Weightlifting: The Linear Periodization Method

Weightlifting, or lifting as I will refer to it, is a great supplement to most any training program. When done properly, lifting will afford you greater strength, power and endurance. The key word is properly, as lifting should only be conducted when proper technique is known. Performing an exercise incorrectly can easily lead to injury.

Through the years, I have had many coaches in a variety of sports and each has had their own take on lifting. Some were in strong support of lifting and others staunchly against it. Those in favor of lifting varied in their philosophy behind proper lifting programs. The point is that there is not just one way to go about creating a lifting program. This post details the lifting program I learned and used my senior year while rowing at Boston College. I have found this program to be very beneficial and have adapted it to my triathlon training.

My lifting program is broken up into four phases: Anatomical Adaptation (AA), Max Strength (MxS), Power Conversion (PC) and Muscular Endurance (ME). However, there is fifth phase, Hypertrophy, that I will discuss but I do not utilize it (see below). Like heart rate training with purely cardiovascular exercises, the various lifting phases below are based upon a percentage of a maximum. In heart rate based training, workouts are prescribed based upon a percentage of your maximum heart rate. In the lifting program below, weight tolerances are prescribed based upon a percentage of the maximum weight you could lift in a single repetition.

Calculating Max Strength
So how do you determine the max weight for a particular exercise? Well, the obvious answer is through trial and error: try performing a particular exercise and see how much weight you can do in one repetition. If you opt for that route, make sure you are conservative in your first attempt. In other words, aim for low weight and work your way up. Don't injure yourself. However, it is really not necessary to do all of that. Simply jump into the first phase (AA - see below) and do the assigned number of sets and repetitions. By the last repetition on the last set, your muscles should be exhausted to the point that you need help finishing the repetition - that's how you know if you're utilizing the correct amount of weight. This is why it's often beneficial to lift with a partner, although I never do these days.

The chart below can be a quick reference for determining the proper amount of weight for a given phase of training as determine by your one rep maximum. Unfortunately, this chart is limited to one rep maximums between 200 lbs. and 345 lbs.
Linear Periodization
The goal of lifting is to maximize power and endurance. In order to reach that end, it is important to move through a progression. First, you must develop strong tendons and ligaments that will enable you to spur proper muscle growth. Then, you must work to strengthen the muscles before you can stimulate increases in muscular power. Once power output is heightened, maximum power endurance can be established.

The order of training prescribed below is known as linear periodization. It is a method that has been proved successful by elite athletes for years. In linear periodization, training follows this order: (1) Anatomical Adaptation; (2) Hypertrophy; (3) Max Strength; (4) Power Conversion; and (5) Muscular Endurance.

Anatomical Adaptation
AA typically follows 3x15 at 33%. This means that you would do three sets of fifteen repetitions at 33% of the maximum weight you could could for one repetition. You will perform each exercise once and then repeat the circuit two more times. Allow five minutes of rest in between circuits, but minimal rest in between exercises within a circuit. Include roughly twelve to fifteen different exercises in a single circuit.

The goal of AA is to prepare the body for the work ahead, strengthening tendons and ligaments and practicing proper technique. This phase can be utilized both at the beginning of a lift cycle and after peaking at the end. The AA phase should last 6-8 weeks for novices and 3-4 weeks for experienced athletes.

Hypertrophy (optional)
If you are trying to maintain a desired weight (particularly if you compete in a set weight class), you will want to skip this phase. This technique is associated with bodybuilding. Thus, I do not incorporate hypertrophy in my lifting regimen.

The goal of hypertrophy is to increase muscle mass in the primary muscles of your sport. Increasing muscle mass will increase your weight as muscle is heavy (much heavier than fat). While the number of exercises decreases sharply from the AA phase, the percentage of your one rep max increases as do the number of sets. Hypertrophy should last 3-4 weeks.

Hypertrophy naturally follows AA because your ability to handle a certain volume of work has been raised and your ligaments and tendons are prepared for heavier weights that will follow in the MxS phase.

Max Strength
MxS varies between 3x3 at 90-95% and 3x4 at 85-90%. Obviously the weight is going to be very heavy, so it is critical that you demonstrate proper technique. Conduct exercises in pairs allowing three minutes of rest in between exercises within a pair and five minutes of rest in between pairs.

The goal of MxS is to make your muscles as strong as possible. By this point, ligament and tendon strength have been increased, along with muscle mass (if Hypertrophy was completed). Once again, the number of exercises decreases but the intensity (percentage of your one rep max) increases. The number of repetitions have also decreased. This phase should last 3-5 weeks and you should increase the weight for each exercise by roughly 2.5% each week.

MxS naturally follows Hypertrophy because once you have increased muscle mass you must teach those muscle fibers how to fire efficiently against heavy resistance.

Power Conversion
PC typically follows 3x8 at 50% with a focus on acceleration. Again, perform exercises in pairs and allow

The goal of PC is quickly leverage the strength developed in MxS and convert that strength into power - a combination of strength and speed. Here, the number of sets mirrors that of MxS but the number of repetitions have increased. The percentage of your one rep max for each repetition has decreased because lighter weight can be moved faster than heavier weight, and acceleration is key. This means that you are to accelerate through each repetition - this is very important. Like MxS, this phase should last 3-5 weeks and weight should be increased roughly 2.5% each week.

PC naturally follows MxS because you have a greater capacity for power the stronger you are.

Muscular Endurance
ME is a build lift ranging from 3x30 to 3x60 at 33%. Thus, you will begin the first week at 3x30 and increase the number of reps by ten every two weeks. Perform exercises in pairs with zero rest in between sets within a pair. After the first pair is completed, rest for 3-5 minutes before beginning the next pair.

The goal of ME is to take the strength, speed and power you have developed and train your body to be able to repeat certain motions over and over and over and over again. In this phase, repetitions are greatly increased while the percentage of your one rep max decreases. A critical component of this phase is that the rest period has severely decreased. I find this phase of lifting immensely more challenging than the other phases. Don't let the low weight deceive you! By the end of an ME lift, your muscular energy should feel completely depleted - you should be entirely exhausted. Remain in this phase for 4-6 weeks. However, rather than increasing weight, I strongly recommend increasing the number repetitions as mentioned above.

ME naturally follows PC as it takes the power gained and ingrains the ability to apply that same power for an exceedingly high number of repetitions.

Regardless of the phase, I recommend lifting three days per week with at least one day of rest in between each day of lifting. Thus, I always lift on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It is also important to adapt the liner periodization model for specific competitions. While general timing guidelines were provided, it is generally helpful if you are working towards a specific date or season of competitions. The chart below gives a general overview of how to adapt your lifting program to your competitive season.
Judo Info, Matthew A. Levy
Veloforce, Mark Ginther

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