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Bodybuilding and strength training for many is a way of life: an obsession for those who seek to obtain physical perfection. Muscle density, chronic hypertrophy, proportion, symmetry and vascularity are the corner stone of a bodybuilder’s vocabulary. They are the physical properties a competitor is judged on and qualities envied by those who do not possess them. So, how does one develop these physical properties? While every gym junkie probably has their own set of exercises and workout patterns that they follow, many of these routines are based on the specific training method known as periodisation.

What is Periodisation?

Periodisation has been around for many decades with its use in resistance exercise or weight lifting since the 1950s. Originally used by sporting coaches such as that of the Finnish cross country skiers and Soviet weightlifters, periodisation is a well planned and organised approach to training which involves specific changes at specific periods of time in order to maximise training outcomes in lead up to the playing season or the competition. In essence, periodisation refers to:

1. How to organise a longer period of time into smaller, manageable phases, and
2. How to structure the program into specific training phases.

Periodisation is not a rigid system. In contrast, periodised training provides the bodybuilder with the flexibility to manipulate the training phases into an order that will not only facilitate his/her training goals, but will allow the training system to be organised around competitions, holidays, family commitments and whatever your unique set of obligations encompass. However, the most important factor about setting up a successful periodised workout plan is to have plenty of foresight.

The Periodisation Cycles

While periodisation has evolved since its inception, the backbone of periodisation is the organisation of time into specific training cycles. In periodisation, there exists 3 training cycles:

  • Macrocycle – This cycle refers to the long term training period. Usually 12 months or more, the macrocycle can itself be separated into 3 phases in its original sporting phased model; preparation, competition and transition. In terms of bodybuilding and strength training, one can think of the ‘competition phase’ as your overall long term goal, whereas the ‘transition phase’ is the period of time where you can revel in your hard work and achievement of the goal before setting a new goal and beginning the cycle again.

  • Mesocycle – A period of the macrocycle lasting anywhere between 2-6 weeks. The mesocycle involves planning your training to incorporate different aspects of the sport in question so that you can slowly build up to the goal. The mesocycles are organised according to the preparation, competition and transition phases of the macrocycle. In terms of bodybuilding and strength training, it is about training to gain hypertrophy, strength, endurance or other aspects in order to achieve your ultimate goal.

  • Microcycle – A smaller phase of training generally based around the weekly schedule. While planning is still involved, there is room to play around with as you can adjust according to your weekly schedule, which is more subject to change. In terms of bodybuilding and strength training, it involves figuring out how many sessions, the length of sessions, exercise choice and the muscle groups you’d be working out that week.

Linear vs. Non-Linear Periodisation

While periodisation is inherently individual, there are still commonly used models which have been put out over the years including the linear model of periodisation and the non-linear model initially proposed by famous strength and conditioning coach Charles Poliquin.

In linear periodisation (LP) models, the training volume starts off high with low intensity and as the mesocycles progress, the training volume starts to decline, whilst the intensity increases. The linear periodisation model is more structured and contains mesocycles specifically focused on endurance, hypertrophy and strength. In contrast, the non-linear periodisation (NLP) model splits their mesocycles into 2 phases; the first phase being similar to the LP model, but shorter in duration, while the second phase involves drastic changes in training volume and intensity. In fact, in the NLP model Phase 2, it is considered best to change volume and intensity every session.

Below is just one example of mesocycles in both the linear and non-linear periodisation models:

The Step Overload Model of Periodisation

A popular linear based periodisation model is the Step Overload model which allows for individual variations to be included at the microcycle level to make it more. The specific training phases as describe by the Step Overload model include:

  • Anatomical Adaptation (Aa) – which represents the beginning or the first phase in the mesocycle.
  • Hypertrophy (H) – training phase where the objective is to increase muscle size.
  • Mixed (M) – training phase where the objective is to facilitate hypertrophy requirements whilst laying the foundations for the higher intensity Maximum Strength phase to follow.
  • Maximum Strength (Ms) – training phase where the objective is to increase muscle density and strength via neural adaptations.
  • Muscle Definition (Md) – training phase where the objective is to burn fat, improve muscle striation and vascularity.
  • Transition (T) – where the objective is recovery and regeneration.

A detailed analysis of each of the training phases is beyond the scope of this article; however, table 1 provides an example of the basic model.

Table 1. Basic Model of The Annual Plan

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

4

Aa

6

H

3

M

1

T

3

Ms

3

Md

1

T

3

H

3

M

1

T

4

Ms

3

H

1

T

4

M

4

Ms

4

Md

4

T

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Numbers in the top boxes represent months. This is so you can commence the program at any stage throughout the year.
  • Numbers at the top of each column represent weeks spent in each phase.
  • Letters at the bottom of each column represent the phase of training, as previously discussed.

Periodisation - A Sound Approach to Bodybuilding

Periodisation is a system utilised to sequence training phases and used to manage larger periods of training. Various models of the periodised plan exist; however, they all encompass the same fundamental principles. The periodised training system allows for complete development whilst minimising the potential of overtraining. There have been multiple studies looking at linear and non-linear periodisation models and their effectiveness on muscular adaptations, with both exhibiting benefits over non-periodised training, however a majority of studies show that perhaps a non-linear model offers better results. Regardless, it is always important to change your workouts regularly and a structured, well planned regimen is one of your best chances at achieving the goals you want.

_

1. Simão R, Spineti J, de Salles BF, Matta T, Fernandes L, Fleck SJ, Rhea MR, Strom-Olsen HE. ‘Comparison between nonlinear and linear periodized resistance training: hypertrophic and strength effects.’ J Strength Cond Res. 2012 May;26(5):1389-95.


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