View Full Version : Good read on periodization theory

11-27-2003, 09:16 PM
Found this on the web, and its a good read:


"Periodization Breakdown?

Periodization is a method of alternating training loads to produce peak performance for a specific competitive event. It’s a well-established scheme adopted from Russia-it was one of the ‘secrets’ that helped them dominate Olympic sport for so long. Recently, however, Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, a leading architect of the Russian sports training philosophy, wrote an article titled, “The End of Periodization in High Performance Sport,” and readers wondered why a leading advocate of periodization would be saying such things....."

chris mason
11-28-2003, 09:57 AM
That was interesting.

Something I have always felt based upon my experience and the experience of those I know is that the idea of increased intensity while maintaining high volume can be a beneficial thing in advanced athletes is only accurate for one reason, steroids.

I have been training for ~16 years now on a regular basis. My strength levels are pretty decent. If I bump up my volume I cannot train as hard or heavy. I will burn out. This is true for everyone I know. Actually, it is true with one exception, those who are using anabolics.

When I dabbled and with my friends who have dabbled volume could be dramatically increased.

So, I wonder if these results that the scientists and trainers speak of in advanced athletes are really the result of the athlete being on steroids. In other words, does the athlete become "advanced" in the trainers eyes when their perfomances improve due to drug use (which the trainers may be unaware of)?

Elite level athletes of nearly all physical disciplines (golf as an exception for example) are using performance enhancing drugs in MY opinion. This is especially true of strength discipline athletes and track athletes.

Thus my above thoughts.

11-28-2003, 12:38 PM
Depends on how you're viewing volume.

If you're looking at it as number of sets taken to failure, sure.

If you're looking at it as total number of reps per session, then not necessarily. You can jack the volume up fairly high at 90%+ for short intervals naturally, assuming the proper structure is present both before and after that stress period.

chris mason
11-28-2003, 01:05 PM
Ok, but are they discussing doing it for short intervals or over a longer duration. It seems to me they are discussing it over a longer interval. How short of an interval are we discussing?

In addition, using 90+% of one's 1RM for multiple sets of low reps (not to failure) will overtrain the **** out of me real quickly. Maybe I just have a crap ability to recover, who knows?

11-28-2003, 01:47 PM
Just basing on what I've read from both Siff and Verkhoshansky, neither of them was a proponent of combinining high volume and high loads for very long at all.

And I agree, 90%+ is going to be hard on anybody. It was just an example on my part.

I think what he was referring to in the article was cases in which more difficult means can be introduced, like eccentric training or plyometrics, without changing the volume.....the conjugate sequence system, in other words. Training gets harder and intensity increases because of the means used, not just simple progression, while the volume with those means remains fairly constant.

chris mason
11-28-2003, 02:13 PM
My interpretation was that he suggested that coaches go more by the feel of the athlete than the actual rigidity of the program. Allow for the variables of training a real person.

11-28-2003, 02:39 PM
Oh definitely. That's a big part of it as well.

That's the thing that most people don't realize...periodization isn't just some rigid model that has to be followed exactly. Its a very dynamic, individual thing and it has more variations and subtleties than a lot of people know.

Verkhoshansky especially was a proponent of the concentration of loading method, whereby you initially prepare with moderate loads and volumes, then enter a block of concentrated strength loading where the volume increases sharply and intensity either drops or stays the same (thus his explanation of volume not always being the inverse of intensity). After the concentration block and associated recovery interval, a period of increased intensity and drastically lowered volume is used, along with specific training means.

That's the model I use for the most part; but even so, they make the point of noting that it may not be the best for all instances. Again it is very dependent on the individual level of conditioning and capability.

chris mason
11-28-2003, 02:53 PM
Let's talk about that term conditioning. What does that mean?

11-28-2003, 04:02 PM
Ability to produce and tolerate a given work output. It's directly related to the body's "adaptation reserves."

chris mason
11-28-2003, 06:10 PM
I find the use of the word "tolerate" interesting.

Should not training with weights be about what one can benefit from rather than tolerate? Tolerate sounds more like a word which should be associated with aerobic conditioning.

This is where a lot of the training of the eastern European athletes becomes intriguing to me. I have read about volume training, and advanced athletes being able to tolerate greater workloads etc.

I have just never found this to be true with anyone I have known unless they were using drugs.

From what I have ever seen, as we get stronger our increase in strength outstrips our ability to recover from the damage that utilizing said strength causes. In other words, when I was a beginner (and granted I was younger), I could "tolerate" a lot more volume than I can now if I am training hard (not just warmup sets).

The stronger I got the less training I would benefit from. Now, keep in mind I am talking about heavy training with weights, not some sort of aerobic training. My goals are to continuously gain strength and size, not just be able to perform more and more sets without regressing.

Now, why is it that these athletes are presumably able to benefit from so much more work and why can they benefit from more work the more advanced they get (I assume advanced means lifting more weight)? I assume they have better recovery ability than me to start with, but that doesn't explain how they benefit from more work as they "advance".

From another perspective, as a weightlifter improves his neurological ability to recruit his muscles for specific lifts, that which would happen as he "advances", why is it that he hit more fibers per set and do more sets without overtraining?

It is a fact that human beings have certain tolerances for work performed and that the greater the intensity of the work the less work that we can perform within a given period of time.

I agree it is also a fact that human beings can be conditioned to be able to perform more work. When this occurs, the greater workload stresses the body in a fashion similar to the way the lesser workload did.

That said, lifting weights is such an intense stress to the body that without creating a superhuman state via drug use I just don't see the body being able to tolerate more and more work as it gets stronger and stronger (with respect to the ability to move maximum loads). The degree of effort expended by the body is just so much greater than any kind of work without using high intensity loads.


11-29-2003, 12:36 PM
Well, you bring up a good point.

Anaerobic work output in the same way that aerobic work output can be increased. That's actually the basis of the Soviet/Eastern bloc training systems.

That's the reasoning behind the loading/unloading periods, to gradually stress the body beyond what it's capable of handling while still allowing for recovery over the longer term.

The trick is, once you get to that level of advancement, it takes more and more "heavy" stimulus to get the same effect, as you noted. But what if you can't handle the work required at that level? You start to stagnate.

Now obviously there's going to be limits, both natural and enhanced. THat's not the issue. The thing is, I think a lot of people sell themselves short on their potential by falling into the fear of overtraining. If some preparatory time is spent building up the body's working capacity, a lot of the stagnation that is encountered with the heavier weights could be avoided.

chris mason
11-29-2003, 12:44 PM
Well, that is my point, I don't see how I can become accustomed to doing more work at my level. If I was able to adapt you would think that I could add a set, use that volume for a period of time, then add another set etc. I just can't do that. I tried to do a 5x5 routine where I was only hitting failure on the last set or two, and not at all for the first few sessions and I just didn't see anything from that routine.

So, I wonder how these guys are able to add volume without drug use.

11-29-2003, 12:58 PM
Well, it takes quite awhile to do it. You can't just go on a 5x5 routine for a few months and assume it doesn't work. Its a longer-term process.

The entire concept is based on the fitness-fatigue model of training, instead of the supercompensation model that bodybuilding uses. The idea is that each workout creates both positive (fitness) and negative (fatigue) effects, but the fatigue effects are of a shorter duration than the fitness gains.

As the athlete becomes more "trained" it takes a greater and greater stimulus to achieve the positive effect. Building up the anaerobic work capacity allows the athlete to tolerate the increasing fatigue effects.

Also training for sheer muscle bulk is a slightly different thing than training for special strength at the elite level. Its getting to a point there where the structural factors aren't nearly the issue that the neurological factors are. That alone means that different training concepts have to be used.

For someone at your level concerned with just muscle mass, your approach is probably ideal (though I'd personally want to distribute the total volume over more frequent sessions). We're really getting into two separate discussions here, actually-- at the highest levels hypertrophy really isn't the concern for most athletes.

chris mason
11-29-2003, 02:37 PM
I'm not concerned with sheer muscle mass anymore Powerman, I really don't think I can add much more naturally. I am, however, interested in adding as much strength as possible.

11-29-2003, 03:04 PM
Well, its pretty much up to you how to proceed. The very basic outline I could give you would be to start out very generally and gradually move towards the specific exercise and/or skill you want to develop.

Beyond that I couldn't say much more without knowing how much time you actually had to put into it. Without being able to do some other forms of work (sprinting, sled dragging, etc) there's a limit to how much you can handle, even aside from time restraints.

There's a lot of planning that can go into it, especially as far as exercise selection, number of weekly lifts, number of sessions, and loads/rep ranges, all of which has to be tweaked according to the individual and to the goals....so it can be time-consuming. Fortunately its also fun :)

chris mason
11-29-2003, 06:44 PM
I do appreciate the offer (really), but I am not soliciting training advice.

What I am saying is that I do not feel that it is possible for me to train in the fashion suggested by these trainers and to progress in the manner which is suggested unless I was on anabolics.

02-20-2004, 08:15 PM
I'm a non-anabolic guy. I periodize only because if you do not, your support tissues begin to wear out. It's almost the same principle as taking a few week break every three months.
I'll use arbitrary lengths of time to describe it, but this is what I do.
For one month I go in four times a week for high-rep workouts with weight I can squeeze 12-15 reps out of at first, then down to about eight on last set.
For the next month I go in three times per week, with complementary muscle groups split up. (ex: back-chest one day, "arms" next time, "legs" next time) Get the warmup set out of the way, then hit 10-12 reps first time through, work to a weight you can get at least four CONTROLLED reps out of.
For the last month I go in and do one major body part nowhere near the last one I worked out, every 3 days. I do a warm-up, then jack the weight up to my 12 rep range, then 8, 4 then go for 2 or 1 reps with that last weight. Then you're done. Get out and recover.
After those 3 months, take a 2 week break and don't see the gym. If you absolutely must for calorie-expenditure purposes, do not touch iron. Just hit light cardio and get out.
When you come back for your next 3-month period, your first-month high-rep stuff will most likely be with weights you were using for much lower reps the last time around. Example: the first periodization I went through, I could only curl 30 pounders for 12-15. Now I do the same with 45 pounders now. (Regardless of the fact that it's not yet "big iron", it will be. If you're bigger than I am now, I'm catching up fast! :) )

03-01-2004, 07:05 PM
I'm a non-anabolic guy. I periodize only because if you do not, your support tissues begin to wear out. It's almost the same principle as taking a few week break every three months.

Can you prove this statement "...your support tissues begin to wear out."? I ask because I will have been lifting for 14 years (as of March 17 of this year) and I rarely if ever periodize. I have noticed no "wearing out" of "support tissues" if by support tissues you mean ligaments and tendons. I have however noticed a greater overall increase in strength of said "support tissues". As long as you get enough food and rest and do not overtrain, I do not believe you have to worry unduly about "wearing out support tissues".

As for "taking a few week break every three months" I do not do that. I have/do not take many breaks at all. Taking a break may be beneficial, but again only if you really need it.