periodization of training

4 Best Types of Periodization for Strength Training

August 05, 2021

When it comes to periodization training, things can get a little convoluted through overly complicated explanations. We are here to break things down in the simplest manner possible. In this post we are going to discuss what periodization training is and the 4 best and most common types of periodization models for strength training, which include linear, undulating/non-linear, block, and conjugate periodization. 

periodization training

WHAT IS PERIODIZATION? 

Periodization is the planned manipulation in your training variables, i.e. volume, intensity, frequency, rest periods, exercise selection, range of motion. The main two things people periodized, however, are volume and intensity.

In essence, it comes down to how you organize your training and the decisions you make on when and what types of stress you place on the body. 

Periodization may seem fancy but pretty much every program has some form of periodization.

The only kind of program that wouldn’t be considered periodized is if you did the same exercises for the same reps and number of sets and all you changed is the load, by adding weight over time. While this would work for beginners (and beginners are even recommended to start with this concept of just simply adding weight to the bar because beginners can progress rapidly within those newb gains), when you start to become more advanced you’ll need to train smarter not just harder. With that you need a method for your training, and that’s where periodization comes in. 

History of Periodization

Periodization was established in the 1960s by a guy named Leo Matveyev, who was a Russian physiologist. He coined the term based on what we call linear periodization today, which basically just means increasing intensity (i.e. load) and decreasing volume (i.e. reps) over time.

Since the original model of periodization was put forward, there have been a lot of studies done on periodization (which includes other types of periodization methods, some of which are simply a spin on the original linear method) and the concept has gotten way more popular. 

Much of the basis for periodization (at least some models) was also built on Hans Selye’s (a.k.a. the father of stress research) GAS theory, which stands for General Adaption Syndrome.

The GAS theory describes three phases that the body goes through when experience new stimulus: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion.

Alarm is the initial shock of a new stimulus, which is usually in the form of soreness, as we’ve all felt when starting a new program.

Resistance is the adaption to the stimulus, which allows us to continue increasing our workload and progress in a program.

Exhaustion is when a decrease in workload occurs via overstimulation and fatigue, which is known as overtraining or overreaching.

The goal of periodization is to prolong the resistance stage, which is when improvements occur, and to avoid or reduce the exhaustion stage by implementing a period of deload or rest at the right time.

The various methods (or types) of periodization all work towards this same goal, they just do so in a different manner.

TIME SCALES IN PERIODIZATION

Before we get into the different types of periodization models, we want to quickly explain the way periodization is organized. No matter what type of periodization model you are using, you will break your plan down into timeframes, known as cycles: Macrocycle, Mesocycle, Microcycle.

  • Macrocycle: Macrocycle is your long term goal, which can be anywhere from 3-12+ months depending on what you are training for.
  • Mesocycle: Within your macrocycle will be multiple mesocycles. These are your midterm goals that work toward you main long term goal, which can be anywhere from 1-12 weeks. 
  • Microcycle: Within a single mesocycle are microcycles, which work toward an immediate goal and the current mesocycle. Microcycles can be just one workout day, multiple days or a week long, but most often it’s simply your weekly training plan for a specific mesocycle.

periodization training bodybuilding

All in all, these cycles help you organize your training so that you can achieve long term goals. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Our article on periodization training cycles will teach you everything you need to know about macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles, which is an important yet basic aspect of periodization and programming. We also include examples of different programs broken down into these cycles to give you a very clear understanding of how they work. 

However, periodization really gets interesting with the different implementations of how you stress the body. This is what we refer to when we say types of periodization.

TYPES OF PERIODIZATION: LINEAR VS UNDULATING VS BLOCK VS CONJUGATE 

So, the macro, meso, and micro cycles simply relate to the organization of your training, and the types of periodization relate to the decisions you make about when and what type of stress you place on the body.

The main elements you will be changing within your workouts on a microcycle or mesocycle scale are: Volume, Intensity and Exercise Selection.

Volume is the overall number of reps in a set for a given exercise/pattern. 

Intensity is the difficulty of the exercise you are doing, which generally relates to the weight load. So, increasing intensity for strength training usually means increasing the load. 

Exercise selection is exactly as it sounds, the exercises you are doing.

All of these elements are important for progressive overload but manipulating them in the best way is what periodization is about, as is timing accumulation (progression) and fatigue (deload/rest for recovery and a “recharge”). 

The following methods are the best and most popular methods of periodization... 

1. Linear Periodization 

Linear Periodization is when you increase intensity and decrease volume over a period of time.

It is sometimes called classic periodization as it is the oldest form of periodization. 

Generally, linear periodization involves progressing from higher repetitions with a lighter load to lower repetitions with a heavier load. This progression usually occurs on a weekly or monthly basis, with the ultimate goal being to increase strength and power over the course of multiple mesocycles in a macrocycle. 

Note: Linear periodization can work in other ways besides repetitions and loads, but the concept still applies. For example, for a runner, volume will represent miles and intensity will represent speed or heart rate zone.

linear periodization 

Linear Periodization Example for Strength Training:

Week 1: 3x6 @80% 1RM
Week 2: 3x5 @85% 1RM
Week 3: 3x4 @87.5 1RM
Week 4: 3x3 @90% 1RM
Week 5: 4x2 @92.5% 1RM
Week 6: 5x1 @95-100% 1RM

Week 6 would be followed by a deload week before rinsing and repeating with a higher starting weight for the next mesocycle. 

linear vs non linear periodization

Linear Periodization Example for Bodybuilding:

The weight load is just an arbitrary number, but you’ll see the point.

Week 1: 100lbs 3x10
Week 2: 105lbs 3x9
Week 3: 110lbs 3x8
Week 4: 115lbs 3x7
Week 5: Optional Deload 

After this cycle, you would repeat back at 10 reps but you’d be starting at a heavier weight (i.e. 105 or 110 pounds).

Bodybuilders require more volume, but by doing this, you’ll have gained strength so you’ll be lifting heavier weight for the same volume.

Benefits of linear periodization:

  • The most straight forward form of periodization, so it’s very easy to understand and implement.
  • Great for beginners who want to build a solid strength foundation. Beginners will progress best with linear periodization and the results are very obvious and quantifiable on a short term basis. Moreover, beginners will see rapid gains with linear periodization thanks to the newbie gain phenomenal. Linear periodization allows for quicker progression.
  • Linear periodization lends itself to a slow progressive peak. So, if you have a competition in something like 8-12 months, you can use linear periodization effectively to work to a peak at that time without burning out.

Reverse Periodization:

It’s the opposite of linear periodization, so you’ll be increasing volume and decreasing intensity over time. 

Most studies show linear periodization is more effective. However, reverse periodization has its place. For example, if you wanted to develop muscular endurance or work capacity. 

2. Undulating Periodization (aka Non-Linear Periodization)

Undulating periodization (also referred to as Non-Linear Periodization) involves varying the stimulus on a daily (DUP) or weekly (WUP) basis. 

DUP = Daily Undulating Periodization

WUP = Weekly Undulating Periodization

So, rather than focusing on increasing one variable over time, undulating periodization plays around with variables like volume, intensity and exercises daily or weekly (or even bi-weekly).

Pure undulating periodization would only manipulate intensity and volume, leaving the same exercises over the training cycle. 

This type of training periodization is more advanced than linear periodization, so it is usually saved for intermediate and advanced lifters.

undulating periodization

Example of DUP:

Essentially, volume and intensity will be up and down throughout the week, which would create undulations (waves) day to day if you looked at it on a weekly chart.

i.e....

Day 1: Power (5x1 90-100% 1RM)
Day 2: Strength (4x5 80-90% 1RM)
Day 3: Hypertrophy (3x8-10 60-80% 1RM)

or...

Day 1: 100lbs 3x15-20
Day 2: 150lbs 3x4-6
Day 3: 125lbs 3x8-12

Progressive overload would occur by adding weight to the bar each week but could be bi-weekly or monthly, as the Day 1-3 rep range would stay the same throughout the mesocycle. 

Example of WUP:

Volume and intensity will be up and down week to week, so undulations (waves) would appear on a monthly chart. 

Week 1: 5x5 75%
Week 2: 4x3 85%
Week 3: 5x4 80%
Week 4: 3x2 90%

With the start of each month, you’d add weight to the bar, so progressive overload would occur month by month.

Benefits of Undulating Periodization:

  • As you become more advanced, progression must happen slower than when you are a beginner (which can be daily), and undulating periodization lends itself to sustainable progression. For example, an intermediate may use DUP to progress weekly (rather than daily like with linear periodization), and an advanced lifter may use WUP to progress monthly.
  • Can focus on progression of more than one training adaption. For example, if day 1 is hypertrophy, day 2 strength, and day 3 power, then you can improve in all three areas over the course of a macrocycle. This is also great because all of these qualities are synergists with each other, so improving one will help with the other.
  • Great for athletes who have longer sports seasons as they won’t get burnt out with one training variable.
  • Great for advanced athletes and lifters as it negates plateaus that happen with linear periodization.
  • DUP is shown to be one of the best models to build strength without increasing muscle mass (with the right diet of course), which is important for powerlifters who need to stay in a certain weight class.
  • Psychologically its also good as it provides variety and freshness to training.  

3. Block Periodization

Block periodization involves breaking down specific training periods into “blocks” of 2-4 weeks. Each block will involve training for a specific skill, such as hypertrophy, strength, and power.

Block periodization is usually broken down into 3 stages:

  • Accumulation (Block 1)
  • Transmutation (Block 2)
  • Realization (Block 3)

To simplify this... 

For a powerlifter, the accumulation block would focus on hypertrophy, the transmutation block would focus on increasing strength (using that new muscle), and the realization block would be to peak in power.

The ultimate goal is to allow the athlete to stay at their peak performance for longer.

block periodization

Example of Block Periodization:

Block 1 - Month 1: Hypertrophy

  • 8-15 reps 50-75% intensity, short rest periods between sets

Block 2 - Month 2: Strength

  • 1-5 reps 75-90% intensity, longer rest periods between sets 

Block 3 - Month 3: Power

  • 1-3 reps 90+ intensity, explosive movements focusing on speed, long rest periods between sets. 

Note: Realization blocks may be shorter than Accumulation and Transmutation blocks for powerlifters leading up to a competition.

Following the Realization block will be a short restoration phase which is simply recovery and a deload period.

Benefits of Block Periodization:

  • Great for maintaining a high level of athleticism for competition over an extended period of time and without burning out.
  • Progression occurs slower while avoiding burnout, which is important for advanced lifters.
  • Great for being able to peak multiple times per year.

4. Conjugate Periodization

Conjugate periodization is similar to daily undulating periodization in that the focus of training changes from one goal or quality to another on a weekly basis, which includes volume, intensity, and exercise selection. 

Conjugate periodization allows you to develop different traits and attack multiple goals simultaneously, which may be hypertrophy, strength, power, or specific movement skills. 

For example, you may be developing hypertrophy and max strength in the same week. The great thing about these two training qualities (hypertrophy and strength) is they are synergists so improving in one helps with the other. 

Note: Certain training qualities are not compatible, such as training for muscular endurance and maximal strength.

Conjugate periodization is typically broken down into Max Effort days and Dynamic Effort days, with 4 days of training per week.

Maximal Effort = lifting the heaviest load possible for a specific number of repetitions (doesn’t have to be just 1 rep) 

Dynamic Effort = lifting sub-maximal loads with maximal effort (meaning speed and velocity - explosiveness)

So...

Day 1: Maximal Effort Lower Body
Day 2: Maximal Effort Upper Body
Day 3: Dynamic Effort Lower Body
Day 4: Dynamic Effort Upper Body

conjugation periodization

Example of Conjugate Periodization:

Day. 1: ME Lower

  • Squat or Deadlift: 1RM 100%
  • Squat or Deadlift: 3-5x3-5 80-85%
  • 2-3 exercises for weakpoint accessory work

Day 2: ME Upper

  • Bench or Overhead Press: 1RM 100%
  • Bench or Overhead Press: 3-5x3-5 80-85%
  • 2-3 exercises for weak point accessory work

Day 3: DE Lower:

  • Speed Squat: 2 sets x12/10/8 reps 75%, 80%, 85%
  • Speed Deadlift: 1x12/10/8 75%, 80%, 85%
  • 2-3 weakpoint accessory work

Day 3: DE Upper

  • Speed Bench: 3 sets x12/10/8 reps 75%, 80%, 85%
  • Speed OHP: 3x8
  • 2-3 weakpoint accessory work 

Progression will happen on a weekly basis. You may need to switch and rotate ME lifts every 1-4 weeks depending on your goal and level.

Benefits of Conjugate Periodization:

  • Great for shoring up weaknesses in a particular area. Allows you to do repetition exercises after ME and DE lifts, which improve specific areas and add more variety.
  • Does well to build qualities (speed, strength) in certain exercises.
  • Can work on multiple training qualities within a given time period.
  • Keeps training fresh and fun.

IS PERIODIZATION IMPORTANT? 

Yes, with all the studies on periodization, it is evident that periodization has a positive effect on strength and hypertrophy.

This review article looks at 15 studies and 13 out of the 15 show a positive effect from periodization training. Moreover, the 2 studies that didn’t show any effect where both short in duration and done on subjects without much training experience, and as we know, periodization is much more important as you become more advanced and is much less important for novices (aka newbies). This is because if you are new to training, you will respond to pretty much any kind of training and it is very easy to yield results.

The main benefits of periodization are:

  • The ability to work on multiple training qualities and goals (i.e. strength, hypertrophy, general preparation, sport skills) over a macrocycle or even on a smaller timescale. In the end, it makes for more well-rounded fitness.
  • Fatigue management through the manipulation of factors like load, volume, and recovery. Ultimately, this will allow you to avoid overtraining (as well as under-training), recover from overreaching (which will naturally occur to some degree), and continue progressing over long periods of time.
  • Progressive overload (accumulation) doesn’t just come with physical stress, it also comes with mental stress. Periodization helps you deal with the psychological stress as well. 

Overall, progressive overload is a crucial factor in fitness if you want to continue making long term improvements. However, it’s not possible to continue increasing intensity every workout. So, periodization allows you to keep making progress (whether that’s day to day, week to week, or month to month) in a sustainable manner and over long periods of time.

That said, periodization and progressive overload is obviously not the only important variable in training. In fact, there are many other more important factors.

Most Important Training Principles

In ranking order, these are said to be the most important training principles:

  1. Specificity: Train the muscles you want to grow (or the fitness objective you want to improve at) with exercises and techniques that target the muscles as limiting factors (or must be performed to get better at it). For example, if you are doing squats as a beginner, your quads are going to grow, but as you get more advanced, your quads might not get enough stress to grow from squats alone because the lower back tires out first or you may just get more glute activation than quad activation. As such, a quad specific exercise like hack squats would be required to ensure they are the main target and limiting factor. This would be specificity, and your quads WILL grow.
  2. Overload: Train hard and make the training harder over time.
  3. Fatigue Management: Don’t train more than you can recover from (acute level) and employ deload weeks every 4-8 weeks.
  4. Stimulus-Recovery-Adaptation: Finding a frequency that works best for you.
  5. Variation/Variety: Choosing the right exercises, loading ranges, tempos, and so on.
  6. Periodization: See everything above. Without periodization, as you become more advanced, simply deloading from linear progression fatigue will not rid all of your fatigue (both mentally and physically/hormonally).
  7. Individualization: This one is straight forward. It involves points 4-6 and overall just your age, rate of progress, previous skill development, and other factors that will pertain to specific individuals. For beginners, individualization is less important as really any beginner can follow the same beginner program to success, but as you get into advanced levels, individualization is vital, which is why there really is no cookie cutter program for advanced athletes, as everything needs to be individualized to some degree. 

types of periodization

BEST PERIODIZATION FOR BEGINNERS?

This article is obviously directed more towards beginners, as assumably more advanced lifters and athletes will already know most of this, let’s answer the pressing question for beginners, should you even do periodization, and if so, which type of periodization is best?

For beginners, periodization is one of the least important factors in training. All you have to do really as a beginner is progressive overload. A beginner should be able to continually add weight to their lifts, even on a day to day basis. It’s really that simple. Keep adding intensity and you will see some incredible gains, and if you start to fatigue, take a deload week and then get back to it. 

This means you really don’t need to decrease volume as you increase intensity. Nevertheless, if you were to employ a periodization training model, it should be linear periodization using mesocycles to deload every 6-8 weeks (or even longer if you are continually making improvements without overreaching).

If you are a beginner who wants to strength train, your best bet is to just follow a tried and true strength program. Almost all beginners can use the same novice program as less individualization is required. So, give one of these strength programs a go and just follow it as instructed and you will see some incredible improvements and gains. 

Related: 5/3/1 Strength Program (Great for Intermediate to Advanced)



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