Resistance training programs are often undertaken to maintain or improve physical strength. Strength can be built by systematically increasing stress on the body through exercise.1 This is termed progressive overload and can be accomplished by manipulating several training variables. These include:
Intensity (load)- The load that is lifted may be expressed as the percentage of a 1 repetition maximum or as a unit such as pounds/kilograms.
Repetitions- The number of repetitions (reps) of a given load may be increased to provide progressively greater stress on the body. The repetition speed and tempo may also be manipulated, depending on the trainee’s goals, e.g., maximum strength, hypertrophy, or power.
Rest intervals- Rest periods between sets may be manipulated, depending on the desired outcome. Shorter rest periods may help increase the metabolic stress associated with hypertrophy and longer rest periods may be ideal for improvements in strength/power.
Volume- The amount or volume of work done can also be increased or decreased gradually. Volume is represented by the product of the sets, reps and weight lifted. For example, 3 sets x 8 reps of 225# would represent less volume than 2 sets x 8 reps of 225#.
Periodization is the “systematic process of altering one or more program variable(s) over time to allow for the training stimulus to remain challenging and effective.”1
The concept of periodization is influenced by the idea that the human body adapts to stress. In theory, once the body adapts to a training variable, progress slows or stops. To ensure progress there must be changes to one or more of the program variable(s).
What is the evidence for this style of training in practice? The training literature suggests that periodized strength and power programs are more effective than non-periodized programs.2
Models of Periodization
Increasing weight when the load becomes “easy” for a set number of reps often provides enough progressive overload to allow for strength improvement in the beginner. Strength gains may continue for up to six months without a formal periodized plan. Once strength reaches a plateau it is advisable to convert to a more formal periodized plan to progress. The following are three models of strength training periodization.
Classical Periodization- This model traditionally starts with high volume and low intensity and gradually progresses over weeks or months to lower volume and higher intensity. As an example: If the goal is to increase maximum strength of the bench press, the trainee may start a program with a greater number of pressing exercises, lower relative load, and higher repetitions (8-12). Over the course of several months the trainee may decrease the number of pressing exercises and, repetitions and increase load. This would allow the trainee to peak for a 1-repetition maximum in the bench press.
Reverse Periodization- The classical model is simply reversed. Higher intensity, lower volume workouts are progressed over time to higher volume, lower intensity workouts. This is a useful method for improving endurance strength.3
Undulating Periodization- This model of periodization allows for variation in load and volume throughout the training cycle. During a single week, load and volume may be increased or decreased, depending on goals. In a classical model, several weeks may be devoted to a specific strength quality, while in this model various strength qualities may be targeted in as short a time as a single week. The idea is that this style of training will maintain and contribute to a greater overall performance of multiple strength qualities.
To effectively create a periodized program it is important to understand how variables such as intensity and volume relate to:
It is not unusual for a periodized program to progress from phases of hypertrophy to strength and finally to a more specific strength quality such as reactive strength.
A beginner can improve strength by progressively increasing load. When progress begins to stall and variables other than load need to be manipulated, programs that include periodization offer value.
1.American College of Sports Medicine. “American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults.Medicine and science in sports and exercise” 41.3 (2009): 687.
2. Rhea, Matthew R., and Brandon L. Alderman. “A meta-analysis of periodized versus nonperiodized strength and power training programs.” Research quarterly for exercise and sport 75.4 (2004): 413-422.
3. RHEA, MATTHEW R., et al. “A comparison of linear and daily undulating periodized programs with equated volume and intensity for local muscular endurance.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 17.1 (2003): 82-87.