Optimal resistance training: choose weights according to your energy level

The most effective way to do resistance training is to use a schedule in which you train using different weights each day. On one day you train for example with weights at which you can manage no more than 6 reps, and in the next session you use weights with which you can manage 15 reps. In an article soon to be published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, sports scientists at St Francis College in New York describe a method that works even better.

The least effective way of training is to follow the same routine every session. Your muscles become so familiar with the training stimulus that they no longer react.

A better method is linear periodising. A simple way of doing this is to increase the number of reps you do with the same weight by one each training session, until you can do – say – 20 reps. Then you take a heavier weight and start the whole cycle over again.

Linear periodising works, but an even better method is non-linear training. This is also called undulating periodising. This method of training surprises the muscles, as each session involves a different rep-range. You do use a scheme though, so that you don’t unintentionally end up forgetting to cover a particular rep-range. The training method that the New Yorkers refer to in their article is a variation on the non-linear training method.

The researchers carried out a study on 16 students. Half of them followed a non-linear schedule, and the other half did ‘flexible non-linear periodisation’, as the researchers call it. To do this, the students first decided what condition they were in before each training session. Had they slept well? Had they eaten well? Were they under stress? After answering a series of this kind of question, the students decided what weights they would use. If they were feeling energetic they chose an RM that required a lot of energy. If they were feeling less energetic they chose a different RM.

None of the test subjects had done power training before. They trained twice a week for 12 weeks, and covered all large muscle groups each session. The non-linear group got to train equally frequently with weights at which they could manage no more than 10, 15 or 20 reps. The researchers made sure that the flexible group also did the same amount of 10RM, 15RM and 20RM sessions as the non-flexible linear group. If a subject used up ‘all’ his 10RM training sessions at the start, for example, he was only able to do 15RM and 20RM training sessions for the rest of the training period.

The table below shows the 1RM for both groups and the distance the subjects managed in the long jump after 12 weeks.


The flexible group was stronger than the non-flexible group. Before the experiment started both groups were equally strong, the researchers write. However, the only statistically significant result was the difference in the 1RM for the leg-press between the two groups. In the non-linear group the average increase was 16 kg. In the flexible non-linear group the increase was 62 kg.


For those who are interested in experimenting with the flexible training method the researchers have some useful advice: “It should be noted that this system of training is not used to avoid high stress workouts”, they write. “Instead it is used strategically to time the more intense workouts appropriately so the body is able to efficiently exploit the principle of adaptation, resulting in a higher level of functioning and performance.”

Flexible Nonlinear Periodization in a Beginner College Weight Training Class


McNamara, JM and Stearne, DJ. Flexible nonlinear periodization in a beginner college weight training class. J Strength Cond Res 24(1): 17-22, 2010-The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of a flexible nonlinear (FNL) periodized weight training program compared to a nonlinear (NL) periodized weight training program on strength and power. Sixteen beginner weight training students were randomly assigned to an FNL group (n = 8) or an NL group (n = 8). The exercise program included a combination of machines and free weights completed in 30 minutes, twice per week, for 12 consecutive weeks. Both groups were assigned the same total training volume of 3,680 repetitions and the same total training repetition maximum assignments of 10, 15, and 20. The FNL group, however, was allowed to choose which day they completed the 10-, 15-, or 20-repetition workout. This was the only difference between the groups. Pre- and post-test measures included chest press, leg press, and standing long jump. The FNL group significantly improved by an average increase of 62 kg (p < 0.05), whereas the NL group only increased by an average of 16 kg in the leg press. The FNL group did not significantly differ in chest press or standing long jump performance when compared to the NL group. The conclusion from this study is that an FNL periodization program may be a highly effective method of training for improving leg strength. Coaches can immediately implement an FNL program by evaluating the readiness of an athlete immediately before his or her training session, then adjusting the assigned exercise intensity accordingly. Source: http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2010/01000/Flexible_Nonlinear_Periodization_in_a_Beginner.3.aspx