Good strength and conditioning coaches – of which there are many – have known for decades that linear non- periodized strength training programs are a terrible way to make progress in strength and or muscle mass over time, yet, that’s exactly how the majority of people set up their programs. That is, they go into the gym, do 8-10 reps (as an example) for X number of sets, and do that month in and month out, year in and year out. In fact, it’s really the classic western bodybuilding method of training. It’s also just about the worst way to make steady progress in the gym.
Eastern block coaches have known such programs were a poor way to make strength increases over time, especially for intermediate and advanced athletes. Recently a study examined three groups using three different protocols. It’s essential to note this study, unlike so many, used trained strength athletes. This is an important distinction from other studies and a credit to the researchers.
So many studies out there that examine this topic make the mistake of using untrained individuals, often making the results worthless, unless the study is specifically looking at the effects of X protocol on people who have never exercised, but I digress…these researchers examined the effects of three different protocols on 27 strength athletes for a period of 12 weeks. In each group, they were instructed to complete as many reps as possible within the assigned rep range. Each group trained their upper body and lower body twice per week – with 3 sets per exercise – so they were in the gym 4 days per week.
Group One: followed what would be your classic/typical program you see most people following as mentioned above: linear non-periodized routine (NP). They did sets of 8-10 reps throughout the entire experiment for 12 weeks.
Group Two: followed a linear periodized routine (LP): first four weeks the study participants did sets of 12-15 reps, four weeks following sets of 8-10 reps, and the final four weeks of sets of 4-5 reps per set.
Group Three: was a non-linear periodized group (NLP). The program looked like so:
Week 1: sets of 12-15 reps
Week 2: 4-5 reps
Week 3: 8-10 reps
Week 4: Repeat week 1
This is done 3 times = 12 weeks.
The results were that only the NLP group made significant progress in their strength on the exercise tested, which was the leg press and bench press. Interesting – though not surprising – there were no statistically significant changes in body composition between groups. The reason it’s not surprising to me is; experienced lifters will generally not make major changes in bodycomp from a simple change in program if other variables (i.e., total calories, macro nutrient ratios, other activities, etc.) remain the same, and strength increases are usually followed by changes in bodycomp in experienced strength athletes. 12 weeks is not a long time for an experienced strength athlete to make significant changes in bodycomp from a simple change in program, but they can make significant improvements in strength, which ultimately leads to changes in bodycomp.
Remember, even the most sensitive methods for testing changes in bodycomp has it’s limits of sensitivity, and experienced strength athletes make progress measured in years, vs months, so 12 weeks is fairly small window of study…
The Brink Bottom Line: The researchers concluded “…Our data clearly demonstrated that NLP is more effective than the LP and NP models to increase strength combined with split training routines. Thus, individuals seeking for fitness improvement should use NLP when using split routines.” So far so good – and expected, really.
As a rule, you don’t see any linear non- periodized programs recommended here, but that’s not to say linear non- periodized routines are worthless for everyone. Although the above is interesting from a confirmation perspective, it’s old news to any of the good strength and conditioning coaches out there, and really old news to the east block coaches, that 8-10 reps (or what ever) week after week, month after month, year after year, is a fast way to not make ongoing progress.
However, It’s also much more complicated then simply changing rep ranges around every week randomly. Some programs will have very specific goals and such, be designed for specific athletes with specific outcomes, so they may be on a rep range for X time, which will exceed a week, and so forth. Beginners can benefit from linear non- periodized routines, so no one should see the above results as ‘set in stone’ that it’s the one best way to approach a strength training program.
In this particular study, looking at those groups, under those specific set of circumstances, etc., the NLP was superior for increasing strength. The real take home here is, NLP type programs – of which there are many – are important to the continued progress of intermediate to advanced athletes, and getting beyond the classic western bodybuilding oriented linear non- periodized routines is going to yield superior results in the majority of strength trainers in the long run. Understanding issues of volume, loading, TUT, rest periods, and many other variables is what will allow one to make continued progress.
J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jul;23(4):1321-6.Nonlinear periodization maximizes strength gains in split resistance training routines.
Monteiro AG, Aoki MS, Evangelista AL, Alveno DA, Monteiro GA, Piçarro Ida C, Ugrinowitsch C.
Department of Rehabilitation, Federal University of Sao Paulo-UNIFESP, Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The purpose of our study was to compare strength gains after 12 weeks of nonperiodized (NP), linear periodized (LP), and nonlinear periodized (NLP) resistance training models using split training routines. Twenty-seven strength-trained men were recruited and randomly assigned to one of 3 balanced groups: NP, LP, and NLP. Strength gains in the leg press and in the bench press exercises were assessed. There were no differences between the training groups in the exercise pre-tests (p > 0.05) (i.e., bench press and leg press). The NLP group was the only group to significantly increase maximum strength in the bench press throughout the 12-week training period. In this group, upper-body strength increased significantly from pre-training to 4 weeks (p < 0.0001), from 4 to 8 weeks (p = 0.004), and from 8 weeks to the post-training (p < 0.02). The NLP group also exhibited an increase in leg press 1 repetition maximum at each time point (pre-training to 4 weeks, 4-8 week, and 8 weeks to post-training, p < 0.0001). The LP group demonstrated strength increases only after the eight training week (p = 0.02). There were no further strength increases from the 8-week to the post-training test. The NP group showed no strength increments after the 12-week training period. No differences were observed in the anthropometric profiles among the training models. In summary, our data suggest that NLP was more effective in increasing both upper- and lower-body strength for trained subjects using split routines.
About the Author
Will Brink is a columnist, contributing consultant, and writer for various health/fitness, medical, and bodybuilding publications. William has worked with athletes ranging from professional bodybuilders, golfers, fitness contestants, to police and military personnel. He is the author of Priming The Anabolic Environment and Weight Loss Nutrients Revealed.
Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the natural sciences, and is a consultant to major supplement, dairy, and pharmaceutical companies. He runs the highly popular web site BrinkZone.com, which is strategically positioned to fulfill the needs and interests of people with diverse backgrounds and knowledge.