Periodization For Bodybuilding - Macro & Micro
Cycles For Muscle Growth
to grow shapely muscles? Maybe you should consider periodization
training? What is periodization training? It is really just a fancy
term that means your training should be split up into phases, with
each accomplishing distinct goals. There are more complex definitions
that are used for Olympians and professional athletes but for our
muscle building purposes we'll stick with this simple definition.
When your body is subjected to any kind of stress
there are three distinct phases:
- The shock phase - where the body responds poorly to the
- The resistance phase - the body gradually adapts to the
stress so that over time it will no longer be shocked by the same
amount of stress.
- The overtraining phase - arises when you subject your
body to more stress than it can adapt to or you do not allow enough
time for recovery before increasing the level of stress. For optimal
muscle building results you should avoid overtraining as much
as possible. Train no more than 3-4 times a week and never for
more than an hour at a time.
I use the term 'stress' in a broad sense. For our
purposes, it is the stress your muscles undergo when subjected to
Periodization programs are divided up into three distinct
cycles. These three cycles are the macrocycle, mesocycle
and the microcycle. Think of the macrocycle as the entire
program itself which can cover several months to a year of training
(depending on your goals and how you design the program). The macrocycle
consists of multiple mesocycles which are divided into several weeks
to a few months. Each mesocycle is divided into microcycles that
usually range from one to four weeks. The microcyles include daily
and weekly training variations.
The key to periodization training is to always "mix
up" your routine so you force your muscles to be "shocked"
and confused into growing stronger and bigger. A lot of people who
weight train make the mistake of working out exactly the same week
after week. They end up plateauing after a few months and they get
frustrated. The reason they hit a plateau is because their muscles
are getting the same stimulus every week (same exercises, same number
of reps, same number of sets, etc). When you change up the elements
in your routine, you keep your muscles guessing and guessing usually
off, the term "periodization" means the systematic process
of planned variations in a resistance training program over a training
cycle. A macrocycle is the largest division of a periodized program.
It typically consists of an entire training year but may be a period
of many months up to four years (for an Olympic athlete).
If you are a complete beginner to bodybuilding here
is a form of macro-periodization you might use. For the first several
months train heavy and only do compound exercises. Training heavy
means keeping your repetitions low at around at 4-6 reps per set.
Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that include a large
number of muscles. Examples of compound exercises are deadlifts,
squats, military press and bench press. In essence train like a
weight lifter to build mass.
Once you have bulked up sufficiently go easy on the
compound exercises and power lifts and do more isolation exercises
with lighter weights. Isolation exercises are single-joint movements
such as dumbbell flys (chest), concentration curls (biceps) and
triceps pushdowns. During this next stage you can also do 'weak
point training' for whatever muscles were not quite hit by the compound
exercises and are lagging. Weak point training is when you focus
on your weak body parts versus your stronger body parts and you
train these weaker body parts with maximum intensity first in your
workout rotation. An example would be if you're legs are really
lagging but your chest is growing like a weed. You would be training
your legs (squats, etc) first in your workout rotation before working
your chest. Most people like to train their stronger body parts
because its more fun to train a muscle group that is growing and
getting stronger versus training a weaker one. Don't let your ego
get in the way! Make sure to strive for overall physique symmetry
and work hard to build up your body parts so they're all equal in
terms of strength and muscularity.
You may also do priority training of the weak areas
in stage two. This simply means training the weak areas first when
you get to the gym so that you may train them with the most intensity.
Its very similar to weak point training. Generally the further along
you get in a given training session the less intensity you are able
Another form of priority training that can be done
in stage two is devoting entire gym sessions just to the weak areas
while ignoring the traditional body part splits. This stage would
last several weeks to a few months.
The last stage would be to go even lighter on the
isolation exercises and do more cardio to burn off the excess fat
that will inevitably build up during the muscle building phase.
Done properly this will give you a 'ripped look' where the veins
bulge and it looks like you have no skin.
microcycle can range from one to four weeks, which include daily
and weekly training variations. For muscle building this is usually
done at the weekly level (i.e. you structure the periodization using
a calendar week). For example if you are training three times a
week, you could use the first two days to build up to a third 'heavy
day' when you'd really go all out and train as intensely as you
can with the heaviest weights your body can bear.
During this 'heavy day' you would also use techniques
such as drop sets and supersets to ensure maximal muscle stimulation.
Drop sets are when you lower the weight after each set and
really burn out the muscle group. For example, you do a set of bench
press with 225 pounds for 6 reps. After your first set, immediately
"drop" the weight down to 185 pounds for another 6 reps.
This will really tax the muscle group you are working. Supersets
are when you train different muscles groups back-to-back without
a rest between the two exercises. An example of a superset would
be a set of bench press immediately followed by a set of bent-over
barbell rows. You're training opposing muscles groups (chest &
back) and each exercise is performed as one "superset".
Allow a much longer period of rest after the 'heavy day'.
So now that you know how to use periodization, go
build some serious muscle. And make sure to let me know when you
Example of a 3-Day Periodization Program
(Each week is 1 microcycle. The 4 weeks together consists
of 1 mesocycle. You can combine multiple mesocycles to create
a macrocycle which could last up to 1 year)
By Don Demarco