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November 30, 2023

Complete Strength Training Long Term Periodization Guide

What is periodization? And how do you create long-term periodization in strength training? We’re diving into answering this on the blog today. 

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I did 20 challenges and 6 week transformations but came up through exercise and sport science, and college strength and conditioning. So my brain just worked in long-term fashion with program design – creating programs based around SEASONS.

I believe the same can apply to most people who want to lift for the long haul. 

Which happens to be my personal clientele.

I’m Annie Miller and I help you learn as your train and enjoy your lifts.

Today we’re cover the question: 

What is periodization? And how do you create long-term periodization in strength training?

When I did a google search, this was the answer: 

I know the title of this blog is “strength training” but “weight lifting” or “resistance training” is more accurate, as we’re going to cover transitioning from different seasons of training (i.e. hypertrophy or endurance and capacity into true strength, etc). 

In training terms, periodization is the process of dividing training into periods over time.

Most coaches do not learn to do this. Their certifications don’t actually teach them anything about program design, which is unfortunate and also why I created my Pure PROgramming Course

Do you get most of your program and periodization practices from being your own guinea pig? 

I know that was the case for me early on in my coaching career. 

No shame in that game. But I hope today’s blog helps to give you a bit more structure and clarity in your process.

What Is Long Term Periodization & Why Do People Sell Short Term 12 Week Programs?

For the sake of today’s teaching, we’re going with 6+ months of program design. 

Could be for a 1:1 client or templated program…doesn’t matter.

I honestly think the most common reason coaches sell 12 week programming or services is because they don’t think clients will buy into a longer approach. 

It has very little to do with actual program design and far more to do with sales.

But if you’re confident in the long haul and results that can come from 6+ months of programming, then I do encourage you to SELL THAT. 

Let us begin.

Steps To Long-Term Programming And Periodization:

We start with macro, meso and micro cycles. 

  • What timeline are you programming for? 

Remember, this is past 12 weeks for sure. I like to think of at least two meso cycles, but probably more (6+ months).

That’s your MACRO cycle: 6, 9, 12+ months.

The macro is made up of meso cycles which are several month training blocks if using 4-6 week training phases.

And those 4-6 week training phases are your micro cycles.

Think of it like a funnel if you need to.

You might hear people use “training block” to describe a micro or a meso cycle. We want to be specific, so I am separating the two.

For Long-Term Periodization, You Need To Determine Meso Cycle Goals/Seasons:

This most traditionally will be adaptation based. 

Such as:

  • Hypertrophy
  • Repeat strength
  • Power
  • Endurance
  • So on and so forth…

These would be your focus for a 3-4 month block (your meso cycle).

BUT if you’re working a year-long program fully focused on hypertrophy, then you may go a different route for your meso cycle season and goals.

Each meso cycle could be movement pattern based, or have an emphasis on a certain area of the body for a season.

You could also use different tactics and training methodologies within each meso cycle. 

Sticking with the hypertrophy program – perhaps for 3 months you focus on the use of drop sets. 

Another meso cycle you focus on tempo and 1 and 1/4 reps, etc.

I just want you to see the options you have within periodization depending on your style of program design.

So lay out your timeline, and then separate that into meso cycles, and define the focus of each meso cycle. 

Remember that meso cycle is your 3 months or so. Meso cycles often align with the quarters of the year if working on a 12 month macro cycle.

Bonus Note:

Once you get into actual program design, and assigning sets and reps, you want to make sure the progression in volume from one phase to the next doesn’t have huge jumps. We want to USE and build upon the adaptations made by the body in past phases.

Choose Your Actual Periodization

Periodization not only refers to the periods of training but how one cycle within these periods progresses to the next.

That’s where two of the most common periodization models come into play.

Linear or Undulating Periodization

Linear periodization is most common for beginners and is highly effective. 

It can also be used with intermediate and advanced lifters. But at some point, training age will require something beyond a linear progression.

A classic linear periodization looks like this: Here is a figure taken from my Pure PROgramming course.

We see that there is an inverse relationship between volume and intensity (load).

You’d likely start the first meso cycle with more of a capacity focus. And slowly build to hypertrophy, then to strength, and then to repeat strength or power.

As those repetitions drop (aka the volume decreases), the load would become more challenging.

We go into more depth in Pure PROgramming about how this plays into main lifts vs accessory work, but for today… Apply this to all work being performed by the trainee. 

If we’re working strength in the main lifts, we’re working strength in the subsequent work as well. 

To be clear you could also flip this and start with strength or higher load, lower volume work, and build capacity and volume over your meso cycles. 

That would be great for a trainee coming out of some strength based programming.

Undulating periodization complicates things a bit. 

If you’re just starting out, I suggest playing within the linear periodization. 

You can create an incredibly solid program with this approach for most people.

With undulating, training variables are manipulated daily or weekly. But the program itself can still progress in a linear manner. This is often referred to as the “integrated model” seen in the diagram here.

Within one week a trainee will have a high volume, low load hypertrophy-focused day. As well as medium and high load with lower volume days (in power and strength). 

That’s why you see the variation within each of the training variables. 

But the PROGRESSION resembles that of a linear trend.

Like I said – more complicated, and doesn’t fit into a nice neat box. 

With undulation, you can do weekly or daily (commonly referred to as WUP or DUP). 

And these are two of my favorite methods for program design.

The training variables of strength, hypertrophy or power are all in ONE WEEK for the same main exercise in daily undulation. 

Whereas weekly undulation looks like a strength WEEK, a hypertrophy WEEK and then a power or endurance WEEK. 

These are general examples.

You’d then progress that over your meso cycles.

Which could look like a meso cycle focusing on overall capacity (with elements of strength, and power still involved through the undulation), into a meso cycle with a bias towards repeat strength. 

So your power and hypertrophy days may still have accessory work that pushes those strength ranges.

Have fun with it!

If you’re overwhelmed by undulation, leave it be. 

But I wanted to give it SOME space here as it can make sense for longer periodization in weight training.

Once you’ve nailed down your periodization, then you can be sure your meso cycles are in alignment with that.

i.e. Endurance, into hypertrophy, into strength, into repeat strength. Vs bouncing between strength and capacity focused meso cycles. One should progress seamlessly to the next… 

Now You’ll Plug In Your: Training Split & Sets And Reps

Once you have your meso cycle goals and they’re in an appropriate order within your macro cycle, you’ll choose training splits and set and rep schemes that make sense for the goals of each meso cycle.

This is what you’ll plug into your micro cycles (individual training phases).

Don’t worry about exercise selection yet.

Your training split can ABSOLUTELY change from meso cycle to meso cycle.

If you need more help with that, check out my blog on: How to write a workout program HERE. It has more about the daily and weekly structure of your training sessions.

For example, if you’re going to dive into the deep end of daily undulation, then a four day upper lower split (doesn’t make sense). 

You’ll likely be doing a full body split due to performing the same main lifts everyday or at least multiple times throughout the week (for those strength, power and endurance lifts). 

A four day upper lower makes sense for a lot of goals. 

But maybe meso cycle one follows this and then meso cycle 2 follows push pull legs or general push pull theme. 

There’s no one size fits all. 

You can also, by all means keep the same exact training split every phase forever and ever amen. 

You love an upper lower? Full body is your jam and it fits your meso cycle seasons? 

Get it.

Once you have your training splits defined for each micro cycle/phase, you can lay out general set and rep schemes that align with the meso cycle season (strength vs capacity etc).

When I say set and rep schemes, I legit want you to simply jot down set and rep ranges or models you’d like to use from phase to phase. Something like so:

This is looking at ONLY main lift volume and load. Remember that linear inverse relation between volume and load? It’s applied here via wave loading. 

You can see the higher volume waves and how they drop in volume per phase over 6 months. 

The next diagram includes accessory work as well. Same trend. 

Accessory tracks with the main lift in that it is high volume, low load, and progresses over the six months.

You don’t need to use wave loading, this is simply an example. I haven’t plugged in exercises here, not even accessory lift sets and reps. 

Just the main lift set and rep scheme.

From here, I’d plug this into whatever training split I’m using for these phases. Then exercise selection and more specific sets and reps.

In Conclusion

I hope you can see we start LITERALLY MACRO and get more and more granular through this process. That’s the name of the game for long-term periodization and programming. 

We stop here because that’s where writing individual phases comes into play.

  • Macro cycle timeline
  • Periodization type – linear or undulating into linear
  • Meso cycle goals and order making sense within that periodization
  • Plug in training split for each micro cycle
  • Get into sets and reps, exercise selection etc – which takes you into actual program design.

That’s your base. 

Ideally, this helps you put on some blinders and create structure to build upon so that you’re not aimlessly programming phase by phase with no real direction in sight.

By the end of this process you should feel real gewd about the program you’ve designed.

Best of luck and happy gains.

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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.

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