No one reads these intros right? Let’s get straight to it, and unlike those annoying click bait articles it’s all on one page and you won’t even win 3 million dollars after you enter your credit card info.
The System You Start With is Less Important Than The Decisions You Make Within It
If there was really one best program for everyone, all the record holders would be using it, but that’s not how you see it play out in reality. Don’t get me wrong, there are some stupid programs out there, but “programs” or macro cycle designs are designed to simply give you the general framework, it’s up to you to fill it with the appropriate exercises, to regulate and prescribe your important variables etc. Generally, in program lengths less than 8 weeks, concurrent programming (doing everything at once i.e. all rep ranges represented within the same micro cycle aka week) either ties or shows a small trend for slightly higher results than a periodized program that progresses from high volume low intensity to low volume high intensity; however for program lengths over 12 weeks, the trend favours a periodized approach. All that being said the difference is actually much smaller than most people think, and how you manage key decisions and adapt the framework of your periodization scheme to fit you as an individual will likely be much more important than where you start. First let’s go over some of the more popular periodization schemes and give you some plain english definitions of what they look like in the context of powerlifting:
- Linear periodization: moves from high reps, lower weights to lower reps and higher weights across a set period of time in an even fashion.
- Concurrent periodization: doing high volume and high intensity work within the same week with only small fluctuations in training load from week to week and month to month. Most popular system here is the Westside Method (often called the conjugate system, which can be confusing because that is also an entirely different type of periodization used by Soviet athletes)
- Undulating periodization: moving towards low reps high weight but in uneven step fashion. You could undulate across weeks or months but you’ll use periods of higher, moderate, and lower intensity interspersed across the given time frame before testing or competition. Example Week 1: moderate intensity, moderate volume. Week 2: high intensity, low volume. Week 3: low intensity, high volume
Popular programs usually follow one of those frame works or a combination of the previous, for example Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program is an example of linear periodization, where the 3/5/1 variant would be an example of undulating periodization. Daily undulating periodization, despite it’s name, is actually a combination of concurrent periodization (where intensity and volume are manipulated within the week) and then most commonly progressed in a linear fashion towards a test or competition date; however, it could also be progressed in a weekly, semi-weekly, or monthly undulated fashion towards the same date.
Now at this point you’re probably going, well bloody hell, with so many options, what’s the best program? How do I choose the right one for me? How do I know the other options won’t be better? Could I become an ass kicking ninja faster?
The thing that gets often gets lost is that each style of periodization set out to solve a problem, which is why I recommend you start out on a basic linear progression or concurrent program and start solving problems. Let’s look at 2 different lifters who start on a linear progression program, they decide on 16 week cycle lengths, and move from 4 week blocks of 8 reps, 5 reps, 3 reps, and 1 rep on their main movements. let’s call these People Scott and Alyssa.
At first both Scott and Alyssa make great progress, but after Scott becomes a more skilled and efficient lifter, he finds that he progresses really well in the 8 rep months and still could progress into another week, but finds that he always suffers fatigue and decreased performance in his 3 rep block and it carries into his 1 rep block as well. His first solution is simply to extend the 8 rep block to 5 weeks and shorten his 3 rep block to 3 weeks and stay within the same 16 week linear cycle, but finds that this simply delays his drop in performance into the first week of his 1 rep block, so at this point he decides to go back to 4 week blocks but switch his 3 rep and 5 rep blocks so he now goes 8 reps, 3 reps, 5 reps, 1 rep and is now using a classic monthly undulated periodization scheme.
He makes good progress with this format for a cycle or two but starts to notice that his back is getting thrashed from deadlifts and it’s affecting his performance the next week. He decides to use a weekly high/low system for his deadlift where he only deadlifts heavy every second week, but since he tolerates loading in the squat much better, he adds in a secondary lower intensity squat day on the lower intensity deadlifts to offset the volume loss, he is now using a concurrent periodization for his squat, weekly undulation for his deadlift, all within the framework of a monthly undulated program.
This program will likely continue to adapt and change as Scott faces injuries, gets stronger and faces monumental life changes that affect his ability to train. Your periodization scheme should always change around objective and subjective data you’ve gathered on yourself, and never just because X lifter uses Y periodization scheme and he/she won Z competition. Jumping programs and periodization schemes is sure fire way to make sure you never collect enough data on yourself to optimize your own training.
Now let’s take a look at Alyssa, she starts with the same 8,5,3,1 progression over 16 weeks, and because she tracks her progress and tracks relevant information she finds that she is able to push her strength levels up quite effectively in the 8 rep and 5 rep blocks, but struggles to make her projected or actual maxes move up in the 3 rep and 1 rep blocks, in fact she isn’t even able to single her projected 1 rep from 8 weeks ago based off of her 5 rep, even after she’s adjusted for her personal individual differences when calculating. She faces a unique problem in the fact that she seems to build the most strength in the higher rep ranges, but she still needs to display is as a 1 rep max on the platform, so her solution is to switch to concurrent training in her 3 and 1 rep blocks. So instead of purely 3 rep or 1 rep blocks she now adds in some 8 rep work on her 3 rep block, and some 5 rep work into her 1 rep block.
At first she decides to put the volume work on the same day as the high intensity work, but finds that the top sets cause too much Intra-session fatigue (aka performance drop off) and it affects her ability to accumulate volume, even though she can still recover from the session and train hard the next time (adequate intersession recovery). Her solution to this problem is to use a weekly High/Low system where does her low rep work on one day, and higher rep work on another.
Both these lifters started out on the same style of basic programming, but after a few cycles, ended up with vastly different periodization schemes that were tailored to their own individual differences. They solved problems instead of program hopping and started the framework of their own training systems and ended up with their own custom programs that work for them at this time – one of the most frustrating things is that what works may not work again as you become more advanced and your leverages change, strength levels increase, aches and pains accumulate etc. but, by making small changes and measuring the outcomes, you’ll have developed road maps for when the unexpected occurs.
As always if you have any questions, let us know in the comments!