Clearing the confusion of periodization

There are a bunch of styles of periodization out there, and even though some people do simplify it, it still remains a scary and misunderstood subject.

The three main styles of periodization are:

  1. Linear periodization
  2. Undulating periodization
  3. Block periodization

Linear periodization is where the reps are reduced or increased (less effective) over several weeks and the weight is increased or decreased, respectively.

Here’s an example of linear periodization:

  • Week 1: Bench press (BP) – 3×8 – 100kg
  • Week 2: Bench press (BP) – 3×7 – 105kg
  • Week 3: Bench press (BP) – 3×6 – 110kg
  • Week 4: Bench press (BP) – 2×6 – 105kg (deload)
  • Week 5: Bench press (BP) – 3×5 – 115kg
  • Week 6: Bench press (BP) – 3×4 – 120kg
  • Week 7: Bench press (BP) – 3×3 – 125kg
  • Week 8: Bench press (BP) – 2×3 – 120kg (deload)
  • Week 9: Restart cycle but with a heavier weight

Undulating periodization (UP) can be divided into daily (DUP) or weekly (WUP) undulating periodization.

Here’s an example of DUP:

  • Monday: BP – 3×5 – 100kg
  • Wednesday: BP – 3×10 – 80kg
  • Friday: BP – 3×15 – 60kg

Here’s an example of WUD:

  • Week 1: Monday: BP: 3×5 – 100kg
  • Week 2: Monday: BP: 3×10 – 80kg
  • Week 3: Monday: BP: 3×15 – 60kg
  • Week 4: Monday: BP: 3×5 – 105kg

Block periodization is were a specific goal is pursued for a month, for example an accumulation phase specifically for hypertrophy, then an intensification phase for strength and then a peaking phase before a competition for example. The phases can stretch for longer than a month, sometimes up to 8 weeks before going to the next phase.

Now, a lot of people want to know which one is best because research shows that undulating periodization is slightly better for hypertrophy and strength than any other periodization.

Here is what a meta-analysis of 2019 found (R):

“Despite the suggested superiority of periodized RT for strength development, some authors suggest that this might be a consequence of the study designs employed rather than the nature of periodized training. In addition, several limitations exist in the periodization literature, making it difficult to accurately assess the efficacy of periodized RT. With regard to enhancing skeletal muscle hypertrophy, both the undulating model and the linear model appear equally effective; however, this conclusion can only be generalized to untrained populations.”

So in reality, both linear and undulating periodization are basically the same and only when you get to the advanced level should you put more focus on what periodization works better for you, or what extra tricks you can do for more gains. 

What we do know is that periodization in general is better than non-periodization.

Another “dilemma” with periodization is that no one periodization is used on its own, but most often it’s a combination of block periodization, linear and UP, or at least that’s how it should be in well designed programs.

So let me simplify.

Doing some style of periodization is better than not doing periodization. Only beginners can get away with adding weight on the bar week after week while doing the same sets and reps over and over again.

When you get to a more intermediate and advanced level and lift heavy weights, your recovery requirements increase. This opens the possibility for using a form of periodization, namely heavy and light days.

For example:

  • Mon: Barbell BP: 5×5 – 140kg
  • Thu: Dumbbell BP: 5×12 – 45kg per arm

Then you can combine this with linear periodization, which will give you:

  • Week 1:
    • Mon: Barbell BP: 5×6 – 140kg
    • Thu: Dumbbell BP: 5×12 – 45kg per arm
  • Week 2:
    • Mon: Barbell BP: 5×4 – 145kg
    • Thu: Dumbbell BP: 5×10 – 48kg per arm
  • Week 3:
    • Mon: Barbell BP: 5×2 – 150kg
    • Thu: Dumbbell BP: 5×8 – 50kg per arm
  • Week 4:
    • Mon: Barbell BP: 4×3 – 140kg (deload)
    • Thu: Dumbbell BP: 3×8 – 45kg per arm (deload)

Point being, don’t get too fixated on one style of periodization or let it scare you for that matter.

The simplest way to progress or to incorporate periodization into your program is to progressively overload the muscle each week (reduce the reps and increase the weight; linear progression) and to incorporate heavy and light days (a form of UP). Simple as that. And if you want, then you can focus on higher reps one month and lower reps the next as a form of block periodization.

Only when you get really advanced and even elite, then it becomes more important to incorporate nitty gritty things like wave training, pause reps, chains and bands, and all others kinds of nifty tricks.

So my advise for someone that is a beginner all the way to advanced, is to train a muscle group about twice a week, do progressive overloading and incorporate heavy and light days. No need to overthink any of it.

If you need help with your program shoot me a message and I’ll help you out.

Or you can just skip the frustration and anxiety of designing your own program and check out my programs that’s designed to maximize strength and hypertrophy with all the proper periodization.

Do you have any questions for me?
Did I no address something you were looking for? Leave a comment below and I’ll cover it for you.

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Published by Hans Amato

Hi, I'm Hans and I'm a physique, strength and nutrition specialist/coach. My passion is building the best physique naturally (both functional and super strong) and enabling others to achieve their dream physique and health goals as well. Nothing is impossible if you set your mind and heart to it - not even you're "genetic limit" will be able to stop you then.

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