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Tip 350: Set Goals and Plan Your Training to Overload the Muscles: Best Strength and Body Comp Gains

Thursday, May 17, 2012 6:10 AM
Set training goals and plan your program to progressively overload the muscles for the best strength and body composition gains. Use short training phases (generally, two weeks in length) that allow for better strength and muscle building results than if you used linear periodized phases.

I’ve had great results with a “wavy” or “undulating” periodization method, and new research shows that if you plan your training phases this way, you will have better strength, and body composition results than a traditional periodization model. The new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effect of a nonlinear periodization protocol and a traditional periodization protocol over 12 weeks on upper body strength and muscle gains in two groups of Brazilian military men.

The nonlinear program varied the volume and intensity every 2 weeks for the first 6 weeks, and then for the last 6 weeks, it varied the volume and intensity each day of the week. The linear model included three traditional 4-week phases that progressed from muscular endurance to hypertrophy to strength.

Before we look at results, be aware that varying the volume and intensity each day of the week as was done for the second half of the nonlinear program is a suboptimal strategy because the body does not know what to adapt to. The body will be confused if you train 12 to 15 reps on Monday, 6 to 8 on Wednesday and 1 to 3 on Friday with increasing loads as the number of reps drop. One or two week phases will produce superior results since this will allow the body to progressively adapt in an organized fashion. 

Despite the haphazard nature of the second half of the nonlinear program, it did produce superior results. The nonlinear group gained more strength in the upper body and increased muscle cross sectional area of the biceps and triceps significantly more than the linear group. The nonlinear training group increased 1RM bench press by an average of 25 percent, gaining nearly 20 kg, whereas the linear group gained 10 kg and increased maximal strength by an average of 13 percent. Similar 1RM results were evident in the lat pull down and triceps extension.

Researchers note that in previous studies comparing the two periodization protocols, nonlinear programming is even more effective in eliciting lower body strength and hypertrophy gains. It’s also been found to boost power and jumping capacity in the upper and lower body in trained firemen.

For best results with a nonlinear protocol, try an undulating method with phases that last 2 weeks in which you alternate between accumulation and intensification. With accumulation you will emphasize volume for 2 weeks and then train intensification by emphasizing intensity with heavier lifts, fewer reps, and more sets.

Then you’d return to accumulation for 2 weeks but may adjust the reps, set, and load depending on goals (preparing to compete, lose weight, gain muscle, etc.). Alternating between two phases every 2 weeks will prevent nervous system fatigue and you will not lose muscle mass or energy system conditioning. To read more on undulating periodization, check out the article, A Brief History of Periodization.


Simao, R., Spineti, J., et al. Comparison Between Nonlinear and Linear Periodized Resistance Training: Hypertrophic and Strength Effects. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2012. 26(5), 1389-1395.

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