Linear vs Non-Linear Periodization for Team Sports

Periodization of a team’s strength and conditioning sessions over a season can be a mine field of information. How many sessions should be run in each phase? How intense should each session be? When should we move from phase to phase?  A lot of coaches use either a linear periodised programme or a non-linear, perhaps without even knowing they are. So the question becomes which of these two styles is better utilized for teams? I believe the question should not be “which?” But “when?”  Both systems have their place within a full season macrocycle it’s only at what point they are best utilized.

Linear periodization creation is credited to Dr. Leonid Matveyev and has been a stable of training programmes since the 1950’s, it is broken down into 3 phases hypertrophy, strength and power, there are all sorts of sub categories off of these three headings but for now let’s stick with just these 3.  Each phase is run for a specific time frame before moving onto the next i.e. hypertrophy for 4 weeks followed by 4 weeks of strength and finally 4 weeks of power, another example would have hypertrophy run for 6 weeks, strength 4 weeks and power for 2 weeks. This makes linear a good choice for preseason as you are more likely to have more time with the teams you are working with and can plan a structured programme to move players slowly through the phases getting their bodies increasing more prepared for the next phase, and with less chance of breaking down.  This type of training has been shown to have greater benefits for those that are untrained, the majority of players returning from the off season will have experienced at the very least some level of de-training, for the first 6 to 12 weeks neuromuscular adaptions will occur across the board.

Non-linear periodization began with eastern European Olympic lifters in the 1970’s and is believed to have been begun been used by Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky.  As opposed to the regimented structure of the traditional linear phases, non-linear is more adaptable i.e. hypertrophy, strength and power or any combination can be trained within the same week or even the same session.  It is this level of variability that makes non-linear so pliable to the in season mesocycle of a programme.  As the teams return to the field for technical and tactical sessions they will invariably have less in the gym, this is where non-linear is most useful in being able to continue training all aspects in lesser sessions.  If the team plays a highly competitive intense game and are scheduled for their gym session less than 48 hours later the session is easily tailored to accommodate the intensity required to still experience training loads but with lowered intensity to promote recovery.

And so both linear and non-linear have their place within a full season macrocycle and should not be thought of as competing ideas with one being the be all and end all, with pros and cons to both if used properly they both should produce more pros than cons.

Brian Murphy

Brian Murphy is a 3rd year Sport Science student with experience in working with a wide range of teams including the Carlow senior football team and the Kilkenny minor hurling team. His knowledge on S&C is second to none and his ability to explain and implement programs is his best ability. You can contact Brian through this email address: [email protected]