Periodization for Bodybuilders: Part 3

Now that you’ve read Periodization for Bodybuilders: Part 2 and understand the different training zones, I want to start to apply all of this information with explanations of how to set up workouts and training programs.

Training zone recap

I finished the second part by giving some volume recommendations for both training and maintaining loads for the different components (4 of them) of training: pure strength, intensive bodybuilding, extensive bodybuilding and really extensive bodybuilding. Without recapping that entire article, I’ll simply summarize the loading parameters for each below.

Type of Training Reps (%1RM) Rest Interval Tempo Set Length Exercise
Strength Training 1-5 (85%+) 3-5′ 2-3/0/X 20″ or less Compound
Int. Bodybuilding 4-6 (80-85%) 2-3′ 3-4/0/1 20-30″ Compound
Ext. Bodybuilding 6-8 (75-80%) 1-2′ 3/0/2 30-40″ Compound
  10-15 (70-75%) 1-2′ 3/0/2 40-60″ OR Isolation
Really Extensive N/A (60-65%) 1′ 2/0/2 60-120″ Isolation

Notes: Tempo reads X/Y/Z where X is the lowering speed, Y is the pause, Z is the lifting speed. Some coaches add fourth value for the pause at the top. Rest intervals are in minutes, set length is in seconds. The really extensive zone should be timed for 1 to 2 minutes (up to maybe 3 if you’re a masochist) without focusing so much on reps. If you must count reps, 15-30 reps on a 2/0/2 tempo works fine.

Volume Recommendation Recap

Along with that I gave some volume recommendations for both training and maintaining loads, recapped below. I should probably have noted that these volumes aren’t necessarily volumes per exercise but rather volume/bodypart. So if you want to do two exercises for chest in a pure strength training cycle, you could do 3-5 sets of flat and incline or what have you. Same for the other loading zones.

Type Training Load Maintaining Load
Strength Training 6-10 sets 2-3 sets
Intensive Bodybuilding 2-8 sets 1-2 sets
Extensive Bodybuilding 3-6 sets 1-2 sets
Really Extensive Bodybuilding 1-2 sets 1-2 set

One thing I didn’t mention is that, in general, within any given workout, you would work in the same order. So for any given bodypart, strength training comes first (if it’s being done at all), intensive bodybuilding second, extensive bodybuilding third, really extensive bodybuilding last. Additionally, if you’ve never worked in the pure strength training rep range, you should spend at least 6 weeks (if not longer) working in the intensive bodybuilding zone to prepare your connective tissues for the heavier loading.

So now I can finally give some sample routines, right? Well, not quite, I have a few more topics to cover first.

Another Comment on Rep Range Emphasis

Within any given cycle, unless you are specializing (see below), you’re probably best off picking a primary training emphasis, a secondary training emphasis and a maintenance training emphasis. Once again, this is simply to avoid having to try and hit everything at once. As you progress through a training year, obviously those training emphases will change (this is the whole point of periodizing in the first place).

So you might the intensive bodybuilding method as your primary emphasis, pure strength as a secondary emphasis and extensive bodybuilding (picking the higher end of the range since that overlaps with the really extensive range) for maintenance. This might mean warmups followed by 2-3 sets of 2-3 for maintenance of pure strength (which always goes first), then anywhere from 2-8 sets of intensive bodybuilding work (your primary emphasis which always goes second). Finally finish up with 1-2 sets of 12-15 to cover extensive bodybuilding and really extensive bodybuilding zones. Alternately you could do 1-2 sets of 10-12 and 1 timed set to finish out the bodypart.

Bodypart Overlap

In part 2 I talked about the issue of rep range overlap, pointing out that the training zone overlap with one another, allowing for consolidation of training (since it would be impossible to hit everything in a single workout).

In addition, I want to mention the issue of bodypart overlap since this further allow bodybuilders to decrease how many sets are necessary. For example, consider a workout where your training bench press extremely heavy, you’ve done 6 sets of 2 for pure strength work, 2-3 sets of 6-8 for intensive bodybuilding work, and 1-2 sets of extensive work. Let’s also say that you’re training shoulders and triceps in the same workout, both of which are worked during the heavy chest work.

Obviously it would be overkill to try and work either shoulders or triceps at full volume. It might even be overkill to do either in all repetition ranges. That is, during heavy bench sets of triples, triceps and delts are both getting some work in that rep range. You would only need a few total sets for each to round out the workout. Basically, this allows you to use heavy compound exercises to get a lot of work done for the smaller muscle groups so that fewer sets are necessary in the first place. Frankly, outside of the occasional arm specialization routine, it’s rare for me to prescribe more than a couple of direct sets for biceps or triceps: I let heavy pushing and pulling take care of it.

The same goes for pulling exercises: if you’ve worked the hell out of your back, your biceps have already gotten a ton of work. Doing more than a few sets for biceps would be not only unnecessary but complete overkill.

Bodypart Emphasis

Which leads into my final comments on bodypart emphasis (which could and should be an article all in itself). I want to introduce this by saying that, for all but beginner and maybe intermediate bodybuilders, it’s usually impossible to bring up all bodyparts at once. Rather, focusing on one or two upper body and one or two lower body bodyparts, while maintaining the others, works much much better. So in most of my sample workouts, at most two bodyparts are emphasized with the others at maintenance levels.

On that note, the first bodypart (or two) that you work in a workout will generally receive the greatest training effect. So if you want to bring up your delts (strength or size), train them first in the workout, putting chest second and working it at maintenance levels. Will this hurt your chest poundages? Yes. But it’s better than the converse where chest training will limit how much emphasis you can put into your delts.

o when you’re focusing heavily on chest and back, plan on working delts and arms at maintenance. If you want to focus on delts, work chest and triceps at maintenance. If you want to focus on triceps, work on chest and delts at maintenance. The same goes for pulling exercises.

Legs are a little more complicated because the amount of overlap isn’t necessarily as great. Hamstrings are certainly worked during compound leg stuff but it’s not quite the same as how hard delts or tris are worked during heavy benching. This means that you can use more volume for leg exercises (there are also fewer bodyparts to worry about: quads, hams/glutes/ calves) and the sample workouts will be set up that way.

At the same time, my comments on bodypart emphasis still hold: if you always train quads (squats) first, this will limit how much energy you have left to train hamstrings and I think that’s a big part of why so many bodybuilders have terrible hamstrings. Putting hamstrings first and quads at maintenance is a way to avoid this common problem.

Another approach (that can also be used for upper body) is to make one leg workout a quad emphasis workout and the other a hamstring workout emphasis with volume set accordingly. For upper body you might make one workout a push emphasis (with light pull meaning back/bis worked at maintenance) and the other a pull emphasis (with light push meaning chest/delts/tris worked at maintenance).

Training Frequency, Splits and Volume

Although I could most assuredly write pages on this topic itself (I need to get off my ass and stop with the fat loss shit and write a training manual), I only want to make a couple of comments for the purposes of this article.

As I said in Periodization for Bodybuilders: Part 2, I don’t think naturals should train a bodypart any less frequently than about once every 5th day (or twice a week on average). Of course, this isn’t an absolute but I find it to be generally true: any less than this and growth simply isn’t optimal. This gives a few workable possibilities for splits depending on recovery. One would be to use a Charles Poliquin split like

  • Day 1: Chest/Back
  • Day 2: legs/abs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Shoulders/arms
  • Day 5: Off
  • Repeat

I would probably personally put some maintenance chest/back work on day 4 but that type of split would be workable for folks who have very flexible schedule during the week, overall good recovery or are using steroids or even some of the new prohormones.

Arguably my favorite split is an upper/lower split (also workable for powerlifting). This is good for people who need to train on the same days each week or who don’t have the recovery to train as often as the above split.

  • Monday: Lower body (squat emphasis for PL’ing, or quad emphasis for bodybuilding)
  • Tuesday: Upper body (bench emphasis for PL’ing or push emphasis for bodybuilding)
  • Thursday: Lower body (DL emphasis for PL’ing or hamstring emphasis for bodybuilding)
  • Friday: Upper body (light bench + back emphasis for PL’ing, pull emphasis for bodybuilding)

For folks with even poorer recovery ability, the above could be changed to a three day/week program alternating workouts. So each workout gets hit three times every two weeks.

  • Monday: Lower body
  • Wed: Upper body
  • Fri: Lower body
  • Mon: Upper body
  • Wed: Lower body
  • Fri: Upper body

In this scheme, I wouldn’t make any of the days a specific emphasis but volume could be cut back to allow everything to be hit.

On the topic of volume, you’ll note that I gave somewhat large set ranges for the different types of training. I wanted to comment on that for a second. I have found, over the years, that individual volume tolerance is, well, individual. Young males with high testosterone can adapt to higher volumes of training while your classic ‘hardgainer’ frequently does better with lower volumes (but higher frequencies and avoiding failure). Women generally need less volume than men and older individuals can’t handle the same volume as younger folks.

So whereas a young male with high testosterone might do 8 sets of 6-8 Intensive bodybuilding) for a given bodypart, a similarly aged male with low testosterone or a female or older male might only need/be able to handle 2-3 sets of 6-8 per bodypart. Just keep that in mind in the sample workouts; I’ll be using rather ‘average’ volume recommendations but you can adjust them up or down depending on your own personal recovery capacity.

Too much variety for me to give you more recommendations like that. Alternately, you could probably apply some of the autoregulatory concepts going around, training a given exercise until a given % strength cutoff if you don’t know how much volume you can handle. I’ll also note that volume tolerance can both be improved (by gradual volume increases over time) and detrained (by doing HIT/low volume shit all the time).

A Word on Progression

Bodybuilders make a lot of mistakes that prevent them from realizing their goals. That alone could make an entire book. Here I want to focus only on one thing: progression. Unless you’re drugged or genetically superior, your muscles only respond by getting bigger if you continue to challenge them. Within the context of this article series, progression means adding weight to the bar. Now, there are tons of different ways to progress weights and this is too long (and overdue) as it is. I’ll only make this comment: you should strive to add weight to the bar whenever you can do so in good form.

So if you get to the high end of a rep range and feel like you have a rep left over, add weight at the next workout. This will probably drop you to the low end of the rep range and then build up again. For really extensive bodybuilding, you would increase weight when you got to the high end of the time range.

Note that this doesn’t apply to pure strength training methods but explaining how best to progress this would take too long. Just remember that, in general, if you’re not getting stronger, you’re not getting bigger. And if you’re not getting bigger, you’re not getting stronger. So if you’re not adding weight to the bar over time, you’re just another bozo wasting his life in the gym with nothing to show for it.

Sample Workouts

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like I’m ever going to get around to writing Part 4 of this series which would have had some sample workouts. Maybe someday or when I write my training book I’ll get back to it. Hopefully the above at least gives you some ideas about how you might set things up.

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