The Best Program Ever
Is my program the best?
There are many different forms of periodization out there. Let’s quickly look at a few types:
Increase the weight, reps, or sets every week
Progress the same amount each week
When it’s too hard, take a few steps back and try again
Squat-Work up to a set of 5 reps at 300lbs. Add 10lbs every week after until you can’t do 5. Then drop 50lbs and start again.
Squat-Work up to a set of 5 at 300lbs. The next week add another rep or another set. The next week add another set or rep. Stop when you can no longer increase. Then up the weight and start from the beginning.
Linear periodization is very simple and easy to use. There is no complex math or intense thought process. Simply increase the same amount each week until you can’t increase any more. Ed Coan, one of the greatest powerlifters of all time, used this method. It’s also very easy to implement if you train a lot of people.
Daily undulating periodization (DUP)
Each day of training with the same exercise in a training week should have different sets, reps, and/or weight.
Weekly undulating periodization (WUP)
Change the sets, reps, and/or weight of an exercise once per week and stick to that set/rep/weight scheme for that entire week.
Monday: Squat 300lbs for 1 set of 10 reps
Wednesday: Squat 320lbs for 1 set of 7 reps
Friday: Squat 335lbs for 1 set of 5 reps
Monday: Squat 300lbs for 1 set of 10 reps
Friday: Same as Monday
Monday: Squat 320lbs for 1 set of 7 reps
Friday: Same as Monday
Undulating periodization is more beneficial for someone who is no longer a beginner in weightlifting. In order to do DUP you should be doing the same exercise more than once per week, or else you can’t undulate training daily. It’s also nice because there is more possibility for variation in your training because you can mix up what sets and reps you are doing, rather than just going completely linearly. This style of training is also relatively easy to set up.
This is where things get a little more complex. Block periodization is a method for setting up a long term training plan. This is something that you would do for an athlete because it should end with a competition. There should be three phases: accumulation, transmutation, and realization. In accumulation you are getting in different forms of training and a lot of training volume. During transmutation you are preparing for the realization block and starting to get more specific with your training. During realization you are the most specific that you will be during training which is why it shouldn’t last too long. There are many different ways to perform block periodization, but basically you are choosing blocks of time where you are focusing on specific things. If you are a runner your first block might include distance runs, sprints, and weight training. The second block would include some weight training and sprinting but mostly distance running. The third block would be almost purely distance running, with a little resistance training if you are recovering quickly. There are too many variables to give you a concrete example but hopefully you get the basic idea.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="1050"]
Conjugation basically implies that you are switching exercises often. It could be once per month or even once per week. The idea is to keep the exercise fairly similar to the exercise that you want to perform but to switch it up slightly and keep the intensity as high as possible.
Bench press example:
Week 1: Regular bench press 3 rep max
Week 2: Close grip bench press 3 rep max
Week 3: Incline bench press 3 rep max
Week 4: Dumbbell bench press 3 rep max
This is just an example of conjugation and there are many ways to do it, but you can see that you are able to keep the intensity very high because you switch exercises so often. The major drawback in my opinion is that it takes so much longer to master these exercises than if you were able to practice them multiple times per week.
With all of these different types of periodization there must be one that is the best right? Russian lifters love high volume and frequency. Americans love high intensity. Norwegians love high frequency. They all produce elite lifters and athletes. They all have different training methods. A meta-analysis published in April’s edition of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by Harries et al looked at 17 studies which matched their inclusion criteria. Of those 17 most compared linear periodization and daily undulating periodization, while three compared linear periodization and weekly undulating periodization. Only two studies showed a greater increase in strength with the daily undulating periodization group and the authors note that those studies were very short term which may have skewed the results. The authors also note that in all of the studies there were significant increases in either strength, muscle hypertrophy (growth), or both. Studies included both trained and untrained participants so we’re not talking about “beginner gains.” The conclusion I draw from this analysis is that it doesn’t matter what plan you have for you training as long as you follow a plan.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="476"]
I was only able to find one article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that looked at block periodization compared to a linear training progression in athletes. Bartolomei et al found that no significant differences were found in lower body power after the 15 week trial between the groups and that there was only a possibility of a significant difference in upper body power in favor of block periodization. In other words they were unable to prove that block periodization was superior to a traditional periodization approach. One of the things that I like about this study is that it was conducted over 15 weeks which is a fair amount of time to see adaptations occur. It is only one study though so I will not attempt to make any claims based on their results, except that there isn’t any proof according to these researchers that block periodization is superior to linear periodization.
The debate over which type of periodization is superior continues to be waged. At this point more studies need to be done with more participants and cover more types of periodization. Based on what I have seen regarding periodization I think it is fair to say that there is no there is no number one. What matters is that you can make your training plan work for you. Some people have more time during the week to train and can use a higher frequency or higher volume approach. Some people have less time and need to use a higher intensity approach. Some people need to peak for a certain event and might want to use a block periodization approach. Some people get bored easily and may want to conjugate their training.
As long as you go in to the gym and work hard and continue to push yourself beyond your previous limits, your training will work. In order to push yourself you will need to remember how many reps, sets, and how much weight you did the last few training sessions. You won’t break a record every time you step foot in the gym, but you should push yourself to work hard every time you train. What that means for that particular day is up to a ton of different variables, but you should leave the gym feeling like you put in some work. You don’t need to make yourself sick but you should be pushing yourself to achieve your goals. Having a training plan will keep you honest and consistent and I recommend that everyone has one.
1. Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Linear and Undulating Periodized Resistance Training Programs on Muscular Strength. Harries, Simon K.; Lubans, David R.; Callister, Robin. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research April 2015 Volume 29 http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2015/04000/Systematic_Review_and_Meta_analysis_of_Linear_and.35.aspx
2. A Comparison of Traditional and Block Periodized Strength Training Programs in Trained Athletes. Bartolomei, Sandro; Hoffman, Jay R.; Merni, Franco; Stout, Jeffrey R. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research April 2014 Volume 28 http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2014/04000/A_Comparison_of_Traditional_and_Block_Periodized.17.aspx?sessionEnd=true