Linear periodization is arguably the most common form of periodization and is often used for beginner lifters who experience rapid strength gains. During this program, intensity is increased linearly as volume and/or frequency is proportionally decreased over a training block. The variable such as intensity or volume, being manipulated determines the desired training effect. For strength training though, intensity is the variable we want to alter. As the intensity is constantly increasing, deload weeks are absolutely necessary to maintain adequate recovery and avoid overtraining, especially when the intensity in the later weeks gets high.
Linear periodization is great for beginners as it is constantly increasing the intensity stimulus which is beneficial for lifters experiencing sudden and rapid increases to their strength. The program is very simple to understand and follow as it follows a logical progression of intensity going up and volume going down. This program can certainly be useful for experienced lifters also, particularly during long downtime between competitions. Other forms of linear progression also serve a purpose such as the volume increase and intensity decrease discussed earlier, this can be effective for increasing muscular strength endurance and work capacity.
The idea of block periodization is to progress through 3 different blocks of training. The first block is called the accumulation phase. This phase focuses on building muscle mass and general strength that is non-specific to any given movement. This block is characterized by its higher repetitions and varied movements and typically lasts between 4-8 weeks. The second block is the transmutation phase. This phase focuses on shifting that general strength from the previous phase to more movement specific strength by limiting the variety of movements. This phase also sees lower repetitions for a more classic approach to specific strength training. This block typically lasts only 2-3 weeks due to the increased intensity which can be difficult to adequately recover from. The third and final block is the realization phase. This phase focuses purely on those specific strength movements and aims to make those movements as strong as possible before a competition or peaking week. This block shouldn’t be any longer than 2 weeks as the lifting intensity is not sustainable. A benefit of block periodization is being able to stack the accumulation and transmutation phases almost infinitely before progressing to the realization phase. As with any other periodization model, deload week are necessary here and often slot in nicely as a transition week from phase to phase i.e., placing a deload week in between the last week of the accumulation phase and the first week of the transmutation phase.
This periodization model is inherently more advanced than a linear periodization model and is particularly useful for breaking plateaus in experienced lifters. This model allows for numerous peaking or competition weeks each year which makes it ideal for actively competitive lifters. The length of each block is also quite fluid, with less experienced lifters being able to spend longer in each phase and still receive proper stimulus. This model could also befit someone with general training experience but limited strength specific training as the whole point of block periodization is to progress logically through general strength, general specific strength, and sport specific training stimulus.
Undulating periodization comes in two distinct forms, daily undulating (DUP) and weekly undulating (WUP). This periodization model has peculiar differences when compared to the other models that lend itself to being primarily for individuals with more training experience. These differences stem from the undulation of training variables, as the name suggests. Daily undulating periodization alters the intensity and volume of training sessions every day, while weekly undulating periodization alters these variables on a weekly basis. Some research has been performed observing the differences between the two forms of undulating periodization and it has been suggested that weekly undulations provide more long-term strength gains. I think both forms have their place though and daily undulations can be very effective in the short-term. A recent meta-analysis also found that individuals training on some form of undulating periodization made strength gains 17% faster than those on a linear periodization model.
This may make it seem as though undulating is just better for strength gains, which is our overall goal. However, that same meta-analysis found no difference in undulating and linear periodization for untrained individuals. Meaning, undulating periodization is not necessarily more effective for beginners, which I agree with. This is due to the increased stress constant undulating stimulus puts on the body, which can be exceptionally difficult to effectively recover from. This requires careful management of weekly load, internal and external stress markers, and deloading. It’s also necessary to monitor the interference effect the undulating stimulus may be having on the overall adaptation. This periodization model requires significant input from the individual as well as the coach and is therefore more befitting of an experienced athlete.
A conjugate periodization model has become synonymous with the Westside barbell method of Louie Simmons. However, conjugate training has been around since the early 70s, originally used by the Soviet Olympic Weightlifting team. Regardless of its origins, conjugate training simply means that the exercises performed during training are constantly varied. While the goals of the program may be the same as any other periodization model, it is achieved through the most indirect route by performing countless variations of the primary movements. The same goes for accessory movements, these are constantly switched out for variations also. This approach to training builds strength at a foundational level of the movement by making the desired training adaptation as broad as possible. When we say that training adaptation is broad, we mean the effect on a specific movement is broad. For example, the difference between training bench press on any other periodization model and the conjugate model is that training a competitive bench press typically involves a high frequency of movement specific training i.e., training competitive bench press a lot. While on the conjugate method, in order to train the competitive bench press, we would perform every variation of bench press imaginable for 1-2 weeks each and aim to go very heavy each time. This concept is steeped in the idea that we are unable to lift maximally on the same lifts each week. The training variables we manipulate to avoid overtraining and ensure adequate recovery is typically load, frequency or volume. However, the training variable the conjugate method manipulates, is the exercise itself instead.
The conjugate method can be incredibly useful due to the constant variation. It means the plan can be fluid and change sporadically from week-to-week. This can be the difference maker for busy individuals that can’t stick to a program that has been planned months in advance. The constant inclusion of maximal effort days mean heavy lifting is the focus and that makes the goal feel tangible. A lifter that spends time on a conjugate plan is far less likely to have weak points or problem areas on a given lift due to the constant variation building a certain foundational strength within that movement. The constant variation keeps training exciting and almost eliminates the tediousness that can come with strength training.