|Resistance Training Periodization in Women
Beltz, N., M.S. & Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
It has been well documented that the implementation of an appropriate resistance training program elicits many health benefits throughout a wide range of age, gender, fitness level and health status. These benefits include positive adaptations in muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition and successful management of several chronic diseases, including diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypertension, bone and joint diseases (osteoporosis and osteoarthritis), and depression (Warburton, Nicol, Bredin, 2006). The American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) currently recommends that a healthy adult perform resistance training 2-3 days per week involving the major muscle groups of the body (Pescatello et al., 2014). However, these guidelines may lack the specificity required to achieve maximal results for some female clients. Several training variables exist in designing high-quality resistance training programs such as various movement patterns, number of sets, number of repetitions, training load and rest periods. One principle approach for the organization of a training program is periodization. Periodization training may be characterized as alterations of volume (repetitions x sets), intensity (load), exercise selection and rest (between sets and workouts) in distinctive cycles to optimally improve musculoskeletal fitness (Lorenz et al., 2010).
Organizing training in this way helps to promote the most advantageous training adaptations, while also preventing overtraining (Lorenz et al., 2010). Recent research suggests that resistance-trained women respond similar to resistance-trained men from identical periodized resistance training models, although there appears to be a greater increase in percent strength observed with women (Kell, 2011).
What Are the Most Common Periodization Models?
Three of the most prominent periodization models are liner (LP), reverse linear (RLP), and undulating (UP). Linear periodization is the classic approach and involves increasing intensity while decreasing volume as training progresses over a period of weeks. Reverse linear periodization follows a similar modification of intensity and volume as LP, but in a reverse order. Undulating periodization incorporates within week (i.e., day to day) changes in volume and intensity. A comprehensive and original study by Prestes et al. (2009) examining the differences between LP and RLP in recreationally trained females is reviewed in this column.
Twenty women between the ages of 20 and 35 years volunteered for this study. All subjects had a minimum of 6 months strength training experience prior to the beginning of the study. Additionally, the subjects were not users of any ergogenic aids and were instructed to maintain their normal dietary patterns during the length of the study.
Strength Training Program
Both groups completed 12 weeks of strength training on three days per week, specifically Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. To ensure ideal recovery during the 12 weeks, an active recovery week was given every 4th week in which the subjects did two training sessions of exercises at a 12-repetition maximum (12RM, meaning they could complete 12 repetitions to momentary muscular fatigue but not a 13th repetition). The exercises were divided into training A and training B in order to provide exercise selection variations during the week (see Table 1 for exercises and Table 2 for rest periods between sets). On Monday and Friday, training A exercises were performed, and, on Wednesday, training B exercises was completed. On the following week, training A was performed on Wednesday, and training B exercises were performed on Monday and Friday. Each session averaged 50 minutes and was supervised by a strength and conditioning specialist. In the LP, the intensity increased each microcycle (1 week) while the volume decreased. The opposite design was utilized for the RLP group (see Figure 2 for weekly microcyle changes in exercise intensity and volume). Each training session consisted of 3 sets until voluntary muscular fatigue with the number of repetitions dependent on the week of the training cycle. In addition, subjects completed two days per week of 30-minute treadmill aerobic training at a moderate intensity.
Table 1. Resistance Training Exercises
Training A Program
Inclined chest fly
Dumbbell shoulder press
Standing biceps curl
Biceps preacher curl
Close-grip bench press
Training B Program
Standing calf raise
Table 2. Rest Intervals
Sets x Repetitions Rest Interval
3 x 12 to 14 repetitions 45 seconds
3 x 10 to 12 repetitions 1 minute
3 x 8 to 10 repetitions 1 minute and 20 seconds
3 x 6 to 8 repetitions 1 minute and 40 seconds
3 x 4 to 6 repetitions 2 minutes
Variables Measured and Results
Evaluations for all variables were performed at the end of each mesocycle (4 week block of microcycles) as well as one week after completing the training program. In terms of body composition, statistically significant decreases in %body fat (%BF) (17% decrease; initial %BF was 23.05% and after 12 weeks %BF was 19.2% as measured by skinfold calipers) and significant increases (7%) in fat-free or muscle mass were observed in the LP group. No statistically significant differences were observed in either of these categories for the RLP group. However, the RLP group did decrease %BF by 11% and increased muscle mass by 4%. The exercises selected to assess strength were bench press, latissimus dorsi pull-down, biceps curl, and leg extension. In regards to strength improvements, both LP and RLP groups showed statistically significant increases in bench press, latissimus pull-down, biceps curl, and leg extension strength. When comparing between the periodization models, LP was superior to RLP in the latissimus pull-down and the biceps curl but no differences were found in the bench press or leg extension. Evaluation of muscular endurance (assessment was as many repetitions as possible of a biceps curl and leg extension with 50% of the subject's body mass) showed improvement for both groups, with no significant differences between the LP and RLP groups. The researchers highlight that following the 12th week, in which no exercise was performed, testing indicated there was no decrease in maximal strength and no negative alterations in body composition. To summarize, LP was a more effective method for eliciting positive results in strength and body composition as compared to RLP.
Implementing a training regimen from research to practice can be a challenging task for any personal trainer, and determining the best periodization model for each female client will vary. Mullen and Whaley (2010) found that appearance-related goals are the main factors for motivation within younger and middle-aged populations of women. In terms of changes in body composition, linear periodization in the Prestes et al. (2009) study had the greatest effect with simultaneous improvements in body fat and fat-free mass. The preservation of strength is an important factor in maintaining overall total body functional capacity and it is well-established that the implementation of a resistance training program alone will accomplish this goal, although periodized programs appear to be the most effective (Kell, 2011). An important trend throughout the literature on periodization in women is that beneficial training adaptations can be seen across the entire spectrum of age and training status. Thus, knowing that these programs can help women reach their goals implies that using a variety of periodization models while designing a resistance-raining program may be a desirable strategy for exercise professionals to follow. This may help to ensure targeted results and also encourage exercise adherence.
Kell, R.T. (2011) The influence of periodized resistance training on strength changes in men and women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25(3), 735-744.
Lorenz, D.S., Reiman, M.P., and Walker, J.C. (2010) Perdiodization: Current review and suggested implementation for athletic rehabilitation. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, 2(6): 509-518.
Mullen, S.P. and Whaley, D.E. (2010) Age, gender and fitness club membership: Factors related to initial involvement and sustained participation. International Journal of Sport Exercise Psychology, 8(1), 24-35.
Pescatello, L.S. (2014). ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (9th ed.). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Prestes, J., de Lima, C., Frollini, A.B., Donatto, F.F., and Conte, M. (2009) Comparison of linear and reverse linear periodization effects on maximal strength and body composition. Journal of Strength and Condition Research 23(1): 266-274.
Warburton, D.E.R., Nicol, C.W., and Bredin, S.S.D. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence, Canadian Medical Association Journal, 174(6), 801-809.
Nick Beltz, M.S. is an Exercise Science doctoral student at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. His specific interests include clinical populations, disease prevention, risk factor modification, nutrition, and strength/power development. He enjoys playing all team sports as well as recreational power lifting.
@bio:Len Kravitz, PhD, is the program coordinator of exercise science and a researcher at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where he won the Outstanding Teacher of the Year award. He has received the prestigious Can-Fit-Pro Lifetime Achievement Award and American Council on Exercise Fitness Educator of the Year.