The Two Different Periodization Models You Need to Know

The Two Different Periodization Models You Need To Know

It can be argued that an effective periodization plan is the number one aspect for the success of any training program or camp. It is absolutely essential if you want to see the best results while not becoming overtrained. It allows athletes to not only progressively improve their strength and conditioning exercises, but also increases sport performance and the ability to peak for competition. Do you understand the importance of a periodization plan yet? If you're still confused on what exactly a periodization plan is, check out THIS article. Let me expand on what that article initially highlighted...

Having a periodization plan in place is great and every individual or athlete who takes training seriously should have one. However, another aspect to consider is what TYPE of periodization plan is right for you based on your training goals and/or sport requirements. While there are a plethora of ways to approach a proper periodization plan, lucky for you there are really only two different models that are most prevalent in the research.

The two main types of periodization models that are used in strength and conditioning are LINEAR and UNDULAR

Linear Model
The Linear Model of periodization programs is the more traditional approach to resistance training that involves gradual increases in intensity over a period of time. This means that on a week-to-week basis, more stress (i.e. WEIGHT) is progessively placed on the muscular system to improve strength and hypertrophy (muscle growth). Typically, this type of approach can be used over several weeks (microcycle), or in a specific training phase (mesocycle), and sometime throughout an entire season (macrocycle). 

A basic linear periodization plan would look something like this:
(Sets X Reps)

Week 1: 3 X 12

Week 2: 3 X 10

Week 3: 4 X 10

Week 4: 4 X 8

As you can see, the number of repetitions for each compound exercise decreases from week-to-week, while the number of sets gradually increases. While the weight will be different for each individual, it is important to remember that each set should be performed to failure and therefore heavier loads should be placed on the body in each passing week. 

This type of approach is good for athletes who have long training seasons, or individuals who recreationally train in the gym. Additionally, for athletes who only have one or two key competitions in a year (such as power lifter), this type of approach may be beneficial as it allows the body to gradually adapt to the increasing loads. 

 However, one of the potential negatives to the linear model is that it doesn't allow the athlete or individual to be fully recovered. Often, a transition period (or "recovery" period) is required to allow the body to fully recover. This isn't ideal for individuals who need to continually perform, and that's where our second model comes in...

Undular Model
The Undular Model of periodization planning (sometime referred to as "nonlinear") involves a change in training intensity and load throughout the cycle, or even on a day-to-day basis. Instead of gradually increasing (in a LINEAR way), the Undular Model fluctuates the set, rep, and intensity (weight) or each exercise. This allows the body to perform at a higher intensity on days or weeks when it is required, and lower intensities otherwise. As I previously mentioned, this type of model can be used in a single day, on a week-to-week microcycle, or even throughout an entire season (macrocycle).

Here's what it would look like on a week-to-week basis, with each compound exercise being performed as followed:

Week 1: 4 X 6

Week 2: 3 X 10

Week 3: 4 X 10

Week 4: 5 X 3 

In this example, replace the word "Week" with "Day" and you have your daily undulating microcycle. In this case, you would be performing a different set and rep range for each training session in the week. This allows your body to work at higher intensities on specific days of the week (or specific weeks in the program) without providing unnecessary neural fatigue that a linear model may produce. One concern with the undulating model is that because individuals are training at higher intensities more often, overtraining or fatigue may occur. Because of this, proper recovery and a well planned transition period may be required. 

So which model is right for YOU?

Research has shown that the Undular Model is more effective in improving strength than the Linear Model. Additionally, it appears that the Undular Model may have more application to sport performance and especially sports that have many competitions in a single season. If this sounds like you, use an Undular Model. 
he Linear Model, however, gradually increases strength (over a longer period of time) and is generally the "safer" approach for non-athletes. Therefore, if you are a recreational gym-goer or someone who trains for strength or muscle growth (without competitions) than the linear model may be best for you. 

It should be noted that general nature of periodiation planning should be undular in the short-term (microcycles), with regular fluctuations in training intensity and volume, and should be linear in the long-term nature of fitness and health goals. 
As always, consult a strength and conditioning specialist before participating in an exercise program you are unfamiliar with. 

Got questions?? Send em my way!
Kalan Anglos, Msc, cscs

Kalan is an Exercise Physiology & Sports Performance Expert who brings an evidence-based approach with practical-based knowledge to the world of combat sports and human performance. He is a PhD candidate and is recognized as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), and has obtained his MSc. Kinesiology degree at the University of Victoria. Through his masters thesis research, Kalan has established and implemented the KFit Test Battery for Combat Sport Athletes which is used by both Karate BC & Karate Canada as their standard fitness test for  athletes across the country. Additionally, Kalan is an exercise physiology lab instructor at the University of Victoria, and trains individuals (including athletes) every day to help meet their fitness needs and goals. He has many years of experience both as an elite athlete and high performance coach and is knowledgeable in the many fields surrounding fitness and training for sports performance.