Articles | strength health

An Example of the Peer-Review Process

by Mark Rippetoe | July 12, 2023

institutional gatekeeper

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.

I 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. 

Periodization: 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, 3rd 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.


Thank 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 below.

Thank 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.

Sincerely, Editor

Reviewer #1 (Remarks for the Author):

This 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.

Reviewer #2 (Remarks for the Author):

Major Comments:

The 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>

The 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.

Specific Comments:

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).

Reviewer #3

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.

Reviewer #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.

Additionally, 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 document.

Training 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.

The 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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