Sounds good if you want to try it, but…
While the concept as applied to bodybuilding seems interesting, I’ve never been able to make it work for me. I think Charles Staley may have summed it for me recently:
4 Reasons Why I Think Undulating Periodization Sucks
Yeah, yeah, undulating periodization is as hot as David Beckham lately… except… I don’t know anyone who uses it.
There are only so many ways you can organize your training when you need to develop more than one or two motor qualities:
- Train all necessary qualities in successive “phases,” which might last anywhere from one to six weeks per phase. This is known as “linear” periodization. For example, you might work on increasing muscular hypertrophy for three weeks, then maximal strength for three weeks, and then strength-endurance for three weeks.
Linear periodization sucks so bad on so many levels that no one really uses it, and I remain to be convinced that anyone ever used it. The main problem of course, is that by the time you’re in your third phase, the quality you worked so hard to develop in the first phase has all but evaporated.
It’s kinda like studying German in 9th grade, Spanish in 10th grade, French in 11th grade, and Italian as a senior. Every year you start all over again, despite the fact that you never get anywhere.
- Train all neccesary qualities at all times, but in seperate workouts (undulating periodization) Borrowing from the previous example, on Mondays you might train for hypertrophy, then you’ll train for maximal strength on Wednesdays, and finally, strength-endurance on Fridays.
It’s kinda like “spirit week” at my daughter’s school- on Monday it’s pajama day, on Wednesday it’s hat day, and on Friday it’s twin day. Undulating periodization does serve one purpose however, as does spirit week: it alleviates bordom.
That said, I have four fundamental problems with the undulating approach:
ï¿½?ï¿½ No one actually trains this way. Probably because:
ï¿½?ï¿½ If you can only use one rep bracket per workout, you’re limited to performing many exercises only once per week. As an example, let’s say that on hypertrophy day you perform 5 sets of 12 with 90-second rests. For maximal sterngth day you use 6 sets of 2 with 3 minute rests. And on strength endurance day you use 4 sets of 25 with one minute rests.
Using this approach, how often can you perform the most valuable lifts, such as snatches, front squats, pistols, deadlifts, push presses, and chins? Answer: once per week. Not enough, even for maintenance purposes. Further, if you’re a strongman or kettlebell enthusiast, how often can you perform tire flips or kettlebell snatches?
Again, once per week. If you never want to make any progress, that’s a perfect frequency.
ï¿½?ï¿½ When you do “mixed” workouts, late high-rep sets benefit from the previously performed low rep work. OK look- I know everyone says that mixing different motor qualities is inherently evil and all that, but I actually see a synergistic benefit in working heavy to light over the course of a workout- emphasizing nervous-system work early in the workout actually facilitates hypertrophy and/or endurance training later in the workout.
And consider this: if you start your endurance training after maximal strength or power training, it’s like you’ve got a head-start, thanks to the fatigue accululation you’ve already induced.
ï¿½?ï¿½ Almost every athletic event or physical task starts fresh and ends fatigued- so why not train that way? When you think about it, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking track and field, tennis, skiing, badminton, or powerlifting- you start off fresh and finish off tired.
The aformationed events differ only in extent. This might be the least-appreciated aspect of the specificity principle when I think about it.
Which leads us to the final, best, and arguably only way to organize your training:
- Train all neccesary qualities at all times, training every quality in every (or at least most) workouts. I’ve already pointed out the benefits of this approach by picking apart the other alternatives, but perhaps the best argumant for this approach is that everyone trains this way.
At least everyone ends up there, eventually.