Periodization as a Continuum: How Training Age Can Determine An Athlete’s Optimal Form of Periodization

A Review and Consideration of Application By Joe Stanek, Intern - The Strength Athlete.

Background:

What is periodization?

Kraemer and Hakinnen (2002): Defined as programmed variation in the training stimuli with the use of planned rest periods to augment recovery and restoration of an athlete’s potential.

Mike H. Stone (2004): Defined as a logical phasic method of varying training volume, intensity factors, and exercises in order to optimize training progress.

Verkhoshansky and Siff (2009): Defined as the long term cyclic structuring of training and practice maximize performance to coincide with important competitions.

The above definitions together encompass a holistic view of periodization’s purpose: To create maximum recovery, which will optimize training progress, and in turn maximize athletic performance at the time of important competitions.

What are the types of periodization?

  • Linear periodization: a 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. Volume and intensity are commonly periodized, but other variables can be used as well (frequency, tempo, rest periods, etc.)
  • Non-linear periodization: this method includes methods of undulating periodization and conjugate periodization. There is less of a sequenced change of training variables across multiple workouts in a short amount of time, perhaps daily or weekly. Again, volume and intensity are typically the most commonly periodized variables.  
  • Block periodization: Blocks of training programmed in a sequential order to achieve a desired goal. Each block is programmed in such a way that it is meant to develop a foundation for the next block and has an overall focus on the goal of the training cycle. This is not to be confused with the traditional model where, though each phase has a goal, many qualities are still developed at once and there is a greater emphasis on sets and reps in programming.  

What is training age?

The training age of an athlete, or their classification, has a variety of definitions. People often classify athletes by strength standards. Marc Rippetoe, author of Practical Programming for Strength Training, instead suggested athletes be classified by their ability to recover from an overload event in training. Rippetoe’s standards are rigid, defining a novice as simply someone who can recover workout to workout, an intermediate as some who can recover week to week, and an advanced trainee as someone who takes a month or more to recover.

Below are ProgrammingToWin Israel Narvaez’s standards of classification. They lessen the rigidity of Rippetoe’s definitions. They are as follows: 

  • Novice Trainee: An athlete that does not require specific periods of emphasis on a particular performance attributes nor programmatic variety in terms of variables such as intensity and volume.
  • Intermediate Trainee: An athlete that does not require specific periods of emphasis on a particular performance attributes but DOES require programmatic variety in terms of variables such as intensity and volume. 
  • Advanced Athlete: An athlete requires both specific periods of emphasis on a particular performance attributes and programmatic variety in terms of variables such as intensity and volume.

Purpose:

This review will attempt to compare the types of periodization to the training ages in an attempt to find if there is an optimal type of periodization for a certain training age.  

Selection Criteria:

For this review, studies have been selected where they compared two or more resistance-training programs except in the case of advanced athletes, due to lack of literature, where at least two of the programs followed a commonly-used (but different) periodization type. Studies were also chosen based upon the amount of experience with strength training the subjects had prior to the study. In addition, studies were also chosen based upon the span of full-text access of Syracuse University to allow for appropriate analysis. As such some studies that could have been used were not.


Novice Trainees:

 

Non-Linear v. Linear 

Ahmadizad:(2014This study compared the effects of a non-periodized program and two different periodized resistance programs with respect to strength gains in 32 overweight and sedinatary men. The men were randomly assigned to either non-periodized, linear periodized, or daily undulating periodized training groups. They trained 3 days per week for 8 weeks. The researchers found that1RM bench press increased significantly in non-periodized, linear periodized, or daily undulating periodized groups (7%, 12% and 15%). The 1RM leg press similarly increased significantly in all groups (4%, 7%, and 10%). The daily undulating group displayed a the best improvement in 1RM bench press compared to the non-periodized group and a larger increase 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.

Kok (2009compared 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.

Apel (2011compared 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.

Linear v. Block

There are no studies available comparing these two types of periodization in novice trainees.

Non-Linear v. Block

There are no studies available comparing these two types of periodization in novice trainees.

 

Intermediate Trainees:

 

Non-Linear v. Linear 

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.

Miranda (2011compared 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.

Prestes (2009compared 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%).

Linear v. Block 

Bartolomei (2014) compared block and linear periodization types 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.

Non-Linear v. Block

Hartmann (2009) compared the effects of block-style strength-power periodization and daily undulating periodization types 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%.

 

Advanced Trainees:

 

Non-Linear v. Linear

There are no studies available comparing these two types of periodization in advanced trainees.

Linear v. Block

There are no studies available comparing these two types of periodization in advanced trainees.

Non-Linear v. Block

Painter (2012compared 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.

Breil (2010) compared the effects of block-style periodization and mixed (undulating) periodizaton on elite alpine skiers. VO2 Max and Peak Power Output were assessed before and after the study. The mixed approach group severed as the control. The mixed approach group trained with a normal mixed approach of strength and endurance training, while the block group completed only 4x4 min HIIT sessions (15 over 11 days). The researchers found that the block periodized group significantly improved VO2 Max by 6 ± 2.1% and Peak Power Output by 5.5 ± 0.7% while no changes occurred in the control (undulating) group.*

*It should be noted that this study was done on anaerobic, cardiovascular-based athletes, and not strength athletes. But it is the only study of it’s kind in the world, and worth considering.


Summary of Findings:  

The literature is next to non-existent in terms of purposefully comparing periodization types as a continuum. However, the studies seem to suggest a slight trend toward better increases in strength with linear periodization as a novice and with non-linear as an intermediate. Though there is only one known study using elite athletes and block periodization, it seems to show favorable results from block periodization compared to an undulating model in elite athletes.

 

Discussion: 

There are a variety of things to address as far as each type of trainee. Each study seems to provide information along that may point to a certain conclusion, but then another provides conflicting information.

Beginning with the novice, studies seem to reaffirm what most well-educated coaches and athletes already know: a novice can produce noticeable gains by using any kind of program, as long as volume is equated. So this begs the question “If all programs work, what should be used?” Again, this answer is obvious to those who know their exercise science: a novice has no need to periodize their training in order to see results. The novice lifter has the extraordinary ability to develop all attributes of lifting at once. However, as a novice progresses closer to the intermediate stage, this response diminishes. And as the response diminishes, periodization may become appropriate. I believe this is where the study by Apel and associates comes in. Though these men could not be considered true “novices” per say, one could argue that they may have reached a point in training where their response to training is beginning to diminish. Why introduce periodization if they are still a novice? Preparation. The linear model used in this program produced equal gain in strength when compared to DUP up until week 8- then recovery problems in the form of DOMS began to hurt the DUP group. Why? Because they had not been truly prepared for the heavy loading. This suggest perhaps novices could benefit from first performing some form of traditional linear periodization to accumulate their body to heavy loads as they come out of the novice phase. Perhaps this may even warrant a new classification of lifter (advanced novice perhaps?) Further research will be required to see if there is any benefit to placing a transitioning novice onto a traditionally periodized program.

The intermediate’s research seems to be a bit clearer. As a true intermediate, non-linear periodization seems to produce the best gains. Though some studies were insignificant while others were, the trend definitely seems to favor that model. As far as which model, daily undulating periodization seems to be the most studied non-linear type of periodization, and as such would probably be the best bet to implement into your own training. Interestingly, in the only block v. non-linear study reviewed on intermediate athletes, block was shown to be superior and the findings were statistically significant. The answer here comes with the issue of defining training age. Though the subjects look like intermediate lifters on paper while purely judging strength levels, they could very well have been more advanced judging by their recoverability. While this is unlikely, this brings up the idea of actually defining training age needs to be further looked into if we are to ever decide if there is indeed an appropriate type for each age.

The advanced athlete is the most difficult to judge. Finding studies on advanced athletes proved rather difficult, and rightly so. Advanced athletes can certainly not always be tapped for studies. It might interfere with their training, their coaches might not like it, etc, etc. The two studies cited both seem to show a favorable response to block periodization, however, as stated before, block periodization also worked well in intermediates in one study. This trend seems to show that block periodization might be the way to go as our training age advances. And this is rightly so, as we take a lot longer to adapt to a given overload event as an advanced trainee.

Overall, the literature is vague and none has actually been done in formally studying the long term planning of an athlete’s career in strength training to my knowledge.

 

Possible Application and Discussion of Constraints:

 

Novice ———> Intermediate ———> Advanced

 *Complex Parallel Periodization *Linear Periodization * Non-Linear (DUP) *Block periodization 

  

As this timeline shows, I am proposing that an advanced novice to early intermediate use linear periodization after finishing up there time when they can make their “noob gains.” Though it may be considered cherry picking, I believe the statistically significant data of Apel’s study may hold true, and better prepare novices for more complex forms of periodization. Also, as you can see, the first three forms of training are much closer to each other than block periodization. This is because it will take a lot of hard work and training to get to the point of advancement where block periodization may become appropriate. Though Hartman’s study did show block to produce slightly better gains in intermediates, it was statistically insignificant compared to that of other studies considered.

Lastly, I want to address a few “real world” limitations to this idea. As addressed by Greg Nuckols and Dr. Michael Israetel address in their excellent series “There Is Only One Type Of Periodization,” you can never truly have a “pure” undulating program. If that were the case, you would never be able to increase the overall volume of the program. Reps and sets would change day to day, but you would never make any gains in volume load. You would need an element of linear progress. The same can be thought of for conjugate or block methods. If you used a pure block method, you would change exercises to reflect the goal of each block, but there is again no way to add to the to overall volume load. You could, of course, have a purely linear model. This is entirely possible because you can still make progress of the course of the program. However, it would get very repetitive and boring…not to mention your volume and intensity is probably going to get out of hand (unless you’re a novice of course…which leads me to…)

So what does this mean for the above continuum? Instead of using pure forms of any one type of periodization, perhaps we should instead consider emphasizing the periodization type at the given points, i.e., continue to use the compounds movements common in novice programs as you introduce periodization and keep it purely linear. Why? Because someone closer to their novice years could handle more volume and intensity in less time due to their ability to over come an overload event and recover. Then, as they advance further into their intermediate stage, introduce undulation to help elicit further gains and create better adaption, especially as a sport specific athlete. Blocks could also be introduced here, but may not be necessary to make the progress needed. This is again, because the closer you are to your novice years, the shorter your time to recover from an overload event (progressive overload).

Overall, there does seem to be a logical progression of periodization types that the research seems to support. Of course, as with any theory, this needs to be tested in further study- a sadly difficult task. It would take years of observation and intervention with multiple subjects to confirm something like this. As such, I encourage you to try this in your own training and see what the results are for you (or other athletes with which you work.) 

Thank you for reading,

Joe Stanek, TSA Intern 2015

@Joe_Stanek , YouTube

Bryce LewisComment