Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Structuring Workouts for Maximum Gains: Concurrent Periodization

Unless you’re strictly a powerlifter, bodybuilder, or endurance athlete, you likely want to make gains in all of the following domains: strength, body composition, and stamina. 

You could spend a few weeks doing specialized training for each quality individually. But if possible, wouldn’t you rather develop all three at once? This is the essence of "concurrent periodization," in which a block of time is allotted every training session for every adaptation.

Photo courtesy:

Since your attention will be diverted in a few different directions, keep in mind that you won't be breaking any deadlifting records or winning any marathons. However, you will be able to lift some heavy things, you will look damn good doing it, and you will be able to go for a decent while without tiring.

If this spiel sounds an awful lot like CrossFit, that's because it is. In its randomness, CrossFit actually employs this very model of periodization. The implementation we will be detailing below has a few fundamental differences from "the sport of fitness," though.

Each of our one-hour workouts will consist of five separate training blocks:

Block 1: Warm-up [10 minutes]
Block 2: Strength [15 minutes] [25 minutes]
Block 3: Hypertrophy [15 minutes] [40 minutes]
Block 4: Conditioning [10 minutes] [50 minutes]
Block 5: Cool-down [10 minutes] [60 minutes]

As you can see, after a 10-minute warm-up, each workout features a strength block of 15 minutes. This block is followed up with one for hypertrophy (again, 15 minutes) and then one for conditioning (10 minutes). A 10-minute cool-down concludes the workout.

Whereas CrossFit tends to lump together strength exercises and conditioning exercises into one big timed workout, we keep the two distinct for maximum gains in each (and safety). Furthermore, we include an additional regime of training -- hypertrophy -- that CrossFit typically does not. 

The precise ordering of the blocks should not to be tampered with. Due to their relative demands on the central nervous system, strength must precede hypertrophy, which must precede conditioning. From a hormonal (fat loss) standpoint, this sequence -- as well as the one-hour total time allotment -- also confers the greatest benefits. Do your best not to exceed 60 minutes.

Training Block Particulars

Blocks 1 & 5

Information on the warm-up and cool-down can be found here and here. To review, a proper warm-up reduces the risk of injury and has 5 subdivisions: (a) foam rolling, (b) dynamic stretching, (c) muscle activation, (d) movement rehearsal, and (e) CNS wake-up. 

The purpose of the cool-down, on the other hand, is to kick-start the recovery process. It consists of a few minutes of easy treadmill walking followed by static stretching. Warm-up and cool-down may not be the most glamorous parts of training, but you'll always be thankful you did them.

Blocks 2-4

The middle three blocks require very precise manipulation of four variables to elicit the desired responses. The variables are as follows:

  1. Intensity: how heavy the load is, typically expressed as a percentage of one-repetition maximum. For example, if your best squat is 300 pounds, then doing a set of squats at 200 pounds equates to an intensity of 67%.
  2. Tempo: how long each part of a rep takes, expressed in seconds by eccentric phase / transition / concentric phase / transition. For example, a 3/2/1/0 tempo for a dip would have you lower for 3 seconds, pause at the bottom for 2 seconds, push back up in 1 second, and go back down into the next rep immediately.
  3. Volume: the product of sets and reps. For example, 3 sets of 10 reps equates to a volume of 30 reps.
  4. Rest interval: the amount of time spent recovering between sets of an exercise or rounds of a cluster of exercises.

Block 2: Strength [15 minutes]

  1. Intensities: High, at least 85% of 1RM.
  2. Tempo: Explosive. Intend to lift the weight as quickly as possible. Since it's heavy, you might not actually lift it that fast, but it's the intent that matters.
  3. Volume: Low. Typically 2-6 sets of 1-6 reps. The 5 x 4-6 scheme is a fan favorite.
  4. Rest interval: Long (complete rest). Rest at least two minutes between sets.

Block 3: Hypertrophy [15 minutes]

  1. Intensities: Moderate, between 65% and 85% of 1RM.
  2. Tempo: Slow and controlled, no momentum. Time under tension (set duration) of up to 70 seconds is optimal.
  3. Volume: Moderate to high. Typically 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps, depending on training status. Higher numbers of sets (up to 10 or more) may be employed by advanced lifters (see examples of high volume training).
  4. Rest interval: Short to moderate (incomplete rest). Perform exercises in this block in rapid succession, resting one minute between rounds.

Block 4: Conditioning [10 minutes]

  1. Intensities: Low to moderate, less than 75% of 1RM.
  2. Tempo: Fast, though still controlled.
  3. Volume: Moderate to high. Typically 2 or 3 sets of anywhere from 10 to 50 or more perfect reps, never pushing past form failure.
  4. Rest interval: Short (limited rest). Perform exercises in this block in rapid succession, resting 30 seconds between rounds. Your goal should be to keep your heart rate above 120 beats per minute for all 10 minutes. To achieve this goal, most of your time must be spent moving.

Blocks 2-4 Summary

Block 2: Strength
Block 3: Hypertrophy
Block 4: Conditioning
Low to Moderate
Slow & Controlled
Moderate to High
Moderate to High

Get With The Program

The training program is provided below. Repeatedly cycle through the workouts for 6 weeks, and watch your strength, body composition, and stamina skyrocket.

Share This