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Training Articles
How to Plan Your Workouts
Taking the next step in program design
by Poliquin™ Editorial Staff
11/21/2012 3:41:26 PM
Most bodybuilding magazines focus on exercises for specific body parts, which is obviously an essential
loading parameter. Typical articles include a formula of sets and reps, and perhaps a workout showing how to
arrange these exercises into a workout over a few weeks. But that’s where it usually ends, with the reader
moving on to another popular workout as soon as they get bored or they reach a point of diminishing returns. If
this sounds like you, then you’re ready to take the next step in your planning.
With few exceptions, strength training programs usually lose effectiveness after about 4-6 training sessions;
exceptions are beginners, who can use a single training protocol longer, and advanced athletes, who may
adapt to a single training protocol within a week. To keep the results coming, you need to plan, or periodize,
your training programs.
One of the most effective ways to periodize your workouts is to alternate between accumulation and
intensification phases. This model was popularized by German sport scientist Dietmar Schmidtbleicher in the
An accumulation phase emphasizes volume, which is how much work is performed overall, so these types of
workouts usually feature higher repetitions performed with relatively light weights. An intensification phase
emphasizes intensity, which is how much weight is lifted per exercise, so these types of workouts usually
feature lower reps performed with heavier weights.
Although more sets are usually performed in an intensification phase, which suggests higher volume, the
greater number of sets is offset by the lower reps and shorter time-under-tension (TUT) protocols. This
conforms to the principle that there should be an inverse relationship between sets and reps – more sets will
take fewer reps, and more reps will take fewer sets. Let’s look at some repetition protocols in periodization
models for specific goals that alternate between accumulation and intensification phases:
Muscular Endurance/Fat Loss
Weeks 1-3: 8-10 reps (intensification)
Weeks 4-6: 12-15 reps (accumulation)
Weeks 7-9: 10-12 reps (intensification)
Weeks 10-12: 15-20 reps (accumulation)
Note that the cycle starts with intensification, as the goal is to have maximal muscular endurance at the end of
the cycle. However, lower repetitions could be performed to achieve the same effect if shorter rest intervals are
performed in the later weeks.
Hypertrophy 1
Weeks 1-3: 12-15 reps (accumulation)
Weeks 4-6: 8-10 reps (intensification)
Weeks 7-9: 10-12 reps (accumulation)
Weeks 10-12: 6-8 reps (intensification)
In contrast to the first plan, the repetitions gradually decrease in this cycle.
Functional Hypertrophy
Weeks 1-3: 8 reps (accumulation)
Weeks 4-6: 5-6 reps (intensification)
Weeks 7-9: 6 reps (accumulation)
Weeks 10-12: 3-4 reps (intensification)
The biggest difference here is that although the overall repetitions are lower compared to the muscular
endurance and hypertrophy cycles, the accumulation phases have slightly higher volume.
Relative Strength
Weeks 1-3: 5 reps (accumulation)
Weeks 4-6: 1-2 reps (intensification)
Weeks 7-9: 3 reps (accumulation)
Weeks 10-12: 1-2 reps (intensification)
This cycle features even lower repetitions (as the goal is to increase strength with minimal increases in
bodyweight), but still there is a slight increase in volume in the accumulation phases. One advantage of
alternating between the two phases every two weeks is that it prevents nervous system fatigue. In addition, and
this is especially important for those who are training to improve performance in another sport, you will not lose
muscle mass and energy system conditioning – in fact, you will find that these qualities continually improve with
this system.
It’s important to understand that alternating cycles every two weeks is merely a model; adjustments can be
made according to your goals. For example, if your major goal is fat loss, then over a longer period you could
include relatively more accumulation phases, such as in the following variation of the muscular endurance/fat
loss cycle.
Muscular Endurance/Fat Loss 2
Weeks 1-2: 8-10 reps (intensification)
Weeks 3-6: 12-15 reps (accumulation)
Weeks 7-8: 10-12 reps (intensification)
Weeks 9-12: 15-20 reps (accumulation)
As you can see from this short discussion, there are many ways to modify your workouts to help you achieve
your goals. The purpose of this article is to get you thinking about longer-term planning so you can achieve
these goals faster.
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