Nonlinear Periodization Workouts

by Anthony Marrone

About Anthony Marrone

Anthony Marrone holds a Ph.D. in kinesiology from the University of Michigan where he worked in both the athletic and nutrition departments. He began writing in 1985 and his writing has appeared in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research" and the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition."


The training system of gradually increasing your training weights, or periodization, generally progresses in a linear fashion. Nonlinear, or conjugate periodization, involves rotating your heavy exercises to avoid fatigue but keeping the intensity high. Conjugated periodization requires not only a good working knowledge of multiple exercises, but where they fit in your program given your various strengths and weaknesses. Consult a health care practitioner before beginning any strength training program.

Program Setup

The basic program design is to allow powerlifters two training days a week to improve their bench press, one for their squat, and a fourth training day to work on the squat and deadlift simultaneously. There is a lighter day for both the squat and bench, called the dynamic effort day, where your goal is to move the weight as quickly as possible to generate force. These days are not periodized, and your main exercises are never rotated. The weight is cycled on both your squat and bench days for eight to 12 sets of two to three repetitions. Training weights are usually between 50 and 70 percent of your single-repetition maximum on your squat and bench press. Your other training days for the squat and deadlift workout and bench press workout should follow your dynamic workouts by 72 hours.

Maximal Effort Bench Press

This is the periodized section of your program, but you are constantly trying to move the most weight possible on an exercise similar to the bench press. This includes the incline bench press, close-grip bench press, partial bench presses in the power rack, pressing from boards on your chest or the floor press. Your goal is to do at least three singles with at least 90 percent of your one-repetition maximum on each lift. You only perform one exercise and switch exercises when you can no longer increase the weight. Additional work for your triceps via dumbbell or barbell extensions, back via rows or chinups, and shoulders through various types of lateral raises is often performed. Similar assistance work is done on your dynamic effort bench workout. Again, exercises are rotated when you can no longer make progress -- there is not a linear plan.

Maximal Effort Squat and Deadlift

When using nonlinear -- or conjugate -- periodization, you take advantage of the fact that many of the same muscles used in the squat are also used in the deadlift. So one max effort day covers both the squat and deadlift exercises. One exercise is performed as the maximal effort exercise and is chosen from a low box squat, deadlift with extra weight added to the bar via chains or bands, varieties of good mornings, partial deadlifts from the power rack or similar exercises. This is followed with assistance work that normally includes glute-hamstring raises; reverse hyperextensions; and heavy, weighted abdominal training. Similar assistance work is performed on your dynamic effort squat workout.

Final Layout

An example of a nonlinear periodized training week would be training four days a week, with the training week starting on Sunday. On Sunday perform your dynamic effort bench workout, followed by assistance work for your bench press. On Monday perform your maximal effort squat or deadlift workout, followed by assistance for your maximal effort exercise. On Wednesday, perform your maximal effort bench workout with bench press assistance work, and on Friday perform your dynamic effort squat workout with assistance work.

References (3)

  • The Westside Barbell Book of Methods; Louie Simmons
  • Science and Practice of Strength Training, Second Edition; V. Zatsiorsky, et al.
  • Supertraining; Y.V. Verkhoshansky, et al.

Photo Credits:

  • Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or