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Methods of Program Variation

This is an excerpt from Developing the Athlete by William J. Kraemer,Nicholas A. Ratamess & Thomas Newman.

Strength and conditioning professionals must be intimately knowledgeable about the different types of variation methods. There are many approaches, and we want to present our approach in this jungle of methodologies. As discussed in chapter 4, it is important to underscore that one of the general findings of sport training theory over the past hundred years has been that variation is an important element in any training progression. In today’s training programs, the time used for workouts is directed at the mutable aspects of the player’s development. Thus, the effectiveness of the strength and conditioning program is affected by the number of days that can be used over the different cycles of the macrocycle. The concept of “quality over quantity” is more critical than ever here. Individualizing strength and conditioning programs is more critical than ever. Mountains of books, magazine articles, scientific studies, reviews, and blogs have been written on training periodization. However, as Dr. Greg Haff, former president of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), once stated in a presentation, “periodization is a tool.” He also noted that one needs a plan to implement variation in a program. We agree that variation with no fundamental basis in theory or testing of its sequencing makes no sense. While beyond the scope of this book on player development, all members of the player development team must be aware of the basic concepts concerning vital periodization in player development programs. Aligning with fundamental principles is crucial for the athlete’s success and the clarity of the messaging to members of each team.

Classical Linear Periodization

As noted in chapter 4, the two classifications of periodization models that schedule the volume and intensity of resistance exercise workouts have been called classical linear and undulating but are now called nonlinear. The opposite of the classical model, termed reverse periodization, has been used for aerobic endurance athletes and athletes such as bodybuilders. In this model, high-intensity, low-volume training takes place early in the cycle, while intensity tends to decrease as volume increases over the training progression.

Classic Linear Periodization
For years, professor and biomechanist Michael Yessis of California State University, Fullerton published the Yessis Review, which translated many research and training theories from the former Soviet Union, including periodization. He was renowned for translating, adapting, and implementing sport training methodology from the former Soviet Union, including work by famous sport training theorists Yuri Verkhoshansky, Anatoliy Bondarchuk, and Vladimir Issurin. After the book by Russian physiologist and sport theorist Leo Matveyev was translated and published in 1981, more American strength and conditioning professionals became interested in the topic. A host of different sport training theorists, including Romanian-born and national sport team member Tudor Bompa, now a professor emeritus at York University in Toronto, were all involved with developing and promoting various periodization models arising from the more classical linear model. Eventually, sport-specific models were developed using the basic principles of periodized training from the macrocycle, mesocycle, and microcycle contents (Plisk and Stone 2003).

The typical progression of classical, or linear, periodization models is a decrease in the volume of work as the intensity increases to peak and competitive cycles. The famous Matveyev progression of cycles became synonymous with linear periodization progression (Matveyev, 1965). As time went on, with the continued development of periodization models, the starting intensities became higher and microcycles decreased from about 4 weeks to 2 weeks to gain more variation in the exercise stimuli. Interestingly, while we call it linear periodization (although it is not linear in structure), variation exists from workout to workout. The addition of a hypertrophy high repetition day can also be used in the cycles.

Drs. Stone, O’Bryant, and Garhammer popularized what was coined as the “American style” of periodization with recognizable names for the different cycles in periodization theory (Stone, O’Bryant, and Garhammer 1981). They also added a first transition between the preparatory and competitive cycles in their theoretical development of Matveyev’s model. Their theory of periodization was further discussed, as were results from studies showing the advantages of periodized training, as members of the NSCA gained interest in the topic (Stone et al. 1982). In 2003, a variety of periodization strategies were overviewed, with these basic concepts in mind, for different sports and training outcomes (e.g., team sports, strength, speed, power, and agility) (Plisk and Stone 2003).

The proliferation of books and periodization articles has grown over the past twenty years. The explanations and use of approaches to sport training from former Soviet and Eastern Bloc countries have fueled the development of many periodization models or derivatives from the original forms. Bompa and Haff have detailed the multiple methods using various block periodization models, which have become very effective and popular (Bompa and Haff 2009). Vladimir Issurin has also published books on its application, especially to different sports (Issurin 2008).

Conjugate Periodization
Conjugate periodization models involve training different elements of neurophysiological function and evolved most notably from the core concepts of Medvedyev and Verkhoshansky (Medvedyev 1986; Verkhoshansky 1977). They range from models for youth readiness training to mature adult models, ultimately training high-force development and power velocity optimization as separate entities (Verkhoshansky and Siff 2009; Plisk and Stone 2003). Concurrent training of different features of the neuromuscular system was used to optimize the physiological potential of athletic movements. Popularized in the United States by Louie Simmons and Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio, for powerlifting, the program devotes two training sessions per week to focus on maximal effort training, one on the squat and deadlift and one on the bench press (Simmons 2007). This was influenced by Dr. Vladimir M. Zatsiorsky, who wrote that “lifting a maximal load against maximal resistance ... should be used to bring forth the greatest strength increments” (Zatsiorsky, Kraemer, and Fry 2020). This is combined with days of maximal velocity effort training in each exercise as well as additional exercises to gain other angular musculature development (e.g., back reverse hyperextension and triceps pushdown).

Block Periodization
A great deal of information has emerged on block periodization from the work of Tudor Bompa and Greg Haff over the years (Bompa and Haff 2009). The term was coined in the 1980s and was based on Verkhoshansky’s conjugative successive system (Issurin 2008; Verkhoshansky and Siff 2009). The blocks include an accumulation block or concentrated loading that focuses on one of the elements of physical fitness, such as power, muscular endurance, and strength, for anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. The length depends on the targeted goal and the level of fitness progression over the cycle. This block is fundamental and is typically of a higher volume in order to develop base characteristics of the targeted goal. The next block is the transmutation block, where the volume is reduced. It can be from 2 to 4 weeks, has very specific goals, and uses a higher intensity with a reduced total training load. The realization block is next, tapering the total training load even further while maintaining the frequency as one leads up to a peaking or event point in time. This phase is typically not much longer than two weeks. The accumulation block focuses on hypertrophy, transmutation develops strength, and realization targets power. This is then organized over the macrocycle for the preseason competitive season, and off-season when training starts again.

Nonlinear Periodization

One of the reasons for nonlinear periodization is that the body can become stale and not adapt, whether due to the stimulus not being practical or from nonfunctional overreaching. Variation allows the stimuli to change and more effectively stimulate other systems each time. The basic construct for nonlinear periodization arose from several sources and used varying intensities and volumes over time with short training periods. Yuri Verkhoshansky (1928 to 2010), Charles Poliquin (1961 to 2018), and Dr. Matthew Rhea have all used variation, although their intensity loading was not as dramatic as Kraemer’s group proposed it should be in the early 2000s (Poliquin 1988; Kraemer and Fleck 2007; Kraemer et al. 2003; Kraemer et al. 2000; Rhea et al. 2002).

Early on in different linear periodization models, it was found that by shortening the microcycles from 4 weeks to 2 weeks, greater variation could be achieved, with exposure to repetitive stimuli while allowing for recovery. Variation of the stimuli thereby again became more evident to practitioners.

Flexible Nonlinear Periodization

Sport performance, sport science, and strength and conditioning professionals must match a type of periodization model to each athlete and sport. At the University of Connecticut in the early 2000s with Coach Jerry Martin and Coach Andrea Hudy, we used the flexible nonlinear approach to periodization, which allowed us to use any of the different models for different periods of time over the macrocycle to meet various opportunities for training or to deal with disruptors to the strength and conditioning programs.

The keys to flexible nonlinear periodization are in assessing the athlete’s quality of training each day. Quality is more than just going through the motions for a workout, which will not effectively stimulate a change in a targeted variable like strength, local muscular endurance, or power. This is vital because there are a limited number of training sessions for an athlete over a macrocycle. The macrocycle is developed over the entire year, depending on the sport. Different durations of mesocycles are then placed within the macrocycle with specific targeted goals (Kraemer and Fleck 2007). Typically, there is a targeted goal for a particular mesocycle. The mesocycle has specific microcycle days that are also targeted for specific workouts that stimulate different physiological components. The difference from a typical nonlinear program is that rather than just continuing with the next type of workout in line, the flexible nonlinear program changes up the sequence of the mesocycle or changes the workout based on how the athlete is performing on a given day. There is a continual potential for rearranging the mesocycle. If too many defaults occur, that mesocycle’s targeted goal is quickly reevaluated for a given athlete. Another key component is that all of the programs should be individualized for each athlete in their progression and targeted goals over particular phases of the training program.

More Excerpts From Developing the Athlete