Getting your muscles to grow is not an easy task. It takes hours of intense training and dedication. So often you see people spinning their wheels and not getting anywhere in terms of results. They go to the gym and train the same way day after day. This method may have worked for them in the beginning when they started to see results, but then they hit a wall and their progress came to a quick halt. Nobody enjoys a plateau in their results and sometimes it can be discouraging. Break through plateaus by properly incorporating these two training variables: periodization and frequency.
Periodization is programmed change in a training regimen. There are several different ways of implementing periodization. For example, if someone is doing the typical bro split hitting each body part one day a week and training in 8-12 rep range doing the same exercises, periodization would come in to play if that person were to change their training program from doing their typical routine. If that person were to now train in a different rep range or incorporate different exercises or train body parts on different days, they would be activating different mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy than they would if they were to continue doing the same training regimen. There are different types of periodization such as linear periodization, non-linear periodization, and flexible non-linear periodization.
Linear periodization is the most common form of periodization. It usually involves starting with higher volume workouts using lighter weights and slowly shifts toward lower-volume workouts using heavier weights. The transition and change of training is usually done in 4-6 week cycles. Linear periodization has been shown in several studies to increase strength, lean mass, and improve body composition better than non-periodized training (1,2)
Non-linear periodization is different than typical linear periodization due to the fact that training volume and intensity is manipulated more often than in linear periodization. Non-linear periodization involves changing the weight, volume, reps, and exercises in a non-linear fashion meaning that there is not a programmed path of change. It’s a much different style of training than the traditional linear periodization scheme. The transition and change of training in non-linear periodization varies anywhere from day to day or week to week. This type of training has been shown in studies to be comparable or in some cases even better than linear periodization in terms of body composition (3,4)
A form of non-linear periodization that has recently risen to popularity is flexible non-linear periodization. The difference between flexible non-linear periodization and non-linear periodization is that an individual can make modifications to their training regimen depending on how they feel. So let’s say an individual is scheduled to train back and biceps for a workout on a specific day, but when that day comes the individual finds that his/her back and biceps feel a little sore and fatigued from the last time those muscles were trained. That individual can decide to train different muscle groups such as chest and triceps that day in order to train at a better intensity and have better performance than they would if they were to train back and biceps that day. Flexible non-linear periodization has not been studied extensively, but research shows promising results and that it may be even better than regular non-linear periodization (5).
Training frequency is somewhat like a sub-category of periodization. Frequency is a variable that influences how a person periodizes their training. How often a muscle group gets worked can impact the development of that muscle. For most people, they work each muscle group once a week. But what if they were to hit each muscle group 2 or even 3 times a week? Could this lead to greater gains or stagnation in process?
Studies show that hitting a muscle group more often causes greater muscle growth and strength gains (6). A study done in Norway had individuals either train each muscle group 3 times a week or 6 times a week. To most people, 3 times a week is a huge change in itself, but 6 times a week? That has to lead to overtraining right? Well, you would be wrong for thinking so. In the study, the group that was training each muscle group 6 times a week saw greater muscle growth and saw strength gains that nearly doubled the group training each muscle group 3 times a week. This study has not been peer reviewed, but it’s hard to argue with the data. Training each muscle group 6 times a week can be difficult and may not be optimal for everyone, but this study is an example of how high frequency can impact different mechanisms of strength and muscle hypertrophy.
Muscle growth can be a complex process. Mixing up your training regimen by incorporating frequency changes and properly periodizing your training will lead to better adaptations and help you reach your goals at a faster rate.
- Buford TW, Rossi SJ, Smith DB, Warren AJ. A comparison of periodization models during nine weeks of equated volume and intensity for strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2007;21:1245–1250.
- Baker D, Wilson G, Carlyon R. Periodization: The effect on strength of manipulating volume and intensity. J Strength Cond Res. 1994;8:235–242.
- Prestes J, Frollini AB, De Lima C, Donatto FF, Foschini D, DeCassia Marqueti R, Figueira A, Jr, Fleck SJ. Comparison between linear and daily undulating periodized resistance training to increase strength. J Strength Cond Res. 2009;23:2437–2442.
- Kok LY, Hamer PW, Bishop DJ. Enhancing muscular qualities in untrained women: linear versus undulating periodization. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41:1797–1807.