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Science-Based Training For Size: Undulating Periodization



Posted in: Training Articles | Feb 22, 2007



If you've had it with self-proclaimed "gurus" and their training programs that fail to embrace new developments in exercise science, this article is for you. A new approach to training called Undulating Periodization (we'll call it "UP" for short) is making major waves in college and professional ranks. In fact, some strength coaches consider it to be one of the most effective training methods ever developed. In a nutshell, UP rearranges the sequential mesocycles of traditional periodization (hypertrophy, strength, power) and combines them into one simultaneous macrocycle to maximize gains. A recent study at Arizona State University showed that UP increased strength in advanced lifters almost twice as much traditional (linear periodization) training(1)! Although the focus of the ASU study was strength gains, UP training can be easily adapted to promote gains in size as well as strength. There's really only one caveat: if you're used to doing drop sets of concentration curls and cable crossovers, you're in for a shock. Because the UP program requires you step in to the power rack and perform some Olympic weightlifting and power lifting movements.

Let's get to it!

The UP workout revolves around variations of the deadlift, bench press, and squat, as well as four other supplemental lifts. Training is performed three days per week for eight weeks.

Day One starts with the deadlift (weeks 1, 3, 5, and 7) or the power clean (weeks 2, 4, 6 and 8). The set and rep scheme for the deadlift is designed to work the entire body for strength and hypertrophy while the power clean is used to develop explosive power. The second exercise is the speed bench press which is performed with relatively light weight so that the bar can be moved as fast as possible. It is important to remember that power development is the goal with this exercise so keep the weight light and explode the bar off the chest. The front squat (where the bar rests across the front of the shoulders) is the third exercise. Depth should be as far to the floor as possible while maintaining good posture (i.e., head up, lower back arched). Next on the list is the weighted pull-up. These can be performed with a wider than shoulder width pronated (palms away) grip or closer supinated (palms facing toward you) grip. Single-leg goodmornings punctuate the workout and can be done traditionally while balancing on one leg or with the working leg elevated two inches on a board or block and forward in a 12 inch split stance. Oh, don't forget to finish off Day One with 100 reps for the abdominals: pick four exercises and bang out 25 reps each. (wgted vs. unwgted)

Day Two starts with either the dumbbell bench press (weeks 1, 3, 5, and 7) or barbell bench press (weeks 2, 4, 6, and 8). The dumbbell presses focus on hypertrophy and muscular endurance while the barbell bench focuses on strength. Exercise two is the step up and should be done on a box or bench that is equal in height to the distance between your kneecap and the floor (i.e., about 16-20 inches). At the proper stepping height, your thigh should be parallel to the floor when your foot is on the box. Perform all reps on one leg before switching to the second leg. If you choose the lunge option, feel free to alternate legs on each rep. The next exercise is the shoulder press and can be done standing or seated with a bar or dumbbells. Push jerks are done on even weeks for developing power. You may do these with the bar in the front squat position (across the front of the shoulders) or with the bar behind the head across the back of the shoulders. The key in this exercise is to initiate the movement of the bar with the legs and finish with the upper body. The more you use the legs, the faster the weight can be moved. Remember, more speed = more power. The fourth exercise, Romanian deadlifts, are very similar to stiff-legged deadlifts, but the knees are kept slightly bent during the entire movement. The final exercise of the day (excluding another 100 reps for abs) is the dumbbell row. In this exercise, assume the three-point stance position, meaning that both feet are on the floor with one hand on the bench for support, and pull the dumbbell straight to the hip (as opposed to the chest).

Day Three begins with a squatting movement. Bodyweight squats should be done with a full range of motion (as low as possible while maintaining proper form) like the front squat. Not to state the obvious, but the load is your body weight (i.e., a 200 lb. man will train with a 200 lb load). Keeping the rest periods between sets short (60 seconds) will stimulate the release of testosterone and growth hormone -- two key hormones in the quest for strength and size. The second exercise of the day is the incline press. If you don't know your five rep max for the incline press, use 61-64% of your flat bench press max (BPM). The third exercise of the day is either barbell or dumbbell shrugs. Make sure to pause and squeeze the traps at the top of the movement and not rest more than a second at the bottom of the movement. Exercise four is the single leg curl - the only isolation movement in the entire program. In contrast to the deadlift, single leg goodmorning, Romanian deadlift and squat, leg curls will stimulate the hamstrings while giving the lower back a break. Bar dips round out Day Three and should be done loaded (with weight added to the hips or ankles) and with a fairly narrow grip. Be sure to get good depth with the upper arm at least parallel to the floor and control the bottom of the movement. Don't forget another 100 reps for abs!

Here are the nuts and bolts of the workout:

Day 1 1. Deadlift: 4 x 5 @ 70-79% / Power Clean: 5 x 4 @ 67-73% on weeks 2, 4, 6, 8 2. Speed Bench Press: 8 x 3 @ 55-61% 3. Full Front Squat: 3 x 8 @ 10RM load 4. Weighted Pull-up: 4 x 6-8 5. Single Leg Goodmorning: 3 x 6-8 each side 6. Core (abdominal) Training: 100 reps

Day 2 OFF or low intensity calisthenics/cardio.

Day 3 1. Dumbbell Bench Press: 2 x 20 @ 20 RM load on weeks 1, 3, 5, 7/ Barbell Bench Press: 5 x 5 @ 76-79% on weeks 2, 4, 6, 8 2. Box Step-Up or Alternate Lunge: 3 x 8 each leg @ [(40% squat max) x 61%] 3. Shoulder press: 3 x 8 on weeks 1, 3, 5, 7 / Push Jerk: 3 x 5 @ 10 RM load on weeks 2, 4, 6, 8 4. Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 6-8 @ 10 RM load 5. Dumbbell Row: 3 x 6-8 each arm 6. Core (abdominal) Training: 100 reps

Day 4 OFF or low intensity calisthenics/cardio.

Day 5 1. Bodyweight Squat: 8 x 8 @ 100% body weight on weeks 1, 3, 5, 7 / Barbell Squat: 5 x 5 @ 70-79% on weeks 2, 4, 6, 8 2. Incline Press: 5 x 5 @ 61-64% of BPM on weeks 1, 3, 5, 7 / Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 x 8 @ 8-10 RM load on weeks 2, 4, 6, 8 3. Barbell or dumbbell shrug: 3 x 12 4. Single leg curl: 3 x 6-8 each leg 5. Weighted Dip: 3 x 6-8 6. Core (abdominal) Training: 100 reps

Day 6 OFF or low intensity calisthenics/cardio.

Day 7 OFF Although the UP workout is based on sound scientific principles, don't expect gains in strength and size without getting enough rest and eating enough high-quality food. Preventing overtraining and facilitating recovery should not be overlooked. Although slight muscle soreness is desirable, if you are extremely sore from the previous workout, take the day off and sneak in a nap and some light stretching. Good luck and train smart!


References: 1. Rhea MR, Phillips WT, Burkett LN, Stone WJ, Ball SD, Alvar BA, and AB Thomas. (2003). A Comparison of Linear and Daily Undulating Periodized Programs with Equated Volume and Intensity for Local Muscular Endurance. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 17(1):82-87. 2. Brown LE and M Greenwood. (2005). Periodization Essentials and Innovations in Resistance Training Protocols. Strength and Conditioning Journal 27(4):80-85.





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