Throughout past decades, there have been many strength-building programs. Every gym-goer wants hypertrophy, of course, but it seems like there’s a little too much information about it. If you want to lift heavier in the gym, build muscle and boost your energy, you’ll need to have a plan.
Getting a Clear Vision of Hypertrophy
If you want to build muscle, you’ll need to stick to a plan. By staying true to your long-term goals, you’ll need to find the perfect day-to-day routine. Many people commit to the same exercises, the same weekly muscle group split and the same diet—but, sometimes, these structures are misunderstood for bodybuilding consistency.
Consistency, here, refers to the dedication of exercise and diet in general. If you over-apply this mindset, however, you may find you’re not stimulating growth properly.
If you enter the gym, search for a familiar exercise and kick off your weightlifting session, you might not even progress after a six-month period of training.
True hypertrophy requires an attack plan of sorts. While planning your routine several days in advance is important—it’s more important to adopt a comprehensive, periodization plan which blends consistency and new exercise stimuli, both. One of the best ways to do this is linear periodization.
What’s Linear Periodization?
Linear periodization is an exercise and dieting scheme that’s been used for many years. It’s use began with heavy lifters like Coan and Kaz—and it’s rather easy to adopt. It’s also a consistent plan, one which guarantees success.
In essence, linear periodization is all about navigating between a high-volume and low-intensity exercise plan to a low-volume, high-intensity plan. Fortunately, the plan itself isn’t too complex. For some—it may even seem a little monotonous.
Fear not, though, because linear periodization is simply consistent. It has enough diversity to stimulate muscle growth, which is vital to muscle confusion.
Your workout plans needn’t be overly complicated. Once you’ve adopted the use of a rep max calculator, you’ll be able to project one-rep max numbers that matter.
Instead of using a vast array of flyes, curls and crunches to reach your fitness goals—you can avoid eventual plateaus by using this volume and intensity alteration plan.
Before You Start: Log Your Progress
It can’t be stated enough: You’ll need to project your heavy lift numbers if you want linear periodization to work. The tried-and-true method of progressively putting more weight on the bar is certainly boring for some, but it works.
More importantly: It isn’t a plan reserved for fresh gym-goers and intermediates. Exercisers of all levels can embrace linear periodization to maximize hypertrophy, no matter their experience in the gym.
Many of us have short attention spans when it comes to lifting—falling in line with the newest, trendiest, program lifters seem to be using. In doing so, however, they’re sacrificing a long-term plan which is proven to be successful.
Weightlifters like Doug Furnas, Ed Coan, Lamar Gant and Fred Hatfield have all used linear periodization to nurture massive amounts of muscle—but they each had something in common: Program consistency and, more importantly, dedication to logging their incremental success.
These lifters would focus their efforts over 12 to 16 weeks—adding small amounts of weight to the bar, every week, until they neared their PRs during competitive weightlifting meets. By logging their weightlifting gains, muscle measurements and diet routine, they could guarantee a successful program run.
Linear Periodization Basics
There are a lot of hypertrophy programs which use linear periodization. In each, linear periodization’s foundation is applied in a non-negotiable fashion. Often, the only thing which needs to—or should be—changed between these programs is the repetition range.
More or less: You should change your rep range when hitting a certain percentage of your maximum lift weight. Then, you should try to do as many repetitions as you can. For example:
If you were to begin your exercise by lifting about 60 percent of your maximum weight, your next set would involve dropping 10 percent of this weight. For this set, you should try to match your first set’s number of repetitions.
On the next set—your third set—the same rules apply. Following the example, you’d lower your weight by another 10 percent—trying to complete as many repetitions as the second (and first) set. If you manage to land more reps in any of these post-first-set sets—even better.
Why Linear Periodization Works
These sets are commonly referred to as drop sets, as they focus on dropping weight for each set. Unfortunately, linear periodization isn’t used nearly as often as it should be. Many new gym-goers adopt the opposite of linear periodization exercises, in fact.
Instead of lowering their weight and trying to match their reps, set to set, they increase their weight every set while landing fewer repetitions.
This type of beginner’s exercise repetition-weight split—where more weight is added per set—is often called a pyramid exercise. The exercise foundation begins with many reps and lower weights—and the exercise “peak” involves low reps and high weight.
Linear periodization, on the other hand, is sometimes called a reverse pyramid exercise. It’s the opposite of the typical pyramid lift methodology, wherein the first set involves plenty of weight and low repetitions.
At the end of the exercise, the lifter will likely be completing many reps with low weight. While the main goal of linear periodization is to target the same rep range per set as previous sets, it’s not uncommon to see a linear periodization exercise which ends in a sort of “super drop set”—one which involves lifting low weights, via many reps, until complete muscle failure.
So, what makes linear periodization more effective than the standard pyramid exercise? Really, it’s quite simple. Linear periodization reaches a higher volume of weight than pyramid exercises.
If you’re lifting a heavy weight for five reps, then dropping the weight by five or 10 percent for the next set at the same repetitions, you’ll be lifting as much as you can for as long as you can. You’ll be lifting as heavy as possible for as many reps as possible.
In doing so, your overall weight-lifted volume will be much higher than that of a typical pyramid set.
Once more: If you want to maximize your volume, it’s a good idea to follow up your three-to-five set range with another couple of high-rep, low-weight sets. If you burn out your muscles, you’ll achieve as much hypertrophy as possible.
At a beginner’s level, this type of strategy will land you—at minimum—between 15 and 40 reps per exercise, per week. This range is proven to result in hypertrophy and strength alike, and the most successful programs feature linear periodization for this reason.
The next important element of linear periodization is called linear progression. Linear progression is the practice of adding more weight to the bar every week.
On your second lifting week, for example, try adding an extra five pounds to each set if you’re exercising an accessory muscle—such as biceps, triceps or shoulders. Try adding an extra 10 pounds to the bar when exercising bigger muscles, like chest, back and legs.
You’ll probably lose reps, over time, as your weights increase in weight. Still, you should push through the pain to maintain the same rep range.
It’ll definitely be more difficult, but it’ll result in the most size and strength growth. Fight for that growth. If you still can’t reach the same rep range, consider slowing down your program a little bit. Instead of adding 10 pounds of extra weight to your bench press every week, for example, simply shoot for five pounds of additional weight per week.
Adopting Advanced Exercises
As with most programs, you’ll eventually plateau with linear periodization. That’s okay, however, because you’ll be able to adopt new lifting strategies which will hit your muscles from new angles, confusing them, and stimulate new growth.
Once your body has gotten used to these types of exercises, you can revert to your base exercises to confuse your muscles once more—further increasing strength and size.
“Advanced” exercises might seem scary, at first, but they really aren’t. They’re simply a variation of your go-to exercises. Here are several examples:
- Instead of doing wide-grip bench press, do narrow-grip bench press.
- Instead of doing back squats, do front squats.
- Instead of doing a full-rotation lateral pull-down, pause at the bottom.
You’d be surprised how small variations can lead to massive strength and size gains. Once more: The point of advanced lifts is to confuse your muscles.
Your muscles love to maintain equilibrium—which is why it takes plenty of heavy lifts, and a good bit of sweat, to make them bigger. Once they’ve gotten used to any type of exercise, they’ll try to maintain themselves.
You shouldn’t, however, give them the chance. You should mix things up, make your lifts a little tougher, and force them to change.
Find Your Foundation
If you’re new to linear periodization exercise, it can be difficult to figure out your ideal repetition range. More so, it can be difficult to figure out how much weight you should start out with.
Take a day, at the beginning of your program, to test your limits in the one to two-rep max. It’ll be a tough session, but it’ll give you a good benchmark to determine your actual routine.
Don’t stress out too much about this benchmark session, though, as you’ll only be lifting between 75 and 85 percent of this weight during your actual program. The standard linear periodization plan looks like this:
- For your first set, lift 80 percent of your maximum weight for eight reps.
- For your second set, lift 70 percent of your maximum weight for eight reps.
- For your third set, lift 60 percent of your maximum weight for eight reps.
This three-set split works for most lifters, but you can also adopt a five-set split if you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter. In fact, one of today’s best workout programs, the five-by-five strong lifts program, uses this structure.
While the five-by-five program focuses more on maintaining the same weight for the same number of reps per set, you can still use the reverse pyramid method to achieve linear periodization. This is what a linear periodization 5×5 set split might look like:
- For your first set, lift 80 percent of your maximum weight for five reps.
- For your second set, lift 70 percent of your maximum weight for five reps.
- For your third set, lift 60 percent of your maximum weight for five reps.
- For your fourth set, lift 50 percent of your maximum weight for five reps.
- For your fifth set, lift 40 percent of your maximum weight for five reps.
As we’ve mentioned above, you can bring your linear periodization workout to the next level with a super drop set.
Whether you’re using a three-set split, a five-set split, a 5×5 strong lifts exercise or any other variation of linear periodization, try adding high-rep and low-weight lifts to the end of your exercise. If you’re doing a three-set linear periodization exercise, for example, your super drop set lift would look like this:
- On your fourth set, lift 30 percent of your maximum weight for eight reps.
- On your fifth set, lift 20 percent of your maximum weight for 10 reps.
- On your sixth set, lift 10 percent of your maximum weight for 12 reps.
The great thing about linear periodization is that it’s incredibly adaptive. Try out different variations, find out what works best for you, add a little more weight every week and log your progress. Before long, you’ll see plenty of strength and size gains.