The Optimal Strength Training Program

Biblical characters practiced periodization training.

You hear a lot about periodization training. If you do Crossfit, Then you most likely hear negative things about periodization, how it is the “enemy” and “variation is your friend” and so on.  Well I have a newsflash for you: You don’t get really really strong by doing constantly varied workouts. If you think that all of those elite Games athletes are just doing random workouts every day, then you are just kidding yourself.

There is nothing wrong with constantly varying workouts, if that is what you are into, just don’t fall for the “muscle confusion” myth (your muscles don’t each have a brain). According to a 12 week study conducted at the University of Alberta,  strength training protocols were tested in 3 groups: a control group, a periodization group and a constantly varied group. The results are not too surprising for those that understand the benefits of periodization.


There is currently no consensus on what the ideal strength training program is. But it typically involves resistance training exercises, which includes free weight exercises, and it is widely accepted that periodization in some form is the most effective.

Periodization is a training scheme where planned variations in training variables (e.g., number of sets and repetitions, exercise order, load, and rest) are manipulated in a manner that increases the ability of a person to achieve specific performance goals (e.g., strength). It is based on the overload principle and attempts to maximize the use of physical stress and recovery time by manipulating volume and intensity to facilitate important neuromuscular adaptation” (Apel, Jytte M)

The study compared 2 primary models of periodization: a Traditional (TD) and a Weekly Undulating Periodization (WUD).

TD uses a linear periodization in 3 cycles.  Within each cycle, there is an initial training volume at a moderate intensity progressing to an increase in intensity and a decrease in volume.

In contrast, WUD relies on more irregular manipulation of volume and intensity across the cycle of training. This type of training has short periods of high-volume training alternated with short periods of high intensity training, all potentially within 1 week.

The test was conducted on 42 males, ages between 22-26. All test subjects were healthy, recreationally active men who had previous lifting experience. They were assigned groups of TD and WUD.

Both groups spent the first 3 weeks on the same programming, which included back squat, bench press, shoulder press (with both dumbbell and barbell). After 3 weeks, both groups split off and began their TD and WUD training programming, starting with 3x a week, then increasing to 4x a week.

TD Programming

The TD program used a gradual linear increase in intensity from weeks 5-8, then a gradual increase in intensity from weeks 9-11, with testing taking place in week 12. The TD used a linear increase in intensity from week to week.

WUD Programming

The WUD program used a fixed sequence that was applied to all WUD subjects.  Weeks 5-9 contained the greatest average intensity (79-80% of 1RM) with the lowest average intensity found in weeks 6 and 11 (73-75% of 1RM). The WUD program used a non-linear format.


While all subjects showed a substantial increase in strength from weeks 8-11, overall the TD showed a significantly greater improvement in strength compared to the WUD for back squat, bench press and lat pull down. However, the WUD showed a greater improvement in leg extension. The findings also showed that by week 12, the TD was still making significant gains, while the WUD gains were marginal.

The purpose of the study was to determine whether TD or WUD strength training would elicit greater strength gains over 12 weeks of training on previously weight-trained men.  The results showed that the TD group increased baseline strength by an average of 38.6%, while the WUD group increased strength by 26.9%. Thus, TD periodization was more successful at increasing muscular strength by week 12 than WUD programming.

Final Thoughts

Again, this isn’t to say that WUD programming is bad, it is what I started with. I actually think it’s beneficial to switch it up because life is varied and doesn’t adhere to a program. However if pure strength gains are what you desire, then a traditional periodization program is what you need to be on. I am currently on the Texas Method, we will see what types of gains I make!


A Comparison of Traditional and Weekly Undulating Periodized Strength Training Programs With Total Volume and Intensity Equated

Apel, Jytte M; Lacey, Ryan M; Kell, Robert T

Author Information

Augustana Faculty, Department of Social Sciences, University of Alberta, Augustana Campus, Camrose, Alberta T4V 2R3, Canada; and Results Training & Fitness, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

Address correspondence to Dr. Robert Kell,