Male Athlete Flexing in Front Pose

“How do you keep progressing?”, is a question that I get asked quite a bit. Let’s say you have been working out for quite some time, but it feels like you’ve hit a plateau. Nonetheless, you’re continuing your training, still wondering whether you’re truly making progress.

In order to break through a plateau, it’s important to change the workout once in a while. A lot of athletes are convinced that working every day, while performing 8-12 repetitions per set is the way to go, without ever changing things up.

This is far from highly effective.

Switching up workouts from just strength to a combination of strength and cardio can help with overcoming plateaus.

 

Have You Ever Heard of Periodization?

If you don’t know what periodization means, allow me to explain. Periodization is a form of resistance training that uses a strategic implementation of specific workout variables in order to reach a good balance between overloading and recovering muscles.

These variables include the following:

  • Intensity
  • Volume
  • Frequency
  • Resting period
  • The speed at which you perform an exercise

The goal of a periodization workout plan is to plan your training sessions in a way that prevents your muscles to get used to certain stimuli, as well as overtraining.

During a periodization workout plan, you’re switching between periods of high intensity workouts and high volume workouts. This is very important due to the fact that a lot of athletes want to make the most of their workouts.

Remember: you cannot keep asking maximum effort from your body. Switching from high intensity to high volume and vice versa manages this.

 

How to Implement Periodization

There are quite a few ways to implement periodization in your workout plan. The most frequently used methods are to switch up exercises, as well as increasing or decreasing volume or intensity.

It depends on the fitness and goals of the athlete. A beginning athlete for example, needs a different plan than an intermediate or advanced athlete.

There are two forms of periodization: block periodization and flexible periodization.

 

Block Periodization

With block periodization, each period uses predetermined workout variables. The beginning of the workout plan focuses on a higher volume, while the goal is to work towards a lower volume, but a higher intensity. This form of periodization is often used for intermediates or advanced athletes. Here’s an example:

  • Phase 1: Endurance as focus over the course of 4-6 weeks.
    Reps per set: 12-20
    Sets per exercise: 3-5
    Exercises per muscle group: 1-2
    Resting periods: 0-90 seconds
    Speed: 4-2-1*
  • Phase 2: Muscle mass as focus over the course of 4-6 weeks.
    Reps per set: 6-12
    Sets per exercise: 3-5 
    Exercises per muscle group: 2-3
    Resting periods: 90-120 seconds 
    Speed: 2-0-2*
  • Phase 3: Strength as focus over the course of 4-6 weeks.
    Reps per set: 1-5
    Sets per exercise: 3-5
    Exercises per muscle group: 2-3
    Resting periods: 150-180 seconds
    Speed: fast and controlled*

*Speed: I’m using the example of the bench press exercise. During the eccentric phase of the exercise, you’re dropping the weight to your chest. The concentric phase consists of you pushing the weight away. The isometric phase is the moment between the eccentric and concentric phases, i.e. the moment you’re holding the barbell slightly above your chest.

A speed of 4-2-1 for example, means an eccentric phase of 4 seconds, 2 seconds isometric, and 1 second concentric.

 

Rotate Through the Phases

Block periodization uses a rotating cycle principle. You start at phase 1, then phase 2, and lastly phase 3. After phase 3, you can repeat the entire cycle.

At the end of phase 3, you basically have a choice. You either take a few days off, or you restart phase 1 right away. Phase 3 focuses mainly on muscle strength. Your body therefore gets used to heavier loads. This allows you to get better results in phase 2, i.e. more reps with a heavier amount of weight.

Block periodization might also be supplemented by other forms of workouts, for example explosiveness or balance training. This allows for an expansion of your block by adding yet another phase. It also allows for more switching between exercises.

 

Cons of Block Periodization

Block periodization might put a slight brake on the progression of experienced athletes. This includes workout plans that don’t offer a consistent challenge to the muscles, for example through balance of explosiveness workouts.

Imagine being an advanced athlete needing to focus on balance. It’s just not challenging enough to the muscles. This might result in a slight decrease of strength and muscle mass.

Luckily, there’s still flexible periodization.

 

Flexible Periodization

Flexible periodization means that you can vary your training variables within periods as small as a week. This allows for the muscles to constantly be activated in a way that stimulates progress. This is meant for people that know their way around in the gym.

Flexible periodization uses the principle of progressive overload. This meant that each set of a certain exercise has a set amount of reps with a set amount of weight. Increasing this weight by 2.5 kg (or +/- 5 lbs) per week creates this progressive overload.

Here are a few tables that describe the principle of flexible periodization. Exercise 1 is the flat bench press. After performing all sets, another 2 exercises that target the same muscles as the bench press need to be carried out, but for the sake of not cluttering this entire article with tables, I’m just showing exercise 1.

Note that these other 2 exercises will probably be carried out with a lower intensity, but a higher volume. For example 3-4 sets with 10 reps each.

If you’re training the chest twice a week, it’s recommended to train with a lower weight one of two training sessions, as you can see in the tables below. The upper table shows that you should do 5 sets of 5 reps on day A. Day B then lowers the amount of weight and sets, and increases the amount of reps to 8.

 

 

When you’ve worked out for 6 weeks using a flexible periodization plan, you can change up the volume and intensity. For example, the bench press on day A will now feature 4 sets of 3 reps, using more weight. Day B can then hold 4 sets of 10 reps, using a lower weight.

As usual, you will need to apply progressive overload by adding a slight amount of weight each week. After a few months, you can switch up the exercises you’re doing, as well as your resting periods.

As the name suggests, this form of periodization is flexible. Do with it as you like.

 

Other Forms of Periodization

If one is applying intuitive periodization, all principles of the traditional periodization plan will be thrown away. This form of periodization relies on how the athlete feels. This is not beginner friendly, as it is often used by advanced or professional athletes.

Reverse periodization is yet another method, and it is basically the opposite of regular block periodization. It increases volume instead of intensity. This method is not recommended to use if the goal is to put on muscle mass, as it mainly increases the endurance.

 

In Conclusion

And there you have it: the basics on periodization and a very effective method to break through plateaus. It can be very demotivating to see a lack of progress and therefore I recommend using a periodization plan in order to keep challenging yourself.

I’m very curious to your thoughts on the matter. Have you ever heard of periodization or have you actually tried it? Also, if you have any questions: just shoot!

40 thoughts on “Maintaining Gym Progression

  1. Hello Kevin, I must say that this article is very helpful and informative. I did not hear about periodization so far but I am glad I learned about it now. I tend to do chests 2 times per week but still, I did not saw any big progress when it comes to muscle mass. I will try what you explained in tables, I never tried that lol.

    1. Hi Danijel,

      Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad to hear you found this article useful, and I hope that implementing some form of periodization in your workout plan works out for you. If you have any questions regarding the subject, let me know!

      Have a great day! 

  2. Interesting to read about the different ways you can use periodization within your exercising when you have hit a plateau in your training. It does make sense to up something in your routine in order to improve, as doing the same routine day in and day out will result in you staying the same. I realised I must try adding more cardio to my own training.

    I see you say it is good to alternate using fewer reps with heavier weights and then more reps with lighter weights. Should you alternate this every workout or every few workouts in order to see the best results?

    1. Hi Michel,

      How often you should switch depends on which form of periodization you’re using. Block periodization requires between 4 and 6 weeks per phase, so that will be the frequency at which you will be alternating volume and intensity. 

      Flexible periodization allows for more freedom. You can alternate almost every day. 

      For example:
      Monday – Chest, high Intensity (heavy weight)
      Tuesday – Legs, high volume (high amount of reps)
      Wednesday – Back, high intensity
      Thursday – Chest, high volume
      Friday – Legs, high intensity
      Saturday – Back, high volume
      Sunday – Rest

      I hope this answers your question! 

  3. Oh, this is the first time I am hearing about periodization. To be honest, it is very lovely to see that there are ways that I can make the best out o my work out. I have been some work outs for a while now and they are mostly cardio, it will be good to implement this to mine and see how they help. I want to know if it is effective for cardios.

    1. Hi Henderson, 

      There are a lot of ways you can optimize your workouts. Periodization is only one of them that allows you to prevent a lot of struggling past plateaus.

      Periodization can be used for cardio, as long as you’re able to change the volume and Intensity of your exercises.

      Cheers! 

  4. Well,  I think you just described me, I used to do some workouts following a routine, specified workouts per day, I expected to see some changes of which it only happened for the first week later on I could not see any progress, I think I had got plateau, the worst thing I did is that I just stopped. I wish I had come across this post by then.I believe it’s never too late, I will have to try out something soon.

    1. Hi Joy, 

      Hitting a plateau can go quite unnoticed. In order to prevent you from hitting these plateaus, periodization can do a lot. It is indeed never too late! You can still define a goal for yourself and go for it! If you need help with creating a solid workout plan, let me know.

      Have a great day! 

  5. Hello again, Kevin, I really like your website so here I am again 🙂 I agree with you that training without seeing improvements i.e. reaching a plateau can be very demotivating.
    I have never heard of periodization before. Do I understand it well that periodization means switching between high volume and high intensity workouts? Which periodization is better to choose then, the block one or the flexible one?

    1. Hi Lenka, 

      Welcome back! Good to see you’re enjoying the site. 

      You got that right. Periodization basically means that you’re swapping between higher volume and higher Intensity. By doing this, you’re actively training certain aspects of your muscles during each phase. Endurance, mass and strength. 

      I would recommend a block periodization plan for beginners and intermediates, but only if there is a threshold that you want to break. For example, you can squat with X amount of weight, but you want it to be Y amount. You can do this for each exercise, of course. In time, periodization can increase all aspects of your muscles (endurance, mass and strength). 

      I hope this answers your question! 

  6. Unfortunately, I’m not a professional athlete 🙂 Fortunately, I could use your advice to break through that plateau effect from time to time. This is something that happens naturally, at least for me, without too much conscious thought. However, I could use your advice to speed things up as soon as I notice that I’ve hit the plateau. Thanks for sharing a powerful piece of info!

    1. Hi Ivan, 

      Hitting plateaus is indeed something that happens naturally. In order to prevent hitting plateaus, progressive overload is very useful. If you fail to increase the weight, simply increase the reps until you’ve reached the upper rep threshold of a certain exercise/set. Next, you can increase the weight and lower the reps. Repeating the process will ensure progress! 

      I hope this helps, and if it doesn’t: I am currently working on my very own workout plan and all the rest of if. Keep an eye out on the website, should you be interested. 

      Have a great day! 

  7. Hi I would like to thankyou on this informative post about How to keep progressing in the gym. I took away some good information from your article that I will definitely implement in my training. I am one of the guys you mentioned that perform 8-12 repetitions per set everyday. I understand now that I change things up a little to see progress.

    1. Hi Marcus, 

      In order to break plateaus and maintain a constant flow of progress, I would indeed recommend trying a periodization workout plan! 

      Have a great day! 

  8. The body will get used to it if you do the same exercise every time, that is true.

    I remember from a couple of years ago, I used to play football regularly (still do) and I never felt any pain in my legs or any other part of the body. Then, on one occasion we decided  to play volleyball instead. I couldn’t believe how the sport stimulated completely different muscle groups in my body, as the next day I had so much muscle ache, I could barely move. 🙂

    1. Hi there,

      This is true! I have a friend who plays volleyball. I trained with him once and I almost instantly regretted doing so. I am built for strength training, not for explosiveness and condition. It taught me a great deal about bodies being different and the ability to train with other methods.

      Cheers!

  9. Hi Kevin

    Thank you very much for writing a very interesting article on periodization, something for which I can see adapting to my exercise regime. We have all hit the plateau, where we feel that we are not progressing or we feel that we are not getting the maximum benefit from the regime that we are using at the present moment. I can see how periodization can be helpful and your article suggestions are very useful. 

    How often do you feel that you need to change things up to get the maximum benefit from exercising?

    Thanks

    Antonio

    1. Hi Antonio,

      I would recommend switching up a workout every 6 weeks. Compound movements, such as the bench press should not be swapped out completely, though.

      Have a great day! 

  10. Hi! Thank you for explaining the cons of Block Periodization. But I’m not an advanced athlete and it will not impact me. But I like the advantage of it being a very effective method to break through plateaus.

    I have always liked high intensity routines. So I’ll definitely give this a try! Thanks again!

    1. Hi Henry, 

      You don’t need to be an advanced athlete in order to apply block periodization in your workout routine. Being intermediate is enough. So in short, working out longer than a few years. It might still be for you!

      Have a great day!

  11. Hi! I have been doing Block periodization with very simple exercises, since I was a kid. Now as a grown up, I love it and it helps me to keep focused and concentrated during the training. I have tried other forms of training and I find myself wasting to much time because i get distracted.

  12. Hello Kevin, clearly, this is a very amazing post in which anyone who is interested in building muscles and getting a result for their work out session should see to avoid wastage of time and energy. I love to build the muscles of my leg a lot because they are kind of underdeveloped compared to other parts of my body and not being consistent have caused so much setbacks. With the help of this post, I should get some results soon.

    1. Hi Benson,

      While underdeveloped muscle groups certainly see the quickest results, muscle growth is still a tiringly slow process. Don’t give up though: you can do it!

      Have a great day! 

  13. Wow, I have never heard of the periodization technique. t seems very cool to me. I like the fact that I can really structure the way I want my work out to be because I feel like it will give the chance to track my work. This is a very good post that I really like. Than you very much for the information.

    1. Hi John, 

      Thanks for dropping by! Periodization indeed offers a lot of structure, which in turn prevents failure. I would definitely recommend it! 

      Cheers! 

  14. Hello working out is a fun thing for me and I am very lazy with keeping up with it because I tend to overwork myself on day that I go to the gym to work out and that alone have been a limitation to how well I develop in muscles. Periodization seem like a great idea, and would love to adopt this method and hope to get on a regular work out routine.

    1. Hi Bella, 

      A periodization plan can indeed be very effective to reach your goals. You don’t even need to go to the gym every day to do it! Three times a week will do fine.

      Cheers! 

  15. Hi Kevin. Thank you for sharing this article on how to keep progressing —- periodization!

    We all know that it is so frustrating to be dedicated unto something and we end up not making any progress in such a thin or achieve good success in it. I totally agree with your idea of periodization. If we continue to do things in the same way and manner, we should expect the same results; so the idea of switching workouts is the ideal way for progress.

    This guide is very helpful for me and I believe it will be helpful for others too.

    Best regard!

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for dropping by! Our bodies are ever-changing, and therefore so should our workouts.

      Have a great day!

  16. Again thanks for another great article. As mentioned in another comment, my godson is a trainer and sometimes, he gets discouraged because he feels like he’s not making an improvement. Changing up his reps sounds like a very logical thing to do. He always does the same thing. I will suggest this to him for sure. This is the perfect website for him. Thank you. 

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for your warm words. Not improving can surely feel demotivating. In such situations, I have found it best to just take a small step back to analyze what is going wrong. That way, you’ll be able to learn from your ‘mistakes’.

      Have a great day! 

  17. I have heard of this but never knew the actual name of it. Periodization is a great way to get over that plateau that everyone inevitable reaches. What I have personally used before is closer to the flexible periodization, I change up the exercises periodically to shock the muscles a little so they do not get too comfortable. Excellent article to help people who are new to lifting weights, thank you for the info!

    1. Hi Travis,

      Thank you for leaving your thoughts. I’m glad that I was able to teach you a thing or two. Flexible periodization is indeed a great way to shock the muscles. 

      Have a great day!

  18. Hey Kevin, thanks for the great read!

    I’ve been a student of lifting on and off for quite a few years and I’ve seen this strategy implemented in different ways, under different ways. I think it was Tony Horton talking about a similar tactic years ago, and again seeing Kris Gethin discuss another way to shake up the program and the muscles as a result.

    I’ve heard it’s also important to change up your diet periodically too, so you can keep getting the best gains from it. Do you any more about this? I’d like to know more if you know anything.

    Anyways man, thanks again and happy lifting! 

    1. Hi Tyson,

      I have never heard of changing diets can help one to progress in the gym. However, if you are gaining a certain amount of weight every month for example, your base metabolic rate will increase. Eventually, you will have to eat more and more if you want to keep progressing the same way.

      I hope this answers your question.

      Happy lifting! 

  19. Hey Kevin, Its my third time I reach on your website. The main reason I found very useful info from your article. I recently started my workout routine. It looks hard in starting on regular basis. To get motivation I come on your website and read something which will be help me to stay motivated. And I found what I have to do in all details here. Now I am on phase 1. with the help of your guideline I will definitely reach on phase 3. Thanks you for writing such useful article.
    Parveen

    1. Hi Parveen,

      To start working out can be difficult, but it should be considered a victory nonetheless. I’m glad to see that you get motivated by my content. Keep it up! 

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