Barry's Periodized Workout Plans

I have been promising to show you the sort of periodized training plans I used to gain substantial size and strength as an advanced weight lifter. I won't recount my gains and training history again, as I have done it several times already. Lets get busy:

Periodization Methods

The key to big gains after your first couple beginner easy growth years is to train more, but do it in a periodized fashion to avoid mental and physical overtraining. Without periodization (or steroids) you will rapidly overtrain on these higher volume workouts.

It is worth reading up on periodization techniques: I suggest the following:

I have no direct experience with the above three references , but I have seen them described and they sound like good periodization systems for size and strength, and drug free training.

My personal favorite, and authorative reference on periodization techniques as well as what is really known about all other aspects of weight training (including nutrition, proper form, steroids, etc), is the college sports medicine text book Weight Training: A Scientific Approach by Michael Stone and Harold Obryant, 1987, published by:
Burgess International Group
7110 Ohms Lane
Edina MN, 55435

Not only is it an excellent, well researched and referenced text, but I have also talked with a student who studied under one of the authors, and he concurred the author is extremely knowledgable about weight training. (Note: don't expect any magic bullets here---this book wil just tell you what is known, and there is no short cut).

If you want references for any of the claims I make below, see the above mentioned book.

This routine is intended primarily to add muscle and body mass. We must consider all of the following factors related to growth


You need a high calorie diet to grow, with plenty of protein. You should get at least 1 gram of quality protein per pound of bodyweight, and around 20 calories per pound of bodyweight per day---that will vary a bit depending on whether you have a slow or fast metabolism. Through experiment, you will need to find a calorie intake that leads to growth without too much fat accumulation. Keep your diet around 20% fat, 50% carbs and 30% protein. Calories intake will probably be in the range of 3500--4000 calories. Don't worry if you put on some fat while gaining mass---you can take it off later.

But this is plenty of calories---The mega-calorie diets you read about in the mags (6000, 8000, etc calories) are only for heavy steroid users.



You don't need steroids to make good gains on these programs. I used them drug free, and am a classic hard-gainer type. If you do want to use steroids, I suggest you wait until your natural gains are pretty well tapped out, which takes at least 3 years of proper training. I also suggest you use them to accomplish a specific goal, like a 450 lb bench or an 19 inch arm, rather than just playing around with them.


Get plenty, at least 8 hours a night, and train first thing in the morning if possible. Once you get used to it, you will find you can get the best workouts then.


Ok, now its time for the periodization schedule for each bodypart, choose 2 exercises, one compound, one more isolation. I recommend the folloing, for e.g.

quads: squat (or leg press), leg extension
leg bi: leg curl on 2 different machines
calves: standing calf raise, seated calf raise
chest: bench press, cable flyes
back: bent over row, pulldown
traps: barbell shrugs*
shoulders: behind neck press, side lateral
bis: barbel curl, one arm dumbell curl on preacher bench
tris: lying tricep extension, cable pushdown
fores: hammer curls, behind the back standing wrist curls
abs: weighted crunches, cable side crunches

*only one direct trap exercise, as it gets hit by other things

In your workout, perform 4 sets of each exercise. The first should be a light, thorough warmup. Then jump to your heaviest weight you will use that day, do your set, and reduce the weight on the subsequent sets---so you do one warmup and 3 descending weight sets. Reps will be kept in the 8--12 range.

Now, split the bodyparts into a 5 day split:

day 1: legs
day 2: chest and shoulders
day 3: back and traps
day 4: arms and abs
day 5: off

Now, impose a heavy-light alteration on top of this, for a 10 day micro-cycle:

day 1: legs HEAVY
day 2: chest and shoulders LIGHT
day 3: back and traps HEAVY
day 4: arms LIGHT
day 5: off
day 1: legs LIGHT
day 2: chest and shoulders HEAVY
day 3: back LIGHT
day 4: arms HEAVY
day 5: off

HEAVY = 100% effort, trying for new best set
LIGHT = 75% of the weight used on the previous heavy day

Now that you have the micro cycle, here is how to organize these into a macro cycle:

At the start of your training cycle, choose weights for your initial heavy days that allow you to get 8-12 reps comfortably.

Then, each heavy day try as hard as possible to increase your reps on each hard set (you do 6 hard sets per bodypart, recall). You will need to keep a training log to keep track of previous performance. Try to maintain the same form fom day to day---don't get more reps by getting sloppy.

Every time you reach 12 reps, in your next heavy day for that set, increase the weight, but by as little as possible (5 lb increments, or even 2.5 if you have 1.25 lb plates); that will knock the reps back down to around 8 or so the next time.

On your light days, mimic your previous heavy set in terms of reps, but use only 75% of the weight. On these days, focus on your form, move through the workout more quickly, and do not tax the muscle. A decent pump and tiny burn is all you should get.

Your muscles may still be sore on their light day. That is fine and to be expected. If a muscle is still sore on its next heavy day, insert a day off.

Cycle Termination

Continue these 10 day micro-cycles, progressing every heavy workout as described, until you fail to improve over your previous best on a lot of your sets and for 2 consecutive heavy days. For example, if my best bench sets were 225 x 10, 200 x 9, 180 x 7, and then the next two heavy days I got 225 x 8, 200 x 8, 180 x 8, and 225 x 8, 200 x 8 , 180 x 9, that would indicate that your progress has truly stalled and your are starting to over train. Consider your set performance increases as votes---every set that improves is a vote to continue the cycle, evry set that stagnates or regresses is a vote to stop. When the stop votes win, terminate the cycle.

When you terminate the cycle, do one whole 10 day cycle using VERY LIGHT weights---50 to 60% of your heavy weights. During this period, focus on quick workouts and very good form---try to undo the inevitable sloppyness that builds up during the load cycle. Don't tax the muscle at all, just get a nice pump.

Resuming the Next Cycle

After your 10 day VERY LIGHT cycle, restart, using as your starting weights around 95% of your previous cycle best weights. Begin working up in this cycle as before.


I like the above style because it is self-regulating. You use your rate of improvement to decide when to stop the cycle, thus guaranteeing you will not overtrain. Basically, you should either always be making improvement on heavy days, or be deciding it is time to terminate the cycle.

Initially, I could carry one one macro cycle for about 3 months before I had to terminate it. As I got more advanced, using more wieght and intensity, and closer to my limits, I would have to terminate the cycles every month or so. After a couple years of this style, I reached a point where I was spending as much time off cycle as on cycle, and that was about the limit of its effectiveness. But I had gained 30 some pounds of bodyweight from it, so I was satisfied.

Don't be afraid of light days!!! Lifting addicts often fear that unless they always train hard, they will shrink. The evil HIT crowd also try and reinforce this idea that intensity is a must. In fact, this attitude is a big barrier to progress. Learn to have fun on your light days. Save your intensity for the heavy days. Have fun during your very-light cycle. Don't worry if you lose a bit during this time---you have to be willing to step back in order to take two steps forward in the future. In practice, I usually came back from the very light cycle stronger than I had been before.

As for progress, progress is built into this system. If you are doing it, you are progressing. Go mostly by rep and poundage progress---your bodyweight will change slowly, at most 2 pounds per month. Derive your satifaction from the heavy day to heavy day improvements, and the big picture (muscle mass gains) will take care of themselves.

Don't worry if your reps sometimes drop down to 6. Just keep working to bring them up towards 12 as always. But don't make the mistake of jumping too much weight when you get to 12. Jump as little as possible. For weights greater than 100 lbs, a 5 lb jump is plenty. For weights less than 100 lbs, try to make 2.5 lb jumps if possible. Never take a 10 lb jump---just save it for next time.

There are many other possible periodizations. See the refs above for more ideas. You can have a lot of fun designing periodized programs, but don't stop using one if it is still working well. Conversely, if it seems not to work well, scrap it early and try another one. Don't waste months on unproductive routines (as I did). You should be able to make workout to workout gains most of the time.

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