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Periodisation for the Weight Trainer

Have you ever been confused by the tricky little topic of training periodisation? It’s ok to stand up and admit it, I know in the past I have. It does get confusing because there are so many different schools of thought on the subject, and which is the exact best way to approach it in regards to your specific training goals. Training periodisation is not a generalised application that fits one training model. Depending on what your actual training goals are, periodisation can and will change. Unless what you are using as a resource does portray similar goals to your own, chances are you will end up even more confused!!!

I can bet you your last dollar, if you were to jump into Google right now and do a web search of variations of training periodisation, the one common theme amongst all the top posts will be that the model will be related to ‘performance based’ sports – and that is something to think about.

Bodybuilding – is it a sport, an art form or just a hobby?

Looking at your top responses and relating specifically to sporting performance, here is the difference between the author’s key points and your own goals. Lets say, the training model that would be used by a power lifter compared to a bodybuilder, whilst similar is some ways but would also be completely different in others and I feel really needs to be addressed as such.

Let’s say we have our 2 athletes: 1 is a power lifter and the other is a bodybuilder and their respective competitions are on the same day and they are the same time frame out (for example lets say 12 weeks). The training program that will be initiated by the power lifter being specific in design, and will have the athlete peaking in physical condition, strength and technique on competition day, for their goal is performance based. On the flip side though, our bodybuilder isn’t training for ‘performance’ and it is all about the ‘look’ for the competition.

It is commonly accepted that whilst a bodybuilder will look physically ‘perfect’ on the day, they are usually very far from it in a performance sense. They are week, tired and drained – the complete opposite to that of our power cousin.

Rule of thumb – though whilst some aspects of the programs remain similar, they are essentially very different to produce different outcomes.

Periodisation for Performance!

So yes I believe the most commonly presented model is periodisation for sporting performance. As the title suggests, the training program that you would be ideally following is one that will let you specifically be at your best (physically and mentally focused) on competition day as per example 1 above. This will be your PEAK in physical performance.

I don’t want to go into this topic too much for not only could we be here for the next 20 pages and as I feel the readers of Ironman are more focused on ‘development’, rather then performance. If there is enough requests I can cover it in future articles, though for now lets talk about periodisation for bodybuilders.

Periodisation and the beginner…

Without even realising it, most beginner lifters will follow a good, effective model for basic periodisation. Starting from scratch and leading over a period of weeks and months, the trainer will slowly become more accustomed efficient moving around the gym, utilising good compound exercises and learning how to effectively target the body. Most importantly also, learning how to relate to their body and to ‘feel’ the muscles that they are targeting. How they tackle their specific training could slightly vary from one to another, but here is a good basic periodisation program for the novice lifter and taking them to the 12 weeks of consistent training mark:

Weeks 1 to 4: Training 3 days per week and targeting the whole body during the session. We see them selecting the most effective exercise per muscle group, 2 working sets each and working within a rep range of 8-12 reps. Here an example for chest could be 2 sets of flat bar bench presses.

Weeks 5 to 8: Training 3 days per week and targeting the whole body during the session. We see them selecting the most effective exercise per muscle group, 2 working sets each and working within a rep range of 8-12 reps. additionally to the model from weeks 1-4, we can see them add an additional exercise to each muscle group and just applying for 1 set each, still focusing on the same rep range. An example here now for chest could be 2 sets of bench press, and 1 set of dumbbell presses.

Weeks 9 to 12: If the trainer is looking to split the body up into different days of training, what we could do is specifically break up the upper body, shoulders and arms in one session, and then focus on the legs and core in the other session. Still training 3 times per week, they could undertake a revolving split. What would happen here is for example, you could do upper body on Monday, lower body on Wednesday and then on Friday, back to upper body. For the following week the days are simply reversed: lower, upper and then lower.

This change would be effective because as the trainer becomes more efficient in the gym, they are able to generate greater amount of training intensity and it does become more difficult to complete an effective and time efficient whole body session when you are pretty much warn out after a few exercises. The either/or system will also enable you to enjoy greater muscle-specific recovery (recovery being a VITAL component of the overall success of your training).

So that is a good basic model for getting started, but what if you are an experienced trainer, surely periodisation does apply? Yes most certainly, I suppose 2 ways we could look into this is with seasonal periodisation and competition periodisation.

To recap: periodisation is breaking your training program down into specific phases to enable you to create the ideal result by a determined date. Seasonal periodisation I feel is a little different. As a serious though non-competitive trainer, using the seasons is a great way to keep progressing in your training; generating better results and keeping things fresh.

Seasonal Periodisation – breaking your training down into times during the year

Winter Training – as the months get colder, people will rug up more and the gaining of a ‘little fat’ becomes less of a concern. Most people will use this time to “bulk up” to pack on the pounds. Their training will become more basic, heavier loads, more food and generally trying to pack on as much bodyweight as possible. Some do it right and I don’t believe in gaining excessive weight for the sake of weight: it does not let you build muscle faster. But still, during this time the focus is generally on heavy power movements, more basic training and really trying to get the poundage's up.

Summer Training – as it gets hotter the layers come off and people are keen to show off their hard earned results that they generated through the winter months. The goal being to burn the excess body fat and to show off the hard earned muscle – this is a seasonal goal and they want to carry their form through all of the warmer months. More cardio, less calories, cleaner food and overall, a more active lifestyle are all parts of a summer training model.

Seasonal periodisation could be summed up as 2 training phases – your heavy bulking phase and a cutting-up phase. Works great and produces great results for the non­competitive, serious trainer.

Periodisation for the competitive athlete

As a competitive bodybuilder who wants to lay it all on the line come D-Day, I believe the basic periodisation model needs to slightly ‘skew’ to meet your specific demands. As an athlete, it is not what you do in the last couple of weeks that is going to generate specific physique changes in regards to ‘development’, rather what you are doing month and weeks out that is really going to make the difference. Take advantage of the time you have, but never loosing focus of the bigger picture.

Let’s set this up with an example again. Say you have competed, did pretty well but the judges have told you that your physique is a little unbalanced and that you need to build the shoulders up to present a better package. You don’t plan on competing for another 12 months so you have more then enough time to make the positive changes, what do we do?

First is to realise that you have 12 months. Change your training around, get nice and basic with some heavy lifting. Also, prioritize your shoulders and hit them earlier in the week when you are your freshest and have more energy.

Then simply the way you train works hand in hand with the condition you are able to maintain (or a body fat level that you are happy to stay at) compared to the developments that you are also able to make in relation to the time remaining till the show. If you are specifically focused on this show, you should be training hard and heavy all the way up and making slight changes along the way as your physique changes. In reality, the greatest changes will come with the inclusion of cardio and certain dietary changes (which are in direct relation to what I just quoted previously – time v’s development v’s condition).

The main difference for the athlete – you are an athlete 24/7. As our sport is based on ‘development’ and not so much performance, we in a way need to be more regimented then our performance cousins. They can afford to slack off a little with diet etc, as their ‘look’ is not on show compared to ours where from at minimum, 3-4 months out we need to be rock solid with our approach and every day being the best day we can muster for it really does all add up.

It does get confusing doesn’t’ it? As a bodybuilder and not having to ‘perform’ on the day (we do, but you know what I mean), that can generate some leeway with our training but additionally it becomes more crucial then ever for really it is true – what we are doing 6 months out DOES count. In my opinion an athlete really is an athlete 24/7. For the bodybuilder there is no off season: rather just time available till the next show and what we need to do within that time.

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