Concurrent Training: Balancing Strength and Aesthetics in Your Training-Part 1: Periodization
In this post, I'm going to scratch the surface of a topic that I could actually write a dissertation on. In an effort to keep this short and sweet, I picked 5 factors that must be considered when designing a training program for an athlete with both strength goals AND aesthetics goals. Each week I'll post on one of the 5 subtopics. For the purpose of this series, we're going to focus on powerlifting (absolute strength) goals and bodybuilding (hypertrophy) goals (though there are other types of dual athletes, of course). This type of training is often referred to as "powerbuilding," and is a great option for lifters who want to get strong but also want to prioritize their physique progress--whether they are planning to compete in multiple sports or just want to get strong and feel good about their body's appearance.
For some reason, there seems to be a myth that you can't do both. I'm here to tell you that's not true. As long as you are following a well-thought out training plan and you are able to be objective about your priorities and goals in both the short term and the long term, you can absolutely do both. That said, there will be short periods of time where one goal needs to take priority over another, especially if you are going to compete in powerlifting or bodybuilding, but this is limited to the last few weeks before a competition, and will not much affect your overall progress in either aspect.
Let's touch on arguably THE most important component in concurrently training for both strength and aesthetics:
1.) Priorities and Periodization--Set Goals and Have a Plan
Periodization is simply a term that means organization of training phases--a timeline, if you will. In it's simplest form (there are lots of methods), periodized training is an organized plan that is broken down into macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles. For most athletes, a macrocycle is one year ("annual plan"), a mesocycle equals a 4-6 week training block, and a microcycle is one week. Of course, all of this is dependent upon the indivudal's goals and needs. Cycles should be planned around competitions and/or testing of the goals of the training, whichever is most applicable. (While we're on the topic: you should ALWAYS test the efficacy of your training program periodically, even if you never plan to formally compete. If you don't, how will you know if it's effective/optimal?)
As an example, a competitive powerlifter may have 3 meets in a year, culminating in a national event. There are smaller goals (smaller meets) that must be met on the path to the larger goal (performing at top potential at the national event). Training cycles would be designed to make sure that the athlete is ready for each event, but is ultimately prepared to perform at his or her highest level at the national event.
This brings us to priorities. This is ultimately up to the individual and their goals, but certain aspects of training must be prioritized at certain times. While preparing for a close upcoming meet, absolute strength (1 rep max) will be the top priority, and aesthetics will be a secondary priority. While preparing for a bodybuilding competition, overall appearance and conditioning become top priority, and absolute strength becomes secondary, but should not be forgotten altogether. If you are familiar with the basics of evidence-based training principles, you already know that hypertrophy training benefits strength training just as strength training can benefit hypertrophy training. One should not be done exclusively.
Deciding goals and setting up a timeline is the first step in concurrent training. This is your macrocycle. Once you have a macrocycle, you can begin designing a mesocycle or series of mesocycles to bring you to your first deadline. Each mesocycle will be broken down into your weekly microcycles.
Next week, I'll discuss exercise selection at the microcycle level (i.e. what a week of powerbuilding training might look like).