If you're a true musclehead like I am, you've probably read (or heard) a lot about periodization, either from classic textbooks by East-European sports training and weightlifting authorities (including the classic texts by Tudor Bompa), or by researching the subject online.

Either way, if you've ever tried to apply periodization to your own training, I'd be willing to bet that you quickly came to the conclusion that only drug-soaked genetic superfreaks have anything to gain by "periodizing" their training. In fact, you might have come to the conclusion that maybe the Soviet and East-German training intelligentsia simply fabricated the whole idea in order to trick their Western rivals into thinking that their system was superior.

In fact, just as a side note, most of our commercial gyms and health clubs are still populated with former Soviet and east-European spies who, speaking perfect English and otherwise appearing like everyday gym rats, are able to conceal their training methodologies through an unusually effective "spotting" system: If you've ever seen someone struggling on the bench press with a load that was so heavy that it was essentially just a trap workout for his training partner, let me clue you into something – it WAS a trap workout! Believe it or not, you've just witnessed a pair of commie spies cleverly concealing their secret training methods!

(Editor's Note: Since moving to Las Vegas 3 years ago, Coach Staley has submitted several conspiracy-theory type concepts to our editors here at T-mag...Apparently, his close proximity to Area 51 has begun to affect his judgment. Nevertheless, aside from that last outbreak, this article features a lot of very useful information, so it's totally safe to continue reading.)

But I digress...

Look – periodization IS in fact a valid and extremely useful concept. You've just got to apply it correctly. That's what this article's all about, so let's get started...

It's All About Peaking...

Periodization was originally conceived as a method of organizing training into periods of time, each devoted to a particular goal or emphasis, such that a competitive athlete would "peak" at a pre-determined time (such as the Olympic games for example). Although athletes often pride themselves on being in peak condition at all times, a peak, by definition, is surrounded by two valleys. Perhaps paradoxically, bodybuilders will be able to appreciate this concept better than any other class of athlete – their ultra-shredded, vascular appearance lasts oh so briefly (and we're talking hours here, not days or weeks!)

And Foundation...

A second premise of periodization is that certain qualities are foundational to others. For example, if you're a powerlifter, your "target" motor quality is maximal strength. This being the case, you'd want to identify the qualities which are foundational to maximal strength, and start your cycle with training to address those foundational qualities.

Now I'd like to spend just a moment bringing you up to snuff on what a "traditional" periodized macrocycle looks like, and then I'll show you why it almost never works for "real" athletes like you and me. Take a look at the following breakdown of a 24-Week macrocycle for a shot putter:

The first phase, adaptation, is often thought of as a "training to train" or introductory period of time where the athlete kind of shakes off the cobwebs from the last cycle, develops an 'aerobic base," and basically, just takes some time to get back into the swing of things.

The next phase is devoted to increasing lean body mass, which is thought to be foundational to the goals of the next phase (maximal strength).

Finally, the athlete progresses into a 6-week phase devoted to speed strength development, which is the target motor quality for a shot putter.

At a cursory glance, all of the above seems to make a lot of sense. Nevertheless, as my astute colleague John Berardi is fond of saying, "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."

And that's exactly what we're gonna do right now.

When I Point The Way, You Shouldn't Be Looking At My Finger...

First, to be fair, part of the problem with these types of training cycles is that we're taking them a bit too literally. After all, when you examine that 24 week cycle, it looks pretty clear – focus on basic fitness for 6 weeks, then shift to packing on some muscle, then for 6 weeks work on getting strong as hell, and finally, work on your power (strength divided by time) for the final 6 weeks.

And of course, if you did that, you'll be totally screwed. Why? Several reasons:

2. What is foundational to someone else isn't necessarily foundational for YOU. For example, if you can't afford to eat properly, then getting a better-paying job would be the first phase of your periodized program (and yes, I'm serious about this – although you won't find this on Medline, I can assure you that there is a direct correlation between your bank balance and your cortisol levels).

3. Finally, I'm going to make a convincing case that the traditionally ascribed phases in the cycle above are completely backwards.

Now let's find some solutions to these three problems, and create ourselves a periodized program that REALLY works:

Diagonal Summation

The macrocycle we've been looking at, when taken too literally, is an example of what I call "horizontal summation." In other words, you work on one quality for a while, then the next quality for a while, etc. Horizontal summation is predicated on the correct assumption that you can only work on so much stuff at any given time. It's kind of like packing for a trip – you can only get a limited about of stuff in the suitcase, so it better be the most important stuff.

If you're a contrarion, out-of-the-box thinker like I am, you might feel compelled to do exactly the opposite – vertical summation. But in this case anyway, "doing the opposite" has it's own drawbacks. Specifically, when you try to develop every imaginable quality at the same time, you can't really do adequate justice to any of them.

What's the answer? Diagonal summation of course! All this means is that you'll always work on everything, but with varying degrees of emphasis depending on which phase you're in at the time. So as an example, during a maximal strength phase, about 1/2 of your time and energy will be spent focusing on maximal strength, and the remaining 1/2 will be devoted to maintain the remaining relevant qualities.

The Principle Of Primary Constraints

Right now I'm about to lay a juicy pearl on you, but I'm afraid the power of this little tidbit might get lost on you because you've heard it so many times before. So please remember that just because a statement might be cliché, over-used, and boring, doesn't make it any less true. With that said, here's your pearl: a chain can only be strengthened by fortifying its weakest link. Think about it: if you've got Tom Platz's legs but Bill Gates' traps, what kind of a power clean are you gonna have?

So forget about hypertrophy being foundational to maximal strength for a moment. No matter who you are, no matter what phase of training you're in, no matter what your objective is, your weakest link is always foundational to everything else

Enter The Staley Equation

The trick, of course, is knowing what your weak link is. And while I can't help you on that one, what I can do is show you a little formula that I use that will get you pretty damned close. Check this out:

Prioritize elements which are...

A bit of explanation may be in order:

First, by "element," I'm basically talking about motor qualities (such as maximal strength, agility, anaerobic endurance, etc., etc) or muscle(s). And so part one of the equation says that you shouldn't waste time and energy trying to develop elements that won't contribute to your overall objective. For example, I happen to think it's pretty cool to have high levels of speed strength, but if your goal is to be large and shredded, it's not a quality that you need particularly.

Next, if you've determined that a particular element is needed, the next step is to see if it's already in place. For example, hypertrophy might be something you need (or at least want!), but why spend time and energy working on it if you're already as big as a house? I mean, at some point we all need an education in the obvious, and yours is starting right now!

Thirdly, you might need it, but maybe you can't have it. In other words, some things, like limb length, muscle fiber ratios, and muscle insertions are primarily the result of good parental selection. Put another way, an undesirable situation isn't actually a problem unless there's a solution to it right?

All right, the final step in the equation says that, whenever possible, you should prioritize elements which, when improved, also cause improvement in other elements, given the resources you've got available (by resources, I mean things like, time, energy, equipment, orthopedic health status, etc.). Now, when you add in this last factor, something very interesting happens: for most people, in most situations, prioritizing maximal strength fulfills the demands of the equation perfectly. Check it out:

The Rope Ladder

During a recent presentation I made to the fitness staff at the famed Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas, I outlined my belief that the people who experience truly high levels of success in any endeavor tend to do things in 180 degree opposition to the way everyone else does things. Periodization is no different. Most traditional periodization formats start with a phase devoted to creating an "aerobic base." Hypertrophy, follows then maximal strength, then speed strength, etc. I happen to think this makes no sense at all.

Have a look at the rope ladder diagram, and imagine what happens when you grab the aerobic endurance step and pull it up – that step is obviously the only one affected by the pull. Now, imagine grabbing the maximal strength step and pulling it up. Now, every step in the ladder moves up. And although that's a simplistic analogy, it's exactly what happens when you prioritize maximal strength in your own periodization plan. In fact, maximal strength is the only motor quality that fulfills every step of the Staley Equation: In almost every case, it's needed and poorly developed. And in every case, it's highly trainable and foundational to other elements, needing minimal resources. No other motor quality has a resume like that.

Periodization That Works: A Sample Macrocycle

Phase One (6 Weeks)

Objective: Get Strong. In this initial phase, you'll immediately get to work bringing your maximal strength to the highest possible values.

Phase One Loading Parameters:

• Exercise selection: Well-mastered, constant resistance, multi-joint exercises.

• Number of sets per exercise: 4-16

Phase mission statement: "Train as heavy as possible, as often as possible, while staying as fresh as possible." (Stolen with respect from Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky.)

Sample Training Split:

Monday (a.m.): Upper Body, High Tension (60 minutes)

Flat Barbell Bench Press, 90% 1RM for 5 singles, rest 120 seconds between sets

Machine Seated Row, thumbs-up grip, 5 Sets of 6 Repetitions, rest as needed

Weighted Dips, 5 Sets of 6 Repetitions, rest as needed

Cryotherapy on pecs, delts & triceps (15 minutes total)

Monday (p.m.): Upper Body, High Speed (30 minutes)

Flat Barbell Bench Press Rebounds*10 sets of 3 repetitions with 33%1RM of your bench press 1RM using the same grip width. Rest 60 seconds.

Standing Barbell Rebounds** Rest 60 seconds.

Right Lying "L" Flye***: Use 2% of your barbell bench press 1RM for 4 sets of 10 repetitions, slow movement speed. Rest 60 seconds.

Left Lying "L" Flye: Use 2% of your barbell bench press 1RM for 4 sets of 10 repetitions, slow movement speed. Rest 60 seconds.

* This is a "depth jump" with the barbell – using standard bench press technique/posture, pull the bar to your chest and then (most importantly) reverse the motion as rapidly/abruptly as possible at your sticking point in the bench press. Take care not to impact chest with bar!

** This is a "depth jump" with the barbell – using standard barbell curl technique/posture, forcefully extend your elbows and then (most importantly) reverse the motion as rapidly/abruptly as possible at your sticking point in the barbell curl (just short of lockout for most people). Avoid full elbow lockout. You may need to use dumbbells or an EZ curl bar if a standard Olympic bar is more than 33% of your 1RM for the exercise.

*** Lie on a bench or the floor, starting with the left side. If on a bench, stablize by placing the left palm on the floor. Using a very light dumbbell (even an empty hand is sufficient in many cases), start the exercise with the right upper arm pressed fully against the right side, with the right upper arm flexed to 90 degrees and "pinned" to the left hip bone. Raise the dumbbell by externally rotating the right arm, maintaining the 90 degree elbow position. At the bottom position, the right arm will drape across the waist. Be careful not move the torso. Do prescribed number of reps and repeat for the other side.

Tuesday (a.m.): Lower Body, High Tension

Power Clean: 90% 1RM for 5 singles, rest 120 seconds between sets

Left Step-Up, 8" Step, 4 sets of 8 reps, rest 120 seconds between sets

Right Step-Up, 8" Step, 4 sets of 8 reps, rest 120 seconds between sets

High Cable Crunch, 4 sets of 8 reps, rest 90 seconds between sets

Tuesday (p.m.): Lower Body, High Speed

Back Squat, 85% 1RM for 10 singles, rest 60 seconds between sets

Left Jump In Place: 5 sets of 3 jumps, rest 45 seconds between sets

Right Jump In Place: 5 sets of 3 jumps, rest 45 seconds between sets

Cryotherapy on quads, hams, & adductors

Thursday (a.m.): Upper Body, High Tension

Flat Barbell Bench Press, 90% 1RM for 5 singles, rest 120 seconds between sets

Weighted Chins, 5 Sets of 6 Repetitions, rest as needed

Lying Dumbbell Triceps Extension, 5 Sets of 6 Repetitions, rest as needed

Cryotherapy on all involved muscles

Thursday (p.m.): Upper Body, High Speed

Flat Barbell Bench Press Rebounds: 10 sets of 3 repetitions with 33%1RM of your bench press 1RM using the same grip width. Rest 60 seconds between sets.

Standing Hammer Curl Rebounds: Use a combined dumbbell weight that equals 10% of your bench press 1RM (e.g., if you can bench 300, then use 15 pound DB's), 10 sets of 3 repetitions, rest 60 seconds between sets.

Left 45-Degree Incline Lateral Raise: Use 4% of your barbell bench press 1RM for 4 sets of 10 repetitions, slow movement speed, rest 60 seconds between sets

Right 45-Degree Incline Lateral Raise: Use 4% of your barbell bench press 1RM for 4 sets of 10 repetitions, slow movement speed, rest 60 seconds between sets.

Friday (a.m.): Lower Body, High Tension

Power Snatch: 90% 1RM for 5 singles, pause 3 seconds at bottom, rest 90 seconds

Lunge (alternating legs on each lunge, long steps, use rear leg glute/ham to "pull" you back): 4 sets of 8 repetitions, rest 90 seconds between sets

Left Horizontal Cable Pull: 4 sets of 8 repetitions, rest 90 seconds between sets

Right Horizontal Cable Pull: 4 sets of 8 repetitions, rest 90 seconds between sets

Friday (p.m.): Lower Body, High Speed

Wide Stance Back Squat, 75% 1RM for 10 triples, pause 3 seconds at bottom, rest 90 seconds

Left Straight-Arm Dumbbell Snatch: 4 sets of 5 reps, rest 60 seconds between sets

Right Straight-Arm Dumbbell Snatch: 4 sets of 5 reps, rest 60 seconds between sets

Cryotherapy on all involved muscles

Phase Two (6 Weeks)

Objective: Stay Strong, Get Big. In this second phase, you'll maintain your strength levels (using a reduced volume of work) as you increase volume on secondary exercises designed for hypertrophy development.

Phase Two Loading Parameters:

• Exercise selection: Well-mastered, constant resistance, multi-joint exercises are maintained from last phase, with the addition of non axial-loading exercises for additional hypertrophy development.

• Number of sets per exercise: 2-4

Phase mission statement: "Maintain the intensity, increase the volume."

Sample Training Split:

Loading Parameters for the Core Exercises

Without regard for the time (i.e., don't worry about the clock and rest as needed), work up to a maximum triple, and then continue up to a maximum single. For weeks 2-6, attempt to beat both numbers each workout. Your numbers for week one should be slightly conservative – leave a bit of room for improvement.

Loading Parameters For The PR Zones (EDT Training)

After warming up each exercise, select a load that approximates a 10RM for each exercise. Ideally, the weight used for each exercise should be equally difficult.

Sets, Reps, & Rest Intervals: Most people will find it most productive to do higher repetition (but not maximal effort) sets and shorter rests at the beginning, and then gradually progress to fewer reps per set and longer rest intervals as fatigue accumulates. I suggest you begin by performing sets of 5 with very short (10-15 second) rests. As you begin to fatigue, you'll increase your rest intervals as you drop down to sets of 4, then 2, and as the time limit approaches, you might crank out a few singles in an effort to accomplish as many repetitions as possible in the time allotted.

Forget about training to failure! Do 1/2 of what is possible (e.g., 5 reps with a 10RM weight) at the beginning of the PR Zone. As the time limit approaches, you'll find yourself working at or near failure as you attempt to break your rep record, but don't "try" to go to failure.

Progression: Each time you repeat the workout; your objective is to simply perform more total repetitions in the same time frame. As soon as you can increase the total number of reps by 20 percent or more, start the next workout with 5 percent more weight and start over. Similarly, if you manage to improve upon your last performance (for the same workout) by 40 percent, then you'll increase your weights by 10 percent on the next workout.

Monday:

First PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Stiff-Leg Deadlift (allow plates to touch floor and use the minimum amount of knee flexion necessary to maintain a neutral spine)

Chest-Supported Row

Second PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Overhead EZ-Bar Triceps Extension

Leg Press Calf Raise (Pause one full second at peak contraction)

Wednesday

First PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Leg Press (Right Leg)

Leg Press (Right Leg)

5 Minutes

Second PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Barbell Incline Press (Shoulder-Width Grip)

Strict Barbell Curl

Friday:

First PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Long Step, Alternating Lunge

Chins

Second PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Dips

Seated Calf Raise (Pause one full second at peak contraction)

Phase Three: Taper Phase (3 Weeks)

Objective: In this last phase, you'll progressively reduce your training volume to facilitate complete recovery from the previous two phases, in preparation for the next macrocycle.

Phase Three Loading Parameters:

Training frequency: 3-4 sessions per week

Exercise selection: same as in phase two

Number of exercise per session: 4-8

Number of sets per exercise: 2-4

Loads: 75 to 95% of 1RM

Phase mission statement: "Maintain the intensity, cut the volume."


Sample Training Split:

Loading Parameters for the Core Exercises

Without regard for the time (i.e., don't worry about the clock and rest as needed), work up to the biggest triple you accomplished during the previous phase. Skip the singles and then move on to the PR Zones.

Loading Parameters For The PR Zones (EDT Training)

For each PR Zone, use the same weight that you used during the last phase, but reduce the repetitions to 1/2 of the maximum reps achieved during the previous phase.

Monday:

First PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Stiff-Leg Deadlift (allow plates to touch floor and use the minimum amount of knee flexion necessary to maintain a neutral spine)

Chest-Supported Row

Second PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Overhead EZ-Bar Triceps Extension

Leg Press Calf Raise (Pause one full second at peak contraction)

Wednesday

First PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Leg Press (Right Leg)

Leg Press (Right Leg)

5 Minutes

Second PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Barbell Incline Press (Shoulder-Width Grip)

Strict Barbell Curl

Friday:

First PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Long Step, Alternating Lunge

Chins

Second PR Zone (15 Minutes)

Dips

Seated Calf Raise (Pause one full second at peak contraction)