Study Shows “Best” Strength Training Program!?

Good SnC coaches – of which there are many – have known for decades that linear non- periodized strength training programs are a terrible way to make progress in strength and or muscle mass over time, yet, that’s exactly how the majority of people set up their programs. That is, they go into the gym, do 8-10 reps (as an example) for X number of sets, and do that month in and month out, year in and year out. In fact, it’s really the classic western bodybuilding method of training. It’s also just about the worst way to make steady progress in the gym.

Eastern block coaches have known such programs were a poor way to make strength increases over time, especially for intermediate and advanced athletes. Recently a study examined three groups using three different protocols. It’s essential to note this study, unlike so many, used trained strength athletes. This is an  important distinction from other studies  and a credit to the researchers. So many studies out there that examine this topic make the mistake of using untrained individuals, often making the results worthless, unless the study is specifically looking at the effects of X protocol on people who have never exercised, but I digress…these researchers examined the effects of three different protocols on 27 strength athletes for a period of 12 weeks. In each group, they were instructed to complete as many reps as possible within the assigned rep range

Each group trained their upper body and lower body twice per week – with 3 sets per  exercise – so they were in the gym 4 days per week.

Group One: followed what would be your classic/typical program you see most people following as mentioned above:  linear non-periodized routine (NP). They did sets of 8-10 reps throughout the entire experiment for 12 weeks.

Group Two: followed a linear periodized routine (LP): first four weeks the study participants  did sets of 12-15 reps,  four weeks following sets of 8-10 reps, and  the final four weeks of sets of 4-5 reps per set.

Group Three: was a non-linear periodized group (NLP). The program looked like so:

Week 1: sets of 12-15 reps

Week 2: 4-5 reps

Week 3: 8-10 reps

Week 4: Repeat week 1

The above was done 3  times = 12 weeks.

The results were that only the NLP group made significant progress in their strength on the exercise tested, which was the leg press and bench press. Interesting – though not surprising – there were no statistically significant changes in body composition between groups. The reason it’s not surprising to me is; experienced lifters will generally not make major changes in bodycomp from a simple change in program if other variables (i.e., total calories, macro nutrient ratios, other activities, etc.) remain the same, and strength increases are usually followed by changes in bodycomp in experienced strength athletes. 12 weeks is not a long time for an experienced strength athlete to make significant changes in bodycomp from a simple change in program, but they can make significant improvements in strength, which ultimately leads to changes in bodycomp.

Remember, even the most sensitive methods for testing changes in bodycomp has it’s limits of sensitivity, and experienced strength athletes make progress measured in years, vs months, so 12 weeks is fairly small window of study…

The Brink Bottom Line:

The researchers concluded  “…Our data clearly demonstrated that NLP is more effective than the LP and NP models to increase strength combined with split training routines. Thus, individuals seeking for fitness improvement should use NLP when using split routines.”

So far so good, and expected really.

As a rule, you don’t see any linear non- periodized programs recommended here, but  that’s not to say linear non- periodized routines are worthless for everyone. Although the above is interesting from a confirmation perspective, it’s old news to any of the good SnC coaches out there, and really old news to the east block coaches, that 8-10 reps (or what ever) week after week, month after month, year after year, is a fast way to not make ongoing progress.

However, It’s also much more complicated then simply changing rep ranges around every week randomly. Some programs will have very specific goals and such, be designed for specific athletes with specific outcomes, so they may be on a rep range for X time, which will exceed a week, and so forth. Beginners can benefit from linear non- periodized routines, so no one should see the above results as ‘set in stone’ that it’s the one best way to approach a strength training program.

In this particular study, looking at those groups, under those specific set of circumstances, etc., the NLP was superior for increasing strength.

The real take home here is, NLP type programs – of which there are many – are important to the continued progress of intermediate to advanced athletes, and getting beyond the classic western bodybuilding oriented linear non- periodized routines is going to yield superior results in the majority of strength trainers in the long run.

Programs from Charles Staley (who can be found on this blog), Charles Poliquin (who wrote the main training chapter in my ebook), Lou Simmons, Jim Wendler, Dave Tate, Rippetoe, Ross Enamait, to name a just a few coaches putting out programs worth looking into.

Understanding issues of volume, loading, TUT, rest periods, and many other variables is what will allow one to make continued progress. I would recommend people take a good look around the blog here for additional information on the science (and it is a science…) of proper strength training for continued progress….below is the abstract for those interested:

J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jul;23(4):1321-6.

Nonlinear periodization maximizes strength gains in split resistance training routines.

Monteiro AG, Aoki MS, Evangelista AL, Alveno DA, Monteiro GA, Piçarro Ida C, Ugrinowitsch C.

Department of Rehabilitation, Federal University of Sao Paulo-UNIFESP, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The purpose of our study was to compare strength gains after 12 weeks of nonperiodized (NP), linear periodized (LP), and nonlinear periodized (NLP) resistance training models using split training routines. Twenty-seven strength-trained men were recruited and randomly assigned to one of 3 balanced groups: NP, LP, and NLP. Strength gains in the leg press and in the bench press exercises were assessed. There were no differences between the training groups in the exercise pre-tests (p > 0.05) (i.e., bench press and leg press). The NLP group was the only group to significantly increase maximum strength in the bench press throughout the 12-week training period. In this group, upper-body strength increased significantly from pre-training to 4 weeks (p < 0.0001), from 4 to 8 weeks (p = 0.004), and from 8 weeks to the post-training (p < 0.02). The NLP group also exhibited an increase in leg press 1 repetition maximum at each time point (pre-training to 4 weeks, 4-8 week, and 8 weeks to post-training, p < 0.0001). The LP group demonstrated strength increases only after the eight training week (p = 0.02). There were no further strength increases from the 8-week to the post-training test. The NP group showed no strength increments after the 12-week training period. No differences were observed in the anthropometric profiles among the training models. In summary, our data suggest that NLP was more effective in increasing both upper- and lower-body strength for trained subjects using split routines.

  1. Roger 14 years ago

    Nice article Will!
    I’ve got one question since I use the “Layne Norton Routine” , in which off the three routines aboveis this stated? And do you think this is as the program used by group 3 in this study?

  2. Author
    Will Brink 14 years ago

    Roger, you would need to ask Layne those questions. As far as I know, this study has no connection to Layne’s programs directly, but he may follow some of the same principles/methods used in the study. Beyond that, you would have to ask Layne.

  3. Rob McElhenney 14 years ago

    What’s are your general thoughts on trainees learning how to auto-regulate their training? I’ve seen quite a bit of talk about this, but it seems that plenty of guys have made significant gains while relying on programming that was periodized in some fashion but anything but “auto-regulated”.
    I’ve even seen one well-respected coach go so far as to say that people should get away from using log books because you never know exactly what your capcities will be on any given day.
    While I agree that we will never be able to precisely sync every element of a pre-planned program to how we feel on any given day, it seems like having a plan to work off of and adjust as we go would be better than relying on our skills at auto-regulating things. Additionally, tracking various metrics still seems very worthwhile, even if performance and physilogy will fluctuate on a daily (and even minute-to-minute) basis.

  4. Author
    Will Brink 14 years ago

    Rob, in my experience there’s auto-regulation and then there’s effective auto-regulation. Plenty of people doing the former. Advanced trainers clearly learn to auto regulate, even within a specific structured program. There’s no doubt experienced/advanced trainers will both follow a structured program that’s aimed at a specific goals/outcome, yet know when they may have not fully recouped from a prior workout and take an extra day off, or do some GPP, or reduce the loading, or what have you.
    Advanced trainers will usually have auto regulation built into their structured programs. However, there are few who can really do this effectively I find, but it’s also clear your more advanced experienced trainers/athletes have both knowledge and instinct developed over decades of training, to auto regulate their programs.
    The major problem as I see it is, after a few years of training, everyone’s an expert and starts making up their own programs, or worse in some respects, combining existing programs, and then blame the programs when they fail to make progress.

  5. Roger 14 years ago

    Thanx Will.
    Problem is, that it isn’t really sure Layne Norton founded this routine. It suddenly showed up on the internet as the “Layne Norton Routine”. As far as I know Layne never officially claimed it was his.
    It look likes this program is quite familliar with NLP, only reps don’t change every week, but twice per week. Since I use this routine and liked it very much. I’m interested if one can extrapolate the information and say if “LNR” is (as) effective as the NLP-routine used in this research.
    Whats your opinion in thinks?
    Thank you very much:)

  6. Author
    Will Brink 14 years ago

    Roger, I still don’t really understand the question. I have not seen anyplace it’s listed as Layne Norton’s Routine, so I can’t comment, and again, think you will have to ask Layne on that one. As mentioned in my write up above – which you may want to read again closely – the program used in this study is one of many possible variations, and I listed just a few coaches out there following NLP style programs. Layne may simply have an NLP style program of his own, and I have no idea how if it would more effective/less effective/equally effective to this study program. Layne is a smart guy, so I would be surprised if his program(s) were not well thought out/well design programs… A program I designed called Brink’s Hybrid Training, is also an NLP type program, but quite different from that study.

  7. Layne Norton 14 years ago

    my routine i talk about is called power hypertrophy adaptive training and it is a form of non-linear periodization, though it’s not what one would call traditional NLP as it still does contain a few aspects of linear periodization as well.

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      I hear good things about it Layne!

  8. Rob McElhenney 14 years ago

    Thank you very much for your feedback. It is greatly appreciated!

  9. Kieran 14 years ago

    Personally, I found the Bulgarian weightlifting to be the best at build strength. I did it for 10 weeks and my 1rm of bench, squat, front squat, deadlift and power clean all increase by an average of about 20% which was astounding for me consider that my weight stayed the same and it was all natural. Very strenuous though. 10 weeks maybe 15 is the longest i could do it.

  10. Keith Wallin 14 years ago

    Will, as a new follower on your blog, I would like to know your opinion concerning 5X5 strength training. So far, I’ve been working towards 1.5 times my body weight for squats, deadlifts and bench press. I’m 59, 6’2″ and weigh 235. I definitely feel stronger in several areas after using this program for the past 6 weeks. I’ve been lifting every week for the past year. Is there a better way to gain muscle and lose fat?

    • Author
      Will Brink 14 years ago

      Keith, 5×5 type programs can be very effective, but like any program, it depends on other variables, like loading, TUT, frequency, experience levels, goals, etc, etc.
      Are there “better” ways? Depends, blog above outlines what makes effective programs as a general rule. Does your program follow all of them? If you want a change, look at arious programs by Poliquin (who wrote the training chapter in the BodyBuilding Revealed ebook BTW..), Ian King, Joe DeFranco, Christian Thibaudeau, Wendler, Staley’s EDT (regular writer for this blog BTW..), Rippetoe/Kilgore’s Practical Programming, HST, Simmons, and other, like my Hybrid Program people…which also depends on goals, etc.
      These programs are not for everyone.
      If you are TRULY “advanced” you already know all about the variables covered in this thread, know what you respond to best already, and have the years of experience under your belt having really tried and found what works for you, which again, depends on the goals at the time, which do change!

  11. Keith Wallin 14 years ago

    Will, thanks for getting back to me so quickly. My 5X5 program consists of 2 slightly different exercises being alternated each exercise day (MWF). I do squats every exercise day adding 5 additional pounds each time until I can complete all 25 reps before going up in weight. Bench press and deadlifts are alternated and the same criteria for increasing weight is applied there.
    TUT is usually 3 minutes per exercise. My overall goals are to increase muscular mass thereby decreasing fat mass and being a whole lot healthier going into my sixties. I still have a pretty good roll around the midsection. My waist is 40 inches. Do you think NLP would help and how would I apply it best ie. alternating each session or alternating it weekly or biweekly?

    • Author
      Will Brink 14 years ago

      Keith, sounds like you are headed in the right direction for sure, and might benefit from added NLP to the routine, but why re invent the wheel here? Unless you have many years of designing programs, the vast majority of people will get far better results following a program designed by a real pro (per names listed above) then making up their own, adding in something here and there, and hoping for the best. If you have been following this program for a while now, you need something new anyway. When someone asked a similar question on my BBR forums, one of the moderators (Markus) replied:
      “…Routines (written by pros) have specific directions in order to let you achieve the intended result. When you “do more” and “add a few more exercises, ” or make up your own, you usually are changing the outcome of the routine. The combination of the muscle groups being worked, the rest periods that allow adequate performance, the balance of the planes of motion, the tempos that determine the time under tension, the specific exercises, the volume of work, the intensity—all of these are parameters that the designer of a routine has configured for a reason. Therefore, once you’ve picked a good routine, it’s best to use it as written.”
      I suggest looking around at a program from one of the above listed people, see if it fits your current goals, and follow it as written, then re asses.

  12. Garry Jones 14 years ago

    Strength training study
    When the candidates used the LNP method did they use the same weight for the exercises during week two and three as they did on week one, or did they increase the weight for the weeks with lower reps.

    • Author
      Will Brink 14 years ago

      Garry: I believe they used the appropriate loading for the rep ranges chosen.

      • skip 13 years ago

        will, what do you mean by appropriate loading for the rep changes chosen. It would seem that you would increace the amount of weight you are using when lowering the reps.

  13. weight bench 13 years ago

    Hi I was just wondering do you do all the writing yourself or do you have guest posters. I’m enjoying your blog. Thanks.

  14. agencias de modelos 13 years ago

    Aqui na Xstyle models (A Agencia de modelos que eu trabalho) muita gente gosta desse blog.

  15. Justin Kerns 12 years ago

    I enjoyed this and all of ur other articles. You really cracked me up with the shake weight review lol. Also I’m a huge fan of Ross Enamait and have followed alot of his different types of training. Mostly for my involvement in boxing. I always recommend him to everyone and I honestly think that he is in my view one of the strongest and most conditioned athletes I have ever seen. Also I just wanted to say that I love the Brink Zone and I recommend everyone to ur site. You have really helped me out and saved the bank account. Also I like good attitude and that ur a bit of a joker. Thanks alot for helping so many people out in this supplement area and many other areas.

  16. Dan Cahill 12 years ago

    While I believe the study, I also believe that the “best” program really depends on where you are in the training continuum. It is still tough to beat Linear, nonperiodized training for beginners such as Starting Strength or 5X5 or something of that sort. It works great as long as the weight is going up session to session. Once you hit the wall and become more of an intermediate I think it’s time to do something else.
    Then again, pretty much anything works for beginners, but I believe there is value in saving complexity for later, and as a beginner taking a simple program, and focus on technique more so than programming.

  17. William P. Mello 12 years ago

    I’ve yet to read an article by you that I haven’t learned something useful. Keep up the great work!

  18. John Smith 12 years ago

    Hey I was just wondering not sure if I am missing something here but I was wondering how many sets of each exercise you would do in each week? and if you had any more information on the bulgarian weightlifting?

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