Training Programs for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Lifters
PeriodizationPeriodization is a type of lifting regime that allows for an individual to follow the overload principle while adjusting intensity, duration, and frequency of training exercises. The premise behind the overload principle is that an individual must continue to challenge themselves at great enough intensity to induce anatomical and physiological adaptation. If a training program is not of great enough intensity to cause adaptation, it is generally referred to as a maintenance program. In any resistance training periodization program, at least three "periods" or stages must be used to prepare an individual for lifting greater weight. A simple, but extremely effective periodization program consists of 12 weeks (3 months). Most powerlifters only compete about 2 to 3 times in one year, but even if you have no intention of competing, periodization programs are extremely effective with regard to strength gain. Because squat, bench press, and deadlift use the majority of skeletal muscle in your body, it is a good idea to use each of these lifts as the core exercises in your program. Several other exercises are added to a balanced program to allow a person to develop "assistance" muscles or "synergists".
It is a myth that lifting heavy weight for fewer #'s of repetitions will cause a person to become too big, cumbersome, or inflexible. Size is mostly dependent upon diet, agility and coordination is dependent upon practice of skills, and flexibility will only be lost with lifting if a person does not stretch regularly. Please do not fear that you will become grotesque, huge, or awkward.
Period #1: During period 1, individuals are preparing themselves for future periods of greater intensity (weight). The first goal of this period is to strengthen the connective tissue harness which surrounds the skeletal muscle to a degree which will reduce future chance of injury. The second goal of this period is to allow for development of coordination (proper form) through neural changes. These neural changes allow for greater strength and balance as well as better timing with regard to muscular contractions (coordination). The third goal of this period is to start inducing muscle protein synthesis for increased strength of contraction. All three of these goals are started extremely quickly when a person begins a training regimen. Scientific literature supports that physiological adaptation begins within hours of the first bout of a new training regimen. It takes a considerable amount of time for some of these changes to occur, but some of the immediate changes in connective tissue and nervous system allow for improvement within the first week (less soreness; better coordination). Period 1 usually consists of 3-5 sets of 10 repetitions for each of about 4 exercises which are used to strengthen any of 3 or 4 body groups. Here is an example:Body Group - Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Exercises - Bench Press, Military Press, Flies, Cable Pushdowns
Frequency - At least twice per week (preferably 3 times)
Sets - 3-5 (except for the first day in which 1-2 is OK)
Reps - 10 repetitions in each set (except for the first day in which 10-15 is OK)
Weeks - ~4
Period #2: During period 2, individuals are entering a period of greater intensity (weight) with slightly less volume (# reps). The first goal of this period is to continue to strengthen the connective tissue harness which surrounds the skeletal muscle to a degree which will reduce future chance of injury. The second goal of this period is to continue to allow for development of coordination (proper form, etc.) through neural changes. The third goal of this period is to provide a new and greater stimulus to the muscle which will help to insure continued muscle protein synthesis for increased strength of contraction. This period will allow for a change in program which helps most people get over a "stale" feeling in their training. By the end of the first period, most people have reached a "plateau" in their training and are ready to move on. The second period is when people are generally surprised about their own strength abilities. Period 2 usually consists of 3-5 sets of 5-8 repetitions for each of about 4 exercises which are used to strengthen any of 3 or 4 body groups. Here is an example:Body Group - Legs
Exercises - Squat, Leg Press, Leg Extensions, Leg Curls
Frequency - At least twice per week
Sets - 3-5
Reps - 5-8 repetitions in each set (but the # can vary)
Weeks - ~4
Period #3: During period 3, individuals are entering a period of great intensity (weight) with even less volume (# reps). Connective tissue and neural adaptations have about reached their peak, but some evidence exists that there is continued slower adaptation. The largest goal of this period is to provide a new and greater stimulus to the muscle as well as an opportunity to test your new strength. The change in period allows for a second change in program to help people get over another "plateau". At this point, some new lifters are approaching #'s that they did not think would be possible. Period 3 usually consists of 4-6 sets of 2-5 repetitions for each of the major exercises. The major exercises are those which use the largest amount of musculature (eg. bench press, squat, dead lift). The rest of the exercises are performed similarly to period #2). Here is an example:Body Group - Back
Exercises - Dead Lift, Lat Pull Downs, Seated Rows, Shrugs
Frequency - At least twice per week (for Dead Lift, once heavy and once lighter is OK)
Sets - 4-6
Reps - 2-5 repetitions in each set
Weeks - ~2
Period #4: During period 4, individuals are encouraged to compete with their own personal best lifts. This can be achieved in the presence of a lifting partner in the gym or at some local, regional, state, or national meet. Only the national meets require a "qualifying total". Some people have no intention of competing and are relatively quiet about their own goals. This should not be discouraged. All individuals benefit from strength gain. During this 1-2 week period, individuals usually engage in 2-6 sets of 1-3 repetitions for each of the major exercises. Again, the major exercises are those which use the largest amount of musculature (eg. bench press, squat, dead lift). Often, only one assistance exercise is performed during this period. The others are dropped to allow a "tapering" effect before a meet. If you do not intend to compete, tapering is probably not very necessary. Here is an example:Body Group - Legs
Exercises - Squat, Leg Press, Leg Extensions, Leg Curls
Frequency - At least twice per week (for Squat, once heavy and once lighter is OK)
Sets - 2-6
Reps - 1-3 repetitions in each set
Weeks - ~2
The specifics of your program will depend on many factors which include: # of times/ week which you can realistically lift, specific goals, exercise preferences, diet, sleep, genetics, etc. Diet, sleep, stress, and genetics all play an enormous role in exercise progression. We can address these topics in meetings or one on one.
If you are relatively less interested in gaining strength and more interested in the development of particular body parts, it is easy to modify periods 1 and 2 to accomplish your goals. The only substantive change would be choice of exercises (and possible # of reps and sets). For increasing definition, a person should modify their diet, and increase the # of reps and sets.
Here are generic periodization programs for individuals wishing to lift 2, 3, 4, or 5 days per week:Two Day Per Week Program
Three Day Per Week Program
Four Day Per Week Program
Five Day Per Week Program