Under the Hood: Daily Undulating Periodization

February 17, 2016 8:42 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

by Joe Giandonato, MBA, MS, CSCS

Manager of Health Promotion

Drexel University


Aside from the unequivocally blatant topic of CrossFit, few issues within the strength and conditioning

industry are as contentious and perceptibly divisive. But plug a bunch of strength coaches and dedicated

iron warriors in a room together and float the subject of periodization by them and that war room will

metamorphosize into a war zone.

Debates involving periodization have seemingly raged on forever and those staking their claim to a

particular camp — linear or nonlinear — fervently grasp onto their beliefs as Bible belters protect their

party lines and devotion to their faith. Let’s leave politics and religion out of it as those topics are best

garbled by our delusional and propaganda powered media outlets.

Periodization remains a serious issue or scalably so.

And before a left click and save trigger happy coach entangles their athletes and clients in an

incongruous web of variables, let’s define periodization, vet its applicability, and broach an sect of non-

linear periodization — daily undulating periodization — which has gained considerable traction of late.

According to Zatsiorsky, periodization is the arrangement of training programs into longer periods of

training. Periodization involves the deliberate manipulation of variables, including loading parameters

(the good ol’ FITT principle applies here) and recovery, with the intention of evoking improvements in

physiological functional capacity and skill while mitigating injury risk.

While a myriad of offshoot periodization methodologies exist, the two biggies are linear and non-linear

(aka undulating).

Linear periodization is characterized by an ordinal and incremental arrangement of variables over the

course of training program or period. A prime example is progressive overload.

Remember when you were a novice? While everything seemed heavy, improvements came easily. The

only mathematical function required was simple addition. Add a 2.5 lb plate here, a rep there, and

sprinkle in an extra set, and almost magically you got stronger and developed greater work capacity.

But in the real world and in the weight room (which is the real world, for all you abstract gleaning, arm

chair quarterback types), progress is hardly linear.

Take college for instance. You may have held a part-time job prior to entering while you likely lived at

home. Well now that you’re forking over dough for tuition, books, and junk food and alcohol (sigh), you

probably have less money in your savings now than when you initially applied to school.

Training, unfortunately, is the same way. Wear and tear accumulates prompting arthritic issues that

have to be “worked around”. Competing demands interfere, such as school, competitive or recreational

pursuits, and alcohol metabolism — I’ll provide a snippet on that in a moment.

Alcohol converts to acetate, which leapfrogs ahead of carbohydrates as the body’s preferred fuel source.

Additional carbs, including those consumed while drinking, are then stored as fat. Not to mention,

alcohol blunts protein metabolism and interrupts sleep, reducing the body’s capacity to produce

hormones involved in anabolism or growth. And acutely, while intoxicated or hung-over, alcohol

significantly encumbers neuromuscular function.

When simple math no longer works, it might be time for long division or differential equations —

analogously, not literally.

Undulating periodization, which involves fluctuations in variables, namely loading parameters,

throughout the week or given period, is dedicated to those folks in possession discernible strength,

competing demands, and/or tangible musculoskeletal ailments.

Exercises change, as do loads, volume, and imaginably everything else during that predetermined span

of time.

But those variables need to monitored accordingly as to facilitate a substantive and sustainable training


Enter daily undulating periodization.

Daily undulating periodization or (DUP) can help athletes and lifters bridge the gap between

preparedness and readiness. How DUP differs from traditional undulation periodization is that it

providers athletes and lifters a greater degree of flexibility, for instance, loads can be slightly reduced

and exercises can be substituted either in preparation of or pursuant to a given competing demand.

In a recent study involving powerlifters, Zourdos and colleagues (2015) observed that those following a

modified configuration of DUP, averaged greater improvements in 1RM bench press and a concomitant

increase in total volume. These findings echo those of an earlier study comprising recreational lifters. A

DUP program involving alternating upper and lower body workouts with planned, fluctuations in load, or

deviations from an 8RM, was found to produce greater strength increases versus a linear program with

alternating upper and lower body workouts.

In order to cash in on its touted benefits, it is suggested that coaches build a pool of exercises and

training modalities for their athletes and lifters, that way training variables can be more closely

monitored. Powerlifters should stick with the big three or their close variants (supplementary exercises)

and Olympic lifters should keep the Clean and Jerk and Snatch and their regressions holstered in their

training belt.

So don’t shy from linear oriented principles. Too much variety can amount to the death knell of

progress. Just look at novice CrossFitters — if they aren’t in PT, they are relegated to a purgatory of


Coaches should guide athletes and lifters through the programming they have created. Movement

velocity and quality should also be accounted for and examined by the watchful eye of a seasoned


DUP and other forms of undulating periodization are most appropriate for athletes and lifters with

greater training ages (i.e. intermediate and advanced athletes).




Miranda, F., Simão, R., Rhea, M., Bunker, D., Prestes, J., Leite, R.D., Miranda, H., de Salles, B.F., &

Novaes, J. (2011). Effects of linear vs. daily undulatory periodized resistance training on maximal and

submaximal strength gains. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25, 1824-1830.

Zatsiorsky, V.A. (1995). Science and practice of strength training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Zourdos, M.C., Jo, E., Khamoui, A.V., Lee, S.R., Park, B.S., Ormsbee, M.J., Panton, L.B., Contreras, R.J., &

Kim, J.S. (2015). Modified daily undulating periodization model produces greater performance than a

traditional configuration in powerlifters. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. [Epub ahead of

print: 27 August 2015].

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