If you’re serious about your training, you’ve probably heard that periodization may help you get more gains in the long run. A new periodization model called “Mixed Session Periodization” has made its appearance in the literature the past few years. But how does it compare to the more traditional “Block Periodization” for strength and hypertrophy gains?
What did they test? The authors examined the effect of two different periodization models, mixed session vs block periodization, on strength and hypertrophy.
What did they find? They found that overall mixed periodization was better for promoting hypertrophy and strength increases, although the results of the study must be interpreted with caution.
What does it mean for you? When training for strength and hypertrophy, using mixed session periodization may be better than using block periodization with a similar design to the design used in the study.
What’s the Problem?
Ah, good ol’ “periodization”. One of those borderline jargon words often used in the world of fitness & strength. Don’t get me wrong, “periodization” is a totally legit concept, but the word itself is often overused as a term by coaches and “experts” that want to just sound more scientific . Periodization formally refers to how one manipulates different training related variables (eg: load, intensity of effort, frequency etc) in order to be in peak performance for a specific event, usually a competition. One of the “OGs” in the field of Sports Science, Professor Mike Stone defines periodization as “a logical phasic method of varying training volume, intensity factors, and exercises in order to optimize training progress”. Periodization is often thought of as a concept appropriate for planning training in the long-term as many high-level and professional athletes have pre-planned events that they need to be in peak performance for, and therefore periodize their training around them. However, in this review we will focus on periodization for resistance training and more specifically for strength and hypertrophy.
Periodization for strength and hypertrophy is somewhat different to that of a high-level athlete with a strict competitive calendar, something that is directly reflected by the currently available literature. As it stands, we do not have any studies examining the very-long term effects of different periodization models on strength and hypertrophy, but rather we have studies of various durations, most around 8-16 weeks, comparing different periodization models to one another 1. One, aka me, could argue that we have not really investigated the concept of periodization, or at least what most people refer to as periodization, but have rather only scratched the surface on the potential short-term effects of some proposed periodization models. However, my disclaimer aside, just because we may have more to learn about periodization as a whole, understanding how to structure a training block or a specific period of training to get the greatest strength and hypertrophy gains is still of interest to a lot of people, myself included.
There are many different periodization models that exist that are utilized by individuals who want to grow muscle and get stronger, including strength and physique sport athletes. A traditional periodization model that is widely used even to this day is “block periodization” (BP), where an individual focuses on a specific physical attribute (eg: hypertrophy) for dedicated blocks of training throughout the year. An example of BP for a powerlifting athlete would be:
A hypertrophy block followed by a strength block followed by a peaking/competition block. Block periodization supposedly allows one to really focus on the specific physical attribute they’re trying to improve, helping them maximize adaptations.
Another periodization model that rose in popularity in the strength & muscle building world in the last decade is Daily Undulating Periodization or DUP for short. Introduced by Poliquin in 1988 2, further developed by Kraemer and Fleck in 2007 3 and later popularized by the work of Dr. Mike Zourdos 4, DUP incorporates daily undulations in training variables (eg: intensity & volume). A recent adaptation of the DUP model, titled “mixed session periodization” has made its appearance in the literature 5. MSP requires one to change the training stimulus presented on each training session, undulating between strength, hypertrophy and power work 5. As it stands very little literature exists on mixed session periodization, with the little bit of literature we have focusing mostly on aging adults 6.
Periodized resistance training seems to be better than non-periodized training for strength but does not seem to have any meaningful effect on hypertrophy 1.
When it comes to BP versus DUP, the literature is somewhat mixed with some studies showing BP being superior to DUP 7 and some others showing no difference between the two 8. Some of the very limited literature on MSP has compared to BP, finding no differences between the two for measures of strength 6 but noting that further research is needed.
As it stands, there are no studies comparing BP to MSP in trained individuals (instead of aging adults), something that is about to change! Actually wait…that last part is not entirely correct as the study I’m reviewing has been published for a month now so essentially that HAS already changed *laughing emoji*.
I present to you the Bartolomei et al (2023) paper aka “New Perspectives in Resistance Training Periodization: Mixed Session vs. Block Periodized Programs in Trained Men”! Let’s dive in!
Purpose & Hypothesis
The purpose of this study was to compare an MSP and a BP training protocol, both with the same amount of training volume, and examine their effects on muscle hypertrophy, strength and power in trained individuals. As a secondary aim, the authors sought to investigate the use of a session Rate of Perceived Exertion (sRPE) as a session monitoring tool and how sRPE compared to the total training volume completed throughout the duration of the study. The authors hypothesized that the MSP training protocol would lead to greater gains in hypertrophy whereas the BP training protocol would be better at increasing strength and power.