Periodization is an essential part of your program design. Without it, you will quickly plateau in your ability to build muscle and strength. Periodization is a strategically designed workout plan for a number of weeks and/or months that includes specific acute variables. These variables consist of reps, sets, tempo, rest, intensity, overall training volume, and structure of your workouts. They may also include changes in exercises throughout the weeks and months.
A Simple Plan to Build Muscle
With undulating periodization for the purpose of hypertrophy you alternate between volume and intensity throughout a specific time frame. Here we will alternate every 2 weeks. This differs from linear periodization where volume decreases and intensity increases over time. This is not to say undulating is better than linear periodization in all instances.
Common Undulating Program for Hypertrophy:
Week 1-2: 12-15 reps
Week 3-4: 8-10 reps
Week 5-6: 10-12 reps
Week 6-8: 6-8 reps
Week 9: Active rest or functional week
This sample program can be modified accordingly to your goals and how your body takes to the various intensities. You can shift the rep ranges lower if your goal is to improve strength rather than hypertrophy or shift them higher to improve on muscular endurance. You could also shorten each phase to one week or extend it to three. Though this program will work for athletes, many strength coaches may use a more specific method for their sport at a planned time during the year.
This method works great for those who have experience lifting in the heavier rep ranges planned in this model. In the above program, the heaviest one will lift is 6 reps. The lifter should have experience training at 6 reps or lower within the last few months. Some undulating programs will go with lower reps(ie: 3 reps) in which case prior experience training with that intensity(3 reps) would be needed. With that said, this program works best for those past the beginner stages of lifting.
Alternating between intensity and volume allows for better recovery throughout the weeks. Upping the intensity in a linear progression can end in exhaustion or injury before the program is completed. This was my experience years ago with my personal workouts. I would start at 12 reps and attempt to work down to 5 reps over the course of 8-10 weeks. By the time I was scheduled to do 4 sets of 6 reps, something hurt or I was simply overtrained. Some years later I inadvertently did a 2 week undulating program like the one written above. I would work up until I got to about 8 reps, but then would feel parts start to ache from overtraining. I would then back off for a week or two, do a higher rep range, then jump back to 6-8 reps, back off again, then hit 5-6 reps to finish out the program. I was surprised how well my body took to this method and how much muscle I gained. It provided recovery in between the more intense weeks allowing me to lift heavier.
Change and Build Muscle
To continually build muscle after passing through the beginner stages, you must pick a program, stick with it, and then change it. You need to have structure in your workouts and this method is simply one way to build it in your program. It allows for change often, but not too often giving your body time to adapt to it. This program works great for building muscle.
Those who have little experience lifting at the higher intensities may find a “shut down” in their body’s ability to perform the lift. For this group I would suggest a linear progression to heavier weights. Those coming off an injury or a long lifting hiatus from lifting will also find a linear periodization program more beneficial which allows for a gradual progression to heavier weights.
This is just one way to apply the undulating method. Here we use a cycle of 2 weeks. Athletes will often use a daily undulating periodization where the acute variables (sets, reps, etc.) are changed each workout. For hypertrophy, I believe changing the workouts every one to two weeks is optimal.
1)Charles Poliquin (2011). Ask Coach Poliquin. East Greenwhich, RI: Poliquin Performance Center.
2)Baechle T., Earle R. (2008). Essentials of Strength and Condioning (3rd ed. pp. 514-515). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.