Written by Stefan Ianev (Clean Health Research & Development Specialist)
In accordance with the law of specificity, training for maximal strength requires the use of heavy loads. Studies have shown that at least 80% of 1RM is required to improve neural adaptations and strength gains during resistance training in experienced lifters (1).
However, in accordance with the law of variation, if the same stimulus is repeated in the exact same way each and every time, over time the body will adapt to that stimulus and progress will cease.
This is where periodization comes into play. Periodization is the systematic arrangement of training into cycles to prevent stagnation and achieve peak performance. There are several different forms of periodization, however, the classic form of periodization, which is still the most common, is referred to as linear periodization.
Linear periodization originated in the late 50s early 60s and it was developed by Russian physiologist Leo Matveyev and was later further expanded on by Romanian sport scientist Tutor Bompa.
Linear periodization involves the progressive increase in intensity or load and corresponding decrease in volume over the course of a macrocycle. A macrocycle refers to the annual plan or biannual plan that works towards peaking for a competition.
An overview of a macrocycle is shown in the image below from Lorenz et al (2).
Each phase of a macrocycle is called a mesocycle. A mesocycle is a training block devoted to developing a specific quality. Typically, each mesocycle is between 3-6 weeks depending on the needs of the athlete. Each weekly block within a mesocycle is called a microcycle.
In the early stages during the Preparation Phase the emphasis is on structural adaptations or hypertrophy. This phase is characterized by high volume and low-moderate intensity. The purpose of this phase is to prepare the muscles and connective tissue for the higher intensity and loading that is to follow in the later stages. Typically, this phase consists of 8-12 reps per set. The length of time an athlete will spend here will depend on how much body weight they need gain. Athletes that want to keep their weight down should only spend a few weeks here and keep their caloric intake low.
Sometimes a muscle endurance phase consisting of even lighter loading may precede the hypertrophy phase if an athlete is very deconditioned or they are coming of a layoff.
After the hypertrophy phase comes the strength phase. Here the emphasis increasing neural adaptations. For maximizing strength development, we want to work mainly in the 4 to 6 rep range. Assistance exercises can be performed in the 6-8 rep range if an athlete needs to maintain muscle size. Training in the 1-3 rep range should be reserved for the peaking phase rather than used for building strength, as most lifters will burn out after a few weeks of training at such high intensities.
For athletes that need to develop power, a power phase using light to moderate loading of 30–60% of 1RM for 3–6 repetitions performed explosively should follow the strength phase. Heavy resistance training alone may actually decrease power output unless accompanied by explosive movements (1). However, some work for maintaining strength should done during this phase as maximal strength has a complementary role on power when they are trained together (1).
After the strength or power phase comes the peaking phase. During this phase, the intensity should peak while the volume is reduced substantially in order to dissipate fatigue and allow supercompensation to take place. Typically, this phase will only last for 2-3 weeks.
The loading parameters per muscle group for each phase are shown below:
After the peaking phase an athlete will go into a transition phase or a maintenance phase if they participate in a sport that has a long season. This phase is characterized by low volume and low-moderate intensity. The purpose of this phase is to maintain strength while allowing for physical and psychological recovery to take place before the start of the next macrocycle.
Want to learn how to build strong & athletic physiques? Enrol into the Strength System International Certification Bundle (includes Level 1 & 2) by Sebastian Oreb!
- American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(3):687-708. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670
- Lorenz DS, Reiman MP, Walker JC. Periodization: current review and suggested implementation for athletic rehabilitation. Sports Health. 2010;2(6):509-518. doi:10.1177/1941738110375910