By Stefan Ianev
Maximal strength is defined as the ability to exert maximal force against a resistance or load. It is typically measured by your 1 rep max or 1RM.
In accordance with the law of specificity, training for maximal strength requires the use of heavy loads. Studies have shown that at least 80% of 1RM is required to improve neural adaptations and strength gains during resistance training in experienced lifters (1).
However, if the same stimulus is repeated in the exact same way each and every time, over time the body will adapt to that stimulus and progress will cease. This is where periodization comes into play.
There are 3 main periodization models when it comes to developing maximum strength.
This is the most common method, and it involves starting with lower intensity and higher volume and progressively increasing the intensity and reducing the volume over the cycle. The early stages focus more on structural adaptations such as increasing hypertrophy and connective tissue strength, while the later stages focus more on neurological adaptations.
Example Linear Cycle:
Weeks 1-4: 4×8-12
Weeks 5-7: 5×6-8
Weeks 8-10: 5×3-5
Weeks 11-12: 3×3,2,1
For athletes in power sports, the last phase is typically a conversion to power phase, which involves light to moderate loading between 30–60% of 1RM performed explosively.
This is important because heavy strength training alone may actually decrease power output unless accompanied by explosive movements (1).
The linear model generally works best for athletes with a long preparatory phase between competitions.
This method alternates 2-3 week blocks of higher volume and lower intensity, typically referred to as an accumulation phase, with 2-3 week blocks of lower volume and higher intensity, typically referred to as an intensification phase. This allows you to maintain both neural and muscular adaptation while managing fatigue.
Example Undulating Cycle:
Weeks 1-2: 4×10-12
Weeks 3-4: 4×6-8
Weeks 5-6: 4×8-10
Weeks 7-8: 5×3-5
Weeks 9-10: 5×5-7
Weeks 11-12: 3×3,2,1
Athletes in power sports that need to increase their relative strength, i.e., increase their strength without putting on much body weight, can alternate a relative strength phase (1-5 reps @ 85-100% of 1RM) with a power phase (3-6 reps @ 30-60% of 1RM).
Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP)
DUP, also called concurrent periodization, because you are training multiple qualities at the same time, involves alternating heavy and light days within the weekly micro-cycle. With this method the primary lifts must be rotated every 2-4 weeks to prevent stagnation, because you are going heavy every week.
Example DUP Cycle:
Weeks 1-4: Heavy: 5×4-6, Light: 4×10-12
Weeks 5-8: Heavy: 5×3-5, Light: 4×8-10
Weeks 9-12: Heavy: 5×2-3, Light: 5×6-8
Athletes in power sports that need to increase their relative strength, can substitute the hypertrophy work with power work on the light days.
DUP or concurrent periodization is ideal for athletes that have a short preparatory phase between competitions. An example is boxers or MMA fighters that may be called upon to fight within a few weeks of notice.
DUP can also be used in-season for maintenance by athletes that participate in sports with a long season such as basketball. For example, these athletes can perform one strength and one power workout per week during the season.
So, there you have it! 3 periodization models that you can incorporate into your programming for yourself – or your clients – for maximal strength gains!
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- American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(3):687-708. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670