Strength Sensei 101: Periodization

Strength Sensei 101



More insights into the pioneering training methods of Charles R. Poliquin


Periodization can appear to be a confusing concept involving such terms as mesocycles, micro cycles, deloading, and even asymmetric pyramid loading. Let’s take a step back.

The two primary forms of stress in the weightroom are intensity (how much weight you use) and volume (how many reps you perform). Periodization describes a form of long-term planning to balance these stressors so you can reach specific goals at a particular time.

A paper published in 1982 presented a model of periodization that became used in textbooks published by the National Strength and Conditioning Association called Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. [Stone, M.H. et al. A Theoretical Model of Strength Training, NSCA Journal, Aug-Sep 1982.] Here is the outline of one of the workouts:

                                            Weeks         Sets        Reps         Intensity          Volume

Hypertrophy                            2               3-5            8-20            low                       high

Basic Strength                         5                3-5            2-6              high            moderate to high

Strength and Power               3                 3-5            2-3             high                       low

Peaking or Maintenance       3                 1-3             1-3       Very high to low       very low

This cycle would be followed by a period of active rest, characterized by low-volume/low-intensity training or participation in another sport.

The advantage of this periodization cycle would be superior to programs offering just one set/rep protocol, such as 5×5. Drawing on the work of German sports scientist Dietmar Schmidtbleicher, the Strength Sensei believed a superior model would alternate between periods of high volume and high intensity. [Poliquin, Charles R. Five Steps to Increasing the Effectiveness of Your Strength Training Program for Football. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal, July-July 1988.] The high volume would be referred to as accumulation, and the high intensity as intensification. The following is such a sequence, using the same format as the previous model:

                                      Weeks                 Sets   Reps           Intensity              Volume

Accumulation                  2                         3               5                moderate                       high

Intensification                 2                         4                3               high                        moderate

Accumulation                   2                         3                4                low                                high

Intensification                  2                         5                1-2             high                              low


Although periodization is thought to be a method of training most appropriate for athletes preparing for competition, it can also be used for bodybuilding.

Intelligent training enables these three champions to win the Mr. Olympia title. From left to right, Dexter Jackson, Ronnie Coleman, and Jay Cutler. (Miloš Šarčev photo)


In a periodization model for bodybuilding, the Strength Sensei would still alternate between accumulation and intensification phases. The difference would be that the repetitions would generally be higher, and the accumulation phases would often be longer. Here is one example:

                                                  Weeks               Sets             Reps

Accumulation                                  3                         2               12-15

Intensification                                  2                        4                6-8

Accumulation                                  3                         4                10-12

Intensification                                 1                         5                4-6


Regarding the one-set protocols that several bodybuilders endorsed, particularly Mr. Universe Mike Mentzer, the Strength Sensei believed that they only worked for beginners and for brief periods for those who were overtrained. In the latter case, he said that “fatigue masks fitness,” such that only by reducing the training volume can athletes demonstrate their true potential.

Periodization attempts to make weight training more of a science than an art. It’s getting there, but there is still much to learn! (TSS)

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