How I Was Wrong About Linear Periodization

Focusing on one adaptation doesn’t have to mean losing ground on another.

Charles is here on a weekly basis to help you cut through the B.S. and get some real perspective regarding health and training. Please post feedback or questions to Charles directly in the comments below this article.

I was wrong about linear periodization.

It’s embarassing to look back and see how wrong I was on such a fundamentally important topic. The reason I was wrong involves a key challenge regarding the organization of training for athletes: the development of two or more fitness adaptations over time.

The risk of becoming one-dimensional causes many people to dislike linear periodization. But is it really a risk?

Organization Options for Athletic Development

A successful athlete needs to train to improve a wide-range of skills necessary for their respective sport. Discus throwers, for example, need to develop a number of athletic characteristics, including muscular hypertrophy, power, speed, and maximum strength.

Whenever you have several different training objectives, you are faced with two main options for how to organize your time: 

  • Simultaneous Organization: Working on every essential characteristic every week, and possibly during every workout.
  • Sequential Organization: Working on one training outcome at a time. For example, spending several weeks or months working on strength then switching to work on speed.

Both approaches have distinct pros and cons. The benefit of the simultaneous method is obvious as you’re always focusing on the things that need work. The downside of this strategy is the risk of becoming a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Your time and energy have limits, and the development of some adaptations, like aerobic endurance, can hamper your efforts to develop others, like maximum strength.

Sequential organization, on the other hand, fixes the “Jack of all trades” issue, but at a cost. Spending long periods of time working on one training goal means that you’re neglecting others. If you spend all of your time and energy working on maximum strength, what’s going to happen to your speed, power, and muscle mass?

That last question exemplifies the case against linear planning, and it’s exactly why I used to criticize it as a training strategy. But I was wrong, and here’s why.

Phase Sequencing for Potentiation

First, the development of certain fitness adaptations actually serves to enhance the development of others. Dr. Mike Israetel refers to this concept as “phase potentiation.” A common example of this idea is to do a 6-week strength phase after a 6-week hypertrophy phase. The hypertrophy phase will thicken your muscle fibers and the strength phase will teach them how to contract with great force. Thickening your muscle fibers first through relatively high volume will help you get more out of the subsequent training phases where intensity will take precedence over volume.

For the hypothetical discus thrower, his training phases would be organized in the following order:

  1. Hypertrophy
  2. Maximum Strength
  3. Power
  4. Speed

In this example, the development that takes place in each phase potentiates what will occur in the subsequent phase. Cool, huh?

Second, you don’t necessarily lose previous training adaptations every time you switch to a new phase of training. For instance, if you were to follow a hypertrophy phase with a strength phase, you’d think the result would be a loss in muscle mass from the significant reduction in volume that takes place during a strength block. To some extent this is true, but not in the time frame we’re talking about.

Sure, if you only did sets of 3-5 reps for a year, you’d lose some muscle. But during the length of a typical strength block (4-8 weeks), the reduced volume of training would be enough to maintain your current levels of muscle mass while you focused on strength development.

When you’re focusing on one adaptation, you likely won’t improve the others, but you will be able to maintain them. 

The same concept applies when you’re working on multiple weaknesses through simultaneous organization. For any given phase, you’ll be developing one trait while simply maintaining the others. You can maintain a specific fitness attribute for prolonged periods of time relative to how long it took to develop.

Changing the focus of your work doesn’t mean you’ll automatically lose all the adaptation you made in the previous phase.

Practical Takeaways

The amount of time you spend in each phase depends on your unique situation. If you have a lot of muscle but aren’t as strong as you look, do (relatively) longer strength phases (typically 3-6 reps per set) and shorter hypertrophy phases (typically 8-15 reps per set). If the size of your muscles doesn’t do your strength justice, do the opposite. Another thing to consider is your goal for each phase of training. Perhaps you stay in a strength block until your bench moves up fifteen pounds before switching to hypertrophy.

Endurance and mobility are also factors to take into account. Mobility work won’t have a negative on your efforts to get bigger or stronger, and may even help. Mobility can be done immediately preceding, during, and after strength work, but as a rule of thumb, avoid prolonged static stretching right before strength training.

Try to do most of your conditioning as far away from your weight training workouts as possible. Pair aerobic development with your hypertrophy phases, and do most of your anaerobic work in strength blocks.

If you’ve got lingering questions about this concept, let me hear from you in the comments below.

This Week’s Training:

Volume: 49,930lb (Last Week: 103, 280lb)

Significant Lifts:

  • High Bar Squat: 255lb x 8
  • Deadlift: 405lb x 5
  • Dumbbell Bench Press: 190lb x 8

Sometimes deload weeks are planned, and other times they impose themselves on you. This week was an example of the latter. Some unexpected events popped up that cut into my training and I only logged two sessions.

That being the case, I’ll be initiating a five-week strength phase next week, with some exercise changes including low-bar back squats, standard deadlifts, and paused competition bench, among others. With any luck, I should have some new PR videos over the coming weeks. Now don’t make me come over there — get back to work.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Bodyweight: 198lb

Volume: 31,185lb

Goblet Squat

  • Set 1: 10lb × 10
  • Set 2: 35lb × 10
  • Set 3: 53lb × 10

High-Bar Back Squat

  • Set 1: 45lb × 10
  • Set 2: 95lb × 8
  • Set 3: 135lb × 6
  • Set 4: 185lb × 3
  • Set 5: 225lb × 8
  • Set 6: 245lb × 8
  • Set 7: 255lb × 8
  • Set 8: 225lb × 8


  • Set 1: 135lb × 5
  • Set 2: 225lb × 5
  • Set 3: 275lb × 5
  • Set 4: 315lb × 5

Leg Press

  • Set 1: 90lb × 8
  • Set 2: 180lb × 8
  • Set 3: 270lb × 8
  • Set 4: 360lb × 8
  • Set 5: 410lb × 8

Standing Calf Raise

  • Set 1: 200lb × 8
  • Set 2: 200lb × 8
  • Set 3: 200lb × 8

Friday, April 29, 2016

Bodyweight: 198lb

Volume: 18,745lb

Goblet Squat

  • Set 1: 10lb × 10
  • Set 2: 10lb × 10
  • Set 3: 10lb × 10


  • Set 1: 135lb × 5
  • Set 2: 185lb × 5
  • Set 3: 225lb × 5
  • Set 4: 275lb × 5
  • Set 5: 315lb × 5
  • Set 6: 365lb × 3
  • Set 7: 405lb × 5 (Video Below)

Bench Press (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 100lb × 10
  • Set 2: 140lb × 8
  • Set 3: 180lb × 8
  • Set 4: 190lb × 8

Pull Up

  • Set 1: 5 reps
  • Set 2: 5 reps
  • Set 3: 5 reps

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

  • Set 1: 60lb × 8
  • Set 2: 70lb × 8
  • Set 3: 70lb × 8

More on Styles of Periodization:

Photo courtesy of Jeff Nguyen / CrossFit Empirical.