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Workout periodization and changing things up

Workout periodization and changing things up
This workout periodization and changing things up article is for those who workout mainly with weights and looking to make continued progress with their muscle development and/or strength gain, but the idea of changing things up can still be used by all who train on a regular basis.

At some point in your training you will either hit a plateau, either from fatigue, familiarisation or simply from getting bored of doing the same thing over and over again.

It is also worth mentioning here, that when you first start working out your body makes quick progress in the early stages, but this progress will gradually slow down with gains in development and performance becoming more difficult. Often this catches people out and people often feel they are doing something wrong, when in fact it is a natural reaction to your body adapting to stresses placed on it. This could be the time therefore to apply a change in stress and change things up.

Changing things up or periodization is where you deliberately change your workout routine. Those changes can include adding more volume, using different exercises, changing the rep range and weights used, and/or following a completely different workout routine. There are several types of periodization. Some methods will have you do a number of weeks dedicated to hypertrophy, a number of weeks for strength and maybe a number of weeks for speed/power (linear periodization) or for professional athletes a systematic plan towards being at their peak performance for their given sport at a specific time (block periodization) or more regular day to day changes to intensity (undulating periodization).

Why use periodization and change things up?

By following the same workout routine for months on end, your body can get used to certain stimuli and no matter how hard you train, you can still not move forward and make progress. Also it can lead to mental staleness which can easily kill a great workout routine and your enthusiasm. By changing your workouts from time to time, it can help breakthrough plateaus, stimulate new muscle growth, as well a create new stimulus for your brain to avoid boredom.

So what do I suggest?

There are several methods of periodization including the ones mentioned above and some of these are way too complicated and long however. For the purpose of this website, I’m going to try to keep it as simple as possible. I don’t think you need to be concerning yourself with the complicated process of most of the long spread out systems.

I have already suggested in the article about reps and sets that your workouts follow a progressive increase in either weight or reps with your general workout routines (called progressive overload). I have also suggested alternating between heavy days and light days to change the intensity and stimulus to the muscles (these can be read about here, if you haven’t already done so). These methods work quite well for most trainers not looking to hit a specific high point in performance. However if you are looking to make more changes and want to go a step or two further, then the following a periodization system works well.

Undulating Periodization

As I’m a fan of working all aspects of the muscle spectrum and fitness all at the same time or within a short period of time and not doing weeks of strength training, then weeks of hypertrophy, then……etc, I’d suggest a type of undulating system instead. As mentioned above an undulating system is where you do one workout with an exercise for high reps and next time you do it for low reps, or even do 6 reps one workout, 10 reps the next and then 15 reps on your third workout for that same exercise and then back around again.

This system is useful to avoid or minimise plateaus in your workouts and keep progress going in a forward direction.

However, what I like to do is have two undulating routines that I can alternate between. And if you are new to changing things up and periodization, I have suggested below of a way to get you started.

In order to change things up I’d suggest going back to the routines article I wrote and look at the 2 different routines I suggested. Now all you need to do is, do the upper/lower routine for 2-3 months and then switch to the full body workout for 2-3 months. You can change the exercise order, add in exercises that work both upper and lower muscle groups at the same time in the full body workouts that you can’t do in the upper/lower routine, create a workout that adds exercises to work weak areas and generally mix it up so you can use a variety of exercises. It’s as simple as that. It is a good idea to take a week off (deload week) between these routine changes and then to take a small step back in intensity when you return to allow yourself to adjust to the new routine and avoid injury.

A good example of this in practise is my combo training. This incorporates all the different types of training I have mentioned previously and the type of undulating periodization mentioned here.


One caveat I will add however, is you don’t need to change if you feel your current workout is still providing you with gains and/or you feel OK to carry on with it. Don’t just change for change sake, but do it because it feels right to make the change.