Linear vs. Nonlinear Periodization: Which Is Better for Strength and Hypertrophy?

Which method is best for gaining strength and building hypertrophy – linear or nonlinear periodization? New research examines 20 men and 4 lifts over the course of 12 weeks to determine the answer.

There are many styles of resistance training that are utilized today, and periodization has been a popular method applied to resistance training since the 1950s. Periodization is an organization of training that is divided into blocks or phases of time focusing on specific skills.1 Periodization is classified as either being nonlinear or linear. Both styles have been proven effective, and the argument is often made for the case of one being superior over the other in terms of strength and size gains. A recent study was performed that hoped to put the debate to rest.

Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky is credited for originally utilizing nonlinear periodization (NLP). NLP is known as the conjugate method and varies training volume and intensity in shorter periods of time, and occurs frequently from training session to training session. NLP links two or more qualities that need to be developed, such as power and hypertrophy, for example.2

Linear periodization (LP) training initially uses high volume and low intensity. The training for LP progresses through mesocycles or phases where the volume decreases, and intensity increases. This style of training is broken down into phases that focus on hypertrophy, strength, power, and transition phases. This type of training is often referred to as the “classic” style of training and was created by Dr. Leonid Matveyev.

Most studies that compare LP and NLP have solely focused on strength gains. Contrarily, this new study’s objective was to not only focus on strength gains, but on changes in muscle thickness as well to determine changes in hypertrophy.3

The study involved thirty men, and each was assigned to either a group that trained using NLP, LP, or a control group. A two week period was used to determine one rep maxes (1RM) in the bench press, lat-pull down, machine triceps extension, and straight bar standing curl. During this period measurements were also taken of each bicep and tricep muscle, and each group tested for a total of twelve weeks, with two sessions per week.4

The results of this study revealed that both the NLP and LP group experienced significant strength increases in the lat-pull down, biceps curl, and triceps extension. However, only the NLP experienced in increase in 1RM on the bench press. The strength increases for the lat-pull and bicep curl were also significantly higher than that of the LP group. There were no significant signs of an increase in muscle thickness in either group, but the NLP group did show larger increases than the LP group.5

Just like this study, prior research has also found similar results in the fact that NLP appears to be a superior training style compared to LP. More research is needed, however, to determine which model is optimal for a specific goal. While both NLP and LP have both proved to be effective forms of resistance training, this study presented solid evidence that NLP is ideal for both strength and muscle thickness when compared to LP resistance training; at least for a twelve week period of time.6

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