A Guide To Periodisation For Strength And Muscle

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Yusuf Paterson

Nutritionist & Coach

Yusuf Paterson is our lifestyle and nutrition writer (and you may spot him working up a sweat in some of our product photography too!)

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periodisiation for strength training
6 June 2024 5 min read
A Guide To Periodisation For Strength And Muscle

When it comes to building muscle or strength, you could employ many different training methods to get the job done. For instance, when it comes to building muscle, you could simply do straight sets of 8-15 reps for years and still get good results. However, is that optimal for muscle growth and strength? Probably not.

The last few years have also seen a massive shift in people’s needs and wants from the gym – I feel that now, many not only want to look the part, but they also want to move well and be physically prepared for all kinds of fitness endeavours. The term ‘hybrid athlete’ is used a lot but basically, we all just want to be ready for all forms of fitness whilst looking and feeling good.

By periodising our training, we can build different areas of fitness at different times, meaning we aren’t trying to spin too many plates at once and compromising on performance gains.

What Is Periodisation?

Periodisation is all about planning and structuring your training to reach your long-term goals. By tweaking things like how much you train (frequency) and the intensity of your workouts, you can perform at your best at the right time and it can improve your performance over the long run.

Front squats in programme as part of periodisation

Think of it like a roadmap for where you want to be at the end of a year or the season for the athletes among us. For example, the Olympic athletes will likely follow four-year training cycles to prepare and in order to be in peak condition for the Olympic games. These long-term plans are called ‘macro-cycles’ and as part of the breakdown into three key phases; macro-cycles, meso-cycles and micro-cycles.

The Macro-Cycle

A macro-cycle can span a year or even longer and focuses on various training aspects to achieve optimal results. No single rep scheme is universally ‘optimal’; all rep ranges have their place. Therefore, during a macrocycle, you’ll dedicate specific training periods to different training focuses and different rep ranges, using each phase to advance to the following phase. A macro-cycle is made up of many meso-cycles and is built to give you all the stimulus needed to optimise strength and muscle growth.

E.G. My FHT class programme is structured over a year, with specific periods focusing on strength, power, and muscular endurance. This plan is designed to build up to a peak at the end of summer where we typically test some true strength, 1RM number, before starting a new macro-cycle.

The Meso-Cycle

A meso-cycle can last a few weeks or a few months and focuses on a particular training aspect, like muscle conditioning or hypertrophy. Each meso-cycle is made up of multiple micro-cycles and each meso-cycle will build on the previous one.

For example, a muscle conditioning phase consisting of lighter weights and higher rep ranges, won't necessarily cause muscle growth, but it will improve the transport system of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, aiding recovery. This sets the stage for a more specific muscle-building phase.

Additionally, it builds the cardiovascular system, reducing the likelihood of muscle failure due to cardiovascular fatigue instead of muscular fatigue. Similarly, a power phase with low rep, fast-paced work helps us to focus on moving with intent leading to us recruiting all motor units, enhancing performance during one-rep max attempts or high rep sets i.e. when it comes to use pushing for that final rep in a set of 10, we are able to better recruit all the working muscles to lift that weight.

The Micro-Cycle

A micro-cycle is the shortest training cycle, typically a week-long designed to provide a specific stimulus to the muscles. Within the meso-cycle, will be multiple micro-cycles, which will have small changes implemented on a week-to-week basis. For example, each micro-cycle of a strength phase, the movements would be the same, but the reps might decrease so you can focus on pushing the weight. i.e. Week 1 might start with a strict press, 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Week 2 would progress on this, starting with a strict press, 4 sets of 4-7 reps, allowing you to push the weight a bit more.

Squats with barbell

What variables can we change to adjust volume and intensity?

  • Tempo / time under tension
  • Rest – reducing or increasing rest time between sets can increase/decrease intensity
  • Total volume
  • Total weight / force i.e. % of 1 RM, RIR
  • Training frequency
  • Exercise selection

Periodisation And Nutrition

Align your nutrition with your training phases. During a hypertrophy phase, you want enough energy coming in. It is very difficult to build muscle when you are in a calorie deficit – you simply haven’t got the energy to grow.

Therefore, being at calorie maintenance or surplus during a hypertrophy phase is crucial unless you are a beginner (or using something to give you an unfair advantage!). Whereas, if you did want to lose body fat, a calorie deficit might be more suited to a pure strength or power phase.

Conclusion

Periodising your training helps you become a well-rounded athlete, capable of performing various fitness tasks. This approach ensures you’re prepared for all forms of fitness whilst still looking and feeling good.

My biggest advice, is to follow a structured and periodised training programme, show up consistently, put in the work and be patient! Building muscle and getting stronger takes time; the longer you’ve been training, the slower the process. If you need any assistance, please reach out!

@principal_nutrition on Instagram or https://www.principal-nutrition.co.uk/

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