Linear Vs Undulating Periodization

Written by Kim Leggett (Clean Health Online Master Coach)

When it comes to how you may approach your clients training, one consideration you will have is whether you follow a linear or undulating model of periodization. There appears to be a big line drawn in the sand between the use and benefits for different clients with these two approaches so we are going to break it down!

First things first, what is periodization? 
Periodization is an important component of resistance training programs. It is meant to improve adherence to the training regimen, allow for constant progression, help in avoiding plateaus, and reduce occurrence and severity of injuries. According to Haff & Triplett (2016), periodization enables systematic, sequential, and integrative scheduling and programming of training sessions to maximize specific physiological adaptations underpinning performance outcomes. 

In a nutshell and without overcomplicating it, periodization is the long term manipulation of training variables, for example, volume and intensity, that is done to maximize performance at a specific point in time (1). Usually this will follow a specific pattern whereby volume decreases over time as intensity increases – the most standard model of periodization which is the linear model.

Linear Periodization
What is it?
This form of periodization describes training plans which increase intensity as volume drops through various mesocycles in an average training plan. This style of programming is simplistic and usually why it is considered ideal for beginners. It assumes that all lifts can be improved simultaneously (which often occurs in beginners), although this is different for advanced clients as more recovery will be needed as central fatigue accumulates according to the increased complexity of training. 

Why use this?
Linear periodization is a great for building a strong foundation for those who are newer to training and allows you to progress and work towards a peaking point. This style of periodization is also useful for those aiming towards huge totals and/or short athletic seasons.

Undulating Periodization
What is it?
The word “undulating” comes from the Latin word “unda”, which means wave (6), and undulating means to flow up and down in a wavelike fashion. This style of periodization generally includes more frequent changes in variables throughout training cycles which can be exercises, volume, intensity and training adaptation on a frequent basis. The time frame for these manipulations can be daily, weekly, or even bi-weekly. A popular way of doing this is to include a hypertrophy day, strength day, and a power day in each training week, and this is considered a more advanced approach because it allows an athlete to develop multiple attributes simultaneously.

Why should I use it?
A great way to train an individual training variable whilst secondarily training others simultaneously. More suited for advanced clients or those with a longer sports season.

So, which should you use to program?
If your client has less than 2 years training experience, they are considered a beginner trainee. It’s suggested to start with the linear model, assess progress and once a plateau is reached you can assess whether to change approach or reset and begin again. 

If your client is an intermediate trainee, then look at some form of the undulating periodization model and its progressions. You could undulate your training intensities or volume on a weekly or daily basis.

Want to learn about the science and fundamentals behind program design in great detail when it comes to developing effective strength & conditioning programs such as load selection, technical execution, rest periods, programming principles and more?
Click here to enrol into Sebastian Oreb’s Strength System International Certification Level 1 & 2 online courses!

References:

  1. G. G. Haff (2016). Periodization. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 4th ed. G. G. Haff and N. T. Triplett, Eds. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 21, 583-604.
  2. Grgic, J. Et. Al. (2017). Effects of linear and daily undulating periodised resistance training programs on measures of music hypertrophy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Strength and Conditioning. 
  3. Haff G. and Triplett T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. 4th edition. NSCA: Human kinetics. 
  4. Nuckols, G. (2018). Periodisation: What the data says. Stronger By Science. Retrieved from: https://www.strongerbyscience.com/periodization-data/
  5. Oreb, S. (2020). Strength Systems International Certification Level 2. Clean Health Fitness Institute
  6. vocabulary.com, (2020) Undulate, Vocabulary.com, Accessed on: July. 1, 2020. [Online]. Retrieved from: http://vocab.com/d/undulate.

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