Best Training Method for Increasing Strength

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 microcycles.  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 is a 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 number of weights that you workout with over time.  Doing this in a 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 individual 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 weeks 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 anticipated 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


  • 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.”


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 autoregulatory 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.


  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.
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