Periodisation has been a trendy word in strength training circles for some time now. In theory it makes sense, i.e. gradually increase intensity/volume so as to allow the body time to adapt to incremental changes. But one issue with a linear increase in intensity for instance, is that it has potential to create ever increasing levels of stress, without allowing sufficient time for regeneration.
Another case in point is the typical focus on muscle hypertrophy during initial stages of a periodised program. Reps in the range of 8-12 are great for muscle hypertrophy, but as a periodised program progresses in a linear fashion, there can be periods of weeks or months where reps may not exceed 5 repetitions. This begs the question of whether such a stimulus will be sufficient to maintain optimal muscle mass increases.
What Is Daily Undulating Periodisation?
Originally pioneered by famous Canadian strength and conditioning coach Charles Poliquin in 1988, daily undulating periodisation (DUP) is a systematic variation of training volume and intensity from one session to the next. This is in contrast with linear periodised programs, which focus on gradual changes in training volume and intensity throughout the year. Linear programs are typically divided into specific mesocycles of 3-4 months. But when it comes to daily undulating periodisation programs, one day an individual may be doing 3 sets of 10-12 reps @70-75% 1RM, and the next session they are doing 5 sets of 4-6 reps at 82-88% 1RM.
Linear vs Undulating Periodisation
As highlighted above, linear periodisation typically invovles several micro- or mesocycles over the course of several months. The first mesocycle involves a higher training volume, and throughout the training period, intensity is increased while volume decreases every few weeks. In contrast, in daily undulating periodisation, volume and intensity vary much more significantly within shorter periods. The aim of DUP is to maintain high performance levels during longer training periods, whereas LP is designed for a peak performance at a planned time.
For the practically minded readers, how might a daily undulating periodisation program differ from a linear one? The graph below provides a simple overview. The obvious difference with daily undulating periodisation programs is that the reps and intensity vary significantly from day to day. In this sense, daily undulating periodisation appeals to those that like variability in their training.
Variables of Daily Undulating Periodisation Programs
The most common core components of an undulating periodisation program are hypretrophy-centric, strength-centric and power/speed-centric sessions. Typically each session within a DUP will have a specific focus (i.e. hypertrophy, strength or power) such that a weekly DUP may only contain 3 sessions/workouts per week. However, the underlying focus of any DUP is to consider what systems are being taxed by each session and plan recovery appropriately. For example, hypertrophy session are generally the most physically taxing and can compromise neuromuscular performance for up to 48-hours postexercise. The beauty of DUP programs are that they are highly variable and customisable based on a given athletes goals and competition schedule.
Daily Undulating Periodisation Program for Hypertrophy
Hypertrophy phases of DUP are characterised by sessions of high volume, which is key for triggering muscle damage and the resultant hypertrophy. Typically reps range in the region of 8-10 per exercise (@ 75-85% 1RM) with sets numbering between 3 and 5.
Daily Undulating Periodisation Program for Strength
Strength centric phases of DUP are characteristed by repititions in the range of 3-6, with the weight oscillating between 85-95% 1RM. As far as sets are concerned, it uncommon to exceed three per exercise. As such, strength session are high intensity because of the heavy loads being lifted over multiple sets.
Daily Undulating Periodisation Program for Power
Power-centric phases of DUP are really where the action is at. The sessions are not necessarily taxing from a physical standpoint, but they do require maximal neuromuscular performance. Typically only 1 or 2 reps are performed at 80-90% 1RM over multiple sets of 3-5. However, the focus is on speed of movement, because of its major impact on power production and force development.
Daily Undulating Periodisation Program Results
So what results might one expect from a DUP? A recent study of top competitive powerlifters from the Florida State University Powerlifting Team provides some great insight. The study sought to compare two DUP programs that differed only in the sequence of the hypertophy, strength and power workouts.
As shown in the diagram opposite, one group performed workouts in the sequence of hypertrophy-strength-power, while the other group performed the workouts in the sequence of hypertrophy-power-strength. Because the study involved competitive powerlifters, it only included three exercises, namely, bench press, back squat and deadlift. It's important to note that the deadlift exercise was only performed in strength sessions (i.e. only once per week).
The primary thought process behind modifying session order was to provide greater amount of time between the hypertrophy and strength workouts. It is thought that if recovery from a hypertrophy-centric workout is not complete, optimal performance of a strength-centric workout may be compromised.
The table below shows the breakdown of the DUP program for each group in the study.
The result of the study in terms of improvements in 1RM are shown below. As expected, both groups improved but, the group using the hypertrophy-power-strength sequence showed superior strength gains.
In terms of differences in the total weight lifted over the duration of the study, the graph below shows the effect of each DUP protocol.
The graph clearly shows the superior effect of HPS (i.e. hypertrophy-power-strength) on total weight lifted.
Daily Undulating Periodisation Verdict
In conclusion, daily undulating periodisation programs are an exciting area of research in weight training and performance optimisation of the competitive athlete. The great thing about DUP programs is the variety they offer. Whether its focusing on the speed of eccentric or concentric phases of an exercise or excuting a high movement at maximal speed for optimal power and neuromuscular development or low speed for maximal strength development, there is always plenty of variables to play with.
At the core of DUP programs is the principle that the body needs to receive regular fresh stimuli, which if not supplied will impeed optimal gains. DUP helps to eliminate the physiological and psychological causes of progress stagnation caused by an overemphasised specialisation on volume or intensity.
Poliquin C. Five steps to increasing the effectiveness of your strength training program. NSCA Journal. 1988;10(3):34-39.
Zourdos MC, et al. Modified daily undulating periodization model produces greater performance than a traditional configuration in powerlifting. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2016;30(3):784-91.
Miranda F, et al. Effects of linear vs daily undulatory periodized resistance training on maximal and submaximal strength gains. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2011;25(7):1824–1830.
Hartmann HShort-term periodization models: Effects on strength and speed-strength performance. Sports Medicine. 2015; 45:1373–1386.