Periodization Training – How to Switch From Bodybuilding to Strength Gain

You’ve achieved some great muscle growth in the last 3 to 6 months but gains have slowed, so what’s next? Periodization training.

Periodization is simply the act of planning yourself bigger – a great workout plan may have delivered gains, but it’s what you follow it up with that dictates sustained success needed for long-term improvements.

It’s time to set goals beyond the 6-12 weeks that we normally plan for and start looking at blocks of at least a year to avoid the dreaded ‘P’ word. (Plateau – there I said it)

John Hayes is your athletic trainer for this article and owner of JHPT Performance Training.


What you’ve been doing: 4 sets of 8-10 reps

This is your bread and butter hypertrophy routine that’s made for an excellent jump off point for newbies and veteran lifters alike. Beginners may have secured improvements with it for up to 12 weeks while more experienced lifters gains may have petered out after just six weeks. You will have used weights that are 60-75% of your one repetition maximum but now it’s time to periodize your training routine.


What has bodybuilding done to your body?

After 6-12 weeks, you’ll have created an excellent base level of strength to work off of and as a welcome side effect, you’ll have built some impressive looking muscle.


What weakness has it created?

It’s likely you will have been lifting slow and steady, like a train pulling a load over a long distance. It will have created muscles that aren’t accustomed to using all their force. This means your performance gaps are probably a lack of practice in using your maximal strength, power and explosive strength.


What should you do the week before your new strength routine?

Step 1: Identify weak areas
Take the time to assess if you have a body part that is lagging, in performance or aesthetically. This might be an area you want to focus on in your next block of training.

Step 2: Assess your technique
Doing as many as 10 reps in a set risks your form breaking down in the final sets and reps, these are habits that can start carrying through to all your reps. Take a video or have a friend or trainer critique your performance.

Step 3: Test your mobility
Training in the 8-10 rep ranges may have inadvertently made you inflexible in overworked areas. Test these and correct any flexibility issues.


Your next best step to periodize your training

The structure: It’s best to follow it up with 12 weeks of training geared toward strength by increasing the volume of weight and lowering the number of reps while using heavier loads. Use weights that are 80% of your one repetition maximum (1RM), doing 1-6 sets of 1-6 reps.

The key moves: Focus almost exclusively on big compound movements such as deadlifts, squats, bent over barbell rows, overhead barbell presses and bench presses. These compound movements will improve your overall strength, size and increase your loads when you go back to your muscle building (hypertrophy) training.



The periodization training plan


Weeks 1 – 4

Ease yourself into this new heavier way of lifting

3-6 Reps
4-6 Sets

Size of weights: 70%-80% of 1RM

Total optimal reps on each exercise in each workout: 18 


Weeks 5 – 8

Decrease your reps and up your weight load.

2-4 Reps
4-5 Sets

Size of weights: 80%-90% of 1RM

Total optimal reps on each exercise in each workout: 15


Weeks 9 – 12

You have the opportunity to work more specifically creating a base of strength to build on we can incorporate even more intensity and work towards testing your 1RM.

1-2 Reps
2-4 Sets

Size of weights: 90%+ of 1RM

Total optimal reps on each exercise in each workout: 4

Strength programs are great for pure strength but can be too taxing on your central nervous system to do all year round. Meaning you would become mentally and physically exhausted and again plateau.

Ensure you are periodizing your training throughout the year to continually progress and further your development as an athlete.


Strength standards you should aim to reach with this new routine



Good 1 x bodyweight
Very good 1.5 x bodyweight
Excellent 2 x bodyweight



Good 1.25 x bodyweight
Very good 1.5 x bodyweight
Excellent 2.25 x bodyweight



Good 1 x bodyweight
Very good 1.25 x bodyweight
Excellent 1.5 x bodyweight


Overhead press

Good 0.5 x bodyweight
Very good 0.8 x bodyweight
Excellent 1 x bodyweight


Bent over row

Good 0.75 x bodyweight
Very good 1 x bodyweight
Excellent 1.25 x bodyweight

Lifts are based on a 1RM with good form. Bar weight included.

To find out how to achieve these strength standards, you can check out our 20 ways to double your strength article

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