Linear vs Undulating Periodization

There seems to be a big line drawn in the sand between lifters who prefer Linear vs lifters that prefer DUP periodization, lets take a closer look at both……..

What is linear periodization?

Basically linear periodization starts with training volume that is slightly higher while using lighter loads, and as training progresses through specific cycles, training volume decreases while training loads increase. The most basic way you could say as weight goes up reps come down linearly.

An example of this could be

week 1)  3 x 8 @ 67%

week 2) 3 x 6 @ 70%

week 3) 3 x 4 @ 82.5% and so forth

When do you use linear periodization?

1.Beginner: Most beginners need to build a strong base before they can try advanced training styles. Linear periodisation is a great way to slowly build a base without losing focus on what’s important building your foundation. Also as beginners need a lot more stability and mobility then advanced lifters using the lighter loads initially will help them to focus on this as well as the risk to reward is better for a newbie so they can adapt to moving heavier loads.

2. Peaking points: Since most powerlifting linear periodization is written for an end goal such as a competition date , it’s easy to cater this training style to a slow progressive peak. For example, if you have a comp in February, you’d start your program around NOV-DEC and slowly work towards peaking in February while avoiding burnout.

3. Huge totals: lifters with very very big totals (elite level top 1-2%) who have one or very few competitions close to each other benefit with linear training. This allows a slow buildup to their peak or competition. This also allows a lower training frequency volume of the three main lifts which works to reduce the risk to reward continuum. Example – Lets say you are elite level and squatting 400kgs+ with that kind of load a lot can go wrong in the process and lets be honest the human body was never meant to have that kind of load on its back. So a reduction in frequency will reduce risk, not to mention too much frequency volume accumulation at those loads can decrease joint and tendon integrity fast.

What is Undulating peridization ?

Basically, you change the volume and weight loads from day to day, usually in an undulating pattern.

Undulating (DUP) periodisation programs rely on constant change in stimulation throughout training cycles. As opposed to a linear periodization that focuses on gradual increase of one variable (usually load), this style manipulates most variables like frequency, volume, intensity, and training adaptation on a frequent basis. The time frame for these variable changes can be daily, weekly, or even bi-weekly. Non-linear periodization is considered more advanced than linear as it  incorporates multiple types of stimulation into a training program.


Day 1.) squats 2 x 8 @ 72%

    bench 2 x 8 @ 72%

            deadlift 2 x 6 @ 72%

Day 2.) squats 3 x 6 @ 77.5%

             bench  3 x 6 @ 77.5%

Day 3.) deadlift 2 x 4 @ 77.5%

             bench   3 x 3 @ 80%

Why should I use it?

Non-linear periodization is an excellent way of individually training one variable and secondarily training others at the same time. It’s often used for those with advanced training backgrounds and longer sport seasons. For example, think about a program that has you train strength one day, then hypertrophy a couple of days later.

When should I use it?

1. Advanced trainees: Someone who has a mature training age (2+> years) can benefit from the constant manipulation of variables for various training adaptations. For example, focusing on hypertrophy one day, then aiming for strength the next. The reason we say advanced is because an advanced trainee will have an existing strength base to build upon.

2. Frequent competitors : Lifters who compete more frequently will benefit by changing up variables regularly. For example, an athlete in the peak of their season has multiple needs to perform optimally. By changing the focuses from something like hypertrophy to power, you can help prevent burnout within one variable, such as CNS fatigue from too much power training.

So which is best ?

well according to research which still isn’t up to speed in my books, mainly because I’m yet to see a strength method study with controlled diets, drug testing  and  measurable training age performed on powerlifters. Regardless of the research not being 100% perfect we can still see that there is not a huge strength difference in the two training methods. Although undulating edges it out slightly and had a slightly higher increase in hypertrophy its still not enough to have a definitive answer.

So il give you my opinion based on experience of owning one of the strongest gyms in my country.

“Overall i prefer DUP because”

First, neural patterning from the frequency allows you to really get your technique on point with the main lifts

Second, DUP allows for a more efficient recovery pattern, while still allowing you to maintain the adequate intensity and volume needed to increase strength and stimulate/maintain hypertrophic development. During a traditional LP training block, the intensity steadily increases while the volume steadily decreases. This results in cumulative fatigue and staleness. In addition, you run the risk of losing a portion of the muscle mass gained during the higher volume blocks.

Third, the DUP method improves recovery while simultaneously allowing you to add total volume per week. This is critical since total volume is directly related to stimulating the necessary cellular signalling for the development of muscular hypertrophy. 

Forth, undulating  allows for an increased training frequency of the lifts through the alternation of stimulus during a shorter period of time.  As a result, you create a greater neuromuscular adaptation compared to the basic linear model.

Don’t ever dismiss linear though

Like I said earlier in the article there are times I prefer linear over DUP as mentioned above I like to use it with beginners, guys with big totals and I like it for peaking. Although I will start and advanced lifter on DUP and change over to linear for the peak.

If you would like to try either style of programming for yourself head over to the shop page and purchase one of our many powerlifing templates