The Fivestage Rocket

You can find any number of ways to periodize programs, but here's the one that's considered "classic" periodization. (It's not exactly what Alwyn uses in the New Rules workouts; that's a modification called "undulating periodization," and I explain it below.)

Stage 1: Anatomical adaptation

More big words, but you could also say "general conditioning" or "getting your ass in some semblance of shape" and still be talking about the same thing.

This period gives you a fairly high volume of exercise, with the idea that you'll develop some strength and some muscle mass, but mostly you'll condition your muscles and connective tissues. Not only will they have more endurance, they'll be fully prepared for the heavier work to follow.

Stage 2: Hypertrophy

This word (hy-PURR-truh-fee) is easier to remember if you keep in mind that it's the opposite of "atrophy." You want your muscles to get bigger here. That means you'll be working with heavier weights than you did in Stage 1, and doing fewer repetitions, usually eight to twelve per set. You're still doing a lot of work, but this time with more focus on making bigger muscles, as opposed to better-conditioned muscles.

If you recall the section in Chapter 3 that talked about the ideal rep range for muscle growth, you know this is it. The mechanism at work here is often referred to as "time under tension," a theory that suggests the longer you can keep muscles under a high level of tension, the more they'll grow.

An important distinction: You aren't working with maximum weights here; if the workout chart tells you to do eight reps at a normal tempo, that means you're taking about three or four seconds per repetition—one second to lift, a very brief pause, and another second or two to lower the weight. If you were going for max weight, you'd lift faster than that. So your goal is to use a weight that allows you to complete the designated repetitions at the designated speed. (I'll explain the use of different lifting speeds in detail in Part 4.) The weight should feel damned heavy in the final reps, but the object here isn't to push yourself to any sort of limit; it's to get ready to push yourself. There's a big difference. This stage is about steady gains, not peak performance.

Stage 3: Strength

"Strength" is one of my favorite words in the English language. It means just about the same thing to everybody. And even in a field where everyone disagrees about everything, there's some consensus on how best to build it.

In this stage, we're still dropping reps, still increasing weights, while doing more sets. We're also lifting faster. We're no longer trying to build bigger muscles by keeping them under tension longer; we're moving toward maximum tension within the muscles.

Stage 4: Maximal strength/power

Two simple definitions: Strength is the ability to move a weight, regardless of how fast you move it. Power is the ability to move a weight fast.

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