‘Non-Periodized Programs’ – Are They Really Non-Periodized?

‘Non-Periodized Programs’ – Are They Really Non-Periodized?

Recent blog post regarding the Percent-reps chart and the talk with the Donnell Boucher and Brijesh Patel on the topic of „relative intensity“ got me thinking about the post I did in June, 2011 –  Random Thoughts from the Training Camp. It is funny how things go round-n’-round: I have been looking for the practical solution of the conceptual problem and it was all the time in front of my nose (relative intensity). Sometimes when we go back to the basics we see how much stuff we overlooked.

When it comes to scientific literature, there is a lot of papers comparing Periodized vs. Non-periodized strength training programs with different conclusions. I don’t want to provide overview of the literature (neither is that the aim of this post), but it seems that periodized programs are winning. Yet, again a lot of results depend on the subjects, duration of the study, design etc. I really like Dan Baker’s paper Periodization: The Effect on Strength of Manipulating Volume and Intensity, especially since the conclusion was:

Over a short training cycle, non-periodized strength training results in the same gains as does linear and undulating periodized strength training, when training volume and relative intensity are equated

Please note that I am not saying that the programs should not be ‘periodized’ (whatever that means), but rather to warn regarding the ‘bucket’ we call ‘non-periodized’ programs. If it is not periodized it doesn’t work? Think again.

I wrote extensively about what the periodization is (click HERE and HERE) and how to plan the strength training taking into account the level of the lifter, goals and context (click HERE) so I won’t repeat myself again.  Long story short – periodization is planning process that involve taking into account athletes’ characteristics, goals, context and time frames.

When we speak about periodization a lot of coaches/athletes do not differentiate between different levels of periodization: (1) annual plan periodization, (2) periodization on biomotor abilities and (3) periodization of training load. I warned about this in linked articles above. Again, this is the sole reason why we call ‘non-periodized’ program non-periodized: because they don’t involve (what they consider to be) periodization of intensity/volume/frequency and/or goals (anatomic adaptation, hypertrophy, max strength, power, etc) in linear or non-linear (undulating) fashion.  Luckily, these are not the only parameters that could/should be ‘periodized’.

Is 5×5 periodized program? You never change number of reps or set, but you still build up intensity over time, reach platoue, deload for 10-20% and re-start the cycle. Or in worse case you pursue PRs, reach some of them, continue pursuing them, get injured, unload and start over. If that doesn’t sound periodized to you I don’t know what does.

The point of this short post was to make a connection between relative intensity concept and non-periodized programs. Even if you do 5×5 for a month, your sets will progress in intensiveness (relative intensity). I talked about this as one of the main principles of strength training design in Random Thoughts from the Training Camp.

There are numerous parameters that could be ’periodized’ in the load planning, like:

  • Exercise selection & specificity
  • Intensity/Reps
  • Volume
  • Tempo
  • Recovery duration 
  • Intensiveness (relative intensity)
  • Etc, etc…

And my point is that researchers usually overlook this progression in relative intensity as a ’periodization’ element. Is this the sole principle responsible for the training effects? For sure it is not, but it is one of the key ones. 


I am a physical preparation coach from Belgrade, Serbia, grow up in Pula, Croatia (which I consider my home town). I was involved in physical preparation of professional, amateur and recreational athletes of various ages in sports such as basketball, soccer, volleyball, martial arts and tennis. Read More »

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