Periodization for the Poor Man Part III

buff guy curling dumbbellsOkay, we’re finally on Part III of this series, which means this thing is finally wrapped up. This final bit is going to add a few thoughts on how to control your training as best you can ever control it, while giving you a few samples of how you might apply some of this stuff for, *gasp,* actual strength training.

Cybernetic Periodization and Autoregulation

As we’ve discussed, periodization is nothing more than a means of controlling volume, intensity, exercise selection, and training method over time to elicit specific effects. This should be the goal of any program. However, there is an innate uncertainty in any dynamic system, and the body’s adaptive process is no different.

Any pre-written program is, as a result, going to be less than optimal for any given person. Not only this, but due to the nature of individual adaptations, the further one is from the program starting point, the less effective a program will become. It’s fairly obvious that some means of personalizing for individual differences is needed to optimize the utility of any training program.

In Supertraining Mel Siff speaks of cybernetic periodization, which is a means of controlling volume and intensity “on the fly” according to both the athlete’s feedback and a coach’s rating of technique. This technique hints at a means of moving beyond simple prescriptions of sets and reps, and toward a range of possibilities based on goals. The athlete’s feedback during the workout, in the context of the training goal, would determine the actual number of sets and reps performed that day. In other words, a day devoted to developing maximal strength would have one set of criteria, while a day for strength endurance or speed-strength would have its own unique methods.

The basis of any such program would require ‘peaking’ during the training session, from which volume and training intensity would be calculated. In addition, evaluating the peak itself requires its own context. There is a difference in a training max and a competition max; the latter is denoted by the level of emotional arousal and can be quantified by measuring heart rate. The training max thusly is much less stressful on the athlete, and this should be taken into account. Periods of training that require low stress should be based around training that isn’t maximally taxing, and high stress periods should limit emotionally taxing work for long periods of time.

Once the daily maximum is achieved, there are several ways to proceed. If the goal is intensification, development of strength or peak capacity, the weight can be reduced 10-30 lbs and sets can be performed. If the goal is to add volume, the weight can be further reduced to allow for the completion of more sets and higher reps. Several Olympic weightlifting protocols use this methodology in a wave loading approach. This model involves working to a peak, dropping back, and then working back up. The number of peaks achieved, and thusly the overall volume, can be controlled by the athlete’s feedback. This wave loading approach as discussed has been implemented by weightlifters with 1-3 reps, but there’s no reason that higher rep sets could not be alternated with heavier sets in the same scheme, if for example the goal is hypertrophy.

Aside from the wave load approach, one can simply work up to a peak weight and call it quits, or keep a stable weight across all sets; these two approaches are useful, albeit general, methods of controlling intensity as needed.

Sample Approaches

That’s the basis of the autoregulating plan that cybernetic periodization allows. Within the overall structure of mesocycles, microcycles, and individual workouts, this free-form manipulation of variables allows for much greater precision.

The trick then is to design appropriate mesocycles and, as discussed earlier, sequence them properly for the greatest effect. This section will outline several sample phases and the suggested means of performing them. As discussed, your actual number of sets and reps is going to be variable, but ideally you will be able to find a groove.

These outlines are only a sample of the possible iterations, and you might recognize the basic layouts from the periodization approaches discussed in Part I of this series. Any of the approaches can be used. Further, the cycles presented work toward a singular goal using one or two training means; however, with the concept of concurrent or conjugate training, many, many more cycles are possible.

In the following notation, “stable” refers to keeping all sets at a single working weight, while “increasing” indicates working up to a maximal working weight across your sets. Load drop-off and volume drop-off indicate a high or low weight drop-off as discussed previously.

Base Strength Cycle: Linear

Frequency – upper/lower, 1 day of eachMedium (75-85%)Week 1 – StableWeek 2 – Stable

Week 3 – Increasing

Week 4 – Increasing max

Heavy (85-92%) Doubles

Week 1 – One wave, load drop-off

Week 2 – Two waves, load drop-off

Week 3 – Three waves, load drop-off

Week 4 – Three/four waves, volume drop-off

Base Strength Cycle: Fluctuating

Frequency – upper/lower, 1 day of eachMedium (75-85%)Week 1 – StableWeek 2 – Stable

Week 3 – Increasing

Week 4 – Increasing

Week 5 – Stable

Week 6 – Increasing max

Heavy (85-92%) Doubles

Week 1 – One wave, load drop-off

Week 2 – One wave, load drop-off

Week 3 – Two waves, load drop-off

Week 4 – Two waves, volume drop-off

Week 5 – One wave, load drop-off

Week 6 – Three waves, volume drop-off

Loading Cycle

This cycle is based loosely on the recommendations set forth by Glenn Pendlay in regards to loading and unloading to exploit the hormonal fluctuation model of training.

LoadingMedium (75-85%)Week 1 – StableWeek 2 – Stable

Week 3 – Peak – max frequency

Week 4 – Peak – max frequency

Week 5 – Stable

Heavy (85-92 %+) Singles + Drop-off

Week 1 – One wave, load drop-off

Week 2 – Two waves, load drop-off

Week 3 – Three/four waves, volume drop-off – max frequency

Week 4 – Three/four waves, volume drop-off – max frequency

Week 5 – Two waves

Unloading Taper

Low frequency – 1-2 sessions total per week

Light (45-65%) – No Band Tension

Week 6 – 65%

Week 7 – 55%

Week 8 – 45%

Heavy (85-94 %+) – No Drop-off

Week 6 – Three waves

Week 7 – Two waves

Week 8 – One wave

Bodybuilding Workouts

The following are sample setups for hypertrophy-oriented workouts. Hypertrophy requires some slightly different variables from strength training, so we’ve created these basic outlines to account for that.

Light Stress Weeks
-Low/Moderate Volume-Low Frequency (1-2 sessions per part per week)-Light Eccentric Stress-Slow progression of load from session to session

Heavy Stress Weeks
-Moderate/High Volume

-Moderate/High Frequency (2-4 sessions per part per week)

-Heavy Eccentric Stress

-Rapid progression of load from session to session

In the following cycle outlines, “volume” indicates an emphasis on increasing the overall training load (i.e. sets/reps/load) while keeping relatively stable working weights (accumulation), whereas “load” indicates an emphasis on increasing the peak load used (intensification). The terms “light” and “heavy” denote use of light stress and high stress guidelines, respectively.

Base Training Cycle: Continuous, PyramidWeek 1 – Volume, LightWeek 2 – Volume, LightWeek 3 – Volume, Heavy

Week 4 – Load, Heavy

Week 5 – Load, Light

Week 6 – Load, Light

Loading/Unloading Cycle 1

Week 1 – Volume, Light

Week 2 – Volume, Light

Week 3 – Volume, Heavy

Week 4 – Volume, Heavy

Week 5 – Load, Light

Week 6 – Off

Week 7 – Load, Light

Week 8 – Off

Loading/Unloading Cycle 2

Week 1 – Volume, Light

Week 2 – Load, Light

Week 3 – Volume, Heavy

Week 4 – Load, Heavy

Week 5 – Volume, Light

Week 6 – Off

Week 7 – Load, Light

Week 8 – Off


With luck this series, as broken as I’m sure it was by gaps of time, was able to shed at least some light on matters of training organization while offering some effective strategies for implementing the concepts outlined. This was never meant to be a comprehensive treatment on the subject, as that would literally require a book in and of itself. The idea was rather to touch on most of the dominant ideas, while simultaneously offering a convenient means of implementing them.

If you take from this article nothing more than that training is more dynamic than you might have suspected and that cookie-cutter approaches are all but pointless, this series was a success. Hopefully you will go beyond that understanding however, and will use at least some of what has been outlined to improve your own performance.

Remember that nothing here is intended to be taken as gospel. What has been outlined and covered is the proverbial tip of the iceberg—there are always more ways to implement a training plan. We have simply introduced you to a few more tricks, that implemented intelligently, can help you achieve your training and fitness goals.

Questions or comments on this article? Post them in the Avant Labs Forums for live feedback from Matthew Perryman (AKA PowermanDL) and Fortified Iron, as well as the Mind and Muscle staff and fellow readers!


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