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.