Article Page
Comparing Periodization Strategies for Women
Research suggests weekly undulating periodization has some advantages over block periodization.
By Len Kravitz, PhD

Kravitz, L. (2017). Comparing periodization strategies for women. IDEA Fitness Journal, 14(5), 18-21.

Study Reviewed
Bartolomei, S., Stout, J.R. Fukuda, D.H. et al. (2015). Block vs. weekly undulating periodized resistance training programs in women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(10), 2679-2687.

In their systematic review, Harries et al. (2015) explain that periodization training is the systematic structuring and planning of resistance training variables, including volume (repetitions x sets), intensity (load of the resistance), frequency (times per week), and rest (between sets and workouts) throughout specific training periods. This form of training is designed to maximize performance gains while minimizing overtraining and reductions in performance. Harries et al. summarize research indicating that periodized training programs have been shown to be superior to non-periodized programs in the development of muscular fitness. Two relatively new periodization programs for women are weekly undulating and block periodization (Bartolomei et al., 2015). With weekly undulating (WUD) periodization, the program progresses from a high volume and low intensity to a period of low volume and high intensity over a period of weeks, referred to as a mesocycle in resistance training (Bartolomei et al., 2015). In contrast, block periodization (BP) is a Russian developed program designed in phases of 2-6 weeks in duration, with each phase targeting a specific training stimulus (e.g., strength, hypertrophy, power). Bartolomei et al. highlight with BP the phases move progressively from hypertrophy to strength and then power. WUD and BP have never been scientifically compared in a female population of subjects, and thus became the purpose of this study.

The participants in this study were 17 recreationally trained women who had completed resistance training (free weight and/or machine) at least one time a week for the last two years, but never within a periodized training program. In addition, the participants completed at least one bout of squats each week within the last year. Participants were randomly assigned to the BP group (9 females, age=24.7 yrs, body weight=137 lbs, height=64 inches) or the WUD group (8 females, age=23.2 yrs, body weight=132 lbs, height=63 inches).

Resistance Training Protocols
Before beginning the study, all participants completed a 2-week familiarization program where they learned how to perform all of the exercises correctly. The volunteers worked out 3 times a week for 10 weeks during the study. All participants did the same exercises, which included the following:
Monday: Squat, countermovement jump, bench press, military press, leg curl
Wednesday: deadlift, prone barbell row, latissimus dorsi pulldown, preacher curl
Friday: sumo deadlift, leg extension, incline bench press, barbell triceps extension, and high pull (start by holding the barbell slightly wider than shoulder width with the knees and hips flexed. Explosively extend the hips and knees while pulling the bar up to chest level).

The BP and WUD program designs for the 10-week study are depicted in figures 1 and 2. Note that with both 10-week programs there was no dietary intervention. As well, all participants were instructed not to do any other type of training or sport participation during the length of the study.
Figure 1. Block Periodization 10-Week Program
(Figure adapted from data from Bartolomei et al., 2015); 1RM refers to 1-repetition maximum
This block periodization program consists of two 5-week mesocycles. The first 5-week mesocycle focuses on muscle hypertrophy and can be described as a high volume lower intensity block. Five sets of each exercise were performed with 1-min rest between sets. The second 5-week mesocycle targets maximal strength training with the participants. Five sets were performed with a 3-min rest between sets. Note that week 5 and week 10 are transition weeks, with a lighter training intensity and volume.
Figure 2. Weekly Undulation Periodization 10-Week Program
(Figure adapted from data from Bartolomei et al., 2015); 1RM refers to 1-repetition maximum (thus 70% 1RM means the participants are training at 70% of their 1RM for each exercise).
This weekly undulation periodization program consists of two 5-week mesocycles. The first week of each mesocycle targeted a muscle hypertrophy stimulus. The second week of training in both mesocycles had a slight increase in intensity and decrease in repetitions. The third and fourth week of each mesocyle focused on maximal strength, with participants working at a higher intensity and lower volume.

Pretest and Posttest Assessments
The strength testing in this study consisted of 1RM testing (the most weight a person can lift one time) of the squat, deadlift, and bench press exercises. In addition, a maximal isometric midthigh pull strength test was also completed using an isometric dynamometer (an instrument for measuring force). For body composition changes, anthropometric circumference assessments were taken of the arm and thigh circumference. Percent body fat was also measured.

Results of the Study
In respect to body weight, both groups virtyually had no change after 10 weeks of training. However, fat mass decreased by 4% in the BP group as compared to 7% in the WUD group. As a reminder, no dietary intervention was integrated in the study. After 10 weeks of training both the BP and WUD groups made similar and significant increases in strength and power. However, in lower-body strength the WUD showed significantly (+27.7%) better improvement as compared to the BP group (+15.2%). Both groups significantly increased arm muscle circumference, with the WUD showing a 15.1% increase as compared to 11.2% of the BP group. However, the thigh circumference was significantly better in the WUD group (+5.8%) as compared to the BP group (1.6%). It is interesting to note the arms showed a greater change (in both groups) as compared to the legs. Bartolomei et al. 2015 suggest this to difference in change, between the upper body and lower body, may be due to the complexity of the lower body exercises. However, since both the upper body and lower body were training at the same relative intensities, this difference may be more reflective of a variance in time adaptation of the upper and lower body musculature in women. This interesting finding warrants further investigation.

Final Take Home
In summary, the lower-body strength gains, increases in thigh and arm circumferences and changes in fat mass were greatest in the WUD group. This suggests that for recreationally trained women, the early (up to 10 weeks) adaptations appear to be more responsive to a WUD type of periodization training protocol.
Side Bar 1. How does Undulating Periodization Compare to Linear Periodization?
Linear periodization, very similar to block periodization, can be described as a program with an initial high volume and low intensity that gradually progresses to training phases of lower volume and high intensity (Harries et al, 2015). Linear periodization is often developed in a full year with weekly (microcycle), monthly (mesocycle) and multi-monthly (macrocycle) periods. Harries et al. conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis on 17 studies (with adults) that compared undulating periodization and linear periodization. Sixteen of the 17 studies demonstrated significant increases in muscular strength with both approaches. However, the results of the analysis indicated there were no differences in the effectively of undulating vs. linear periodization for lower-body and upper-body strength gains. In their practical application section, Harries et al. suggest that personal trainers use both periodization approaches in an effort to present more variety and to prevent stagnation with their participants

Bio:Len Kravitz, PhD, CSCS is the program coordinator of exercise science and a researcher at the University of New Mexico, where he received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year award. In addition to being a 2016 inductee into the National Fitness Hall of Fame, Len was awarded the 2016 CanFitPro Specialty Presenter Award.

Additional Reference:
Harries, S.K., Lubans, D.R., and Callister, R. (2015). Systematic review and meta-analysis of linear and undulating periodized resistance training programs on muscular strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(4), 1113-1125.