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Classic Muscle Strength Programs Reviewed

We review four of the most influential and enduring muscle and strength programs that never fail to produce results.


Linear Periodization

One of the easiest training systems to understand, linear periodization’s greatest asset is its simplicity. You train four to five weeks for hypertrophy (increases in muscle size), then four to five weeks for strength, and then four for maximum strength just before peaking, where you’ll shoot for new 1RMs on all your lifts. In each phase, the weight gets progressively heavier while the volume decreases (reps go from 10–15 down to 1). In theory, you can set newmaxes at the end of the cycle. This system was famously used by Ed Coan, one of the greatest powerlifters of all time, and strongman legend Bill Kazmaier (shown above). But if these giants were competing today, would they use the same program? In the eyes of many experts, including Meadows and Smith, linear periodization’s inflexible structure is a big strike against it. “Because you’re starting with a hypertrophy phase, that makes it a real no-no for beginners,” Meadows says. “You have to build a base of strength before you start adding size.”

“And you can’t necessarily expect the gains you made in the beginning of the program to stay with you through the end,” Smith says. “You train hypertrophy in that initial phase, but don’t train it again for the next 8 12 weeks. That said, it is a good template for intermediate guys. I’ve found that the structured nature of it helps a lot of guys focus.”

The Breakdown

Who it’s for: Intermediate lifters.
Pros: Simple, easy to follow planning.
Cons: It’s inflexible and addresses only one adaptation at a time.

The Takeaway

The system has its limitations, but if it’s used for short periods, say, 12 weeks or less, you can make good gains. In that period of time, you never get away from hypertrophy training for long, so you don’t lose size. While you shouldn’t expect to turn into Coan overnight, try a 12-week cycle where you work up to a heavy 10 for 2 weeks, then 8s for 3 weeks, then 5s for 4 weeks, 3s for 2, and then max out.

Linear Periodization Guidelines

Hypertophy Phase
2–5 weeks of 3–5 sets per exercise in the 8- to 12-rep range

Strength Phase
4–6 weeks of 3–4 sets per exercise in the 6- to 8-rep range

Max Strength
3–4 weeks of 3–4 sets per exercise in the 3- to 4-rep range

Peak
2 weeks of 2–3 sets per exercise in the 1- to 3-rep range

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