Description and illustrative comparison
Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS
In past articles we have suggested that the most effective way to increase strength, lean body mass (LBM) and athletic performance is to participate in a multiple set (MS), periodized resistance training program. The main objective of this article is to elaborate on the application of Periodization and offer some examples on how it compares to progressive resistance training and single set (SS) programs. First, let’s provide a quick summary to bring the new readers up to date.
Research studying SS systems have shown improvements in strength during the beginning stages of an exercise program. This is especially true in untrained individuals who are still learning how to perform the exercises. However, these historical studies lack applicability to real life situations due to questionable protocols and the evaluation criteria implemented. Current, properly designed research clearly demonstrates that periodized MS training offers several advantages to SS training. First, periodization varies the training stimulus over time, causing a peak in strength and avoiding overtraining and staleness. This variability has been shown to be a key factor of stimulating physiological adaptations resulting in superior strength and LBM gains, along with improvement in athletic performance. Second, it offers the extra volume of work that causes greater testosterone and growth hormone responses. These hormones are associated with muscle building and fat reduction. Third, MS systems eliminate the necessity of training to physiological failure, thereby increasing compliance. Now, let’s take a look at the three main types of training systems used today: SS, progressive MS, and periodized MS.
The SS training system has its foundation in the 70s with the advent of Nautilus. The genius inventor, Arthur Jones was its architect. Today, many people still use his system of training. They as a group like to refer to this training as High Intensity Training (HIT). They vigorously defend their system with a cult-like conviction. Their philosophy is that every set not performed to failure does not contribute to growth because “new muscle fibers” are not stimulated. They are also of the opinion that once these new fibers are stimulated, they need 5-14 days for recovery and growth. These programs are usually performed in a circuit fashion and are very popular in machine-based fitness clubs. The objective is to get in and out in 20 minutes.
Progressive resistance training has been the most popular method of training. This approach to training is typified by performing multiple sets of the same number of repetitions. Those wanting muscular endurance would stay above 15 repetitions. Those desiring to increase muscle size would stay in the 10-15 repetition range. A nice combination of muscular size and strength development can be achieved by an 8-12 repetition range. For that reason, this is the most popular repetition range used. Finally, those looking for increases in absolute strength would perform multiple sets of 1-7 repetitions. Although exercises may change, the repetition range remains the same throughout the year. Most dedicated trainees use this training. However, they soon find themselves at a plateau that lasts for years, or until they get sick. Getting sick may be an indication that one is overtraining, and is the body’s way of “periodizing” the current training program!
Periodization has its roots in the eastern block countries where it was first used in track and field. Coaches found that they couldn’t “run” their athletes 100% all of the time without causing them to “breakdown”. They developed a method of training where they varied their training intensity in accordance with their season. High volume, low intensities were prescribed during the “preparatory” phase to develop a “training base”. This stage prepared the body for the more demanding work to follow. Progressively higher intensities and lower volume typified preseason training. The objective of this “pre-competition” phase was to bring strength to a peak and get the athlete ready for elite competition. The “competition” phase was a maintenance period with the main objective being “not to lose” what was created during the previous phases of training. Finally, a “transition” phase was designed after the competitive season to allow the athlete to recovered and regenerate.
Periodization was brought to the states in the 70s. During this time, several scientists described it as the best method to train for improved performance. The manipulation of volume and intensity is seen as the predominating stimuli for new adaptation, progressing from high volume – low intensity to low volume – high intensity.
Here are just some examples of the three different training systems. There are many permutations of each system of training. Therefore, for simplicity, I have made all three programs 3 days/week. I have made the SS program a machine program since many times this is what is recommended in smaller machine based gyms (e.g. in hotel gym, resorts, clubs, etc.). The right column has the sets x reps and % of 1RM. RM stand for repetition maximum and it is the number of repetitions a weight can be lifted until fatigue does not allow another repetition to be completed. Thus, a 1RM is the maximum amount of weight that one can lift a single time with good form. Likely, a 10RM is the maximum amount of weight that can be lifted a 10 times with good form. All other workloads are based on a percentage a 1RM maximum capability. Thus, if you could lift 200 lbs. one time and I asked you to do 10 repetitions with 75% of your 1RM. Then you would perform 10 repetitions with 150 lbs. This process is applied to all exercises.
SS Machine circuit Sets and reps
Leg press 1 x 10RM
Leg curls 1 x 10RM
Bench press 1 x 10RM
Seated rows 1 x 10RM
Overhead press 1 x 10RM
Wide grip pull-downs 1 x 10RM
Biceps curls 1 x 10RM
Seated Calf 1 x 10RM
Sit-ups 1 x 10RM
Hyper-extensions 1 x 10RM
**When a weight can be lifted for an 11th rep, increase the load by 5%.
Progressive MS Program Sets and reps (75%1RM)
Power Clean 3 x 6
Squats 3 x 8-10
Bench press 3 x 8-10
Seated rows 3 x 8-10
Overhead press 3 x 8-10
Biceps curls 3 x 8-10
Sit-ups 3 x 8-10
Hyper-extensions 3 x 8-10
**When a weight can be lifted for an 11th rep, increase the load by 5-10%.
Periodized MS Program Weeks/Sets x reps (% of 1RM)
Power Clean 1-3/3 x 5 (75%), 5-7/4×3 (82%), 9-11/4×2 (90%)
Squats 1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Bench press 1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Seated rows 1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Overhead press 1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Biceps curls 1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Sit-ups 1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
Hyper-extensions 1-3/3 x 8-10(75%), 5-7/3 x 6-8 (82%), 9-11/3 x 3- 5 (90%)
**Weeks 4, 8 and 12 are active recovery weeks. Perform some light sporting activities to help the recovery process and get ready for the heavier work ahead.
As you can see the Periodization model manipulates the training volume and intensity throughout a 12-week cycle. This cycle can repeat itself over the year many times.
In summary, remember the above programs are just examples. There are many different exercises and variations of your training scheme that will result in increased strength and improved performance. SS training will provide some strength gains for beginners or individuals on very tight schedules, but don’t expect to reach your potential on it! MS programs will take your development much further than SS systems, but expect a plateau of some kind sooner or later. A Periodized MS program will not necessarily make a gold medallist out of you, but it will get you as close as “you are willing to work for” to your performance potential.
Dryland Training During Taper
All the hard work has been put in over the course of the season and finally its time to Taper. Every swimmer and coach has a different approach to their taper but everyone wants the same results. Peak performance at the right time!
Dryland training should be part of your seasonal training program and it should also be a part of your taper. A good dryland program develops strength and power thoughout the season and this should continue during taper. If these exercises are eliminated completely during taper then the power gained thoughout the season will most likely drop off. This is the exact opposite of what an athlete or coach wants during this time. In order for peak performance levels to be reached we need to be producing maximum power.
. Many swim coaches are resistant to doing any dryland in fear of “messing up the taper”. It is detrimental to just completely eliminate the exercises all together. Instead just change the variables. Compare this to the work done in the pool. Do we just stop swimming. Of course not, we reduce volume, increase rest periods, and increase speed work. Almost the same exact thing should be done with our dryland training.
During taper exercises should be selected that emphasize power. Fast explosive movements that teach the muscles to generate force quickly are ideal. Reduce the volume and the resistance the closer you get to the championship meet. In addition to this increase the amount of rest the swimmers get between each set.
The last thing swimmers want is to feel weaker because their dryland program has been eliminated the last 2 – 3 weeks before the big meet. If you have a plan then dryland training will improve your taper and certainly won’t hurt it!
by JC Santana
Strength is the quintessential quality most sought by athletes and coaches. If you look at any performance enhancement program, you will usually see the development of strength at the forefront of its objectives. Listen in on any conversation between coaches, or jocks, and you’ll here a repeating theme, how much can you lift? Strength is one thing everyone can’t get enough of. The purpose of this article is to discuss the different forms of strength and its different classifications, and finally ask the question – how much strength is enough?
Strength and its development can be broken down into three basic categories; general, special and specific strength. General strength is developed with your standards resistance training modalities (e.g. weight training, body weight exercises, etc.). This training does not try to mimic any specific athletic movements, it mainly concentrates on developing strength in the large muscle groups. Squats, shoulder presses and bench presses are examples of exercises geared to the development of general strength.
Special strength is developed by exercises that more closely resemble the actual athletic mechanics targeted for improvement. Special strength exercises help transfer general strength to the next category of strength, specific strength. Medicine ball throws and plyometrics are examples of special strength exercises.
Finally, specific strength training is necessary to make the final transfer of special strength to the target activity. This training category tries to mimic any athletic moves targeted for improvement, to its exact speed and mechanics. Hitting a blocking sled, swinging a weighted bat and “sport specific mechanics” with resistance bands are examples of specific strength exercises.
The expression of strength can be separated into three basic classifications. First, we have the absolute strength developed during the general strength phase. This is many times expressed by heaviest weight that can be lifted for a specified number of repetitions. A maximum single repetition is referred to as a one-repetition maximum (i.e. 1RM). This method of expression just tells the weight lifted but tells you nothing about the size of the individual who lifted it.
The type of strength developed in the general strength phase can also be expressed in a relative manner. This is called relative strength. That is, the weight lifted divided by the weight of the individual who performed the lift. This method of expression allows one to make judgement of strength per pound of body weight. Thus the saying, “pound per pound, this athlete is stronger”.
Finally, strength can be expressed in real obvious but very subjective ways. Have you ever seen an athlete that does not look very impressive, can’t lift very much weight in the gym, however, shows deceptively strong qualities when playing a sport. These athletes many times can not express their strength in traditional ways. These special athletes posses what we in the conditioning field call “functional strength”. You know who I’m talking about, the players that may not lift weights, but can “out power” any opponent within their athletic arena. Wrestlers, boxers, soccer players, gymnasts are some of the functional monsters of the athletic world. They may not be impressive in a weightlifting environment, but they’ll kill you with their ability to apply ALL of the strength they do posses. This ability to USE strength is the essence of functional strength – strength you can use!
Does this mean that strength training is not important? Of course not, it is very important. Increases in strength, as a result of a properly designed resistance training program, has resulted in improvements in just about every aspect of athletic performance you can imagine. Running speed, vertical jump, throwing speed and are just some of the athletic components which have improved after strength increases due to resistance training.
The problem arises when the expression of absolute strength begins to dominate the training objectives and the performance objectives become a secondary objective. That is, athletes and coaches get into trouble when strength is developed for the sake of strength and not for what it can do for you. This is just like working really hard for money that you can’t spend. This trap of “over-emphasizing” strength is easy to fall into. The increases in strength are easy to measure and notice. Additionally, the athletic world seeks and generously rewards strength development because it has become synonymous with performance. Just look at the football combines. Contracts, bonuses, drafting positions are based on expressions of strength that many times are unrelated to football performance!
As a conditioning coach, I see the development of strength as an investment vs. profit endeavor. The question I always ask myself is, will the time devoted to additional strength development yield me big dividends in return? Or, would I better serve that individual by maintaining respectable strength levels and work on qualities that can significantly improve athletic performance? The answer is simple. If there is enough strength, focus in the athlete’s ability to apply most of the available strength, instead of spending several weeks or months to increase strength by 5% and not be able to apply half of it! The way I see it, 75% explosive application of a 200-lb. bench press equals 150lbs of devastating force. On the other hand, 40% slow application of a 300-lb. bench press is 120 lbs. of “non-damaging” force. Which situation would you prefer for your linemen to be in? I would prefer to play my functional dynamo that appears to be the “weaker” lineman with a 200-lb. bench press. He can apply 75% of his strength and is functionally stronger.
I’ll give you a real life example of a decision I made not too long ago in regards to how much strength is enough. I had a young strong pitcher come to me with about 16 weeks to get ready before a tryout with a minor league club. He was 195-lb. and 6’-2” tall. His squat was about 250-lbs., his bench was around 215-lbs. and he could do about 8 bodyweight pull-ups. His fast ball had been clocked at 92 mph with nothing but arm. After running a couple of functional tests on him, I quickly found he could not balance dynamically on one leg. Now here is an athlete who spends most of his on one leg while powering his arm to speeds of 7000-10,000 degrees per second, yet, he can’t balance dynamically on his plant leg!
I asked myself the following questions. Will he be better served by functionally strengthening his legs and hips so that they can support and better transfer explosive power, or should I dedicated the next 16 weeks to increasing his squat to 300 lbs. and his bench to 275 lbs.? Should I pack 10 lbs. of muscle on him over the next 4 months, or should I work on developing his deceleration capabilities, pitching flexibility and energy transfer mechanics (i.e. his kinetic chain)? Should I focus on the expression of absolute strength so he can look great on paper, or should I concentrate on enhancing his pitching and give him the best shot he can possibly have at making a squad?
We decided this young man was strong and big enough for a pitcher! We took a functional approach to his training; maintained his current levels of strength while improving his balance and power transfer. Our main goal was to close the gap between his absolute strength, which was respectable, and his functional strength, which was almost non-existing. Well, four months later this young man is in the best pitching shape of his life and ready to be seen by the scouts!
The main problem with functional strength is that it is difficult to quantify. Functional strength does not have the standardization in evaluative techniques that general strength has. Therefore, is you want to show how powerful and strong a player is, you show their numbers for the vertical jump, power clean, squat, bench etc. If you gave their distance for a “one-leg, contralateral, counterbalanced, one arm reach test”, or a medial one-leg jump, no coach, agent, or sport team would know what you are talking about. Therefore, the dilemma is – how do you make the athlete look good on paper and at the same time a “better functioning athlete”?
From a personal perspective, I have become a believer of augmenting functional strength, and sometimes at the expense of increasing already high levels of absolute or general strength. I myself have test driven a purely functional strength program for 12 weeks. The differences in my swimming, running, jumping and change of direction capabilities have been remarkable. However, I do not believe that a purely functional program is the answer. Integrating general, special and specific strength development is the best way to improve performance and develop strength you can use!
Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS