Linear Periodization: Pros & Cons

Linear Periodization: Pros & Cons

The term periodization is thrown around a lot in the strength and conditioning world.

It’s common to hear someone reference either linear or undulating periodization when referring to their latest program.

Periodization is a fundamental part of resistance training and a great way to create effective exercise programs. Today we’re going to look at linear periodization and its pros and cons.  


Table of Contents:

  1. What is Linear Periodization?
  2. Who Benefits from It?
  3. Pros
  4. Cons
  5. Sample Program

What is Linear Periodization?

Linear periodization is a way to progress an exercise over time. It starts with high volume and low intensity and works towards low volume and high intensity. 

Linear refers to the sequential progression in the program, and periodization refers to how the sequential progression takes place in a specific block of time.

When originally developed in the Soviet Union in the 50s and 60s, linear periodization was typically applied to a long-term plan lasting at least a year, and up to a four year Olympic cycle. Now, the term is also applied within the context of shorter plans that see volume decrease and intensity increase over a few months.

A linear periodization approach may be applied to an entire training program, or to specific exercises inside a training program.  

For example, over an 16-week period, linear periodization could look like:

  • Weeks 1-4: 10-12 reps x 3 sets
  • Weeks 5-8: 8-10 reps x 3 sets
  • Weeks 9-12: 6-8 reps x 4 sets
  • Weeks 13-16: 4-6 reps x 4 sets

Who Benefits from This Type of Program

This works exceptionally well for beginner clients. Since their training age is low, they will progress quickly and do not require as much variation in stimulus. 

Contrary to popular belief, advanced clients can also use a linear method. However, a more advanced client might use it with a specific exercise instead of an entire program. Learn how to choose the right exercises for your programs here.

Pros and Cons of This Approach

Pros 

  1. Linear periodization works for most people. Whether your client is a fitness enthusiast or a beginner, they can still improve by staying consistent and adding more volume and intensity over time.

  2. This program has clear feedback built in, so it’s obvious when the program isn’t working. If one week your client can’t hit the prescribed weight or reps, either you’ve progressed too fast or their progression has halted (it’s usually the first one).

  3. It keeps you honest as a coach. Linear periodization requires that you hit every step sequentially before moving onto the next one.

  4. It’s easy to get excited and give a client a huge progression week to week. But coaches need to ensure that the rate of progression can continue sequentially week to week for the whole program.

  5. Lastly, it’s a simple way for coaches to think of periodization. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one to help your clients achieve their goals.

But when you periodize a block of time, it reduces the options and simplifies what you need to focus on. 

Cons 

  1. Typically, linear periodization doesn’t work well with intermediate and advanced clients because their rate of adaptation has slowed and they need more variation to drive progression.

    However, you can still use this approach if you focus on a single exercise that needs progression. For example, if the client hasn’t consistently performed a dumbbell bench press in years, you can progress this specific movement linearly.

  2. It may be boring. For some, doing the same exercises week after week in the gym can be boring. In contrast, others may enjoy working on a specific program for weeks at a time. The key here is to know your client and communicate the intent behind your program.

  3. Coaches are impatient. It’s common to make things complex, add variation, and progress clients too fast. But have confidence in your ability and the progression you’ve designed. Weeks and weeks of doing the same thing may be monotonous, but mastering the basics pays dividends.

Sample Linear Periodization Program

Below is an example of linear periodization applied to a 6-month time-span. As volume decreases, intensity increases. 

  • Weeks 1-4: 12-15 reps x 3-5 sets
  • Weeks 5-8: 10-12 reps x 3-5 sets
  • Weeks 9-12: 8-10 reps x 3-5 sets
  • Weeks 13-16: 6-8 reps x 3-5 sets
  • Weeks 17-20: 4-6 reps x 3-5 sets
  • Weeks 21-24: 1-3 reps x 3-5 sets

Want to Write Effective Exercise Programs?

Writing an exercise program can be tricky.

There are seemingly endless possibilities for training splits, exercises, and progressions.

But what if you had a principle-based framework? One that highlighted exactly what to include in your exercise program based on your client’s ability?

Download our free guide to exercise selection and learn exactly that framework, and how to create effective resistance training programs for all of your clients.  

DOWNLOAD

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