Designing Training Routines Using Periodisation

Design the best bodybuilding training routines using periodisation. This in-depth article shows you how create your own cycling routine for maximum gains.

Periodisation can be defined as a system for program design that plans appropriate cycles and training phases, organises routines and manipulates all exercise variables.

The key to designing really effective short, mid, and long term resistance exercise programs is to develop a system that efficiently plans, organises and manages all of the exercise variables. Periodisation can be defined as a system for program design that plans appropriate cycles and training phases, organises routines and manipulates all exercise variables.

Periodisation has been time proven for success in achieving training goals and has been used by training coaches and trainers for over 50 years. Research has confirmed that periodisation has the ability to produce significantly better results than straight set training or normal progression type training. A continued variety of training stimulus is needed in order to progress after the initial adaptation to training has taken place. The neuromuscular system learns what we are doing in our training and quickly adapts to any new training stimulus that we give it. When this adaptation has taken place then progression will halt or may even reverse. Resistance exercise selection and methods of manipulating resistance exercise variables have already been presented on this web site contained in the articles section and it is recommended that it is read along side this article. Continuing on from that article is how to plan program cycles and organise training phases in ways that will make the overall training program effective in accomplishing goals and addressing training needs.

Program Design.

A training program should always be considered as ongoing and should be broken down into long and short term blocks or periods of time that can be termed “cycles.” Breaking a program down into cycles is helpful for prioritising your training goals and requirements. The cycles can vary greatly in the amount of time that they span. They are designed to apply more focus on certain goals and needs while placing less attention to others based on established priorities. Macrocycles are long term cycles that may take several months to a year and help to set the priorities and time lines to accomplish training goals or address individual needs. Macrocycles will need to be broken down into more manageable segments called "mesocycles."

Mesocycles would enable a person to better track their progress, reassess their goals, design new routines and make any needed adjustments (to training, diet, sleep, rest etc) in order to stay within the time lines of the macrocycle. Mesocycles can vary widely in length, usually ranging from 3-12 weeks. A normal 6-8 week mesocycle works well for most people. This is enough time to experience significant and measurable results, yet not become bored with the resent routines. This time frame is also short enough to allow a person to identify and correct controllable problems and adjust for uncontrollable variables that may have surfaced before they can inhibit further progress. People should reassess and gather as much pertinent data as possible between mesocycles to help design the new routines and appropriately for continued success.

Training Phases.

The mesocycles (phases in a macrocycle) are planned to focus on certain training priorities, but other goals should not be completely ignored in the process. Competitive athletes normally need to focus on specific training phases such as strength, endurance, and/or speed. But most benefit from improvements in several if not all of these areas. If a person spends a 6-8 weeks in a mesocycle completely striving for strength, that person may lose endurance or mobility if training for these parts are not also reinforced to some degree. Balancing priorities within a mesocycle is exactly what training phases are designed to do.

Many studies have shown that it is ineffective to attempt to improve on every bio-motor ability simultaneously during each training routine, because there is not enough time in a training session to apply that and adapt to that much varied muscle stimulus. Therefore, a mesocycle can be divided into training phases lasting 1-3 weeks that focus primarily on only certain neuro-metabolic adaptations. These shorter time periods allow for progress in one area without loss in others. However, training phases must be planned appropriately throughout the mesocycle to ensure that all priorities are addressed. For example, an 8 week mesocycle focussing primarily on strength could include a 1 week phase of endurance training and a 1 or 2 week phase of hypertrophy work in order to maintain the conditioning goals and body composition the person may also desire. The following are different types of training phases that could be included in a mesocycle to address different priorities.

Transitional phase:

This phase is typically the first week of a mesocycle and is characterised by low intensity and low volume training. This phase is normally used to begin a mesocycle when the previous mesocycle has ended with high intensity strength or power phases. During this week, assessments are done to measure progress and to identify any adaptations achieved in the previous mesocycle. The new program is designed and introduced to the body with an emphasis on training technique. New movement patterns are learned, and the planned exercise sequence is practised. Diet and nutritional strategies are also reviewed. The recommended volume for this phase is 1 or 2 sets per exercise for about 10 to 12 repetitions.

Endurance phase:

These phases typically consist of lower intensity and higher volume routines. Muscular and cardiovascular endurance is the primary focus. However, this is also a logical phase for focusing on repetitive performance of new or difficult exercises because the intensity loads are low, which will help with attempting to master new movement patterns. Exercises that require different stabilisation strategies or have higher balance demands are ideal for additional practice during these phases. Further descriptive titles can be used for a phase if endurance weeks are combined with other complementary phases, such as a transitional-endurance phase or an endurance-hypertrophy phase. Volume recommendations range from 1-3 sets for about 15-20 reps per exercise but occasionally are prescribed with as high as 50 reps in extreme cases.

Hypertrophy phase:

These phases are designed to apply the greatest combinations of intensity and volume in order to give muscle hypertrophy or muscle growth. This overlap of increased intensity and the maintenance of high to moderate volume also make these phases highly metabolic and induces greater hormonal responses than other training phases, making the great for bodyfat reduction as well as hypertrophy. Hypertrophy phases can be appropriate even for those people not interested in large increases of muscle mass, as long as exercise selection and volume for specific muscles are properly planned. Recommendations for sets and repetitions span from 3-5 sets per exercise for 8-12 repetitions. Hypertrophy training covers a wide range of time under tension, so more descriptive titles can be used to designate the training priorities, such as hypertrophy-endurance phases or hypertrophy-strength phases.

Strength phases:

These phases are characterised by high levels of intensity and reduced volumes of work. Greater rest periods and slower training tempos are also typically implemented to maximise motor unit recruitment. These phases focus on more neural and intramuscular adaptations than hypertrophy and endurance phases. Stability is a prerequisite for maximal strength: therefore, fewer exercises are selected and fewer positioning options and techniques that overlap with other training phases, such as strength-hypertrophy phases and strength-power phases. Volume recommendations are from 5-8 sets with 3-5 repetitions per exercise. With that recommendation, you can see why most people prefer combinations of hypertrophy and strength because this many sets of heavy loads are often too high risk for perceived benefits.

Power phase:

To produce power, the speed or rate of force production is as important, if not more so, as the amount of force produced. For this reason, power phases of training are characterised by the use of moderate intensity and even low intensity loads, with low volumes of sets and repetitions and faster tempos. Power training is difficult with standard resistance exercise movements because a proportional amount of effort that does not promote gains in power must be spent on decelerating the weight loads. Power training will often incorporate different more ballistic movements like power cleans, snatches, plyometrics exercises. Power training exacts a high neural demand for the quick productions and reductions of force, plus the increased need for dynamic stability and balance. Therefore, volume recommendations for power typically range from 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.

The division of a macrocycle into a manageable mesocycle and the division of mesocycles into the various training phases may seem like a difficult process, but its well worth the effort. Once someone clearly knows their goals from a given period of time, this sets the priorities for the macrocycle. Whether the overall goals are related to endurance, strength, hypertrophy, or weight loss, the next step is to create the different sub goals that are set at reasonable time periods throughout the year, and then design the appropriate mesocycles to achieve them.

3 Sample Periodisation Routines.

7 Week Mesocycle:

This base fitness routine that attempts to address frequent needs and common goals of individuals who have not been recently training on a regular basis and the priority of this routine is to establish a fitness “base” on which all other future routines and programs can be built.

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7
Phase Transition Endur H-trophy - Endur H-trophy - Endur Endur Endur H-trophy - Endur
Tempo 3-1-2-1 3-1-2-1 3-1-2-1 3-1-2-1 3-1-2-1 3-1-2-1 3-1-2-1
Sets & Reps 2 x 10-12 2 x 17-20 1-3 x 12-15 1-4 x 8-10 2 x 17-20 1-3-x 10-12 1-4 x 8-10
Warm up: Cycle 10 minutes plus Active stretching.
First Circuit (weeks 1 – 7)
Dumbbell Lunge 2x10-12 2x17-20 1x12-15 1x8-10 2x17-20 1x10-12 1x8-10
Dumbbell Flat Press 2x10-12 2x17-20 1x12-15 1x8-10 2x17-20 1x10-12 1x8-10
Pull Down 2x10-12 2x17-20 1x12-15 1x8-10 2x17-20 1x10-12 1x8-10
Dumbbell Shoulder Press 2x10-12 2x17-20 1x12-15 1x8-10 2x17-20 1x10-12 1x8-10
Hamstring Curl 2x10-12 2x17-20 1x12-15 1x8-10 2x17-20 1x10-12 1x8-10
Bicep Curl 2x10-12 2x17-20 1x12-15 1x8-10 2x17-20 1x10-12 1x8-10
Tricep Pushdown 2x10-12 2x17-20 1x12-15 1x8-10 2x17-20 1x10-12 1x8-10
Second Circuit (weeks 8 – 14)
Barbell Squat 2x10-12 2x17-20 3x12-15 3x8-10 2x17-20 3x10-12 3x8-10
Low Row 2x10-12 2x17-20 3x12-15 3x8-10 2x17-20 3x10-12 3x8-10
Dumbbell Incline Press 2x10-12 2x17-20 3x12-15 3x8-10 2x17-20 3x10-12 3x8-10
Straight Leg Deadlifts 2x10-12 2x17-20 3x12-15 3x8-10 2x17-20 3x10-12 3x8-10
Smith Shoulder Press 2x10-12 2x17-20 3x12-15 3x8-10 2x17-20 3x10-12 3x8-10
Barbell Curl 2x10-12 2x17-20 3x12-15 3x8-10 2x17-20 3x10-12 3x8-10
Close Grip Bench 2x10-12 2x17-20 3x12-15 3x8-10 2x17-20 3x10-12 3x8-10
Cool down at end of circuit: Cycle 10 minutes

The type of periodisation routine shown below is used for competitive athletes. Strict periodisation consists of four or five distinct stages. Each stage has a specific goal and method of execution. Generally speaking, the program moves from lots of low intensity work to short, high intensity workouts. Each phase stresses a different aspect of the muscle (or energy systems for aerobic athletes). By changing the stress, progress can continue without reaching a plateau.

5 Stage Macrocycle:

Stage 1: Hypertrophy or Base Phase
Volume High
Intensity Low
Sets/Exercises 3-6
Reps/Sets 8-20
Type of Movement Slow concentric and eccentric
Purpose: Build muscle size and endurance.
For aerobics athletes, this corresponds to long, easy workouts to build an aerobic base.
Stage 2: Strength
Volume Moderate
Intensity Moderately High
Sets/Exercises 3-6
Reps/Sets 2-6
Type of Movement Same as stage 1 but heavier
Purpose: Build on the previous cycle by increasing muscle strength. For aerobic athletes, this is the transition from strictly endurance workouts to the inclusion of intervals and hill sessions if applicable.
Stage 3: Power
Volume Moderate to low
Intensity Very High
Sets/Exercises 3-6
Reps/Sets 2-4
Type of Movement Explosive concentric for power
Purpose: To build power. At this point exercises should be becoming more sports specific. For aerobic athletes, more interval and race pace work is included while amount of distance work is lowered.
Stage 4: Peaking (or Competition)
Volume Low
Intensity Very High
Sets/Exercises 1-4
Reps/Sets 1-4
This is the phase for powerlifters where heavy singles are performed. For aerobic athletes, this is the racing season. While some maintenance work is performed on all energy.
Stage 5: Rest and Recovery
Volume Very low
Intensity Very low
Sets/Exercises 2-3
Reps/Sets 12-15
This is a two to three week period of rest. Either complete rest or light activity is done to allow the body to recover from the competitive phase.

3 Stage; 15 Week Mesocycle for Hypertrophy & Strength:

This routine below is used for muscle hypertrophy (growth) for an 8 week period, which is then followed by 4 weeks of strength training and two weeks for active recovery. The cycle is then started again, and continued for however long the macrocycle is designed for.

  Hypertrophy Phase Strength Phase Active Recovery Phase
Weeks 1-8 8-13 14-15
Reps 8 reps 1-5 reps 15-20 reps
Sets 3 sets 5 sets 2 sets
Load 60-80% 1RM 85-100% 1RM 40-50% 1RM
Rest Intervals 2-3 min 3+ min 2 min
Warm-up and cool down. 10 minutes on each.

It is not necessary to have a strict plan of training for the whole year as normally changes may need to be made. Only a general plan would need to be made. The plan should reflect the training needs and also weaknesses and goals. It is far simpler to plan the cycle if a date for a certain occasion is required such as a competition or special occasion. From that date you can work backwards to structure your training year.

Firstly you need to decide on the amount of training phases that you require in the year. It is far easier to plan if you use 3-4 training phases rather than a greater number. You should then plan your training goals for each of these individual phases.

For example: you may choose strength first, muscle growth second, muscular power thirdly and rest and recovery phase last. Once you have your training goal phases you will then need to outline volume and intensity levels for the yearly plan, such as in the strength phase this would require low volume and high intensity. The training goal phases ideally should be started with an adaptation phase of low intensity and high volume and end with high intensity and low volume training. A careful evaluation from a scientific point of view would be required to ensure that the yearly cycle chosen would allow you to reach your desired goal in each phase.

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Periodization training for sports: Tudor Bompa & Michael Carrera.
Muscle Mechanics: 2nd Edition. Everett Aaberg