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Nothing works like sequential training



Although strength and muscle hypertrophy can be built at the same time, the best possible results will be achieved in sequence.

This is based on the principle of phase potentiation. Quite simply, adjustments made in one training phase increase the gain on adjustments made in the following phase.

Most lifters are familiar with the concept of prioritizing muscle hypertrophy first and then (in a second training phase) focusing on building strength.

Here I’m going to take you a little deeper into the underlying mechanisms and reasons behind the sequential training approach, while also providing a training program that shows you what this approach looks like in the real world.

First, let̵

7;s take a look at the actual program. Then we take a look under the hood for a thorough understanding of the rationale behind this approach.

Phase one (upper body base building, lower body peaking)

Day 1: lower body

Suggested exercises:

Loading parameters:

  • Week 1: Work up to 2 sets of 6 repetitions per exercise.
  • Week 2: Work up to 3×6 with a little (2.5 to 5%) more load.
  • Week 3: Work up to 4×6 with a little more load.
  • Week 4: Work up to 5×6 with a little more load.

Day 2: upper body

Suggested exercises:

  • Flat barbell bench press
  • Weighted pull-up
  • Press dumbbell
  • Chest supported row

Loading parameters:

  • Week 1: Work up to 2 sets of 12 repetitions per exercise.
  • Week 2: Work up to 3×12 with a little (2.5 to 5%) more load.
  • Week 3: Work up to 4×12 with a little more load.
  • Week 4: Work up to 5×12 with a little more load.

Day 3: lower body

Suggested exercises:

Loading parameters:

  • Week 1: Work up to 2 sets of 6 repetitions per exercise.
  • Week 2: Work up to 3×6 with a little (2.5 to 5%) more load.
  • Week 3: Work up to 4×6 with a little more load.
  • Week 4: Work up to 5×6 with a little more load.

Day 4: upper body

Suggested exercises:

Loading parameters:

  • Week 1: Work up to 2 sets of 12 repetitions per exercise.
  • Week 2: Work up to 3×12 with a little (2.5 to 5%) more load.
  • Week 3: Work up to 4×12 with a little more load.
  • Week 4: Work up to 5×12 with a little more load.

Phase two (peaking the upper body, building the lower body base)

Day 1: lower body

Recommended Exercises: Same as Phase One

Loading parameters:

  • Week 1: Work up to 2 sets of 12 reps.
  • Week 2: Work up to 3×12 with a little (2.5 to 5%) more load.
  • Week 3: Work up to 4×12 with a little more load.
  • Week 4: Work up to 5×12 with a little more load.

Day 2: upper body

Recommended Exercises: Same as Phase One

Loading parameters:

  • Week 1: Work up to 2 sets of 6 reps.
  • Week 2: Work up to 3×6 with a little (2.5 to 5%) more load.
  • Week 3: Work up to 4×6 with a little more load.
  • Week 4: Work up to 5×6 with a little more load.

Day 3: lower body

Recommended Exercises: Same as Phase One

Loading parameters:

  • Week 1: Work up to 2 sets of 12 reps.
  • Week 2: Work up to 3×12 with a little (2.5 to 5%) more load.
  • Week 3: Work up to 4×12 with a little more load.
  • Week 4 Work up to 5×12 with a little more load.

Day 4: upper body

Recommended Exercises: Same as Phase One

Loading parameters:

  • Week 1: Work up to 2 sets of 6 reps.
  • Week 2: Work up to 3×6 with a little (2.5 to 5%) more load.
  • Week 3: Work up to 4×6 with a little more load.
  • Week 4: Work up to 5×6 with a little more load.

Remarks:

  • Exercises are only suggestions. Feel free to make substitutions, but stay in tune with the general program theme.
  • Sets / repetitions are suggestions only. Make minor adjustments, but stay in tune with the overall idea.

Dumbbell workout

The reasons for the sequential training

1. Base building (work capacity)

The first phase of this program is designed to improve your work capacity. Each week you add an extra work set while adding a small amount of weight. Conveniently, this process also speeds up muscle growth.

If you switch to heavy weights later, not only will you have more muscle, but you will also have the opportunity to do more work per session. In addition and not unimportant, you have thicker / stronger connective tissue, which reduces your risk of injury during the upcoming peaking phase.

An added benefit of changing your volume and intensity regularly? It helps to counterbalance “adaptive resistance,” which is your body’s tendency to respond with less and less adaptation to monotonous exercise.

All of these changes can be viewed as the “basis” for structural and performance adjustments that optimize your response to the subsequent peaking phase.

2. Peaking (strength)

Now that you’ve upgraded your base, it’s time to build your peak by decreasing the overall volume and increasing the load intensity.

Let’s hypothesize that you benched 5×12 at 185 pounds in the final workout of the Base Build phase. You won’t notice much improvement during the first peaking session as your body is used to higher-rep exertion. You could hit 2×6 with 200 pounds.

However, your second workout on the bench will make you feel so strong that you double-check the bar for not trusting the numbers. Here’s why: when you enter the peaking phase, you have the recovery capacity for 5 sets of 12, but now all you have to do is do 2 sets of 6.

In this first week of the climax, you are still recovering from the high volumes of work from the basic construction phase that has just been completed. You haven’t exercised heavily in a while so your strength doesn’t seem to have improved. In the second week, however, things come together.

You are now fully recovered from a high volume workout and have the work capacity for 5×12. BUT you only do 3 sets of 6. If you do 3×6 and at the same time have the recovery capacity for 5×12, your strengths will improve like never before as you are now freeing up excess recovery capacity which is used to drive new customizations. It’s like bringing a gun to a knife fight.

Of course, progress is limited with any program and this program is no exception. After a month of peak, you lost some of the previously developed working capacity because you didn’t specifically work on it.

However, since you are stronger now, you will find that the weight you lifted during your last base building workout is a little easier than it was when you return to base building.

So, for example, if you started your final base build at 155 and finished at 185 pounds, the second time you will likely start at 170 and end at 200 pounds. Then when you move into your next peaking phase, you will also see a similar rate of improvement.

Remarks:

  • Instead of targeting the entire body with base building volumes at the same time (which would likely result in unrecoverable volumes in the later weeks of the base building phase), I chose to split the program into an upper / lower format, so that only half the body is trained with high volumes at all times.
  • Many readers will note the lack of direct arm, stomach, and calf work. You can always adjust this to your liking, as long as you keep the underlying intentions and principles.
  • Although I’ve set 4 weeks for each phase for simplicity, in practice your phases may be longer or (rarely) shorter depending on your response to the program. For example, if you are still making acceptable progress in either phase in week 4, you can extend it until you finally hit a wall.
  • After a long period of time with the same exercise menus, you will inevitably experience adaptive resistances (a plateau), and you may also find that certain muscles are over or under trained. If any of these problems occur, it is time to change some or (rarely) all of your exercises and start a new training cycle.

Multitasking is a myth!

Many people work out both muscle and strength well at the same time by using different volumes and intensities in the same day, week, or month. However, if you don’t see the gains you expect from your workouts, give this approach an honest 8 week run. You will be shocked!

Related: Train Size, Then Strength: A 10 Week Program

Related: The stage system


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