The Basics of Periodization


Have you ever wondered how many reps or sets to do of any given exercise? Have you ever wondered why some programs call for high reps and low sets, or vice versa? The answer? Periodization.

Picture It

If you have a program that calls for three sets of 12 reps of front squats for one phase of your strength training protocol, and the next phase calls for four sets of 6 reps, are you like, “What the fahk?”

Or if you’re putting together your own program, are you confused about how much work should be programmed?

If so, no worries. I’m going to tell you how to manage your training. If you read THIS post, you’re well on your way. Once you have your baseline program, periodization is your next step in your plan’s progression.

The Basics of Periodization

Periodization is the backbone of a protocol’s planning model to maximize gains while reducing injury while adding variety to any strength training plan.

More simply put. Periodization achieves three things

  1. The most amount of training over time
  2. Progressive Overload
  3. Injury prevention

But before you read on, let’s align on ONE school of thought:

When your NET volume of work is roughly equal over time (or the duration of your program) and push reps close to muscle failure, ALL rep ranges are effective for building muscle. 

That’s really not up for debate. (So the PDF you may have bought claiming lightweight, and high reps lead to LONG LEAN TONE MUSCLES ONLY is wrong.)

And that makes sense, right?

If you have an exercise that calls for three sets of 12 reps in one phase, and four sets of 6 reps in another phase, you should still be pushing the same, if not more load EVEN THOUGH your second phase calls for fewer reps.


Because you built your strength in the first phase (3×12), and are progressing in load in the second phase (4×6). Less total reps, but lifting more weight.

  • Phase 1 (3×12) = Low, moderate loads, and higher reps = Accumulation
  • Phase 2 (4×6) = High loads, and lower reps = Intensification

THAT is periodization in a nutshell.  The alternation and manipulation of volume and intensity to maximize performance and results.

Also, those numbers above are JUST examples!!! So don’t get it twisted and think those are your only options. You get the gist. Use this as your guide:

  • Low/moderate loads are 8+ reps
  • High loads are 3-6 reps


Understanding Accumulation

An accumulation phase will have higher reps and more total sets with the goal of building muscle. Even though you will be going LIGHTER in load, you should still reach muscle failure due to the volume of work.

Understanding Intensification

The intensification phase improves strength. An intensification phase has fewer reps and fewer sets, but the goal is to lift as heavy as possible. The heavier you lift, the higher the intensity. Many trainers would use this time to discuss a one-rep max, however, as someone who is a non-competitive fitness enthusiast, who lifts alone, without a spotter, I don’t feel it appropriate or necessary.

If you’re interested in this information, please DM me!

How Periodization Impacts YOUR Training Plan

If you are putting together your own plan, based on your selection of strength-building drills, this is an EXAMPLE of how a 16-week protocol could come to life.

  • Weeks 1-4: 4×10 Accumulation
  • Weeks 5-8: 4×6 Intensification
  • Weeks 9-12: 5×10 Accumulation
  • Weeks 13-16: 5×5 Intensification

I like a 16-week strategy because it takes me about four full weeks to bring one phase to life. I want to de-load, to get my bearings, have two weeks of focused improvement, and then a fourth and final week to DROP THE HAMMER and go hard. Read all about it HERE.

You may want to have phases of 3-weeks for a 12-week total plan, you know? It’s up to you.

Regardless, the best way to measure success, and prescribe training volume is over the long term across the total amount of reps per muscle group, per workout, and week.

Regardless of phase, progressive overload, and perfect form should be top of mind.

In Conclusion

If you’re building your own program, or are following a plan with undulating (alternating) periodization, now you know what to do and why you’re doing it!! If you’re more the group ex type, you can still apply this principle via progressive overload. Talk to your trainer before class or slide into their DM’s and see if they wouldn’t mind foreshadowing the workout for you so you can pick your weights appropriately.

If you’re in my Red Room, I not only give rep ranges, weight grade recommendations, but the rate of perceived exertion as well. If I do my job correctly, you WILL reach fatigue, whether you’re lifting light or heavy. I’m just saying!!!!!! Hair flip emoji, nail polish emoji, dollar sign emoji here.

As always, DM me with any questions.

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *