled in such a way that leads to, what I like to call: Accumulation and Deterioration. It does have a ring to it, right? I do love catchy titles! Anyways, to keep this short and sweet: most people focus too much on either volume OR intensity as the driving stimulus for their progress and, don’t regularly enough train with BOTH.
In the long-term this approach will just not work. Yes, you might love one more than the other but when it comes to looking ahead and really getting the most out of your training, you need to be giving both attention. Don’t get me wrong, you can always choose to prioritize one over the other depending on your individual goals. I do! I have always loved volume more over intensity. But, you can’t do one and forget about the other. Sometimes it can be tempting, but truthfully, this approach will only lead to those dreaded plateaus we all hate later on. By focusing too much on one for too long, you don’t give your body the capacity to optimally recover from it. This is what I mean by accumulation. Likewise, if you focus too much for too long on one, then your body doesn’t keep the positive training effects learned from the other. This is deterioration.
Increasing Volume And Intensity Over Time
So, you have now passed the novice stages of weightlifting and you are looking to make even more progress in your weightlifting journey. Great! What is the plan? Well, in your case it will be to ensure you are utilizing both volume and intensity in your training in the best way possible. DUP and CUP are excellent long-term solutions for this. In a nutshell, DUP and CUP allow you to simply alternate between higher volume and higher intensity sessions throughout the SAME training week. This is great for you because it pretty much solves the problems I discussed above: too much volume OR intensity and not enough of both on a regular basis. In other words, DUP and CUP will maximize over the long-term the positive response your body gets from both volume and intensity while ensuring optimal recovery from both.
Although, the added advantage of CUP is that you can also increase and rotate your exercises more frequently. In DUP, the exercise selection remains constant. For you, this means that CUP not only optimizes your positive response to volume and intensity over the long-term, but also reduces the nasty effects of accommodation and, allows you to specialize more (great for overcoming specific weaknesses!).
If you are following DUP or CUP-type programs, how do you make progress with them over the long-term? Well there are two ways: the simple way and, the slightly less simple way. Depending on how creative you want to get with your training will influence how you work with different exercises, rep, set and intensity ranges. But folks, it’s important to understand that this will be up to you. There is no one size fits all training program. DUP and CUP gives you the flexibility to play around with all these goodies to fit your goals and needs. Just keep one thing in mind: whatever way you do plan your program around DUP or CUP, it must allow you do more work over time.
DUP And CUP Example Training Plans
- The above schemes represents what a DUP program might look like. As you can see (sorry if its a bit hard to read!), you have three full body training days per week: alternating between high-intensity, moderate and high-volume days. This allows you to work with both high-volume and high-intensity on a weekly basis, while still allowing optimal recovery from each one. The benefit here is that you continue to enhance both adaptations (volume and intensity) on a regular basis. Unlike most schemes, volume and intensity are split up into separate periods, meaning its easy to adapt to one, but loose the adaptations of the other.
- I have chosen a specific set/rep scheme for each training day: In the simple set up, I have Monday (3 reps x 3 sets x 85% training intensity), Wednesday (5 sets x 5 reps x 70% training intensity) and Friday (3 sets x 12 reps x 75% training intensity). But you can choose which rep/set/intensity ranges you work in. Just make sure you define them according to strength and hypertrophy.
- In the slightly more complicated set up, I still have my dedicated strength, combo and hypertrophy days, but this time I am changing the rep/set/intensity ranges WITHIN each workout. This is fine too as long as you make sure your always making sure your rep/set/intensity ranges are programmed to separate strength and hypertrophy days.
- Progress in both schemes is made by trying to do more work over time. Mostly, this comes by trying to increase the weight a little each week. But you can also increase sets and reps.
- What you can also do is ‘reset’. For instance after 4 weeks of upping the weight, you can deload the weight back to your original and work on increasing sets/reps and overload from there. The choice is yours!
- These represents a conjugate-type periodised scheme. Again, using the same principles as in the DUP schemes – alternating between high-volume and high-intensity days, changing the reps/sets/intensity ranges throughout the week.
- This time, with the conjugate system you are changing exercises. In this case, each session has a different selection of exercises. The important thing here is that you choose exercises that are specific and reinforce each other. Mostly, you can keep with the same exercise selection for 4-6 weeks and then alternate with a different selection of exercises. Again, it is up to you!
- Progress each week is through increasing a combination of the weight/reps/sets
You Have lots Of Flexibility
When it comes to using DUP and CUP in your training, it can be as flexible as you like it to be. As long as your training program is alternating regularly through the week between volume and intensity sessions, you’re good to go. How you decide to organize your reps, sets, intensity and exercises will be your choice. Be as creative as you want to be! As long as it follows the DUP/CUP framework and ensuring your doing more work over time (in terms of more volume and intensity), the only thing you can expect are gains on top of gains. Great news for you!
Please let me know if you have any questions of these non-linear periodised schemes! Its the best way of optimising your gains for size and strength in the long-term so if you have any questions on these, please ask.