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Non-Linear Training Periodization

It is no surprise that the formula for athletic success equals hard work plus perseverance. However, there is great importance in the modification of HOW an athlete trains. A football player who only works on heavy strength training in the weight room might not have the quickness needed to compete with agile competitors. A cross country runner who runs 15 miles each day may improve their athletic endurance, but this puts them at an elevated risk for overuse injury. To attain the highest results, the athlete must change their workout routines frequently throughout the weeks and months of their seasons. This will not only enhance their overall athletic performance, but it will also help prevent injury.

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), there are three training cycles that can help break up an athlete’s workout regimen. These are:

  1. Microcycle: Typically a span of one-four weeks

  2. Mesocycle: Several weeks or months

  3. Macrocycle: A full training year

There are a few key factors to consider when deciding which cycles and patterns will suit the athlete best. According to Strength and Conditioning Specialist Jeff Brodeur, the time of year, training focus, and training experience of the athlete will have an impact on what plan the athlete should follow.

  1. Linear periodization consists of non-varying patterns of training protocols involving exercise selection, volume and intensity. High school teams and inexperienced groups would benefit from this type of training regimen. Athletes following this pattern can start with hypertrophy as a building block and gradually increase to the strength and max strength phases.

  2. Non-linear periodization is a form of periodization that consists of varying patterns of training protocols involving exercise selection, volume, and intensity. A non-linear program would be best suited for more experienced athletes, especially those who have worked with resistance training. There are many forms of non-linear training periodization formats; the athlete may focus on improving speed for one week, and the following week they may modify their program to focus on developing strength. A division I collegiate football team in the heat of their season would likely use a non-linear progression plan.


Below is a sample non-linear progression 12-week plan:

Weeks one-four = hypertrophy, strength, speed, max effort phases

Weeks five-eight = hypertrophy, strength, speed, max effort phases

Weeks nine-twelve = hypertrophy, strength, speed, max effort phases

*Each phase should include different variations of training (ie what drills you do for speed), and different exercises for strength.

Hypertrophy (“Excessive development of an organ or part; specifically: increase in bulk (as by thickening of muscle fibers) without multiplication of parts”): High volume, low intensity

  1. 3 sets of 8-12 reps (60-70% 1 RM, or intensity)

Speed: low volume, high intensity

  1. 5-6 sets of 1-3 reps (50-60% 1 RM)

Strength: moderate volume, moderate-high intensity

  1. 3 sets of 5-8 reps (70-85% 1 RM)

Max effort: All-out effort

  1. 5-6 sets of 1-2 reps (85-100% 1 RM)

Regardless of the athlete’s workout regimen, it is important to stick to the training routine. To improve flexibility, explosiveness, and strength, the athlete must complete the periodization pattern in its entirety.


Jeff believes the off-season is a great time to prepare the body for the demands of the sport. “You can spend a lot of time during the off-season focusing on strength, explosiveness, speed and agility, endurance, and overall athletic performance.” While training throughout the off-season is extremely important, it is also wise for athletes to include some cross-training, which will help to avoid overuse injuries. By participating in other sports and activities, the athlete can improve their athletic abilities while simultaneously training various muscle groups.

To learn more about linear periodization, click here.

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