Originally published in 11 Athletics Magazine, 2012.

Simplifying Periodization for Large Groups of Beginners

Implementing a comprehensive, organized training plan is imperative for sports performance coaches working with athletes. Regardless of the sport, the age of the athlete, or the time of year, periodization is an essential aspect of the overall strength and conditioning program. After instituting movement assessments, performance testing, and needs analyses, it is imperative to construct a planned system utilizing progressive overload in a designated cycle.

Periodization Revisited

The NSCA describes periodization as, “Strategy to promote long-term training and performance improvements with preplanned, systematic variations in training specificity, intensity, and volume organized in periods or cycles within an overall program.” There are so many different periodization models that can be used to accomplish very similar goals. The key is finding which model and fit your situation. For the sake of this article, let’s look as some very general models and place them into two separate categories: Linear and Non-Linear Periodization.

Linear Periodization

When analyzing linear and non-linear periodization, it is important to understanding that all linear periodization models have non-linear characteristics and vice versa. Specifically, non-linear periodization has an inverse relationship between intensity (most likely the training load) and volume (sets and reps).

WEEK Example Set & Rep Scheme
Week 1 3 sets of 12 reps w/ 65%
Week 2 3 sets of 10 reps w/ 70%
Week 3 3 sets of 8 reps w/ 75%
Week 4 3 sets of 6 reps w/ 80%
Week 5 3 sets of 5 reps w/ 82.5 %
Week 6 3 sets of 4 reps w/ 85%
Week 7 3 sets of 3 reps w/ 87.5%
Week 8 3 sets of 2 reps  w/ 90 %

For the most part, linear periodization models follow the basic premise of an inverse relationship between volume and intensity. As the rep ranges decrease throughout a training cycle, the intensity increases. A typical training cycle may start out with 3 sets of 12 reps in week one and end up being 3 sets of 2 reps for the last week.

One major drawback with linear periodization is that certain qualities like hypertrophy, strength endurance, maximum strength, and power are only addressed for a portion of the total training cycle. For example, Maximum Strength may not be addressed until the last third of the training cycle once the repetitions funnel down to a lower rep range. This comparison cannot be illustrated any better than in Dave Tate’s article “The Periodization Bible.”

The Problem with the Yearly Training Plan

As coaches, we sometimes have limited time and resources to work with athletes. Due to longer seasons, early specialization, and increased competition; there is less time is available to get athletes stronger. In most private, high school, and small college settings, uninterrupted training cycles may only last a month or month and a half at best. Long-term training cycles may be difficult to plan and it is imperative to work around the athletes’ game schedule, non-traditional season, other sport seasons, breaks in the academic year, vacations, etc.






Hypertrophy/ Endurance

Basic Strength

Strength/ Power





Husker Power




Tudor Bompa

Anatomical Adaptation

Basic Strength

Conversion to Power





In no way am I suggesting that linear periodization templates are not beneficial. Most well thought-out, detailed training plans can yield results. However, exploring a non-linear periodization structure may suit your situations more effectively.

Why a Non-Linear Model like the Conjugate Method May be the Best for Beginners

Although some coaches may agree that using a non-linear method like the conjugate method may be better suited for experienced athletes, there are inherent benefits to using this system for younger athletes. Conjugated periodization addresses multiple aspects of athletic development simultaneously with emphasis on certain qualities at different times during the training year. In the book, "Optimizing Strength Training," Dr. William Kraemer and Steven Fleck; utilizing non-linear periodization strategies are explored and implemented into collegiate athletics scenarios.

Two major advantages when utilizing non-linear periodization include:

1. More flexibility in the program structure with allowance of more variety in training modalities.

2. The ability to make more progress in less time by employing different training methods simultaneously throughout the entire training cycle.

Dr. Vladimir Zatsiorsky has classified three distinct strength training methods: The Maximum Effort Method, the Dynamic Effort Method and the Repeated Effort (Repetition) Method. Non-linear periodization models typically incorporate all of these components every week (microcycle) of the training cycle. Conversely, linear models address certain performance qualities in a sequential pattern. These methods have been made popular for strength coaches and powerlifters by Louie Simmons of WSBB.





Max Effort Method

Maximal    Above 90%

Low             1-4 reps

Attempted High but Low because of Load

Dynamic Effort Method

Sub-Maximal  40-70%

Low             1-4 reps


Repeated Effort Method

Sub-Maximal  60-80%

High     6 or <6 reps

High then Low due to fatigue

Non-Linear Periodization

There are a few sub-categories of non-linear periodization. The most common include undulating, conjugated or concurrent, and the Tier System invented by Joe Kenn. All of these sub-categories have similar characteristics of each other. In addition, non-linear periodization will possess linear characteristics. The basic premise is multiple fitness qualities, such as power, strength, and hypertrophy, to name a few, will be address throughout the course of the training cycle.

Non-Linear Based Periodization Models




Movements trained multiple times per week with different training methods and movement.

EX:  Mon –Exercises for Power  4x6

        Wed – Exercises for Strength 3x8-10

        Fri – Exercises for Hypertrophy 3x12-15

Tier System

Movements trained once weekly with different training method

EX:  Mon – Total Body Power; Lower Body Strength; Upper Body Hypertrophy

       Wed –Lower Body Power; Upper Body Strength; Total Body Hypertrophy

       Fri –Upper Body Power; Total Body Strength; Lower Body Hypertrophy

Conjugated or Concurrent

Fitness Qualities are addressed simultaneously and equally throughout the training cycle with emphasis on one quality at a time throughout the training cycle

EX:  Mon – DE Lower Body (8x2w/60%)

       Tues – DE Upper Body (8x3 w/50%)

         Thurs – ME Lower Body (Work up to 1-3RM)

         Fri – ME Upper Body (Work Up to 1-3RM)


Both linear and non-linear periodization models can be effective when developing athletes. Finding the best way to implement a training plan to optimize gains may be as easy as finding the best periodization plan for your situation. With the limited time coaches have for training athletes, a non-linear approach may give you the results you are looking for.

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