Periodization Techniques Revisited: Improved Strength & Size Gains W/ 12-Week Undulatory vs. Linear Periodization

There is going to be a point in everyone's training career, when 100 push-ups a day alone are no longer going to "cut" it and you got to to modify and later periodize your training to keep making progress.
Ah, that feels so good... No, not what you are thinking, now. I am sitting at my desk - alone, no female White House intern around ;-) Still, it's simply nice to see another study with real-world relevance for the average and not so average trainee.

The study comes from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and was conducted by Juliano Spineti and colleagues. The Brazilian researchers compared two periodization models: Linear periodization, which probably what most of you will have been starting out with what the scientists consistently (mis-)label  as "ondulatory periodization", a training method of which you will soon realize that you may be more familiar with it's fundamental principles than it may seem initially.

"Ondulatory periodization?"

I have to admit I was confused at first. I mean, I am the last person to complain about typos, so I willingly accepted that the scientists must have made a mistake in the abstract. When I downloaded the full text to the study and found that they stuck to "ondulatory" instead of "undulatory" periodization, I did however begin to question, whether this may in fact be a new twist to the good old undulating periodization, which is based on the hypothesis that changing reps, volume and intensity from one workout to the other (Table 1, left + red) would yield more beneficial results than the classic 4-week cycles.
Table 1: Undulating (left) and linear (right) periodization prgram used in the study at hand (Spinetti. 2013)
Apropos classic. I guess this is what everyone of you will be thinking of, when they hear about periodization. It's also part of the so called HST (=Hypertrophy Specific Trainting) routines and has you change the set and rep-ranges, intensity, rest times etc. on a monthly basis. In that, the order is usually as follows: "Resistance" (usually this is called "strength endurance"), "hypertrophy", "maximal strength" → repeat...
Suggested Read: "Periodization, Yeah! But How? " | read more
Don't forget that there is more to periodization than changing up your set/rep/intensity... no idea what that could be? Well, what about detraining or tapering? Taking some time off is about as important as hitting it hard. Unfortunately this simple wisdom is ignored by the majority of trainees who love to hit it hard, but hate and/or refuse to take it easy for some time - no matter how beneficial that may be (learn more).
If you look at the left-hand side of table 1 you will realize that the "misnomer" of the "strength endurance phase" which is called "resistance" in the Spinetti study is the only thing that would point towards an innovative training protocol and away from a simple typo in "ondulatory"... a typo that is repeated 5+ times within the full-text though :-/

Typos, but intriguing results

If we still put some faith in the results the 32 men from the Brazilian Marine corps (26 years, 15% body fat),  who were advised to refrain from any additional physical activity during the trial achieved, we'd have to follow the researchers' very own conclusion that the undulatory training regimen would make a better choice - at least for the average, lean, physically active individual who is starting his or her first resistance training regimen in the gym.
Figure 1: Effect sizes of 12 weeks tranining with undulatory (OP; remember the typo ;-) and linear (LP) periodization on 1RM strength, maximal voluntary contraction force (MVC) and muscle thickness (Spinetti. 2013)
Both the effect sizes (left, 3D) and the absolute values (right; muscle size only; 2D) clearly speak in favor of the more versatile undulatory training regimen.
Intra-workout periodiziation inspired by Dr. Squat: Some of you will already know that I personally like to train in a way that is based on a concept by Hatfield (Dr. Squat) with different rep/rest/intensity patterns within one training sessions.
If you have no idea what this may look like, these two examples may help:
5x5 for squats w/ max. 2min rest (strength); 3x10 for leg presses w/90s rest (hypertrophy) 2x20 for leg extensions w/60s rest (strength endurance)
5x5 for decline bench press w/ max. 2min rest (strength); 3x10 for incline bench press w/90s rest (hypertrophy) 2x20 for cable cross (strength endurance)
The fundamental pattern is compound for strength, basic for hypertrophy, stretch / pump exercise for strength endurance.
Linear periodization no more?If you look at the study data it is obvious that undulatory training makes you stronger, allows for faster muscle growth and... well, that's not in the study, but once you try it you will realize it, it's much more fun, as well. So why bother with linear periodization any longer? Well, the reason should be obvious: This is a single study the result of which are
  • supported by Rhea et al. (2002), Monteiro et al. (2009), Prestes (2009), Miranda et al (2011)  and Simao (2012), but
  • refuted / questioned by Baker et al. (1994), Bufford et al. (2007) and Kok et al. (2009),
who report identical gains in strength and size in 22strength and power in experienced male athletes (Baker. 1994), 26 recreationally trained college-aged male and female (Bufford. 2007), and 20 untrained but fit women (20yr, normal weight) (Kok; 2009).

Personally, I like to dabble with both undulating, but also with intra-workout "periodization" a la "Dr. Squat" (see box to the right) while I hate, and I mean "hate" as in totally detest, these lame 4-week cylces of doing the same stuff every workout. The "I hate ..." argument may not sound as if it would hardly qualify as being "SuppVersity Approved", but it in fact is. I am the last person to suggest you drag yourself to the gym and do something you hate. That's not going to be productive, trust me - no matter what science says, by the way.

References: .
  • Baker D, Wilson G, Carlyon J. Periodization: the effect on strength of manipulation volume and intensity. J Strength Cond Res1994;8:235-42.
  • Bufford 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;21:1245-50.
  • Kok LY, Hamer J, Bishop DJ. Enhancing muscular qualities in untrained women: linear versus undulating periodization. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2009;41:1797-807. 
  • Miranda F, Simão R, Rhea M, Bunker D, Prestes J, Leite RD, et al. Effect of linear vs. ondulatory periodized resistance training on maximal and submaximal strength gains. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25:1824-30.
  • Monteiro AG, Aoki MS, Evangelista AL, Alveno DA, Monteiro GA, Piçarro IC, et al. Nonlinear periodization maximizes strength gains in split resistance training Stone routines. J Strength Cond Res 2009;23:1321-6
  • Prestes J, Frollini AB, Lima C, Donatto FF, Foschini D, Marqueti R, et al. Comparison between linear and daily undulating periodized resistance training to increase strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23:2437-42.
  • Rhea MR, Ball SD, Phillips WT, Burkett LN. A comparison of linear and daily undulating periodized programs with equated volume and intensity for strength. J Strength Cond Res2002;16:250-5.
  • Simão R, Spineti J, Salles BF, Oliveira L, Matta TT, Fleck SJ. Comparison between linear and nonlinear periodized resistance training: strength and muscle thickness effects. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26:1389-95.
  • Spinetti J, et al. Comparison Between Different Periodization Models On Muscular Strength And Thickness In A Muscle Group Increasing Sequence. Rev Bras Med Esporte. 2013; 19(4).
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