What's the best periodization method for increasing strength? There are a lot of ways to answer that question. A recent a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research provided some food for thought.

What the research says:

  • In a review of seventeen studies, both linear and undulating periodization programs increased strength.
  • The researchers recommendeded alternating programs every two to six weeks for maximum effectiveness.



Types of Periodization

Breaking Muscle Shop

The researchers compared the classic linear periodization to the more modern undulating periodization. Let me explain a bit about what both of those terms mean.


Linear periodization: An entire training cycle, often a year or a large chunk of a year, with a sliding scale of intensity and volume. Most often the volume is high while the intensity is low. These eventually flip-flop as an athlete gets closer to a season or specific competition.


Undulating periodization: The intensity and volume change more frequently, often on a weekly basis and sometimes even on a daily basis. This would be the more contemporary style in which you may work both strength and speed in a single workout or in a given week.  


Study Design

To make their research more effective, the researchers decided on a meta-analysis. This means they didn’t conduct the research directly on participants themselves, but rather put together research from a collection of relevant studies. Analysis like this can help to increase the statistical power of existing information by bringing it all together.


Specifically, the researchers were looking for studies on healthy people that examined the strength improvements of undulating periodization versus linear periodization. After performing a search for relevant research, seventeen studies fit the inclusion criteria.


RELATED: Block Periodization Versus Linear Periodization: Which Is Better?



The final analysis suggested that although progression is important for some reasons, which program you choose (i.e. how you progress) is a less important factor. In other words, it didn’t matter which plan was chosen, the results were the same. In the words of the researchers:


"The meta-analyses determined there were no differences in the effectiveness of linear versus undulating periodization on upper or lower body strength."


The researchers did note that most of the studies were fairly short, so a true difference between types of periodization might crop up, given enough time. But they also emphasized that novelty and variety are both important for strength. Changing your training up from time to time is an effective way to make strength gains.



Whichever plan you choose, it’s best to stick with the same exercises for only a short period of time. The researchers recommended blocks of two to six weeks, after which you consider new exercises and intensities. They also suggested that switching periodization plans might provide the proper stimulus for strength development.


In addition to variety, it’s important to pay attention to how trained the athletes you coach are. The more training an athlete has undertaken, the slower his or her strength will improve. But for beginners and elite lifters alike, the bottom line seems to be variety.



1. Simon Harries, et. al., “Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Linear and Undulating Periodized Resistance Training Programs on Muscular Strength,Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2014, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000712


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