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"In sum, [periodization] will help ensure continued gains, prevent injuries, keep the
training from becoming boring, and help you avoid training plateaus."
Steven J. Fleck, Ph.D. and William J. Kraemer, Ph.D. (1996)
I believe my book Ripped 3, published in 1986, was the first to apply periodization to bodybuilding. Periodization, training in cycles of gradually increasing intensity, began with the work of Soviet sports scientist Dmitri Matveyev in the early 1960s and has been used by elite athletes (Olympic weightlifters, swimmers, track and field performers and others) all over the world to an ever increasing degree since that time. American Olympic lifters and power lifters have been using periodization for a long time, and some bodybuilders (Frank Zane, for one) were training in cycles before Ripped 3. But my book was, I believe, the first to lay out a detailed periodization plan for bodybuilders.
The first book to apply periodization to bodybuilding: RIPPED 3
Now, of course, the bodybuilding magazines include many articles about periodization. Interestingly, there has also been a backlash by those who reject the theory of cycling or periodization. These people maintain that there is absolutely no reason for a serious bodybuilder (or power lifter) to train with anything less than all out effort each and every workout. According to the non-believers, muscle building is a brutal but simple process: overload the muscles with 100% maximum effort, wait long enough for full recovery AND growth to occur - 4 to 7 days or longer - and then repeat the process, over and over. I agree that many, perhaps most, bodybuilders overtrain and don't rest long enough to allow the body to not only restore itself, but also supercompensate, or build itself back bigger and stronger than before. Nevertheless, I am convinced that periodization is necessary to ensure long-term progress.
Boiled down to its essence, periodization is simply planned change. As I wrote in Ripped 3, "The body grows stronger from a specific workout or set of exercises, but after a time sheer monotony tends to tire the body so it can't respond anymore." Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, Ph.D., who served for 26 years as consultant to the National Olympic Teams of the U.S.S.R and is now a professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at Penn State University, agrees. In his book, Science and Practice of Strength Training (Human Kinetics, 1995), Dr. Zatsiorsky says, "when the same training routine is applied over the entire season...early staleness is almost unavoidable." Michael Stone, Ph.D., and Harold O'Bryant, Ph.D., two of the preeminent strength training researchers in this country, say the same thing in their 1987 book Weight Training: A Scientific Approach. "Due to central nervous system overadaption, monotonous routines will limit adaptation and progress."
That's what periodization is about: organized variation of the training program. We've all noticed how something as simple as changing an exercise or a hand or foot position can freshen a routine; it makes you sore and kicks the body into another round of adaptation. You've probably also had the experience of missing a workout or two or perhaps being forced to lighten up for a time because of a minor injury. What happened when you resumed normal training? You expect to find yourself deconditioned and weaker, but more often than not you're - actually stronger! (See Ripped 2 for my experiences along this line.)
Periodization puts lessons learned from such experiences to work in an organized way. With periodization, you push until you hit, or almost hit, a sticking point (and we all do), but you don't try to blast through it; that usually doesn't work. As I put it in Ripped 3, "You push for a while, back off, and then push again, each time peaking a little higher than before." You start a new training phase with a new repetition range, different poundages, and perhaps a change of exercises or manner of performance - and your progress takes off again. "It's beautiful. The planned variation keeps you gaining workout after workout."
Matveyev's basic periodization model called for training in relatively long cycles of gradually increasing intensity, followed by periods of easier training. In each cycle, training intensity is increased by beginning with light weights and high repetitions and gradually progressing, in distinct periods, to heavy weights and low repetitions. A cycle usually includes three training phases: high reps-light weight (the muscular endurance phase); medium reps-medium weight (the strength and endurance phase); and low reps-heavy weight (the strength and power phase). Each of the training phases place a different stress on the body and stimulate a specific response. Taken together they are designed to bring the athlete to peak condition. The cycle is usually followed by an active rest period; and then the cycle is repeated, hopefully with heavier weights in each phase and a higher level of peak condition at the end. Each succeeding training cycle leaves you bigger and stronger than the one before.
A more advanced version of periodization, developed more recently, maintains Matveyev's basic premise, but calls for more frequent changes and shorter phases (1 to 3 weeks). Instead of three phases over about a 12 week cycle, there may be six or more microphases. This new model accommodates elite athletes who adapt to a specific routine more quickly and also allows greater carryover from one phase to another. The end result is a more fully conditioned athlete.
In fact, the possible periodization plans are practically endless. It all depends on the individual athlete and the training goal. The differences can be quite subtle and complicated. The one constant, however, in all periodization plans is variety. Variation is the key to avoiding training plateaus and continuing to gain, year after year.
Yes, the critics of periodization are correct that gut-busting, maximum effort combined with plenty of rest is the best way to induce muscular gains - but you won't keep gaining very long without planned variation.
Again, planned change is the sine qua non of periodization.
(You'll find more information on Ripped 3 in the products section of this site. As mentioned, it contains detailed - and we think still the best - periodization plans for bodybuilders. In addition, Lean For Life contains detailed periodization plans for those who want to emphasize weights and aerobics equally.)
Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108. Office hours: M-F, 8-5, Mountain time. Phone: (505) 266-5858, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. FAX (505) 266-9123. Office hours: Monday-Friday, 8-5, Mountain time.
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