An Example of the Peer-Review Process

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A long time ago, the light
was turned on for me: there is a difference between “Science” and
“Professional Research.” I wrote a paper about the concepts that
formed the basis for Practical Programming for Strength Training – the idea that programming complexity must increase as the level
of training advancement progresses, meaning that rank novices do not
benefit from the complex manipulation of loads and exercises, while
it is absolutely necessary for advanced trainees. A common
observation, but previously missing from “The Literature,” this
is merely the application of the Principle of Diminishing Returns to
the subject of strength training.

submitted it to the NSCA’s Strength and
Conditioning Journal

in 2004. It was rejected because it disagreed with the previously
published “science” on the topic, and was based instead on my
documented experience in the gym, and this is just not allowed.
Peer-reviewed papers are supposed to refer only to previously
published peer-reviewed papers, you see. The book has since sold more
than 500,000 copies, is now a primary reference text, and has helped
more people get strong than anything ever published by the NSCA in
either of their peer-reviewed journals. I wanted you to see the
original article, and the comments from the Reviewers. 

A Relative Approach

Keywords: novice, periodization,
programs, strength, training.

Periodization is a pivotal concept in
modern strength and conditioning. It may be defined as “a logical,
phasic method of manipulating training variables in order to increase
the potential for achieving specific performance goals,” with
nonlinearity of training its core principle (6, 9). Most programs
feature workload variation based on a changing percentage of 1RM,
with an increase in performance scheduled into the program at
prescribed intervals, and with significant periods of unloading
incorporated, to allow for recovery. Periodization has become
regarded as the most necessary component in the achievement of
maximum performance with respect to physical preparedness (7). Its
influence is felt across all sports that have even a passing
association with formalized resistance training.

Periodization models have been
incorporated into the resistance training programs of athletes of all
levels of experience, development, and potential. It has become, in
some professional circles, regarded as absolutely essential for
resistance training program design. However, in athletes at certain
levels of experience and development, periodization is not only
unnecessary, it may be counterproductive. Specifically, it has been
our experience that the offloading inherent in a nonlinear periodized
program, while essential for more advanced athletes, is unnecessary
for novice trainees. It is our opinion that young untrained athletes,
and novice athletes of any age, derive almost no benefit from a
nonlinear periodized resistance training program, and the
applicability of periodization increases relative to the experience
of the trainee, until at the advanced level it becomes absolutely
necessary for continued improvement. In other words, training
programs should increase in “nonlinearity” as the athlete
accumulates training experience.

It has been a common observation among
strength coaches working with novice athletes that improvement comes
rather quickly to young athletes, and, in fact, quickly even to older
novices. This phenomenon has been studied extensively as both a
neuromuscular and hormonal adaptation (1, 2, 3, 5).

These early gains are made quickly,
with the vast majority of trainees able to add weight to the work
sets of most core strength exercises every training session for many
weeks, even months, depending on individual capabilities (2, 8). Part
of the explanation for this effect lies in the fact that
inexperienced, inefficient, undeveloped athletes are incapable of
producing sufficient force to tax their recovery ability to the point
that rapid recovery is hampered (2, 8).

This adaptive capacity is more
pronounced in younger novices, with the effect still evident but at a
diminished level in older novices. This capacity for rapid
improvement has been successfully exploited by effective, skilled
coaches in all sports, weightlifting in particular being notable for
its readiness to capitalize on the phenomenon, as evidence by the
highly successful, vertically structured programs of the former
Eastern Bloc countries (4, 12).

During this early phase of an athletes’
career, any program that fails to take advantage of this capacity for
rapid improvement represents wasted training time, misses an
opportunity to provide motivation through perceived success, and
possibly costs the athlete a percentage of his potential ultimate
development. Most periodization schemes require significant
offloading during their constituent microcycles (6, 11), and in our
opinion are inappropriate for novices.

Many periodization programs also
involve 1RM testing of novices as a prerequisite to the determination
of percentages used in the program. Percentages based on 1RM should
be a way to accurately describe the difficulty of the lift, and the
stress level imposed on the athlete. However, any such program
ignores the fact that any exercise, with the possible exception of
some machine exercises, are dependent upon the execution skill of the
athlete to correctly assess an accurate 1RM, a skill no novice, by
definition, possesses. In the absence of an open motor pathway, the
neuromuscular adaptation to a complicated movement pattern, it is not
possible to infer correct percentages from a 1RM, and therefore not
possible to correctly determine percentages based on a 1RM for use in
the program. The absence of an open motor pathway drastically
diminishes the predictive relationship between a 1RM and a 5RM (8).
This fact alone renders such programs inapplicable to novices.

It has been our observation that novice
athletes improve so rapidly that the concept of “higher
intensity” relative to their changing ability is difficult to
quantify. They get stronger as quickly as load increases, so that in
effect intensity, meaning percentage of maximum force production
capability, is not really increasing. This is a phenomenon familiar
to those of us who coach novices, and in our opinion it further
complicates the problem of RM testing and its use in program design.

These factors must be taken into
account when designing training plans for novices, as rapid progress
can and should be expected from them.

As athletes’ progress through their
training careers, irrespective of the age at which training began,
progress becomes slower and more difficult. It is at this point that
some limited periodization becomes appropriate. Intermediate trainees
are capable of training hard enough that some allowances for active
recovery must be incorporated into the training program, but progress
still comes faster for these athletes when they are challenged often
by maximum efforts. The challenge for the strength coach becomes
developing the ability to determine how often and how hard to push
the athlete in this intermediate phase, and when to begin more
involved, more regimented approaches to systematic loading/unloading.

Advanced athletes require extensive
manipulation of all training parameters in order to continue progress
to the elite levels of sport. An athletes’ ultimate progress is
generally determined by his genetic capacity for athletic
performance, but the ability to attain the highest percentage of that
genetic capacity is a function of the effectiveness of the training
program. At the advanced level, careers are made or destroyed by the
ability of the athlete to continue to evoke improvement in
performance in the face of a diminishing recovery capacity. Athletes
operating near their genetic potential walk a thin line between
injury/overtraining and improved performance, with their ability to
produce training volumes and intensities that maximally tax their
recovery ability. Much work has been devoted to the art and science
of adjusting training parameters to enable elite athletes to continue
to improve. Just as a novices’ particular training and recovery
capacities must be reflected in their strength and conditioning
program, the advanced athletes’ completely different training and
recovery abilities, a function of asymptotic approach to the limits
of their genetic capacity, determine their training requirements.

These concepts are illustrated in
Figure 1. (Cover illustration for Practical Programming for
Strength Training, 3
rd edition)

The dogmatic application of
periodization principles without regard to the training status of the
athlete is as detrimental to the athletic success of a novice as the
failure to apply them correctly is to an advanced athlete. It is
important to recognize the physiological, neurological, hormonal, and
psychological differences that exist between athletes of different
stages of training development, and apply the principles of training
parameter manipulation that are appropriate to each particular
athlete in that individual’s stage of development.


  1. Ahtiainen JP, Pakarinen A, Alen M,
    Kraemer WJ, Hakkinen K. Muscle hypertrophy, hormonal adaptations and
    strength development during strength training in strength-trained and
    untrained men. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 89(6):555-63. 2003.
  2. Hakkinen, K. Factors influencing
    trainability of muscular strength during short term and prolonged
    training. Natl. Strength Cond. Assoc. J., 7(2):32-37. 1985.
  3. Hakkinen, K. Neuromuscular and
    hormonal adaptations during strength and power training. A review. J.
    Sports Med. Phys. Fitness. 29(1):9-26. 1989.
  4. Jones, L. USA Weightlifting Coaching
    Accreditation Course: Regional Coach Manual. [Revision]. Colorado
    Springs, CO: United States Weightlifting Federation, 1993. pp. 36-37.
  5. Kraemer WJ, Staron RS, Hagerman FC,
    Hikida RS, Fry AC, Gordon SE, Nindl BC, Gothshalk LA, Volek JS, Marx
    JO, Newton RU, Hakkinen K. The effects of short-term resistance
    training on endocrine function in men and women. Eur. J. Appl.
    Physiol. Occup. Physiol. 78(1):69-76. 1998.
  6. Plisk, S. and Stone M.H.
    Periodization Strategies. Strength Cond. J. 25(6):19-37. 2003.
  7. Rowbottom, D.G. Periodization of
    training. In: Exercise and Sports Science. W.E. Garret and D.T.
    Kirkendall, eds . Philadelphia, PA: Lippencott, Williams and Wilkins,
    2000. pp. 499-512.
  8. Siff, M. C. and Verkhoshansky, Y.V.
    Supertraining. (4th ed.). Denver, CO: Supertraining Institute, 1999.
  9. Stone, M.H., Pierce, K.C., Haff, G.
    Greg and A.J. Koch, and Stone, Meg. Periodization: Effects of
    Manipulating Volume and Intensity, Part 1. Strength Cond. J.
    21(2):56-62. 1999.
  10. Verkhoshansky Y.V. Programming &
    Organization Of Training. A. Charniga, Jr., trans. Moscow: Fizkultura
    i Spovt, 1985;Livonia Sportivny Press, 1988.
  11. Verkhoshansky Y.V. Fundamentals Of
    Special Strength-Training In Sport. A. Charniga, Jr., trans. Moscow:
    Fizkultura i Spovt, 1977; Livonia MI: Sportivny Press, 1986.
  12. Yakovou, C. Preparatory programs of the Greek Olympic weightlifting
    team (Competitive Period 1996). In: Proceedings of the Weightlifting
    Symposium. Budapest, Hungary: International Weightlifting Federation,
    1997. pp. 106–112.


you very much for submitting your manuscript “Periodization: A
Relative Approach” for review by Strength and Conditioning
Journal. The reviewers raised substantial concerns about the paper. Based on the reviews, we will not be able to accept this manuscript
for publication in the journal. Reviewer comments are provided

you again for choosing SCJ for your work. We will look forward to
further contributions from you and your colleagues. Please contact
me if you have any questions.


#1 (Remarks for the Author):

article about periodization is an article I agree with to a certain
extend and on the other hand I disagree with. One statement made is,
“a common observation amoung strength coaches working with
novice athletes that improvement comes rather quickly to young
athletes, and, in fact, quickly even to older novice.” I
completely agree with this statement because no matter when you start
a weightlifting program improvements are going to be made rather
quickly because you are working your body out and trying to change
its composition for the first time. The article goes on to say that,
“progress still comes faster for these athletes when they are
challenged often by maximum efforts.” I disagree with this
statement to an extend because all humans nned rest especially when
training. Overall, this article was good, but I have to admit had
different observations.

#2 (Remarks for the Author):


authors of this manuscript have not provided a title or included a
purpose statement for their manuscript. A concise introduction
ending with a purpose statement would make the manuscript easier to
follow and give the reader some direction. The manuscript needs
substantial increases in its scientific support for the conclusions
and theories presented. The authors have quoted several studies,
which seem to center on hormonal adaptations or are review articles. A more detailed exploration into the current body of knowledge about
youth resistance training is critical to this discussion. <BR>

authors must also come to some conclusion about how they are defining
a novice, intermediate, and advanced athlete. For example, is a
track athlete a novice weightlifter because he hasn’t competed in
weightlifting? Even though he has performed permutations of the
Olympic lifts in his training? As I read this document it is very
difficult to determine where this athlete might fall in your
continuum. I personally would classify him as an advanced athlete do
to his extensive back ground in lifting weights, but I suspect the
authors would consider him to be a novice.


9-10 Periodization
is utilized in almost all sports including those that classically do
not participate in resistance training.

12-14 You
have stated that periodization of training is unnecessary for young
novice athletes and untrained athletes and that no benefits are
achieved with a classically periodized program. I would like to see
the scientific evidence for this.

18-21 In
this section I agree that young or novice athletes progress quickly. The authors should refer to Sale DG. Neural adaptation to resistance
training. Med Sci Sports Exerc 20 (5 Suppl): S135-45, 1988. In this
classic article Sale suggests that after about 12 weeks of training
muscle hypertrophy begins to become a major contributor in the
development of strength.

22-24 I
think that you have miss represented the articles you are referencing
for this statement. Hakkinen (1985) states that increases in
strength of 10% can easily be obtained over periods as small as 2
weeks of training. They also suggest that high loading of strength
training is more important for highly trained subjects having long
lasting backgrounds in strength training which contradicts what this
article is suggesting.

28-33 In
reading this section you are suggesting that performing maximal
attempts frequently produce superior results for untrained novice or
intermediate athletes. However, you are quoting documents that are
talking about Elite Weighlifters from Bulgaria and Greece. This
paragraph is contradictory to the philosophy that you are presenting. As I read this document you are stating that periodization is more
critical as one advances as an athlete and that the novice athlete
should lift higher intensities more frequently because they can
recover faster. However, the bulk of the scientific literature
contradicts this contention. Periodization is essential at all
levels, the degree of complexity will vary according to the level of
development. The authors need to establish a scientific basis for
their contention that this type of training is better for novice
athletes. I would suggest that the authors explore the work of Dr.
Faigenbaum and include it in this manuscript.

37-39 In
this line you reference Plisk and Stone. I believe that you have
grossly misquoted the article. In their article Plisk and Stone
clearly state that there is a continuum of periodization (simplistic
to complex models) with novice athletes requiring periodized models
that have “heavy/light” permutations that are basic and are
performed with moderate loads as high intensities are unattainable
for these athletes do to their level of technique development. As
athletes progress to the intermediate levels of development they
require additional variation in the program design.

37-39 Periodization
is more than just offloading. Periodization requires planned
variations in volume, intensity, and motor patterns. Too often we
fixate on the offloading, without considering that maximal effort is
often given as noted by Stone and Wathen (2001).


1-9 In
this section the authors give a detailed discussion on the lack of
skill that an novice athletes have and that the 1RM is not accurately
achieved in this population. I think the authors have forgotten that
Periodization of intensity does not have to be taken from a 1RM. Several authors have worked with periodization models which use 5RM,
8RM etc or perceived RM. I would suggest the authors read the
article by Stone MH, O’Bryant H, Garhammer J. A hypothetical model
for strength training. J. Sports Med. 21: 342-351, 1981. This
article can shed considerable light on periodization.

15-17 The
authors must get a grasp that periodization is always non-linear.
Stone and Wathen (2001) and the Point Counterpoint published in
23(1):2001 clear discuss and provide evidence to why linear
periodization is a misleading term.

28-33 The
Soviet Union has also produced exceptional results in international
weightlifting and they have utilized periodization models with
significant variation, manipulation of volume, intensity, and
exercise variation. One of the problems with the classic Bulgarian
model of training is that it is devoid of exercise variation, it
relies solely on maximal attempts repeated throughout the day. In the
paper by Jones L. Training programs: do Bulgarian methods lead the
way for the USA? Weightlifting USA 9 (1): 10-11, 1991, the concept
of the validity of the Bulgarian training methodology has been
questioned as a viable training theory in the United States. Jones
clearly suggests that this type of training can only be undertaken
for extremely short periods of time and must be incorporated into a
periodized training model. Even though this is not a scientific
study it resonates the philosophies that are present in the
scientific literature. The authors need to spend more time
exploring the literature in an attempt to find support for the
concept that they are presenting here.

40-41 Interestingly
to me that you have not defined what you mean by a novice,
intermediate or advanced athletes. The literature clearly states
that greater amounts of periodization are needed as athletes become
more trained. To clarify this area of the paper you must clearly
define what the level of an athlete is? In the paramount paper
written by Stone MH, O’Bryant H, Garhammer J. A hypothetical model
for strength training. J. Sports Med. 21: 342-351, 1981 novice
athletes were used and the periodized model produced markedly
superior results when compared to a non-periodized training program.

#4? (I only remember 3, but this looks like a separate set of
comments by a different reviewer. Forgive me, it’s been a while…)

14-15 You
are recommending that young athletes be challenged with maximal
attempts on a frequent basis? I suggest that you read some of the
work by Avery Faigenbaum. Faigenbaum et al (1999) in “The
effects of different resistance training protocols on muscular
strength and endurance development in children” published in
Pediatrics clearly states that high volume moderate loading with
resistance training produces greater adaptations in young athletes. In fact the article demonstrates a 9.1% greater increase in muscular
strength. Additionally, I would suggest that the authors read Stone
MH, Chandler TJ, Conley MS, Kramer JB, Stone ME. Training to muscular
failure: is it necessary? Strength and Conditioning 18 (3): 44-51,
1996; Stowers T, McMillan J, Scala D, Davis V, Wilson D, Stone M. The
short-term effects of three different strength-power training
methods. Natl. Strength Condit. Assoc. J. 5 (3): 24-27, 1983; Kramer
JB, Stone MH, O’Bryant HS, Conley MS, Johnson RL, Nieman DC,
Honeycutt DR, Hoke TP. Effects of single vs. multiple sets of weight
training: impact of volume, intensity, and variation. J. Strength
Cond. Res. 11 (3): 143-147, 1997; Schlumberger A, Stec J,
Schmidtbleicher D. Single- vs. multiple-set strength training in
women. J. Strength Cond. Res 15 (3): 284-289, 2001. This evidence
does not support the contention presented by the authors. This needs
to be addressed in the manuscript.

the authors are assuming that because the intensity is lower that
effort is less. Stone and Wathen (2001) noted that effort remains
high on light training days. This also needs to be addressed in this

load is much more than just the resistance being lifted. To often
when working in the realm of periodization the concept of volume load
(sets x reps x weightlifted) and the training intensity (volume load
/ repetitions) is overlooked. You can accomplish a significant
training stimulus without forcing the athlete to go to maximum on a
regular basis. The paper by Stone et al. (1996) clearly gives
evidence that frequent maximal attempts increases the risks of
overtraining, musculoskeletal injuries, and negative psychological
effects. These concepts need to be addressed in this discussion.

authors also must address the paper by Harris GR, Stone MH, O’Bryant
HS, Proulx CM, Johnson RL. Short-term peformance effects of high
power, high force, or combined weight-training methods. J. Strength
Cond. Res. 14 (1): 14-20, 2000. In this paper the Heavy weight
trained group, which would best be described as going maximal
frequently as proposed by the authors produced markedly impaired
performance gains even thought they may not have been statistically
different than the combination training group. This study must also
be addressed in this manuscript.

34-39 The
authors conclusions for this paper are not based upon any scientific
literature. Additionally, no discussion has been undertaken about
the physiological, neurological, hormonal, and psychological
differences that exist between athletes at different stages of
training development. If the authors make these conclusions they
should discuss each one of these topics in their actual article.

28 In
Verkoshansky’s book you need to define the page number where you are
referencing above. This way we can see where you are drawing your
conclusion from.

Figure (the
cover figure of PPST) I think the figure is ok but I would suggest
that the authors define the following:

1) time,
how much time? Microcycle? Mesocycle? Macrocycle?

2) Training
experience ? years of training ? cycles? Level of competition?

3) I
would change need for periodization to complexity of periodization
since it is clear that periodization is essential for all levels of
training only the complexity of the process should change overtime.

4) I
would suggest that the authors remove the genetic potential line from
the graphic

I have
preserved the comments in their original condition, with formatting
removed only. Fascinating to read this, all these years later. “When
at first you don’t succeed…”

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