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Effects of intensity and volume periodization on strength and hypertrophy

by P. Debraux | 29 November 2023

fitness, resistance training, strength, hypertrophy, gain, muscle, mass, training, periodization, science, sport

Gaining maximal strength and muscle mass is the number one goal of all weight-training enthusiasts, whether athletes, amateurs or simply health-conscious individuals. However, the amplitude of gains depends on numerous training variables, such as load intensity, rest intervals, whether or not you train to failure, speed of execution, choice and order of exercises, amplitude, type of contraction, training frequency and volume. Thus, the concept of periodization plays a central role. Periodization is a methodically structured approach to training that allows these key variables to be varied strategically over different phases. In sports such as powerlifting and weightlifting, which rely on maximal strength and where athletes only compete a few times a year, periodization is used to ensure that the adaptations hoped for in training are maximized on competition day.

The key theoretical principles of periodization are to enable performance progress, limit overtraining and avoid injury. Over the years, various periodization models have been developed and refined, each adapted to specific training objectives and needs. Linear periodization is characterized by a gradual increase in training intensity combined with a decrease in volume over time. This model follows a progressive and predictable pattern, usually over several weeks or months, where the athlete starts with a higher volume of low-intensity training and progressively moves to a lower volume but higher intensity. Reverse linear periodization involves a decrease in intensity and an increase in volume over time. This model can be used in scenarios where the development of muscular endurance or work capacity is the main objective, or in certain rehabilitation contexts. Undulatory periodization, also known as non-linear periodization, is characterized by more frequent variations in volume and intensity than other types of programming. Intensity and volume can be varied on a daily or weekly basis. Finally, block periodization generally involves dividing the training program into distinct blocks, each with a specific objective. For example, one block may focus on hypertrophy development, another on maximal strength and another on power. Each block has a specific objective and training focus, with the main idea being that the previous block will help the next block.

So, given the importance of muscle strength and hypertrophy, is one periodization better than another? What's more, in order to maximize hypertrophy, it's generally not necessary to reach a peak at a specific time, nor to anticipate physiological adaptations or predict future performance. Similarly, there's no need to ask whether previous adaptations potentiate future adaptations when the only predicted adaptation is hypertrophy. Instead, the focus is on how to plan variations in stimuli, specifically for hypertrophy, that enable faster accumulation of muscle mass while avoiding overtraining. So, when the sole objective is to maximize muscle mass, is it necessary to periodize training?

The Study

To answer these questions, Danish researchers carried out a meta-analysis on the impact of periodizing volume and intensity on gains in maximal strength and muscle hypertrophy. To do this, the researchers analyzed the results of 35 randomized controlled studies involving 1187 participants (169 adolescents, 893 adults and 125 seniors). Of the total number of studies, 19 included only men, 7 only women and 9 were mixed. Of these studies, 19 were conducted with beginners, 15 with exercisers and one with untrained exercisers. The studies lasted from 6 to 36 weeks, with a frequency ranging from 2 to 4 sessions per week. Exercise volume ranged from 1 to 7 sets of 1 to 30 repetitions. Intensity varied from 30 to 105% of 1RM and from 3 to 30RM.

In order to compare the different types of periodization, the different groups had to train with an equivalent total volume (sets × repetitions). Studies were to measure maximal strength (1RM), and/or assess changes in muscle hypertrophy.

Results & Analyzes

One of the main results of this meta-analysis was the superior efficacy of periodized training over non-periodized training in improving maximal strength. The meta-analysis revealed a moderate effect size of 0.31 in favor of periodized training. This significant result underlines the benefit of implementing a structured and varied training approach to optimize maximal strength gains. Simply increasing training volume or intensity, without strategic variation, is not enough to develop strength.

In contrast to the results on strength gains, the researchers observed no significant difference in muscle hypertrophy between periodized and non-periodized training approaches. The effect size was only 0.13, indicating a negligible impact of periodization on muscle mass at equal training volumes. This result suggests that while periodization may be crucial for strength development, its role in muscle hypertrophy is not as pronounced.

When comparing linear and undulatory periodization, when it came to increasing maximal strength, the results favored undulatory periodization (effect size of 0.31). On closer examination, the researchers found that this was even stronger in trained individuals, with an effect size of 0.61, whereas in beginners there was virtually no difference (effect size 0.06). This would indicate that more sophisticated periodizations such as the wave pattern might require a more advanced level of training to be effective. For beginners, simpler periodization models or even non-periodized approaches could be just as effective, at least in the initial phases of training. The frequency of variation in volume and intensity would be an essential aspect differentiating the different periodization models, and could explain the greater effectiveness of undulatory periodization.

Practical Applications

The results of this meta-analysis suggest a more nuanced approach to the choice of periodization model, which should take into account the practitioner's training status and specific strength goals. For advanced exercisers seeking to maximize their strength gains, undulatory periodization appears to be a potentially superior strategy. Conversely, those new to strength training won't need complex periodization schemes to achieve initial improvements in strength. But planned training will be better than unplanned training, whatever the level.

With regard to muscle hypertrophy, this meta-analysis confirms the results previously observed in the scientific literature: for the same volume, periodization or not, there would be no difference in gains. However, considering that total training volume is a key determinant of hypertrophy, and that the greater the volume, the greater the gains in mass, it seems logical to assume that periodization is necessary to avoid fatigue and reduce the risk of potential long-term injury. All the more so as some research suggests that periodized training may lead to greater hypertrophy than non-periodized approaches, probably due to variations in the training stimulus and improved recovery. The discrepancy in results may be attributed also to differences in the short duration of the studies, the training status of the participants and the specific parameters used to assess hypertrophy.


  1. Moesgaard L, Beck MM, Christiansen L, Aagaard P and Lundbye-Jensen J. Effects of Periodization on Strength and Muscle Hypertrophy in Volume-Equated Resistance Training Programs: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Med 52 (7) : 1647-1666, 2022.

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