01-23-2003, 06:40 PM #1
So You're An Intermediate, Now What? OR My Thoughts on Periodization
Lately, and maybe it has always been this way, as I’ve only been here about six months, it appears as though the flood of questions regarding steroid use that clearly reveal the individual posing the question as a beginner or fresh intermediate to TRAINING, disproportionately outweigh the questions concerning workout and diet in a manner that should probably concern all of us desiring to help other guys and gals with their physique and fitness goals. Deciding that I should probably start doing something to carry my weight as a “prestigious” SENIOR MEMBER aside from posting a kickass AR Lounge thread (10 random things…please add yours…so ends the shameless plug), I’m hoping this thread accomplishes this end. The thread is intended mostly for trainers still in the early stages of what might be termed an intermediate (perhaps two years of training experience), where, up till this point, simply showing up with whatever routine initially inspired you was enough to initiate muscle growth. You might say, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” but that phrase is absolute anathema to bodybuilding progress – as you should never be content with “not broke”.
BigGreen’s Treatise on Muscle Confusion and Periodization
Firstly, what is periodization exactly? Simply put, it is (supposed to be) an intentional, systematic and methodical variation of the components of a training regiment as to prevent adaptation to such an efficiency that the body begins to rely on mechanisms other than muscular growth to meet training demands. It may occur on the micro level (varying an exercise or rep scheme) or on the macro (switching from a bodybuilding split to a powerlifting split). Within both, there are dichotomized extremes: some maintain (lee priest among them) that the same workout pattern for a particular bodypart should NEVER be performed twice in a row. Others (Matarazzo if I recall as well as Mel Siff at many levels) preach cyclical variations in which a workout split is employed for several weeks, before being switched to a (in some cases vastly) different split for another prescribed duration. Within the extremes are scores of other theories that advocate a conjugated method wherein the essential foundation of the program may remain inherently the same for incredibly long durations, but variables within it are altered dramatically every two to three weeks or so – the BASIC Westside philosophy comes to mind as a rather clear example of this approach. Whatever the method employed, periodization of any variety seems to be undergoing a rather systematic attack from opponents who insist it is a VERY HIGHLY advanced training technique, and has no place in the routines of intermediate or even advanced trainers. I would argue, and I would hope that many seniors, vets and mods here share the opinion, that introducing such principles into your training at a comparatively early intermediate stage are absolutely essential to long term progress at an efficient rate.
Allow me to begin by paraphrasing an article I read recently (forgive me for presently being unable to recall the particular magazine in which it appeared) in which the author made a vehement stand AGAINST the principle of periodization or muscle confusion (interchangeable terms for the purposes of this post – though not necessarily outside of it) largely on the basis of asserting that the muscle confusion principle deceives trainers into thinking they are making real progress, when in fact they are not. To bolster his claim, this author used the example of the bench press and pectoral strength (which he never equates with size, more than nominally defeating his argument from the onset, in my opinion). He hypothesizes and example in which a trainer has hit a plateau in the bench press in which he has stagnated at 200lbs for 10 reps. Muscle confusion and periodization (as he views it) dictates that the trainer switch to a new exercise and/or rep scheme to overcome this. In his case, he utilizes incline dumbbell presses, beginning at a set of 70 pound dumbbells for ten reps and quickly progressing through to 75’s, 80’s and maybe even 85’s for sets of 10. Thus, according to the author, the trainer is led to believe that muscle confusion is the greatest thing since dianabol ! However, returning to the bench press at the end of this month, the author insists that the trainer, having seen pectoral strength increase dramatically on incline dumbbell presses, rightfully expects to be capable of handling 200lbs for MORE than ten reps but will in reality likely experience regression in the bench press. He goes on to conclude that this is simply because the jump experienced in the incline press is representative of motor learning skills and subtle neuromuscular adaptations; and I am inclined to agree. However, I think that he, as well as most individuals employing periodization are missing the point. I hope to explain below:
At its core, periodization, per se, is not about making progress, it is about becoming self aware so that you might more efficiently make progress. For example, using the above example, though it might be unlikely to condense such findings into a one month period, suppose the trainer found that his bench hadn’t gone up, and maybe had even gone down, but the fullness of his upper chest, or delt-chest tie-ins had improved dramatically. Unless he is training specifically to improve his bench, I’m sure he could care less what he’s benching given such improvements. To quote Shawn Ray, “would you rather be able to bench 500 or look like you can bench 500?” While neuromuscular adaptations and the appealing learning curve of improved motor skills pertinent to a given exercise create the illusion of instant progress in periodization, its benefits are nowhere near so immediate, which is where the point is missed by many of the critics who maintain that simply adding resistance over time is sufficient to foster desired gains. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to forego any further arguments against or for periodization and hope that my tips for making it work (to follow) accomplish that end. Anyone can feel free to add additional comments, but I find the following to be critical to making periodization successful.
KEEP A JOURNAL: this is essential even if you never intend to undertake periodization and are reading this post simply to find ammunition to mock me. However, a training log becomes even more critical to the trainer utilizing periodization, and thus employing his own body as a lab. No credible scientist working today would conduct an experiment without taking copious notes, how is your situation any different? I learned this lesson the hard way. Before being inspired to keep a journal, I saw my bench shoot up 35 lbs at a 10RM while adding great size to my inner chest and upper arms and foolishly believed the trend would continue forever. When it inevitably did not (or I’d be benching in the high 800’s today), I desperately wanted to replicate those results some months later but did not have the slightest idea as to what variables in my training may have produced such desired results. If you take nothing else away from this thread, please learn from my costly error. After all, a smart mans learns from his own mistakes while a genius learns from both his and the mistakes of others.
KEEP A DIARY: What? How is this different than keeping a journal/training log? Maybe the pressures of school have finally broken BigGreen. As I already alluded to in refuting the article’s author above, and most of you should know, while there does exist a definitive and reliable correlation between strength and size, this is a long-term phenomenon and I believe it is highly possible to achieve fairly significant strides in size in many instances without accompanying strength gains of the same degree. Along those lines, a mere record of your progress under the bar will not suffice. Once every week (pick a day and stick to it) take a half hour or so to reflect. Sounds existential I know, but it works: what body parts experienced a particularly great pump? Which exercises seemed to foster a mind-muscle connection that might not have been there before? Did soreness persist for longer than usual? I could go on and on. Every third week, should you have the means, I believe it is essential to include in your diary photographs AND comments on these photographs, self-explanatory as they may be. Coupled with a record of your workouts and a more narrative analysis, these pictures should complete the puzzle and give you virtually all of the information you need to assess where specifically your progress is coming from.
MUSCLE CONFUSION DOESN’T MEAN “CONFUSE”: To the contrary, as I have mentioned, any periodization-rooted change, whether it means picking up a powerlifting routine, or simply substituting dumbbells for barbells for a spell, should be both methodical and rational. You should have justification for your actions. For example, I recently adopted a powerlifting style for a bit precisely for the reason that I felt I lacked a certain muscle maturity and needed to improve strength on the core lifts if I were to address this deficiency. Whether or not this proves to be the case is, at present, inconsequential. What does matter is that there was a well-thought out justification for my decision. If you simply change workouts at will, truly “confusing” the body, you will not only deny yourself the time necessary to assess these changes and invite psychological burnout, but likely confuse yourself, as there are only so many variables that one can realistically track at any given time.
CHANGE ALL THE VARIABLES (EVENTUALLY): While I advocate changing all variables in time (rep scheme, rest periods, volume, intensity, exercises, equipment and so on and so on) you will defeat your goals if you take muscle confusion or periodization to mean you must radically revamp each component simultaneously. If, for example, you go from a Monday, Wednesday, Friday split working each bodypart 3 times per week 5 total sets each time in a rep range of about 4-6 with heavy weights and five minutes rest to a six days a week split utilizing machines, with drastically reduced rest periods, dramatically increased rep ranges to 13-15 and only one working set per bodypart and gain ten pounds – CONGRATULATIONS! Now tell me which variable is most responsible for that ten pounds of growth. See the point?
While it involves a disciplined patience and relentless self-experimentation, undergoing such methodical training practices as an intermediate over a period of 3 or 4 years now (we’re in this for the long term, right?) and discovering how your unique muscles react to certain training stimuli, as opposed to randomly discovering somewhere in your thirteenth year of training that you THINK your calves MAYBE respond best in the 8-12 rep range with 5 sets for one month POSSIBLY followed by (YOU SUSPECT) a shock period of two weeks during which they’re hit every other day with 20-30 reps, seems to be the far more attractive option. Hope this helped people!
01-23-2003, 06:45 PM #2
Good read thanks
01-23-2003, 06:47 PM #3
Good read. But I have come to expect that from BigGreen.
01-23-2003, 06:48 PM #4
Thanks, I haven't done a cycle yet, so there are times when I feel like (outside of the lounge) I don't have a whole lot to contribute at times...this is my sincere effort to help people, particularly guys just getting "serious" about their training avoid some of the pitfalls we may have all hit, and hopefully convincing them that the two-year plateau can be overcome with something other than test/deca /winny
Painintheazz: as New Englanders, I have to believe we just hold ourselves to a higher standard of thought and education
01-23-2003, 07:05 PM #5
Damn right bro, BBA in Finance, BA in Economic, minor in math and currently working on MS in Comp Sci. I know what a dork, that is why I have to take AAS, I have to stay big so I dont get beat up by the "cool" kids. hahaha.
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