Want to Cut 12% Body Fat in 12 Weeks, Get Stronger, Bigger or Better Conditioned? Periodize Appropriately!

Image 1 (hitchfit.com): I know I am repeating myself, here, but 12% less body fat mass in 12 weeks without dieting should be a reason to pick up those dumbbells, ladies, right?
If you have read Adelfo's blogpost, yesterday, you will have noticed the versatility of his routine. The combination of volume, 5x5 and EDT training, which may appear somewhat chaotic at first, is yet well-planned, clearly structured and has little of the "cookie-cutter" approach to training people follow who will tell you in the locker room, whenever you meet them: "Ah, I better train biceps today, my legs don't feel right, bro" ;-) In the end, Adelfo's approach is just an unconventional twist on undulating periodization; in other words, a training split where you switch your rep and set numbers in relatively short (but regular!) intervals - often from one training to the next. But is this really the optimal way to train? I mean HST = hypertrophy specific training looks different and that is "hypertrophy specific", right? And in fact, if analyzed on its own, a recently published study from Brazil appears to suggest that what Adelfo feels is the best way to train could in fact be inferior to a less sophisticated linear periodization program  (de Lima. 2012). - and you know what? At least for his sedentary cousin that may in fact be right!

Lifting weights works! Regardless of how you periodize, but...

The 28 healthy, normal-weight, formerly sedentary women (age 20–35; body fat ~25%) from the de Lima study had been randomly assigned to follow 2-day body split routines which differed only with respect to the means of periodization, i.e. the sequence of lower vs. higher rep work (see illustration 1 for an outline of the training regimen) for 12 weeks (no dietary changes or other inventions).
Illustration 1: Outline of the workout (left) and periodization regimen (right) the 28 young women followed over the course of the 12-week intervention period (de Lima. 2012)
If we based our predictions on previous data in 28 recreationally trained college-aged men (Buford. 2007), 40 young men (21.5y) with a minimum 1-year strength training experience (Prestes. 2009a) and 20 resistance trained men (26y; 4-5 years of training experience; Miranda.. 2007) both conducted with linear vs. undulating periodization schemes in the strength-to-hypertrophy rep ranges of 4-8 and 4-14 reps, respectively, we would expect either no difference (Buford. 2007) or a slight advantage for the undulating periodization protocol with respect to its effects on maximal strength (Prestes. 2009 a,b).
Figure 1: Rel. changes in body composition, maximal strength and strength endurance (de Lima 2012)
As the data in figure 1 shows, neither of those predictions is accurate. Contrary to Buford et al. de Lima et al. did observe statistically significant differences between the study arms, yet other than Prestes et al. those changes were not in the maximal strength, but rather in the strength endurance domain. And while the latter showed significantly greater improvement in the women who trained according to the undulating periodization protocol, the classic, some people would probably say "boring", linear periodization protocol elicited a substantially more pronounced decreases in body fat and increases in strength.

Periodicize according to your training level & goals

As boring as those highly structured linear periodization protocols may be, the results from the de Lima study would suggest that there is a reason why Brian Haycock's HST (=Hypertrophy Specific Training) periodization prescriptions are downright anal. It is also reasonable to assume that for beginners and (early) advanced trainees, long(er) cycles will allow for optimal structural adaptations to the individual loading patterns, with the "growths" phases in the medium (8-12) rep ranges and facilitative strength gains and endurance gains in the lower-rep (4-6) respectively higher rep (15-20) weeks. It is also interesting to note that in these early days, when trainees makes the transition from undermuscled couch potato to "recreationally active" muscle gains and fat loss are coupled and can, as the data from the de Lima study shows, be influenced not just by modulating the total number of sets (volume) or the rep range, but also by changing the sequence of phases of training at the upper, medium and lower range of a given set x rep continuum (here 3x15-3x30) - that the latter was somewhat higher than normal (here "normal" indicates 6-15), may have exerted confounding effects, but it does not take away from the constantly overlooked, yet non-negligible effects different means of periodization exert on both your performance and your body composition!

Navigate the SuppVersity EMG Series and learn about the best exercises for a given body part (incl. example workouts).

The studies by Buford Miranda and Prestes on the other hand, suggest that those facilitative strength and strength endurance gains, without which no strength trainee, rookie, advanced or veteran will be able to generate the necessary overload to cause structural adaptations, or put simply, skeletal muscle hypertrophy, may require a slightly more creative, yet by no means chaotic workout organization, once you have a couple of years of weight lifting under your belt.

Daily vs. weekly undulation? I am with Dr. Hatfield and prefer the former!

Personally I prefer the intra-workout or as Miranda et al. call it "daily undulatory" periodization à la Dr. Squat (Hatfield): It makes training more fun and allows me to perform every exercise and train for every body part in a rep range of which I feel that it suits it best:
  • lower rep work and a focus on continuously increasing the poundage on compound exercises, such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, military press, pull ups and bend over rows at the beginning of my workouts or as the first exercise for a given body part
  • medium and sometimes high(er) rep work and a focus on maximal muscle tension on auxiliary exercises such as biceps curls, triceps extensions, flys, cable cross, pullovers, seated rows, dumbbell rows, reverse DB/cable flys, side laterals, upright rows and shrugs in the latter part of my workouts or as follow up exercises for a given body part
And though Miranda et al. may not have found statistically significant differences in any of the individual tests the 20 strength training veterans in their study had to perform, the greater effect sizes in the undulating periodization group (1.54 = large for daily undulating periodization vs. 1.04  = moderate for linear periodization) appear to prove my instincts and training experience right ... but to be honest, even if it didn't I would rather train "suboptimal" than bore myself to death during another HST (=linear periodization) cycle.

  1. Buford TW, Rossi SJ, Smith DB, Warren AJ. A comparison of periodization models  during nine weeks with equated volume and intensity for strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Nov;21(4):1245-50. 
  2. de Lima C, Boullosa DA, Frollini AB, Donatto FF, Leite RD, Gonelli PR, Montebello MI, Prestes J, Cesar MC. Linear and Daily Undulating Resistance Training Periodizations Have Differential Beneficial Effects in Young Sedentary Women. Int J Sports Med. 2012 May 4
  3. Miranda F, Simão R, Rhea M, Bunker D, Prestes J, Leite RD, Miranda H, de Salles BF, Novaes J. Effects of linear vs. daily undulatory periodized resistance training on maximal and submaximal strength gains. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jul;25(7):1824-30.
  4. Prestes J, Frollini AB, de Lima C, Donatto FF, Foschini D, de Cássia Marqueti R, Figueira A Jr, Fleck SJ. Comparison between linear and daily undulating periodized resistance training to increase strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Dec;23(9):2437-42.
  5. Prestes J, De Lima C, Frollini AB, Donatto FF, Conte M. Comparison of linear and reverse linear periodization effects on maximal strength and body composition. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):266-74.
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