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Fitness Education: Linear Versus Nonlinear Periodization Exercise Programming


Periodization is a certain type of programming that takes account of your goals and how to best plan your training to meet your goals. Click here for more detailed information on periodization, cycles, and goal setting.

Now, it’s time to decide which model works for you and your goals. There are two types of periodization models, linear and nonlinear.


Linear Periodization Model (Traditional)

Linear periodization is the gradual progression model that slowly increases volume and intensity over-time throughout a mesocycle. You would accomplish this by increasing your load, volume, or intensity variables every 1 to 4 weeks, allowing your body to adapt in a safe and consistent manner.

Example: a weightlifter following a linear periodization program would perform a barbell squat exercise twice a week, and only increasing the weight by five pounds every 2-3 weeks (provided he feels comfortable).

Pros: Better for training to a specific peak of strength and power. This type of program is easier to create and follow as only one variable is changed at a time.

Cons: there is potential for increased neural fatigue caused by increased training intensities for extended periods of time.


Nonlinear Periodization Model (Undulating)

Nonlinear (Undulating) periodization involves constantly changing exercise variables during every microcycle (about 1 week or even changing each training day). You would accomplish this by fluctuating your load, volume, or intensity every day during a microcycle.

Example: a weightlifter following a nonlinear periodization program would perform a barbell squat two times a week. The first day he would complete sets 4 sets of 5 repetitions (of a weight that is 87% of his 1 repetition max) to accomplish strength goals. His second day he would complete 3 sets of 12 repetitions (of a weight that is 67% of his 1 repetition maximum) to accomplish hypertrophy goals.

Pros: some research shows that a properly executed undulating program is more effective at improving strength than a linear program. If training for sport, nonlinear benefits those with many contests during a season.

Cons: there is also research that have shown no difference in the two types; there is more research that needs to be done. Due to the consistency of high intensity training days, there is an increased risk of Overtraining (link to article here).


At the end of the day, it does not really matter whether you chose to try a linear program or a nonlinear program as both types have been proven to be effective. What matters is how you physically and mentally respond to each type of training type. The key is to try both methods for a few months each and find and continue with the type you prefer. Both have benefits and both can be customized to your personal goals.

If you have questions regarding linear and nonlinear periodization, feel free to reach out to our Warrior Health and Fitness Team.


References:“Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 3rd Edition” by T.R. Baechle and R.W. Earle


Written by: Christopher Manzano MPS, ATC, CSCS, TSAC-F