How To Use Periodization Strength Training To Gain Lean Muscle Mass & Break Down Walls

Whether you’ve been getting stronger and stronger or not, eventually you’re going to hit a wall. Plateaus happen and there’s nothing you can do about that. What you can do is push past that wall and break new ground. Not by working out harder. Not by working out longer. And not by training more often. How then? By lifting smart and implementing periodization strength training workouts into your routine. Sometimes, all you need is a little to repair and recharge.

Periodization Strength Training

Not all of us are born with the gift of extraordinary, Sampson like strength. In fact, some lose their strength, and even their hair over time. But does that mean it’s the end of your strength gaining? Not Necessarily!

Here is a proven strategy and method that will allow you to continue gaining strength, even after you’ve hit the wall, or lost your hair as it where. ;) Periodization strength training has been around for literally decades but many don’t take advantage of it’s regenerative effects it can have on the body. Not only is it great for guys who want to focus on gaining strength, it’s also been proven to be highly effective for women (obviously men are not excluded) to reduce body fat while increasing lean muscle.

Is Periodization Strength Training Necessary?

There comes a time when your body simply needs a rest. How do you know when you’ve reached that point? I would like to tell¬† you that your body will let you know. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. Probably, it will but you might not realize it.

Indications could range from reduced muscle definition, to fatigue, to injuries or even the dreaded … bench press plateau! This is when you may want to consider backing off on your strength training a bit, but not completely.

But what about all of that hard earned muscle? What about all of those sweat depleting HIIT sessions it took to burn off that stubborn fat?

I’m not recommending that you back off of training completely. In fact, I recommend against that.

What should you do instead? You can implement some periodization strength training methods into your routine to actually push past your previous plateaus and at the same time allow your body a much needed rest.

What Periodization Strength Training Is Not?

To be clear, let’s look at what periodization strength training is not. Generally, the types of workouts we follow are more linear in nature. Here are two examples of common approaches to training that are not based on the periodization method:

  1. Linear Training: The volume, or sets and reps, remain constant during training period so the intensity increases with load progression.
  2. Random Variation: Volume and/or intensity change randomly with no consideration of periodization other than to simply add variation into the program to just “mix it up.”

A Standard Periodization Strength Training Program

Periodization strength training is different than simply adding in variation and changing the level of volume and/or the level of intensity in your workout. With this type of approach, there is a plan, a method that makes it effective.

There are actually a few different variations of periodization training. Here is the most common form:

  • Standard Periodization Strength Training
    This is how the volume and intensity are are manipulated. The workout routine begins with a high-volume, low-intensity approach and then the approach changes into low volume, high intensity.
Total Sets Total Reps Per Set
Weeks 1-3 20-25 12-15
Weeks 4-6 15-20 6-8
Weeks 7-9 10-15 10-12
Weeks 10-12 5-10 4-6

You can see here the systematic decrease in volume. But with less volume, you are are able to increase intensity.

When To Implement Periodization Strength Training

Let’s say that you’ve been really pushing yourself hard trying for a new PR in bench press (I think that’s probably going to be the most common) but you’ve maxed out at 200 pounds for 5 reps and cannot get past that.

You could simply quit working your pecs for a while and come back to the bench with the hopes of repping 205-210 lbs for 5 reps — it does happen. Probably more commonly with the younger guys who are just getting stronger as they age, but it could happen.

A better approach would be to utilize some type of periodization strength training method in your routine. You will not only give your body a little time to recuperate, but you will not lose your muscle density and toned look.

Periodization Strength Training To Increase Bench Press

Based off of the above periodization strength training model, here is how you can implement this into your routine and break down previous bench press walls/plateaus. Of course, there should be other aspects to your workout routine, but here is how this type of workout would look while working your pecs.

As with most of my workouts, I like to include variety and variations to hit multiple angles of the muscle. Instead of only doing flat bench, even though that’s the exercise you want to improve on, working different angles is going to prove to be more beneficial.

Weeks 1-3: 5 sets of 12-15 reps for each exercise

  • Flat Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Flat Bench Dumbbell Flys
  • Incline Bench Dumbbell Press

Weeks 4-6: 4 sets of 6-8 reps for each exercise

  • Flat Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Flat Bench Dumbbell Press
  • Incline Bench Dumbbell Flys

Weeks 7-9: 3 sets of 10-12 reps for each exercise

  • Flat Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Flat Bench Dumbbell Press
  • Incline Bench Dumbbell Flys

Weeks 10-12: 2 sets of 4-6 reps for each exercise

  • Flat Bench Press
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Flat Bench Dumbbell Press
  • Incline Bench Dumbbell Flys

The Results Of This Type Of Training

Found in a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2001 there were some very impressive numbers. The study took a group of 34 women and divided them into groups.

Two groups trained for 12 weeks in the following manner:

  1. One group performed 1 set of 8-12 reps to failure 3 times a week.
  2. Another group performed 2-4 sets of 3-15 reps (with periodized volume & intensity) 4 days a week.

The group of women who performed periodization strength training gained 4.6 pounds of lean muscle while the group who performed the more standard version gained 2.2 pounds of lean muscle.

The group who trained using periodization also lost 4% body fat compared to 1.8% of the other group.

What about the actual strength gains? Periodization strength training helped the one group increase their bench press 11.2 pounds while the other group increased 6 pounds — that’s almost double!

Source: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2001 – Volume 33 – Issue 4 – pp 635-643