People think periodization is a complex, sometimes nearly impenetrable topic. Sure, the original forms of periodization that were translated from Russian and used by sports scientists to plan 4-year Olympic training cycles for athletes needing to balance skill, agility, speed, reactivity, strength, endurance, accuracy and coordination training were necessarily complex. Add the language barrier and the cultural mystique between the west and the east during the cold-war era, and you’ve got something that seems insurmountably complex.
However, in the modern age when it comes to purely using periodization for resistance training to develop size and strength – and no other physical quality – it’s a lot simpler. To paraphrase my favorite definition of periodization from a peer reviewed article: “Periodization is the planned manipulation of training variables to maximize adaptation” . That’s it. Periodization is simply altering training variables over time in service of getting better. So, if you have a high repetition day, and a low repetition day, that’s a periodized plan. If you have a high repetition week, and a low repetition week that’s a periodized plan. If you have descending or ascending repetitions throughout the week, that’s a periodized plan. If you spend a couple months doing high rep training focusing on catching a pump and chasing fatigue, followed by a couple months of doing low rep heavy training focusing on going as heavy as possible, that’s a periodized plan. If you slowly drop down your rep ranges and increase your loads over time, that’s a periodized plan. Hell, if you take a planned light week to recover, or perform a taper before a meet or testing, that’s a periodized plan.
Let’s break it down further and go over some of the definitions that also lead to confusion.
Simply put, this just means starting with high volume low intensity (think multiple sets of high repetition work, more accessory movements), and then moving towards high intensity low volume (think sets of low repetition work with heavy loads, primarily main lifts). This probably would make a lot of sense if your goal was to increase low repetition, maximal strength. For example, setting up your training in this manner leading into a meet would probably make sense as you’d build motor pattern proficiency with easy to handle loads with a lot of repetitions early on, along with some muscle mass which would increase your strength ceiling. As you moved to the later stages of the plan, you’d have enough volume to maintain your size, but you’d get the specific practice of heavy lifting, which is most specific to your goal. Traditionally, Linear Periodization is carried out over longer time frames with repetition ranges and total volume coming down over multiple phases: say 12-20 reps for a month or two, 8-12 for a month or two, 6-8 for a month or two, then finally 1-5 for a month or two.
Take the linear concept and just truncate it into two periods: a volume block, and an intensity block. Throw a taper in at the end of the intensity block and that’s a block model. The volume block has more total reps, potentially higher repetition ranges (but not necessarily), and would be further from failure, while the intensity block has less total reps, potentially lower repetition ranges (but not necessarily), and would be closer to failure. It is truncated to allow more flexibility in a competition schedule. For example, you could have 4 weeks of higher volume training followed by 4 weeks of higher intensity training, four separate times in a year for your local, regional, national, and international powerlifting meets you are competing in. Something a traditional linear periodized model wouldn’t allow for.
Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP)
If you train at least twice per week, and do different repetitions on those two days, guess what you’re following a DUP strategy. That’s literally all it takes to qualify. You don’t have to have a high frequency of training the power lifts, you don’t have to train drastically different rep ranges on different days (you could do 10’s on Monday and 12’s on Friday, still DUP), and you don’t have to train at least three times per week. DUP has a very broad definition, it’s nothing magic, but it really shines when you think about it in terms of organizing training stress across a week. If you want to do a high-volume day with high reps and a lot of sets early in the week, well maybe you could have a low volume day with low reps, only a few sets and moderate loads (something you could complete even if you were sore and fatigued) in your next session, then finish the week once you’re recovered by trying to set some low repetition range personal records.
Weekly Undulating Periodization (WUP)
Same concept as DUP, just across weeks instead of days within a week. Again, this is not defined by the exercises you do, how many days per week you train them, or any programming variable. In this case, you could literally just train once per week, and if you then did different repetitions the following week, you’d qualify as doing WUP. The purpose, concepts and utility are the same for WUP as they are for DUP, just along a weekly versus daily time scale.
Now, if you finish this and you are wondering “which type of periodization is the best?”, you missed the point. Think of the utility of each, and how the concepts could be combined based on the parameters of your goal. Does a bodybuilder need to follow a linear approach and train 1-5 repetitions with a heavy load for a couple months? No. Does a powerlifter have any reason to work in the 12-20 rep range on the main lifts for multiple months? No. Take the concepts that work and use them. Each model is not mutually exclusive, and each has functionality depending on the situation. For example, maybe you could include occasional heavy singles in a volume block of training for a bodybuilder who competes in powerlifting in the offseason as a strategy to maintain strength while focusing on size? Maybe for an early stage powerlifter without much muscle mass, but good movement competency, you’d throw in some higher volume days even in an intensity block to give some attention to gaining size. The list goes on.
To close out, periodization is not magic. There is no right system, and it does not have to be complex. If you manipulate training variables over time, you are already periodizing your training. If you think about logical ways to manipulate your training variables to achieve your goals, you are doing the same thing the original progenitors did when they developed all this fancy terminology. Don’t put the models on a pedestal, just incorporate their concepts into your planning, as needed and when appropriate, based on the task at hand.
- Buford, T.W., et al., A comparison of periodization models during nine weeks with equated volume and intensity for strength. J Strength Cond Res, 2007. 21(4): p. 1245-50.