Best Training Method for Increasing Strength

Athletes are continually looking for ways to improve their strength to gain a competitive advantage.  For some, this involves making unfortunate decisions to cheat with banned and illegal performance enhancing drugs.  However, in terms of optimizing your training techniques to improve strength, it’s difficult to know what the best approach or training method is to achieve this desired result.

A recent study published in the journal of strength and conditioning research (Mann et al, 2010), compared two different approaches to improving strength gains from resistance training.  Now, if the title of their article, “The Effect of Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise vs. Linear Periodization on Strength Improvement in College Athletes,” leaves you scratching your head, don’t worry.

As the study authors point out, there is no universally agreed upon method to maximize strength gains.  However, the study author does point out that most coaches agree that there has to be planning or periodization of training stimuli.  Your next question is probably, what does he actually mean by “periodization?”

The author does answer that question quite succinctly:

“Periodization is a programed manipulation of several key training variables (rest, overall training volume, sets per workout, repetitions per set, intensity of training, and training frequency) throughout a training cycle.

He continues:

“In simple terms, the muscular and nervous systems adapt to meet the needs of lifting an increasing load, requiring that loads continue to increase for strength to improve.”

Next, the study author describes classic linear periodization which basically involves increasing intensity and decreasing volume in and between macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcyles.  Macrocycles represent annual plans leading up to a competition event.  Mesocycles are typically 6 weeks in duration while microcycles are simply a week long.  Okay, so it’s a little bit of new training jargon for some people to wrap their heads around.

For those interested, there are far more in depth discussion on the specific theories involved with linear periodization.  I’m more interested in trying to present the root of the idea without bogging everyone down in a discussion of the underlying theory.  In a nutshell, linear periodization basically means that to increase your strength gains, you have to continually increase the amount of weights that you workout with over time.  Doing this in planned manner has been demonstrated to be more effective for strength and performance gains than non-periodized training.

Though linear periodization is a popular training method for strength gains, it has been noted to have some limitations.  For example, it doesn’t adjust for the ability of athletes to adapt to training or handle outside stressors.  As such, one alternate method for organizing training is called, “autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise.”

Already, some college coaches are heralding autoregulatory training as the next wave.  This type of training adjusts to individualal athletes adaptations on a day-to-day basis.  It also operates on the basis of training to failure as well as varying the number of repetitions with each set to avoid adapting to reps.

The question:  which method is more effective for promoting strength and performance gains:  classical linear periodization or autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise?

Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise vs. Linear Periodization:

To address this question, again, let’s take a look at the study by Mann et al (201 0)which was recently published in the journal of strength and conditioning training.

Study design: The study compared 23 division I College football players who were randomized to either autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise (APRE) or linear progression (LP) training for a duration of 6 week over 2 separate seasons.

After 6 weeks of training, improvements in 1 rep maximum (RM) bench press, squat, along with repeated 225 lb bench press repetitions were compared between the ARPE and LP groups.  Note that the authors used an estimate of 1RM for both the squat and bench press based on 5 or fewer repetitions to failure.

For a description of the specific protocol used for APRE, the study authors noted the following:

“In this study, APRE was implemented for the bench press and squat exercises. Over the 6-week training period, APRE used 3 protocols: a 10RM program, a 6RM program, and a 3RM program. For each program, subjects performed a set number of repetitions at a certain percentage of the 10RM, 6RM, and 3RM based on Delorme’s PRE program (12). Each of the 10RM, 6RM, and 3RMresistance training protocol consisted of 4 sets each.”

Details of one protocol used in this study-the 6RM (rep max):

“The 6RM program will be described here, because it was the one that was used for the greatest portion of the study. During set 1, subjects performed 10 repetitions at 50% of the anticipated 6RM. During set 2, subjects then performed 6 repetitions at 75% of the anticipated 6RM. Finally, during set 3, subjects performed as many repetitions as they could at 100% of the anticipated 6RM until they reached failure. The weight used during set 4 was based on the performance during the third set using an adjustment table (see Table 2). During set 4, repetitions were performed until failure, and the number of repetitions and load used were then used to determine the initial resistance for the following week’s training.”

Summary of 6RM program:

  • Set 1:  10 reps at 50% of anticipated 6RM
  • Set 2:  6 reps at 75% of anticipated 6RM
  • Set 3:  Maximum (as many reps as able) at anticpated 6RM
  • Set 4:  Maximum at adjusted weight based on Set 3

Adjusting for Set 4:

Based on the number of reps completed for Set 3:

  • 0-2: -5 to -10 lbs
  • 3-4:  0 to -5 lbs
  • 5-7:  no change
  • 8-12:  +5 to +10 lbs
  • >13:  +10-15 lbs

Results:

  • 1RM Bench ARPE +93.4 lbs vs. LP -.40
  • 1RM Squat:  ARPE +192.7 vs. LP 37.2
  • 225lb bench press aka 2 plates per side:  ARPE + 3.17 vs. LP -.09

“Autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise demonstrated greater improvement in 1RM bench press strength (APRE: 93.4 +/- 103 N vs. LP: -0.40 +/- 49.6 N; ANCOVA: F = 7.1, p = 0.02), estimated 1RM squat strength (APRE: 192.7 +/- 199 N vs. LP: 37.2 +/- 155 N; ANOVA: F = 4.1, p = 0.05) and the number of repetitions performed at a weight of 225 lb (APRE: 3.17 +/- 2.86 vs. LP: -0.09 +/- 2.40 repetitions; ANCOVA: F = 6.8, p = 0.02) compared with the LP group over the 6-week training period.”

Conclusions:

The results of this particular study do indicate that autoregulatory progressive resistance exercise was more effective than linear periodization for increasing bench press and squat over a period of 6 weeks.  Note again, that as simple as this program sounds, there are different protocols including a 3RM and 10RM along with the 6RM protocol above.

If you’re an athlete interested in autoregulary progressive resistance exercise, you may consider learning more about specific protocols for this training method and discussing it with your coach/trainer.

I’m not a certified personal trainer, so specific exercise techniques are not my area of expertise. If you’re looking for tips and instructions on workout techniques, visit Douglas Robb’s Health Habits blog by clicking this link: fitness blog.

References:

  1. Mann JB, Thyfault JP, Ivey PA, Sayers SP.The Effect of Autoregulatory Progressive Resistance Exercise vs. Linear Periodization on Strength Improvement in College Athletes.J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jun 10.
  2. Siff, MC. Supertraining. Denver, Co: Supertraining Institute, 2000.

10 thoughts on “Best Training Method for Increasing Strength

  1. How many training sessions per week did the test subjects undergo? Did it strike you as strange that the linear periodization trainers regressed on the bench press?

  2. Hi Pantherhare,

    Both groups were part of the same program in terms of off-season conditioning and sport specific drills.

    From the journal article:
    “In addition, athletes in both groups performed very similar resistance training program and exercises, both performing a heavy barbell bench press at .85% of 1RM 1 session per week, a heavy dumb bell bench press 1 session per week with 3 sets of 6 repetitions, and the 225-lb multiple repetition bench press 1 session per week. For the lower body, both groups performed squat exercises 1 session per week, front squat exercises 1 session per week, step-ups 1 session per week, lunges 1 session per week, glute-hamstring raises 1 session per week, and Romanian deadlifts 1 session per week.”

    I agree that it did seem odd that the linear periodization group did not improve their 1RM bench press after 6 weeks of strength training.

  3. From reading this study, it certainly doesn’t appear to be the best design (in terms of confounding factors), so I agree with you there. Some of the statistics are also concerning with the very large standard deviations.

    There isn’t much research regarding APRE yet, but I’m sure that we’ll see more studies to assess its effectiveness.

  4. I have been discussing this article with my lifting partner, and I’ve just got one question. The article says:

    “During set 4, repetitions were performed until failure, and the number of repetitions and load used were then used to determine the initial resistance for the following week’s training.”

    How was this adjustment made? We were given table 5.2 from Siff’s Supertraining (the table you listed), but as far as I can tell, neither this research study nor Siff’s Supertraining outline how to adjust the next week’s initial weight. Could you clarify that for me?

    Thanks!

    1. Ron, I did check the article again to try to answer your question. However, you’re correct in that article does not explicitly state how they used set 4 to determine the following week’s training. I personally don’t own a copy of Siff’s Supertraining, so I can’t help you with the specifics of this protocol.

  5. Thanks for the reply. I looked at both Supertraining and the study again, and I believe I was thinking too hard. Once they got the reps from set 3 and adjusted according to the table, this was the weight for set 4. I think that the weight used for set 4 became the next week’s 6RM. With the way it was worded in the text and in the study (as it doesn’t reference any calculations or anything), this seems to make some sort of sense.

    1. Hey Ron, thanks again for your sharing your thoughts. I haven’t worked with the PRE protocol, so I’m not well-versed in its methodology. If I had to guess, I would agree that the weight used for set 4 would likely be used for the following week’s 6RM which would then be used to map out sets 1-3 in the protocol.

  6. Ron,

    You pretty much have it. I’m new to scientific jargon, and the way it was worded before it was edited was not up to code.

    Let us take an example here very quickly for the APRE. Let’s say that I have an initial estimated 6RM of 200lbs for week 1. For set 1 I perform 10 reps at 100lbs (50%6RM), set 2 is 6 reps at 150 lbs (75%6RM), and Set 3 is maximal reps. Let’s say I ate my Wheaties so I’m ready to train and I hit 13 reps, by consulting the adjustment chart, I would add 15lbs for my 4th set, so Set 4 would be 215lbs. Now, my Wheaties have still kicked in, and I’m still rolling and I again hit 13 repetitions. i will consult my handy dandy adjustment chart to adjust for the following workout, and see that my repetitions call for about a 15lb increase yet again. So for week 2, I would start out with an estimated 6RM of 230, so my sets would be 115lbs for 10 reps, ~175lbs for 6, and 230 for maximal repetitions and adjust for my fourth set.

    This question of week to week adjustments has been asked of me several times since the study came out. I apologize for the lack of clarity on this issue, and am working to rectify it for subsequent publications by magazine articles, books, or journal articles.

    Dr Morrow,

    you are probably more well versed in the PRE (not the APRE) then you believe. Any time someone does 3 sets of 10 reps and increases weight each set, they are essentially doing a version of DeLorme’s original PRE.

    Pantherhare & Dr Morrow,

    It must to be taken into account that this work was done with division one athletes during their pre-spring ball time table, where there are participating in winter conditioning workouts as well. It is obvious that this sort of environment is not ideal for research, but the novelty of seeing what works on elite athletes is well worth the lack of ideal research conditions, in my opinion. As for the other issues, if the study is repeated in a more lay population, then there would be the possibility of dropping assistance work and adding in more different types of programming. Unfortunately, these sort of adjustments can not be made to the athletes training for research purposes. In short, this is not a lab study, it is done on real world athletes through the course of their training.

    This study is part of my dissertation, and hopefully many more articles come from it, with things like power outputs, etc.

    1. Bryan, thank you for providing the clarification regarding the week to week adjustments for APRE.

      Best of luck with your dissertation. In other areas of research, athletes and non-athletes do respond differently. I can appreciate why you would want to study elite athletes even with some of the consequent limitations. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

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