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As a general rule, linear programs work best for people with a low training maturity (i.e. have not been training for too long) and non-linear programs work best for those with a high training maturity (i.e. those training for several years). I say this is a GENERAL rule because it does not hold under all circumstances. It is certainly possible for an advanced lifter to still make considerable progress off of linear periodization. On the other hand, less experienced lifters could get decent results from a non-linear program.
Linear periodization the volume starts high and the intensity starts low. As the program progresses from week to week the volume gradually decreases (in a straight – or linear – progression) and the intensity gradually increases (in a straight – or linear – progression). Basic examples of each could look like the following:
Non-Linear (this is one example of non-linear periodization called “wave training” because the volume and intensity wave, rather than progress in a straight line)
As a general rule: the longer one trains (in terms of months and years, not individual training sessions), the more easily and quickly they adapt to a stimulus. Linear periodization is very predictable for the human body and as a result, the human body adapts to it very quickly in more advanced lifters. On the other hand, non-linear periodization is not as easily and quickly adapted to by the human body. This is why more advanced lifters would want to use non-linear periodization. Advanced lifters have built up a high ability to adapt to a given training stimulus. Accordingly, if they did a linear program that was easy to adapt to, they would only see gains for a short time. The non-linear program, which is more difficult to adapt to, would elicit gains over a longer period of time.
The optimal way to program your training is to program in a way that will elicit the greatest training adaptation. A good friend m=of mine Chris Doyle (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at The University of Iowa) once said, “The best program is the one you’re not on.” His point is that we need to be constantly changing our training stimulus in order to continue to elicit strength gains. There are four basic ways to do this: