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Undulating Periodization: Definition, Types, Uses, and Examples

What is Undulating Periodization?

Undulating periodization (UP) organizes training so that the volume and intensity vary from workout to workout or week to week. By changing training variables frequently, UP challenges the body in different ways and varies the training stress, which can reduce the risk of plateaus, improve performance, and allow for more engaging training.

A Deeper Look at the Types of Undulating Periodization

Undulating periodization comes in two forms:

1. Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP)

Here, training volume and intensity change from workout to workout. For example, someone who practices weight training might do the barbell back squat three times weekly to build strength, power, and muscle:

  • Monday – 5×3 @ 60% of 1RM (power)
  • Wednesday – 4×5 @ 80% of 1RM (strength)
  • Friday – 3×10 @ 65-70% of 1RM (hypertrophy)

As you can see, it’s the same exercise each time but done with different ways to work on a specific characteristic.

You can set up DUP in multiple ways and for many exercises, depending on the athlete’s needs.

2. Weekly Undulating Periodization (WUP)

Here, the training variables shift from week to week instead of workout to workout. In other words, we can take the same approach as with DUP, but instead of shifting the variables for each workout, we stick to one for a whole week and then change:

  • Week 1 Day 1 – 5×3 @ 60% of 1RM
  • Week 1 Day 2 – 5×3 @ 60% of 1RM
  • Week 1 Day 3 – 5×3 @ 60% of 1RM
  • Week 2 Day 1 – 4×5 @ 80% of 1RM
  • Week 2 Day 2 – 4×5 @ 80% of 1RM
  • Week 2 Day 3 – 4×5 @ 80% of 1RM
  • Week 3 Day 1 – 3×10 @ 65-70% of 1RM
  • Week 3 Day 2 – 3×10 @ 65-70% of 1RM
  • Week 3 Day 3 – 3×10 @ 65-70% of 1RM

That way, we can segment training into small ‘blocks’ (though this is not the same as block periodization), each focusing on a specific thing. 

The Benefits of Undulating Periodization

The primary purpose of undulating periodization is for trainees to avoid the repeated bout effect (the more you expose yourself to a stimulus, the less of an impact it has). 

With a more traditional approach (say, linear periodization), your training looks the same from workout to workout and week to week. You apply an overload to continue making progress, but it’s typically the same rep and set structure. 

If you periodize a training plan effectively, your training approach (or that of clients) will change every few weeks, which can still offset the repeated bout effect and is certainly better than not changing any variables ever.

However, the idea with UP is that by shifting variables more frequently, you vary the stimulus, and your muscles don’t fully adapt. Instead, your body is forced to continually get better at handling each type of training stress more effectively, hopefully resulting in better results over time. 

Another benefit of UP is that it allows for more varied training and could reduce the risk of overuse injuries. Rather than subjecting your bones, joints, and connective tissues to the exact same stress each time, it varies slightly, which can have a positive impact in the long run.

Daily vs. Weekly Undulating Periodization

DUP tends to be more popular among trainees and coaches when it comes to undulating training variables. However, we don’t have any evidence to suggest that a workout-to-workout shift in training variables is better than a week-to-week one. 

If anything, some research suggests that WUP might produce better strength gains than DUP. 

In one study on volleyball players, researchers noted that DUP and WUP led to similar strength gains over the first eight weeks of the study. However, between weeks 8 and 13, subjects in the WUP group gained more strength than those doing DUP.

That said, the difference likely isn’t huge. As a coach, you can experiment with both models to see what your clients enjoy better.

FAQ

1. Is undulating periodization different from linear periodization?

Undulating periodization is quite different because training variables shift from week to week or day to day. In contrast, linear periodization is about keeping the same variables while gradually inducing an overload, typically through progressively heavier weights.

2. Who can benefit from undulating periodization?

Undulating periodization is great for experienced trainees looking for a different approach to training and those struggling to overcome performance plateaus.

3. Is undulating periodization suitable for beginners?

Undulating periodization is unnecessary for beginners because they can make great progress with a much more simplified approach, like linear periodization.

Related Terms in Periodization and Planning Category