Who needs a Personal Trainer? Part 1: Never Plateau Again!


 

Why pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for someone to program your workouts? Wouldn’t you rather learn the information yourself, program your own workouts and save yourself lots of money?

If you do, then I welcome you to part 1 of the 6 part series on getting rid of the need for a personal trainer.

Seems counterintuitive that a personal trainer would be giving you advice to make his job obsolete. However, I subscribe to the Richard Branson quote “Train people well enough so they can leave (or do it on their own in this case), treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” Granted he was talking about employees but it is easily transferable to clients as well.

My goal with this 6 part series is to give you enough information in each of the aspects of programming a workout to never need a personal trainer again. You are only limited by your creativity.  Granted what I give you in this series is just a baseline of knowledge, but this baseline can be adapted to any form of training from the weekend warrior to pro level training.

To prove a point, Westside Barbell is widely considered the gold standard for powerlifting in the world right now. The system they used is based on periodization that is called conjugate periodization.

I’ll try not to go too deep in the weeds with detailed explanations so if these posts get to technical jump to the bolded text.  I tried to make the actionable points in bold throughout.

Enter Periodization

We all hit plateaus in training at one point or another. Thanks to the modern practice of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries during the 1950’s, we never have to plateau again. God love Eastern European simplicity (see my post about GVT).

This mythical plateau proofing scheme is none other than periodization.

Periodization as defined by the NSCA is “a systematic process of planned variations in a resistance training program over a training cycle.” Don’t worry, over the course of the next 6 weeks I’ll break down the different variations you can throw in.

Periodization in its simplest form is just manipulating volume and weight over a period of time. These variations add different stress to the muscles, which causes the body to adapt then you switch it up.

Variations in exercises for the same muscle group result in greater increase in strength and power than a program with no variation.

The Divisions

Like sport, periodization is broken up into divisions. The largest division is called the macrocycle. The macrocycle encompasses the entire training year. The next division is the mesocycle. The mesocycle is where most of the variations happen and where we will spend most of our time for the next 6 weeks. The mesocycle last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. The final cycle is known as the microcycle which include daily or weekly variations. The Westside Barbell conjugate system works a lot in the microcycle variations.

Knowing the names of the cycles aren’t as important as understanding the concepts we will dive into next. If you do want to remember the names, I always remember the alphabet. “A” is first (macrocycle), then “e” (mesocycle) and finally “i” (microcycle).

The Phases

This is where we get into the meat and potatoes of periodization in my opinion. The 5 phases I am going to be outlining here are discussed in further detail in the coming weeks.

Endurance  Phase

This is the phase where we build up your capacity for work.   This phase is high volume ( 12-20 reps for 3-5 sets) and light weights.

Hypertrophy Phase

The wheelhouse for the bodybuilder. This phase focuses on developing a muscular and metabolic base at high volume (8-12 reps for 3-5 sets,) and medium weight.

Strength Phase

The goal here is to get stronger, shock and awe! Look for a moderate volume (3-6 reps for 3-5 sets) and heavy weight.

Competition/Peaking Phase

Competition is right around the corner and now it is time to tone it back a little. This phase is low volume (1-2 reps for 3-4 sets) using almost your 1RM (1 rep max).

Active Rest

This is where you come back to earth from your superhuman feats of strength. Required for mind and body. Low volume and body weight training. General Physical Preparedness (GPP) exercises are key here.

Periodization Models

Sorry gentlemen there are no periodization supermodels. It is time to dive into how you tie all this gibberish together to make a beautiful program.   Beautiful women no, but we do have beautiful programs.

Before we get into the different models I want to cover some basics to help you get as much as you can out of this.

First, periodization works best if you have a good base and constant in your program. They should involve at least one of the big 5 lifts. These lifts are the bench press (or some variation), barbell row, shoulder press, squats (some variation) and deadlifts. These exercises are your litmus test to see how you are progressing in your program. Not to mention they are all large muscle group movements. More muscle recruitment = more muscle.

Second, train the same muscles multiple times a week. Skip the body-part-a-day bodybuilding paradigm (I cannot tell you how long I have been waiting to drop paradigm in a post). Use a push/ pull, upper/lower or full body split. Training frequency is critical for making gainz quickly while managing rest. 3-4 days per week, while doing some rest or active recovery on the non-training days.

Third, balls to the wall doesn’t make you stronger. Cycle the weight used during the week. If you are training 3 days a week, go heavy one day, medium weight and then have a light day. For 4 training days add and extra medium day. I dive more into this a little later.

The Linear Periodization Model

When you talk about periodization this is the model that almost always comes to mind. Linear Periodization is gradual and continual increases in training weight and decrease in volume while you progress through the different mesocycles or phases.

This is what a high-level linear periodization model would look like

Progression Phase Length (weeks) Sets Reps Rest period (min) % of 1RM
1 Endurance 2-3 3-5 12-20 0.5-1 ~65-75%
2 Hypertrophy 2-3 3-5 8-12 1-2 ~75-85%
3 Strength 2-3 3-5 5-6 3-5 ~85-93%
4 Competition/Peak 2-3 3-4 1-2 3-5 ≥95%
5 Active Rest 1 No Weights just GPP

As you can see in the table above the repetitions go down as the % of 1 RM goes up. This saves you from overuse injuries and helps you recover.

I am a visual learner so here is a table to illustrate what linear periodization is all about. To get into the nuts and bolts of it, here is a sample 3 day Linear Program:

Phase Week Sets Reps Rest (min) Monday – Heavy (%1RM) Wednesday –Light (%1RM) Friday – Medium (%1RM)
Endurance 1 3 20 0.5 ~65 ~55 ~60
2 3 15 1 ~70 ~60 ~65
3 4 12 1 ~75 ~65 ~70
Hypertrophy 4 3 12 1.5 ~75 ~65 ~70
5 4 10 1.5 ~80 ~70 ~75
6 5 8 1.5 ~85 ~75 ~80
Strength 7 3 4 3 ~90 ~70 ~80
8 4 3 3 ~93 ~75 ~85
9 5 3 3 ~93 ~75 ~85
Competition 10 3 2 5 ~95 ~75 ~85
11 4 1 5 ~95 ~75 ~85
12 4 1 5 ~100 ~80 ~90
Active Rest 13 No Weights just GPP

 

As you can see we are manipulating the weight used weekly and daily to keep you fresh and ready to crush the world. The volume stays the same. On light and medium days you are supposed to have “some left in the tank” and not be training to failure. Trust the system and ignore that guy in the gym.

The Nonlinear Periodization Model

The nonlinear (or undulating) model looks very similar to the linear model with the exception of one thing. In the nonlinear model, volume and weight used is varied throughout the week. Instead of having 4 distinct phases, they are all mashed into one week.

Because I like picture books here is a nonlinear program table.

Week Day 1-Heavy Day 2- Light Day 3-Medium
Sets Reps Rest Weight (%1RM) Sets Reps Rest Weight (%1RM) Sets Reps Rest Weight (%1RM)
1 3 6 4 ~85 2 15 1 ~65 2 10 1.5 ~75
2 3 6 4 ~85 3 15 1 ~65 3 10 1.5 ~75
3 4 6 4 ~85 3 15 1 ~65 3 10 1.5 ~75
4 3 5 5 ~87 4 12 1 ~65 4 10 1.5 ~75
5 3 5 5 ~87 4 12 1 ~67 4 9 1.5 ~77
6 4 5 5 ~87 2 12 1.5 ~67 2 9 2 ~77
7 4 4 5 ~90 3 12 1.5 ~67 3 9 2 ~77
8 3 4 5 ~90 3 10 1.5 ~67 3 9 2 ~77
9 3 4 5 ~90 4 10 1.5 ~75 4 8 2 ~80
10 3 3 5 ~93 3 10 1.5 ~75 3 8 2 ~80
11 4 3 5 ~93 4 10 1.5 ~75 4 8 2 ~80
12 4 3 5 ~93 4 10 1.5 ~75 4 8 2 ~80
13 Active Rest

I know this is a lot to take in and it took me an inordinate amount of time to put this together so here is a quick and dirty summary of the take home points.

  • Linear periodization varies weight daily and volume weekly.
  • Nonlinear periodization varies weight and volume daily.
  • Throw variation into your workouts to make gainz.

Using that base knowledge can help you understand the nitty gritty parts to periodization.

Here is what you can look forward to over the next few weeks:

Endurance Training: Dec 13

Hypertrophy Training: Dec 20

Strength Training: Dec 27

Peaking/ Tying it all together: Jan 3

GPP: Jan 10

Don’t worry I’ll come up with better (or dumber) titles as I finish these posts up.