What is Non-Linear Periodisation?

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Welcome to post 23 of Strength & Conditioning For Therapists. Today we’re looking at non-linear periodisation training.

What Is Periodisation?

Several weeks ago (post number 3 actually), I wrote a post on periodisation and presented a way in which it could be used in rehabilitation.

Since then, I’ve been asked a few times specifically what non-linear periodisation is. So let’s have a look at it.

To recap, periodisation is the division of a large training period, termed macrocycle into smaller blocks called mesocycles. If we want to get super detailed we can even go to microcycles. With respect to sports performance, periodisation training offers a framework for manipulating training prescription to achieve a planned and systematic change in focus and load that ultimately culminates with an athlete achieving peak performance at the most important competition of that cycle, or year.

Why is Periodisation Necessary?

These planned changes in training focus offer not only the opportunity to offer variety and retain an athlete’s interest, data also show greater strength gains can be achieved through periodised vs. non-periodised training programmes. Lengthy periods of time of loading that have little variation in training stimuli may result in stagnation [1]   Of course, we can also consider these things with non-athletes and those who are rehabilitating.

Types of Periodisation

With linear periodisation in sport, training intensity is gradually increased and volume decreased over time. These changes are made approximately every 4-6 weeks. Each training phase tends to have specific focus, such as strength or power, or hypertrophy. During a strength phase the number of repetitions may decrease from say 8-10RM to 3-5RM and accordingly the load will increase.

In the diagram in my previous article (link above) I’ve used a linear model to construct a periodised approach within rehabilitation. This offers a simple and manageable approach, enabling a controlled switch in focus between different indices of function throughout a rehabilitation plan (see below)

Periodisation in training

Non-linear periodisation in sport was first described by Peloquin in 1988 and it involves more frequent changes in training intensity and volume. It could even involve changes in intensity and volume daily, i.e. in successive training sessions. Now, that’s not to say that it’s like managing athletes (or patients) on the fly, whereby the decision on what to focus on is made within the session. Daily variation in focus are planned ahead of time.

A non-linear periodisation in sport training week could look something like:

  • Session 1: 3-5RM: STRENGTH FOCUS
  • Session 2: 8-10RM: HYPERTROPHY FOCUS
  • Session 3: 12-15RM: MUSCLE ENDURANCE FOCUS

This weekly cycle could be repeated for 3 – 4 weeks. If you sum up the volume of work done in each phase: Strength; Hypertrophy; Endurance and compare it to a linear approach of 4-week cycles it should be the same. So which is superior? Does a linear or non-linear approach offer greater gains?

Linear or Non-Linear for Muscle Strength?

There’s no definitive answer. Recent meta-analyses and reviews indicate that gains in muscle strength are likely to be similar with both periodised approaches. There is some suggestion that a non-linear, undulating approach may offer superior gains, however, more research is needed and this really hasn’t been investigated in patient populations.

Linear or Non-Linear for Hypertrophy?

A recent meta analysis (link to full paper below), showed that broadly speaking the effects of non-linear approaches on muscle size are likely to be similar, but that more research is required. Bear in mind as well that participant in each of the studies reviewed were not patients or those rehabilitating following an injury/surgery.


On balance, it’s likely that a periodised approach to strength training and rehabilitation will offer superior benefits to non-periodised, and certainly ‘on the fly’ prescriptions! If you’re going to experiment with periodisation, a linear model might offer least complexity and planning requirements within rehabilitation settings. Check out post number 3 for a description of how. Be sure to read some of the open access articles below too.

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  1. Williams et al (2018).  Sports Med.: 47, 2083–2100
  2. Evans (2019) Full Text Link
  3. Fleck (2011). Full Text Link
  4. Grgic et al (2017). Full Text Link

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