Research Review By Kevin Neeld©

Date Posted:

November 2009

Study Title:

Comparison Between Different Off-Season Resistance Training Programs in Division III American College Football Players


Hoffman JR et al.

Author's Affiliations:

Department of Health and Exercise Science, The College of New Jersey; Department of Kinesiology, The University of Connecticut

Publication Information:

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2009; 23(1): 11-19.

Background Information:

Despite the wide acceptance of the superiority of periodized over unperiodized training programs, research data supporting or refuting the benefits of periodization is minimal. Furthermore, the majority of periodization studies are conducted on untrained subjects and typically find no differences between periodization groups. This can be explained by the fact that all beginners experience significant neural and muscular adaptations when starting a new program; the novice training population likely isn’t the most appropriate subject pool for these periodization studies.

Undulating periodization, or nonlinear periodization, involves the daily or weekly manipulation of exercise volume and intensity and may provide an effective model for simultaneously developing muscular hypertrophy, strength, and power. As a result, this model has a unique applicability to athletes, who can rarely afford to spend huge chunks of training time focusing primarily on only one of these goals.

The purpose of this study was to assess training adaptations in a group of previously trained athletes using nonlinear periodized, linear periodized and unperiodized training programs.

Pertinent Results:

  • All three groups significantly increased bench press and squat one-repetition maximum (1RM) from the first testing point (PRE) to the second testing point (MID; 7 weeks into the training; p < 0.05). No further increases were noted from MID to POST (at the conclusion of the study).
  • Vertical jump height increased significantly in all three groups from PRE to MID (p < 0.05), but vertical jump power did not change in any group.
  • Medicine ball throw distance (upper body power) increased significantly from PRE to POST (p < 0.05) in the Linear Periodization group only.
  • Body mass did not significantly change in any group.
  • No significant differences were noted between the three groups in any of the questions included in the subjective assessment.

Clinical Application & Conclusions:

The primary finding of this study is that the majority of the strength and power gains during this 15-week training program occurred in the first 7 weeks. This is likely due to the fact that the participants were beginning this training program after a relatively long post-season break from organized training. Unfortunately, the results of this study do not provide concrete evidence in support of any periodization model.

It seems to be the case that untrained and detrained individuals respond favorably to training of any kind, whether periodized or not. The limited evidence on trained individuals seems to suggest that undulating periodization programs result in greater increases in strength and power than linear or unperiodized programs. One interpretation of this evidence may be that undulating periodization is the optimal training model to follow, as there is a dearth of evidence indicating any downside to this model.

The only exception may be complete novices, who would benefit from more repetitions and may not have mastered exercise technique sufficiently to justify significant increases in exercise intensity.

Study Methods:

Fifty-one NCAA Division III football players participated in the study. The players were randomly divided into one of three training groups: a non-periodized training program, linear periodized training program, and a planned nonlinear periodized training program. All three groups performed the same exercises; the only difference between the training programs was the exercise intensity for a given exercise on a given day.

The training program was set up as a 4-day split; days one and three predominantly trained the chest, shoulders and triceps, and days two and four predominantly trained the lower body, back, and biceps. Exercises were slightly altered for each of the three phases. Phase one and three lasted 4 weeks, while phase two lasted six weeks.

The athletes were assessed on 1RM strength on the bench press and squat, vertical jump height anaerobic power from repeat vertical jumps, and upper body power from a seated 3-kg medicine ball throw before the study, after seven weeks of training, and at the conclusion of the study. Lastly, all athletes completed a questionnaire assessing how much they agreed/disagreed with the following four statements:
  1. I was able to maintain the prescribed intensity/volume of my workouts throughout the study;
  2. I feel stronger and more powerful than I did at the start of the study;
  3. I felt that I had sufficient recovery between each workout session; and
  4. I felt that the program I was on provided me the best opportunity to increase my strength and power.

Study Strengths / Weaknesses:

The study had one major limitation that should be kept in mind. The study commenced after a relatively long rest period following the completion of the study. As a result of this break, it was likely that the athletes were in at least a slightly detrained state.

Despite all of the athletes having lifting experience, beginning the program from a detrained state will influence the strength improvements seen early in the program, as was the case in the current investigation. It would be helpful to see if conducting this study in-season or during a time of consistent training would have any effect on the results.

Additional References:

  1. Deschenes MR et al. Neural factors account for strength decrements observed after short-term muscle unloading. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 2002; 282: R578-R583.
  2. Marx JO et al. Low-volume circuit versus high-volume periodized resistance training in women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001; 33: 635-643.
  3. Plis SS & Stone MH. Periodization strategies. Strength Cond J 2003; 25(6): 19-27.
  4. Staron RS et al. Strength and skeletal muscle adaptations in heavy-resistance-trained women after detraining and retraining. J Appl Physiol 1991; 70: 631-640.
  5. Tan B. Manipulating resistance training program variables to optimize maximum strength in men: a review. J Strength Cond Res 1999; 13: 289-304.
  6. Willoughby DS. The effects of mesocycle-length weight training programs involving periodization and partially equated volumes on upper and lower body strength. J Strength Cond Res 1993; 7: 2-8.

Related Reviews on RRS:

Please refer to the Exercise Sciences – Periodization section of the database for other reviews on this topic.