My gains have stopped. What do I do? I feel like I’m just wasting my time in the gym now.
Periodization, aka proper planning, is your answer.
It can be complex if you’re an Olympic athlete. However, if you’re a dad like myself, it’s simple if you remember these three things:
- Getting larger muscles, running faster, getting healthier, etc. is nothing more than achieving a positive adaptation.
- A positive adaptation is brought about by stressing the body/mind past its current limitations.
- Exercise is stress. Finding the right amount of stress (minimum effective dose) is key in determining a positive adaptation like bigger biceps from a negative adaptation like an injury or overtraining.
So periodization is nothing more than planning the appropriate amount of stress over a certain period so you don’t under- or overtrain.
This is basically what I just said above but in a graph.
The easiest way to do that is to add weight to the bar every workout or every other workout. If you’re getting stronger, that’s a pretty good sign you’re doing the right thing.
However, after 3-6 months of lifting, you’ll notice that adding even 2.5lbs to the bar requires a Herculean amount of strength and effort. And even at that, it will eventually come to a halt.
So what now?
Turn up the volume.
Plan a gradual increase in volume (more sets) over 4-6 weeks, deload for a week (active rest), and then gradually increase volume again with slightly different exercises.
So if our goal is to hit between 12-18 sets per muscle group per week, we’d start off our 6 week program with around 12-14 sets per muscle group and by week 6, we’d be closer to 18-22 sets per muscle group.
So let’s just look at one exercise over the course of a 6 week program – the bench press.
The first 2 weeks of the program we may only do 3 sets of 8 repetitions on the bench press. The next two weeks we may do 4 sets of 8 repetitions. Then during the last two weeks, we may increase to 5 sets of 8 repetitions.
Notice that we don’t necessarily have to increase the weight on the bar. By just adding an additional set and keeping the same weight on the bar for the entire 6 weeks, we’ve increased the stress we’ve placed on the muscle. Viola – positive adapation.
Of course, you just can’t keep adding sets ad nauseam or you’ll overtrain, injure yourself, or possibly even lose muscle mass. So after 6 weeks, you can deload (rest) for a week, change the exercise slightly, and do the exact same thing.
That’s periodization – planning the appropriate amount of stress so you abide by the progressive overload principle and continue to get results.
In a few weeks I’m going to dive into the easiest periodization model I’ve found from legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin.