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Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Linear and Undulating Periodized Resistance Training Programs on Muscular Strength

Abstract: Periodization is known to improve training adaptations but the most effective periodization approach for muscular strength development for a wide variety of populations is yet to be determined. This systematic review and meta-analysis examined all studies directly comparing linear and undulating periodized resistance training programs to determine and compare their effects on muscular strength. A systematic search of the MEDLINE, SCOPUS, and SPORTDiscus databases revealed 17 studies satisfying the inclusion criteria. There were a total of 510 participants in the included studies. Sixteen studies reported significant increases in strength for both periodization approaches. Five studies reported significant differences in improvements between groups. The meta-analyses determined there were no differences in the effectiveness of linear versus undulating periodization on upper or lower body strength. The short-term nature of studies and the previous training history of participants were identified as potential confounding factors in the interpretation of findings. The results suggest that novelty or training variety are important for stimulating further strength development. Few studies have examined the effect of periodization approaches in adolescent, or athletic populations.

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Alex’s Notes: Periodization is the planned structuring of training variables such as intensity & volume through defined time frames aimed at maximizing performance and recovery. There is no doubt that this is a critical aspect of any training program, and even the ACSM claims that periodized programs are superior to non-periodized programs. The two most commonly utilized types of periodization are linear (LP) and undulating (UP), and I have laid out an example template comparing them below.

 

Week 1

W2

W3

W4

LP

8-12RM

8-12RM

8-12RM

8-12RM

UP

12RM

10RM

8RM

6RM

 

Week 5

W6

W7

W8

LP

5-7RM

5-7RM

5-7RM

5-7RM

UP

10RM

8RM

6RM

4RM

 

Week 9

W10

W11

W12

LP

2-4RM

2-4RM

2-4RM

2-4RM

UP

8RM

6RM

4RM

2RM

As we can see, a key feature of LP is a low initial intensity that gradually increases through the training cycle (volume starts high and gradually decreases but this isn’t shown). Conversely, UP as much more frequent manipulation of intensity and volume. Moreover, the manipulation can occur in numerous ways and in different order, ultimately making UP split into weekly (WUP) or daily (DUP).

In the current review and meta-analysis, 12 studies compared LP and DUP resistance training programs, 3 compared LP and WUP resistance training programs, 1 compared LP, WUP, & DUP, and 1 compared LP to a program with both DUP & WUP. Overall there were a total of 17 studies with an average duration of 12 weeks and training frequency of 3 sessions per week. Out of these 17, 16 reported statistically significant increases in strength for both periodization styles, with 12 showing no difference between LP & UP, 3 favoring UP, and 2 favoring LP.

What really surprised me was that four of the studies had a high risk of bias, while the other 13 had moderate risk. Moreover, none of the studies described the randomization process by which participants were divided into their respective periodized programs, and all studies but three equated volume and intensity between training groups.

Regardless of the above, the meta-analysis confirmed the reviews with no clear benefit for LP or UP on strength gains for the bench press, leg press, or squat. So how can this be? Is there really no difference between periodization methods for strength gains? Perhaps, and it may just come down to your preferred method. However, looking through the reviewed studies it becomes clear that most were conducted in young adult males with limited resistance training experience. Thus, future research should focus not only on more advanced athletes, but also on women. Until then, use the periodization you prefer.

Side note: CrossFit random-ass daily workouts are not periodization. That is called poor programming with no end-goal in mind. Don’t do that if you are serious about performance improvement. There is a reason that the world’s best athletes, bodybuilders, powerlifters, and Olympic lifters don’t do that crap.

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