Linear vs undulating periodization…what is the most effect training program? In this research article (published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in March 2003), Rhea et al. attempt to tackle this question by comparing linear periodization (LP) and daily undulating periodization (DUP) programming and their effects on strength gains.
First, let’s define a few things. LP is simply a program in which volume decreases and intensity of training increases gradually over time. If these two variables were charted, we would see a straight line. Linear programs are typically broken down into macrocycles (9-12 months), meso (3-4 months) and microcycles (3-4 weeks). Changes in volume and intensity are changed on a weekly or monthly basis.
Conversely, DUP programs alter volume and intensity daily. In theory, this reduces the probability of an athlete plateauing in terms of strength gains by constantly varying the stress endured by the body. Essentially, the whole purpose of strength training is to put stressors on the body that cause the neuromuscular system to adapt. In order to adapt to the stress of training, an increase in strength is observed to match the requirements of the stressor put on the body. Once the body has matched the stressor (or better, when the body has put on enough strength that the stressor is no longer a stressor), the neuromuscular system no longer has to adapt and thus strength gains cease. When charted, DUP has more of a continual sine curve to it rather than a straight line.
In their research, Rhea et al. used 1RM bench press and 1RM leg press as their measurement of strength gain. Participants consisted of 20 young males (~20 years old) who had been training for an average of 5 years. It was reported that a majority of the participants followed a linear periodization program leading up to the study. The participants were equally divided into an LP group and a DUP group. Each group followed a strict training program for a total of 12 weeks. The study found a significant increase in overall leg press strength in the DUP group when compared to the LP group. Although a significant difference was not observed in the bench press, there was a difference in strength between the start and end of the trail in the DUP versus the LP group. Of note, unlike other studies, this study ensured that volume and intensity were kept constant between the two groups.
Personal Thoughts and Opinions
Personally, I believe there is still a lot more need to confirm these results. However, this article was published in 2003, and a lot of good research has come out since then. I am in favor of DUP, but LP is still a very effective method of training, specifically for Powerlifting. One thing to note is that there did not appear to be a deload week (or weeks) in the study, and DUP participants has a higher rate of prolonged soreness in the later weeks of the study. Prolonged soreness means they aren’t recovering properly. DUP programming might require more deload weeks than a traditional LP program. All of this to say, DUP appears to have a competitive advantage, but requires a more thought-out approach to managing recovery.
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