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Which type of periodization is best for power?

There is good support in the literature for using periodization during resistance-training for optimising strength gains. Periodization may also be useful for hypertrophy, although the evidence is much weaker. But what about periodization for maximizing gains in muscular power? In this article, Chris Beardsley (@SandCResearch) reviews the literature.

What is the background?

What do we know about periodization?

For the full details of how periodization affects gains in strength and size, please see the previous articles. The very short versions are as follows:

Is periodization better than no periodization for strength gains? The current available evidence suggests that periodizing resistance-training is more effective than not periodizing resistance-training for increasing strength. However, the design of most trials makes it difficult to assess what aspect of periodization is responsible for that improvement. It could be the simple variability in the program or it could be the structure.

Which periodization type is best for strength gains? The current evidence is somewhat conflicting regarding the best type of periodization for strength gains. However, there is some support for non-linear (e.g. daily undulating) being better than linear and reverse linear. There is some support for linear being better than reverse linear. There is also some support for block periodization being better than linear and non-linear. Overall, block and non-linear periodization look like the best options for strength gains.

Is periodization better than no periodization for size gains? The current available evidence assessing whether periodizing resistance-training is more effective than not periodizing resistance-training for increasing size is very limited. There is a slight indication that periodization may be superior but more research is needed.

Which periodization type is best for size gains? The current evidence is both limited and conflicting regarding the best type of periodization for size gains. However, there is some support for non-linear (e.g. daily undulating) being better than linear. There is some support for linear being better than reverse linear. Overall, non-linear periodization looks like the best option but it is almost too difficult to tell at present.

In summary, periodization seems to be effective for increasing strength (and probably also size). Non-linear (e.g. daily undulating) and block periodization models look like the best overall options. When you consider that it is notoriously difficult to get any individual training variable to produce reliable differences in long-term trials because of the inter-individual differences, it is remarkable that something so simple as moving your training loads and volumes around in time should have such a marked effect.

***

What are the selection criteria?

For this review, studies have been selected that met the following inclusion and exclusion criteria:

They compared two or more long-term resistance-training programs, where at least one of the groups followed a commonly-used periodization model.

The groups following each program predominantly used the same exercises for similar or equal training volumes.

The preferred outcome variable was power output but given the paucity of studies, other outcome measures were also accepted, including jumping and throwing performance, and bar velocity.

***

Does periodization increase gains in power?

The following studies compared the effects of a periodized training program against a non-periodized control training program on gains in muscular power or related outcome measures, such as jumping or throwing performance, or bar speed. The table below summarizes the results:

Periodization power

Moraes (2013) compared a non-periodized resistance-training program and a daily undulating resistance-training program, on strength gains in 38 untrained adolescents over a 12-week period. Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured countermovement jump height and standing long jump distance. The subjects trained 3 days per week. The non-periodized group performed of 3 sets of 10 – 12RM while the daily undulating group performed 3 sets of different relative loads on each of the 3 sessions per week but the total volume of each training programs was similar. The researchers found that neither the non-periodized resistance-training program nor the daily undulating resistance-training program training significantly improved either countermovement jump height (4.7% vs. 5.3%) and standing long jump distance (1.9% vs. 2.2%) and there were no significant difference between groups.

Baker (1994) explored the effects of manipulating volume and relative load on strength and power gains in 22 experienced male athletes. Before and after a 12-week program, the researchers tested countermovement vertical jump height. The subjects trained 3 days per week for 12 weeks using either a non-periodized control mode, a linear periodization model, or a non-linear (weekly undulating) periodization model. Training volume and relative load were the same for all groups. The researchers found that the linear and non-linear (weekly undulating) groups improved countermovement vertical jump height significantly (by 9.3%, 3.8% and 10.2%) but there were no significant differences between groups.

Stowers (1983) compared the effects of 2 non-periodized and 1 periodized resistance-training program on strength gains over a 7-week intervention in which the untrained college-aged male subjects trained 3 times per week. Before and after the intervention, the researcher measured 1RM bench press and parallel back squat. One non-periodized group trained using a low volume (1 x 10RM), the second non-periodized group trained using a high volume (3 x 10RM), and the periodized group trained using 3 different blocks, comprising 2 weeks at 5 x 10RM, 2 weeks at 3 x 5RM, and 2 weeks using 3 x 3RM. The researchers found that the periodized group increased vertical jump height by more than the low volume and high volume groups (5.1cm vs. 0.2cm and 0.7cm).

Stone (1981) compared the effects of a non-periodized and a periodized resistance-training program on strength gains over a 6-week intervention in which untrained college-aged male subjects trained 3 times per week. Before and after the intervention, the researcher measured vertical jump height and power. The non-periodized group trained using 3 x 6RM and the periodized group trained in blocks as follows: 3 weeks of 5 x 10RM, 1 week of 5 x 5RM, 1 week of 3 x 3RM, and 1 week of 2 x 2RM. The researchers found that the periodized group displayed significantly better gains in vertical jump power but not height than the non-periodized group.

In summary, there is limited evidence that periodized resistance-training programs lead to superior gains in power or power-related measures compared to non-periodized resistance-training programs in either trained or untrained populations.

***

Linear vs. non-linear periodization?

The following studies compared the effects of linear and non-linear (i.e. either daily or weekly undulating) periodization models on gains in power output or proxies for power output (e.g. jumping height or distance, throwing velocity, bar speed). The table below summarizes the findings:

Periodization power

Franchini (2014) compared the effects of linear and non-linear (daily undulating) periodized resistance-training on strength gains in 13 adult male judo athletes over an 8-week training program. Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured standing long jump performance. However, performance in the standing long jump did not improve at all in either group.

Kok (2009) compared linear and non-linear (daily undulating) periodization on strength changes in 20 untrained women with matched total workload and relative load. Before and after the 9-week intervention, the researchers measured squat jump power output and bench press throw power output. The subjects trained 3 days per week. The researchers found that average power outputs and heights all increased in both groups over time but there were no significant differences in any measure between groups. Squat jump power increased similarly in the linear and non-linear groups by 10.4% and 9.5%, respectively. Bench press throw power increased similarly in the linear and non-linear groups by 11.1% and 13.8%, respectively. Squat jump height increased marginally more in the linear than the non-linear group, at 28.0% and 21.5%, respectively. Bench press throw height also increased marginally more in the linear than the non-linear group, 56.4% and 44.8%, respectively.

Baker (1994) explored the effects of manipulating volume and relative load on strength and power gains in 22 experienced male athletes. Before and after a 12-week program, the researchers tested countermovement vertical jump height. The subjects trained 3 days per week for 12 weeks using either a non-periodized control mode, a linear periodization model, or a non-linear (weekly undulating) periodization model. Training volume and relative load were the same for all groups. The researchers found that the linear and non-linear (weekly undulating) groups improved countermovement vertical jump height significantly (by 9.3%, 3.8% and 10.2%) but there were no significant differences between groups.

In summary, the literature is very conflicting regarding whether linear or non-linear methods of periodization are better for increasing muscular power output.

***

Linear vs. block periodization?

The following study compared the effects of linear and block periodization models gains in power output or proxies for power output (e.g. jumping height or distance, throwing velocity, bar speed). The table below summarizes the findings:

Periodization power

Bartolomei (2014) compared block and linear periodization models in 24 strength and power athletes with resistance-training experience over a 15-week period. The subjects trained 4 times per week. The training programs comprised the same exercises and the same volume. The subjects performing block periodization displayed superior improvement in bench press power output (9.6% vs. 3.2%) but the differences in squat jump height (4.2% vs. 1.6%) and countermovement jump height (2.6% vs. 2.8%) were not significant.

In summary, the literature is very limited in comparing linear and block periodization. Since one study found that block periodization was superior, we might infer that block periodization is probably better than linear periodization but clearly further research is needed before we can be certain about this conclusion.

***

Non-linear vs. block periodization?

The following studies compared the effects of non-linear and block periodization models on gains in power output or proxies for power output (e.g. jumping height or distance, throwing velocity, bar speed). The table below summarizes the findings:

Periodization power

Hartmann (2009) compared the effects of block-style strength-power periodization and non-linear (daily undulating) periodization models on strength gains in the bench press in male sport students with resistance-training experience. The subjects trained for 14 weeks, 3 days per week. The researchers found that while 1RM bench press increased in both groups, there was no significant difference between groups. They found that block and non-linear groups both significantly increased bench press throw maximum velocity by 7.6% and 6.1%, respectively but there was no significant difference between groups.

In summary, the literature is very limited in comparing non-linear and block periodization, particularly as the only measure was a proxy for power output and power was not measured directly. Further research is needed before we can make any statement with confidence.

***

What are the practical implications?

There is some limited evidence that periodization may improve gains in muscular power in comparison with a non-periodized workout program.

There is no strong evidence to support preferentially using linear, non-linear, or block periodization when structuring a resistance-training plan for increasing muscular power output. Therefore, other concerns may be of greater importance when structuring training plans.

Which type of periodization is best for hypertrophy?

Periodization is commonly-used in resistance-training for maximizing hypertrophy. But which periodized training programs are best for increasing muscular size? In this article, Chris Beardsley analyses the long-term trials to find out.

What is the background?

What is periodization and why is it important?

Previously in this series of reviews, I’ve looked at whether periodization leads to greater strength gains and which type of periodization is best for strength gains. In the background sections to those reviews, I’ve explained what periodization is, why it is thought to be important, what types of periodization exist, and what problems we encounter when investigating the effectiveness of the different models.

However, while strength gains and hypertrophy are related, they are certainly not the same thing. So in this review, I’ve explored whether a periodized program is better than a non-periodized program for increasing muscular size, as well as which periodized program is best for muscular hypertrophy. As you might expect, the literature is much more limited than the body of research about strength gains, simply because it’s a lot harder and more time-consuming to measure changes in muscular size than it is to run a 1RM test.

What were the selection criteria?

For this review, studies have been selected where they compared two or more resistance-training programs either where at least two of the programs followed a commonly-used (but different) periodization model, or where there was a periodization model and a non-periodized control group. As before, studies were sought that used the same exercises and used equal or near equal training volumes. Outcome measures were rejected where muscular hypertrophy was measured using arm or thigh circumference as these were considered to be too easily affected by alterations in fat mass.

***

Periodization vs. no periodization?

The following studies assessed the effects of periodization for increasing muscular size. The table presents the brief summary:

Periodization hypertrophy

Monteiro (2009) compared changes in lean body mass between non-periodized, linear periodized and non-linear periodized resistance-training models in 27 strength-trained males over a 12-week intervention. The researchers found that none of the groups increased lean body mass significantly. Increases in each of the non-periodized, linear periodized and non-linear periodized groups were -3.0%, 1.2% and 0.3%, respectively.

Baker (1994) explored the effects of manipulating volume and relative load on strength and power gains in 22 experienced male athletes. Before and after a 12-week program, the researchers tested lean body mass. The subjects trained 3 days per week for 12 weeks using either a linear periodization model, a non-linear (undulating) periodization model, or a non-periodized control model. Training volume and relative load were the same for all groups. The researchers found that lean body mass improved significantly in the control, linear and non-linear groups (3.2%, 2.8% and 3.4%) but there were no significant differences between the three groups.

Stone (1981) compared the effects of a non-periodized and a periodized resistance-training program on strength gains over a 6-week intervention in which college-aged male subjects trained 3 times per week. Before and after the intervention, the researcher measured lean body mass. The non-periodized group trained using 3 x 6RM and the periodized group trained in blocks as follows: 3 weeks of 5 x 10RM, 1 week of 5 x 5RM, 1 week of 3 x 3RM, and 1 week of 2 x 2RM. The researchers found that the periodized group displayed significantly greater lean body mass gains than the non-periodized group.

In summary, the evidence is not strong in indicating that a periodized program is superior to a non-periodized program for hypertrophy. However, since there is good evidence that that a periodized program is superior to a non-periodized program for strength gains and since superior strength is helpful for hypertrophy, this is a reason to periodize resistance-training programs even where muscular size is the only goal.

***

Linear vs. non-linear periodization?

The following studies compared the effects of non-linear and linear periodization for increasing muscular size. The table below summarizes the results:

Periodization hypertrophy

Simão (2012) compared non-linear (daily undulating) and linear periodized resistance-training on muscle thickness using an ultrasound technique in 30 untrained men. The non-linear program varied bi-weekly in weeks 1 – 6 and on a daily undulating basis in weeks 7 – 12. The linear program changed every 4 weeks. After the intervention, the researchers found significant differences in biceps and triceps muscle thickness between the non-linear periodized group and the control but not between the linear periodized group and the control.

De Lima (2012) compared the effects of muscular endurance training with light loads (15 – 30 repetitions) using either linear or non-linear (daily undulating) periodized resistance-training in 28 sedentary women aged 20 – 35 years over a 12-week intervention. The researchers found that both groups displayed significant increases in lean body mass but there were no significant differences between groups. The linear group increased lean body mass by 2.2kg (4.7%) while the non-linear group increased lean body mass by 1.6kg (3.5%).

Monteiro (2009) compared changes in lean body mass between non-periodized, linear periodized and non-linear periodized resistance-training models in 27 strength-trained males over a 12-week intervention. The researchers found that none of the groups increased lean body mass significantly. Increases in each of the non-periodized, linear periodized and non-linear periodized groups were -3.0%, 1.2% and 0.3%, respectively.

Prestes (2009) compared the effects of linear and daily undulating periodized resistance-training on maximal strength in 40 males with >1 year of resistance-training experience. Before and after the 12-week intervention, the researchers measured lean body mass. The researchers found that neither groups displayed any significant increase in lean body mass as a result of the program and there were no significant differences between the groups. They did not report the exact changes.

Kok (2009) compared linear and non-linear (daily undulating) periodization on strength changes in 20 untrained women with matched total workload and relative load. Before and after the 9-week intervention, the researchers measured muscle cross-sectional area. The researchers found that both groups significantly improved rectus femoris muscle cross-sectional area with no differences between groups. However, the increase in the linear group (8.7%) was non-significantly less than the increase in the non-linear group (14.8%) at the end of the intervention.

Baker (1994) explored the effects of manipulating volume and relative load on strength and power gains in 22 experienced male athletes. Before and after a 12-week program, the researchers tested lean body mass. The subjects trained 3 days per week for 12 weeks using either a linear periodization model, a non-linear (undulating) periodization model, or a non-periodized control model. Training volume and relative load were the same for all groups. The researchers found that lean body mass improved significantly in each group but there were no significant differences between groups.

In summary, there is no strong evidence to support preferentially using either linear or non-linear periodization for enhancing muscular hypertrophy. There is a slight trend in favor of non-linear periodization. This mirrors the literature in respect of strength, which includes significant results in favor of both linear and non-linear periodization protocols.

***

Linear vs. reverse linear periodization?

The following studies compared the effects of linear and reverse linear periodization for increasing muscular size. Periodization hypertrophy

Prestes (2009) compared the effects of linear periodization and reverse linear periodization in women aged 20 – 35 years with >6 months of resistance-training experience over a 12-week period. Linear periodization started with 12 – 14RM and finished with loads of 4 – 6RM, while reverse linear periodization began with 4 – 6RM and finished with 12 – 14RM. For all exercises, the subjects performed 3 sets and they trained 3 days per week. Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured fat-free mass. The researchers found that only the linear periodized group displayed a significant increase in fat-free mass.

In summary, the very limited evidence suggests that linear periodization is superior to non-linear periodization for increasing muscular size. However, further research is needed before we can make confident statements, given the limited nature of the literature.

***

How can we summarize these findings?

The evidence is weak that a periodized program is superior to a non-periodized program for increasing muscular hypertrophy. However, since there is good evidence that that a periodized program is superior to a non-periodized program for increasing muscular strength, this is one reason to periodize resistance-training programs even where muscular size is the only goal.

There is no strong evidence to support preferentially using either linear or non-linear periodization for enhancing muscular hypertrophy. This mirrors the literature in respect of strength, which is more extensive and includes significant results in favor of both linear and non-linear periodization protocols. Very limited evidence suggests that linear periodization is superior to non-linear periodization for increasing muscular size. However, further research is needed before we can make confident statements, given the limited nature of the literature.

***

What are the practical implications?

Although the evidence is relatively weak that a periodized program is superior to a non-periodized program for hypertrophy, the evidence is much better for using a periodized program to maximize strength gains. Since strength is helpful for hypertrophy, this is a reason to periodize resistance-training programs even where muscular size is the only goal.

Since there is no strong evidence to support any particular periodization model for muscular hypertrophy, trainees should make use of whatever scheme is best for them for practical reasons.

Which type of periodization is best for strength gains?

Periodization seems effective in resistance-training for enhancing strength gains. But which type of periodization is best? Here, Chris Beardsley analyses the long-term trials that have compared different periodization models to find the answer.

What is the background?

What types of periodization are there?

For more background, please refer to my previous article assessing the effectiveness of periodization for strength gains, irrespective of the type of periodization used. There are three main categories of periodization, as follows:

Linear periodization: The traditional and earliest form of periodization is linear periodization. This was originally proposed by Matveyev in the 1950s and involves a steady progression from high-volume, low-relative load training at the start of the program through to low-volume, high-relative load training at the end. A variant of linear periodization is reverse linear periodization in which the opposite sequence is followed. It is worth noting that volume and relative load are the most commonly manipulated training variables but essentially there is no reason why other variables cannot also be periodized, such as frequency, range-of-motion, proximity to failure, rest periods and exercise selection. For example, escalating density training (a method of training put forward by Charles Staley that involves steadily reducing rest periods over a period of time) is essentially a form of linear periodization in which a training variable (rest periods) is altered progressively over time.

Non-linear periodization: non-linear periodization, which encapsulates methods known as undulating periodization and conjugate periodization, involves a less sequential change in training variables than linear periodization over the course of a training cycle. In non-linear periodization, workouts are arranged with training variables being altered across multiple workouts over short periods. This can occur from day-to-day over the course of a single week of workouts (daily undulating periodization) or from week-to-week over the course of several weeks of workouts (weekly undulating periodization). As noted above, while volume and relative load are most commonly investigated and manipulated over the course of periodized programs, there is no reason why exercise selection cannot be changed in the same way. This can be seen in the Westside method, where different exercises are rotated frequently throughout a training cycle.

Block periodization: Block periodization was proposed by Verkoshansky (1998) and involves cycles of sequential training designed to achieve a specific goal. Each block is intended to be the foundation for the next one. Depending on the terminology used, a typical sequence of cycles would be accumulation, transformation and realization, which are elsewhere called hypertrophy, maximal strength and power. The progression from high-volume, low-relative load to lower-volume and higher-relative loads makes it easy to confuse with linear periodization but the premise behind block periodization is different and involves a focus on the goal of the training cycle rather than just the sets and reps. For a discussion of the differences between block and traditional linear periodization, see Issurin (2008).

In summary, any training variable can be periodized (i.e. exercise selection, relative-load, volume, frequency, range-of-motion, proximity to failure, rest periods, etc.). It is by altering the way in which such training variables are periodized that programs can differentiate themselves.

Periodization methods fall into three main categories: linear, non-linear, and block. Linear (and reverse linear) periodization involves sequential alteration of key training variables over time. Non-linear periodization involves altering training variables from day-to-day or from week-to-week such that all training variables are used similarly within short periods of time. Block periodization involves training for a specific goal in successive, additive cycles.

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What are the selection criteria?

For this review, studies have been selected where they compared two or more resistance-training programs, where at least two of the programs followed a commonly-used (but different) periodization model. As before, studies were sought that used the same exercises and used equal or near equal training volumes.

***

Linear vs. non-linear periodization?

Most researchers exploring periodization have compared the traditional linear periodization method with the more modern daily undulating periodization model. The following studies compared the effects of linear and non-linear (i.e. either daily or weekly undulating) periodization models on strength gains. The table below summarizes the findings:

Periodization strength

 

Franchini (2014) compared the effects of linear and daily undulating periodized resistance-training on strength gains in 13 adult male judo athletes over an 8-week training program. Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured 1RM bench press, squat and row exercises and handgrip maximal isometric strength. Linear and daily undulating groups increased row (12.2% vs. 10.5%), bench press (12.5% vs. 9.5%), and squat 1RM (5.2% vs. 8.2%) significantly but there were no significant differences between the groups.

Ahmadizad (2014) compared the effects of a non-periodized resistance-training program and two different periodized resistance-training programs on strength gains in 32 sedentary and overweight men. The subjects were randomly allocated to either non-periodized, linear periodized, or daily undulating periodized training groups, who all trained 3 days per week for 8 weeks. The researchers reported that 1RM bench press increased significantly in non-periodized, linear periodized, or daily undulating periodized groups (7%, 12% and 15%, respectively). The 1RM leg press similarly increased significantly in all groups (4%, 7%, and 10%, respectively). The the daily undulating group displayed a superior improvement in 1RM bench press than the non-periodized group and a superior improvement in 1RM leg press than both the linear periodized and the non-periodized groups.

Simão (2012) compared non-linear and linear periodized resistance-training on 1RM muscular strength and muscle thickness using an ultrasound technique in 30 untrained men. Before and after the 12-week intervention, the researchers tested bench press, lat-pull down, triceps extension, and biceps curl. The non-linear program varied bi-weekly in weeks 1 – 6 and on a daily undulating basis in weeks 7 – 12. The linear program changed every 4 weeks. The researchers found that both of the training groups displayed significant increases in 1RM for all exercises (except for the bench press in the linear program). However, strength gains in the non-linear group were significantly higher than in the linear group for the bench press and biceps curl.

De Lima (2012) compared the effects of muscular endurance training with light loads (15 – 30 repetitions) using either linear or daily undulating periodized resistance-training in 28 sedentary women aged 20 – 35 years over a 12-week intervention. The researchers found that both groups displayed significant increases in maximal strength and muscular endurance. There was a trend towards greater maximal strength increases in the linear periodized group and a trend towards greater muscular endurance gains in the daily undulating periodized group.

Miranda (2011) compared the effects of linear and daily undulating periodized resistance training on strength gains in 20 resistance-trained males. Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured 1RM and 8RM loads in leg press and bench press. The researchers found that both groups displayed significant increases in 1RM and 8RM loads on both exercises and no significant difference between groups was observed. The daily undulating periodized resistance training displayed a non-significant trend towards greater improvements.

Apel (2011) compared the effects of linear and weekly undulating periodization on strength gains in 42 recreationally active male subjects over a 12-week period. Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured 10RM back squat and bench press. The subjects trained 3 days per week from weeks 1 – 2 and 4 days per week from weeks 3 – 12. The researchers found that both groups displayed significant increases in strength but the linear group displayed significantly greater improvements than the weekly undulating periodization group.

Prestes (2009) compared the effects of linear and daily undulating periodized resistance-training on maximal strength in 40 males with >1 year of resistance-training experience. Before and after the 12-week intervention, the researchers measured bench press, 45-degree leg press and arm curl 1RM. The researchers found that both groups displayed significant increases in all measures but there was no significant difference between groups. There was a trend for the daily undulating periodized group to display greater increases in the bench press (18.2 vs. 25.0%), 45-degree leg press (24.7% vs. 40.6%) and arm curl (14.2% vs. 23.5%).

Monteiro (2009) compared strength gains between linear periodized and non-linear periodized resistance-training models in 27 strength-trained males over a 12-week intervention. Before and after the intervention, the researchers assessed strength gains in the leg press and in the bench press. The researchers found that the non-linear periodized group was the only group to increase bench press significantly. However, both periodized groups increased leg press strength significantly.

Kok (2009) compared linear and daily undulating periodization on strength changes in 20 untrained women with matched total workload and relative load. Before and after the 9-week intervention, the researchers measured 1RM back squat and bench press. The subjects trained 3 days per week. The researchers found that both linear and daily undulating groups improved significantly in the 1RM back squat (34.8% and 41.2%) and bench press (21.8% and 28.3%) with no significant differences between groups. There was a trend for the daily undulating group to display superior results.

Buford (2007) compared the effects of linear, daily undulating periodization, and weekly undulating periodization on strength gains in 28 recreationally trained college-aged volunteers of both genders. Before and after the 9-week intervention, the researchers tested maximal strength in the bench press and leg press. The subjects trained 3 days per week. The researchers found significant increases in bench press and leg press strength for all groups with no differences between groups. Bench press 1RM increased in the linear, daily undulating periodization, and weekly undulating periodization groups by 24.2%, 17.5%, and 24.5% respectively. Leg press 1RM increased by 85.3%, 79%, and 99.7%, respectively. Thus, there was a non-significant trend for weekly undulating periodization to be superior linear periodization and a non-significant trend for linear periodization to be superior to daily undulating periodization.

Rhea (2003) compared the effects of linear, daily undulating, and reverse linear periodization on gains in muscular endurance and strength in 60 subjects (30 males and 30 females). Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured the maximal number of repetitions at 50% of bodyweight for leg extensions. The subjects trained using 3 sets of leg extensions, 2 days per week. Volume and relative load were the same in each training program. The researchers found leg extension 1RM increased in the daily undulating group by 9.8%, in the linear periodization group by 9.1%, and in the reverse linear periodization group by 5.6%. However, these differences were not significant.

Hoffman (2003) compared and non-linear in-season training programs in 14 freshman football players over 2 separate seasons. In the first year, one program was used, and in the second year another program was used. Before and after each season, the researchers tested 1RM in the back squat and bench press exercises. The researchers found that there was a significant improvement in 1RM squat in the linear but not in the non-linear condition (13.8 ± 7.4kg v s. 1.6 ± 2.6kg) but no significant improvement in 1RM bench press was found in either group.

Rhea (2002) compared the effects of linear and daily undulating periodization on strength gains in 20 males, training 3 days per week for 12 weeks. Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured 1RM bench press and leg press. The researchers found that the daily undulating periodization group displayed significantly greater improvements in strength than the linear periodization group.

Baker (1994) explored the effects of manipulating volume and relative load on strength and power gains in 22 experienced male athletes. Before and after a 12-week program, the researchers tested 1RM squat and bench press. The subjects trained 3 days per week for 12 weeks using either a non-periodized control mode, a linear periodization model, or an undulating periodization model. Training volume and relative load were the same for all groups. The researchers found that the non-periodized control, linear, and non-linear groups improved 1RM squat significantly (by 26.1%, 27.7% and 28.4%) and 1RM bench press significantly (by 12.5%, 11.6%, and 16.4%) but there were no differences between groups.

In summary, the literature is conflicting in respect of whether linear or non-linear methods of periodization are better for increasing muscular strength. If there is any trend, it seems to be slightly in favour of non-linear periodization.

***

Linear vs. reverse linear periodization?

The following studies compared the effects of linear and reverse linear periodization models on strength gains:

Periodization

Prestes (2009) compared the effects of linear periodization and reverse linear periodization on strength gains in women aged 20 – 35 years with >6 months of resistance-training experience over a 12-week period. Linear periodization started with 12 – 14RM and finished with loads of 4 – 6RM, while reverse linear periodization began with 4 – 6RM and finished with 12 – 14RM. For all exercises, the subjects performed 3 sets and they trained 3 days per week. Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured maximum strength in the bench press, lat pull-down, arm curl, and leg extension. The researchers found that both groups displayed significant gains in maximum strength in all exercises but the increases were significantly greater in the linear periodized group compared with the reverse linear periodized group.

Rhea (2003) compared the effects of linear, daily undulating, and reverse linear periodization on gains in muscular endurance and strength in 60 subjects (30 males and 30 females). Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured the maximal number of repetitions at 50% of bodyweight for leg extensions. The subjects trained using 3 sets of leg extensions, 2 days per week. Volume and relative load were the same in each training program. The researchers found leg extension 1RM increased in the linear periodization group by 9.1% and in the reverse linear periodization group by 5.6%. However, these differences were not significant.

In summary, the literature is very limited in comparing linear and reverse linear periodization. However, out of two studies, one study found linear periodization was superior and the other study found a trend in the same direction. We might infer that linear periodization is probably superior to reverse linear periodization but clearly further research is needed.

***

Linear vs. block periodization?

The following study compared the effects of linear and block periodization models on strength gains:

Periodization

Bartolomei (2014) compared block and linear periodization models in 24 strength and power athletes with resistance-training experience over a 15-week period. The subjects trained 4 times per week. The training programs comprised the same exercises and the same volume. The subjects performing block periodization displayed superior improvement in maximal strength in the bench press but there were no differences between groups in respect of lower-body strength.

In summary, the literature is very limited in comparing linear and block periodization. Since one study found that block periodization was superior, we might infer that block periodization is probably better than linear periodization but clearly further research is needed before we can be certain about this conclusion.

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Non-linear vs. reverse linear periodization?

The following study compared the effects of non-linear and reverse linear periodization models on strength gains:

Periodization

 

Rhea (2003) compared the effects of linear, daily undulating, and reverse linear periodization on gains in muscular endurance and strength in 60 subjects (30 males and 30 females). Before and after the intervention, the researchers measured the maximal number of repetitions at 50% of bodyweight for leg extensions. The subjects trained using 3 sets of leg extensions, 2 days per week. Volume and relative load were the same in each training program. The researchers found leg extension 1RM increased in the daily undulating group by 9.8% and in the reverse linear periodization group by 5.6%. However, these differences were not significant.

In summary, the literature is very limited in comparing non-linear and reverse linear periodization. Since one study found no significant differences between the two methods, we might infer that they are equally effective. However, given the lack of research and the trend towards a superior benefit of non-linear periodization, further work is needed before we can be certain about this conclusion.

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Non-linear vs. block periodization?

The following studies compared the effects of non-linear and block periodization models on strength gains:

Periodization

Painter (2012) compared block and daily undulating periodized resistance-training in 31 Division I track and field athletes over a 10-week training period. The researchers found no significant differences between groups but there was trend in favor of block training for strength gains.

Hartmann (2009) compared the effects of block-style strength-power periodization and daily undulating periodization models on strength gains in the bench press in male sport students with resistance-training experience. The subjects trained for 14 weeks, 3 days per week. The researchers found that while 1RM bench press increased in both groups, there was no significant difference between groups. They found that the block periodization group increased 1RM bench press by 14.6 ± 11.0% while the daily undulating group increased by 9.9 ± 4.5%.

In summary, the literature is very limited in comparing non-linear and block periodization. However, both studies found a trend in favour of block periodization. We might infer that block periodization is be better than linear periodization but further research is needed before we can make any statement with confidence.

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How can we summarize these findings?

The easiest way to summarize these findings is to set them out in a matrix. As you can see from the matrix below, there is not a lot we can say at the present time. Overall, block periodization looks best. However, the research really is extremely limited. It would not be surprising if these findings are subject to substantial change over the coming years.

Periodization matrix

It will be interesting to see some more research in these areas, particularly comparing properly-constructed block training with other methods. Block periodization has some interesting psychological benefits for athletes, as they can focus very specifically and methodically on single goals (e.g. repetition strength, maximal strength, or explosive strength), and then maintain these while shifting focus for another cycle. While linear periodization still essentially follows a similar pattern, the constantly changing training variables may make this approach less satisfactory from the point of view of the trainee.

It is probably worth repeating here that this review has assessed purely the relative benefits of different types of periodization model during resistance-training for strength gains. This analysis is therefore unlikely to help strength and conditioning coaches structure a periodized training plan involving multiple different training modalities to help athletes peak for a specific competition or develop multiple fitness qualities.

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What are the practical implications?

There is no very strong evidence to support using linear, non-linear, or block periodization when structuring a resistance-training plan for strength gains. Practical concerns may be of greater importance when structuring training plans.

If pushed, it seems possible that non-linear periodization could be superior to linear periodization for strength gains. There are also some indications that block periodization could be better than both linear and non-linear periodization for improving strength.

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