Only if you challenge yourself, will you improve!
If you started training not too long ago and have experienced the first muscle gains, then you are probably really pleased with your progress. Well done! However, as time passes and your body gets more and more used to the type of training you do, your progress will start diminishing until it completely stops. When this happens it’s time for a change. In this article I will tell you how you can successfully break through a plateau and continue making gains as an intermediate lifter.
Most beginner’s training programs have a training frequency of about 2 to 3 times per week implementing whole body workouts. In the advanced training stage however, it would make sense to increase the training frequency. If you follow a whole body routine, you can train every 2 days. If you want to train every day, then an upper-lower-body split would work well for you as an intermediate lifter.
Just as a side note: I often use training programs with a high training frequency also for beginners. This is because many beginners are really motivated to get into resistance training. As such, I don’t see any reason to give them fewer training days; if they want to train, then they should train frequently but the volume in each training session shouldn’t be too high so that they can adapt easily and not get sore. Beginner stage training programs are the only ones, where I would recommend a body split, such as the typical bodybuilding style split program (ie leg day, chest-triceps day, back-biceps day) for those who want to train every day.
Higher training frequency has another benefit, in relation to compliance: if you have a fixed schedule, then it is easier to stick to it and stay on track. This is true because most people I have seen falling off the wagon, have done so in their rest days, when they just didn’t know what to do and maybe didn’t have a structured schedule. This is again why I see a frequent training program beneficial for everyone. For intermediate and advanced lifters, because they make better muscle gains this way and have a consistent structure and for beginners because it makes it easier for them to stay on track.
When you become an intermediate lifter, you can start lifting heavier. When you look at most beginner programs, they are usually done with a higher rep range.
I am aware that there are some beginner programs that train in a 5-rep range, however I personally don’t recommend this because when someone is new to resistance training, it is vital that they learn to perfect their technique first and this is better done with more reps and lighter weight. Of course, when they have advanced and improved their technique they can reduce the rep number and increase the weight. This also has another advantage, which is also targeting more of your fast twitch muscle fibers (slow twitch muscle fiber are responsible for muscle endurance and fast twitch muscle fibers are responsible for power and strength).
There are genetic differences between people when it comes to muscle fiber composition. This is particularly pronounced in the quads; some people have more of the slow twitch muscle fibers, while others have more of the fast twitch muscle fibers. For the people that have more of the latter, they respond to higher weights and lower reps, as such it doesn’t make sense for them to train with lower weights and higher reps. Besides genetics, the exact muscle fiber composition is also influenced by the training background; if you train for endurance, the number of your slow twitch muscle fibers increases and if you train for strength and power then you get more fast twitch muscle fibers (reference). Thus, the exact composition varies for everyone. If you want to know how to test what your estimate muscle fiber composition is and what rep range is more beneficial for you, read my article: “Your Best Training Plan Is In Your Genes”
The third point I want to make is with regards to including periodization. When you are a beginner and have just started with resistance training, you can actually increase the weight in almost every session or every two sessions. For example, you may start off squatting with just the bar in your first session. In the following session you may add 5 kg, then in the following another 5 kg. After some time, you may then reach a plateau and you can’t increase the weights, without doing fewer reps or with your technique going slightly off. This is when periodization makes sense (I know the word sounds really fancy, but it will make sense soon!).
To put it simply, periodization means that you train with different weights and in different rep ranges.
For example if 50 kg is too heavy to train in the 8-rep range, then you can train with just 40 kg in the 8 rep range, 50kg in the 5 rep range and maybe 60 kg in the 3 rep range. This way, your body adapts to new training stimulus and it is definitely more beneficial than trying to lift the same weight all the time; instead it results in more strength and muscle gains.
There are different models of training periodization. The first one is linear periodization, where you have your training split into three different phases: the hypertrophy phase, the strength phase and the strength power phase.
During the hypertrophy phase, you usually lift in a higher rep range, usually up to about 10-12 reps, though I have seen some programs bringing this up to 15 or 20 reps. On a side note, regarding hypertrophy: I personally do not think that it makes sense to go above 10-12 reps for most individuals in that phase. This is simply because if your goal is to gain muscle and strength, you would just push the adaptation towards endurance, which isn’t your goal because endurance is the opposite of gaining muscle and gaining strength.
During the strength phase, you usually lift around the 5-6 rep range and during the strength power phase, you would then lift around 1-3 rep range. The length of each phase can be as long as 6 weeks, which means you would train in the first 6 weeks around the 10 rep range, then in the following 6 weeks in the 5-6 rep range and in the 3rd 6 week range you would train in the 1-3 rep range.
Another periodization model, is the weekly undulating periodization model, which is where you train in the first week for hypertrophy, the second for strength and in the third for strength and power.
The third model is daily undulating periodization, where you vary rep range every day. To give you an example: your first training session in the week would be around the 10 rep range, and your second around the 5 rep range and then your third around the 1-3 rep range.
When looking at the research on periodization, weekly or daily undulating periodization appears more superior to linear periodization (if you want to learn more about periodization, check out the Bayesian PT course). This is why this is also the type of periodization that I use for training programs that I design.
Now you have all the knowledge you need to design a training program that will give YOU the most gains.
Good luck & happy gains!
P.S. If you are looking for the most optimum muscle gain training program for YOU and YOUR training stage, then check out my Training Plan Package. The package includes whole-body workouts, upper-lower body split workouts and 3-day body-part split workouts with the training volume optimized for your training stage.
Would like to listen to all the information again? Then check out this video!