Daily Undulating Periodization & Performance Improvements in Powerlifters

Dr. Mike Zourdos and colleagues just published a new paper on Daily Undulating Periodization (Zourdos MC, et al. Modified Daily Undulating Periodization Model Produces Greater Performance Than a Traditional Configuration in Powerlifters. J Strength Cond Res 2015. Published Ahead of Print). Being a fan of the Daily Undulating Periodization approach to training structure I thought I would summarize the paper and share some of my thoughts.


  • 18 Male, college-aged powerlifters
  • Subjects were assigned to one of two groups: Hypertrophy, Strength, & Power (HSP) or Hypertrophy, Power, & Strength (HPS)
  • The groups were balanced to ensure that relative and absolute strength were similar

Training Programs

  • Hypertrophy, Strength, & Power: This group performed three sessions per week, on non-consecutive days. Day 1 had a primary emphasis of hypertrophy, day 2 had an emphasis of strength, and day 3 had an emphasis of power.
  • Hypertrophy, Power, & Strength: This group performed three sessions per week, on non-consecutive days. Day 1 had a primary emphasis of hypertrophy, day 2 had an emphasis of power, and day 3 had an emphasis of strength.
  • The rationale for testing the outcome between these two weekly training schemes is that in the former, which is a common weekly set up for Daily Undulating Periodization in research, the strength session takes place ~48 hours following the hypertrophy session, which is the higher volume training session of the three. This may create an issue with the subject’s ability to perform their strength session due to the lack of recovery from the high volume hypertrophy session.
  • The variables for each of the training days are described in the chart below:

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 2.52.09 PM

Summary of Strength Results

The strength change results from both of the 6-week training programs are summarized as follows:

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  • No statistical difference in the squat and deadlift were found between groups; however a statistical improvement was seen in the bench press for the HPS group compared to the HSP group.
  • No statistical difference was found between groups for powerlifting total.
  • Effect sizes greater than 0.5 were noted for the squat, bench press, and powerlifting total in favor of HPS, which may suggest a practically significant improvement in HPS versus HSP when developing training programs for powerlifters.

Comments & Thought

This was an interesting study and I like the approach of trying to find an optimal scheme within the training week. Perhaps someday we may find that the optimal scheme for the Daily Undulating Periodization Model (or any training model!) is one where the emphasis of training on a given day is dictated based on how the athlete reports and what they are able to tolerate? This very fluid approach to programming – where we are attempting to strike a balance between training variety, to prevent monotony, and a concentrated dose of training, to increase fitness in a certain capacity – has been suggested by John Kiely’s work on periodization. In the paper by Zourdos and colleagues, they used an autoregulation approach on the hypertrophy day to dictate the training load/intensity for that session (an approach discussed by Mel Siff in Supertraining and researched by Bryan Mann, as referenced above). Perhaps, in a practical setting, we could extend this a bit further and utilize a linear position transducer or some other form of velocity based approach (the folks at PUSH have come up with an affordable and easy to use solution) to dictate the load/intensity on the power and strength training days. If the athlete is sluggish and moving the bar slowly, then lower the load to stay within a desired range of bar velocity. Additionally, because training takes place on non-consecutive days in this type of frame work (E.g., 3 sessions over 7 days) it may be possible to utilize monitoring strategies (bar velocity, daily wellness, RPE training loads, HRV, etc) to make the suggestion that the athlete take a rest day, instead of performing the scheduled training session, and see how their body is the following day and if it is prepared to tolerate the load.

The use of effect sizes in this paper allows us to get a better understanding of whether or not the average difference between groups is of practical significance. One of the things that I find  critical when looking at research on training interventions is the understanding of inter-individual differences. It is very possible that some athletes in this study responded favorably to either of the training approaches while others had no result or a poor result.  The paper also look at things like changes in total volume and some hormonal measures. When it comes to understanding responders and non-responders in training, it isn’t good enough to just say, “Some people get better and others don’t”. At some point, we need to figure out who doesn’t respond and why they don’t respond. Perhaps there is something to additionally look at in this paper with the hormonal changes and the individual’s ability to increase training volume or get stagnant during certain periods of the training program.

Hopefully this group continues to do more research on the topic of Daily Undulating Periodization because I find it to be a practical method of programming training and they have done some good work thus far that they can certainly follow up on. While Mike Zourdos tends to aim his approach at Powerlifters (I believe because he is competitive lifter himself) there are concepts within this framework that can easily be extended to training team sport athletes as well as concepts that could be used for sport coaches when establishing the weekly practice structure.

Three things a high performance team can learn from The Profit

One of my favorite shows at the moment is CNBC’s, The Profit. The basic premise of the show is that millionaire investor, Marcus Lemonis, finds failing businesses, evaluates them, and then  provided he feels the business has potential, invests in the company for a certain percentage of ownership. He then establishes a road map to success by helping them understand what aspects of their business are broken.

In the show, Marcus preaches three main constructs which he feels are necessary for a successful business:

  1. People
  2. Process
  3. Product

In reality, a high performance team working with a sports franchise is no different and these three constructs are actually incredibly valuable for determining what areas your high performance team needs to improve upon or where you may need to make some changes in order to have better success and be more efficient.


“Do we have the right people in the right positions?” When thinking about this question it is important to not only think about skill set and ability but also whether or not they work well as part of a team. A lot of times, teams or universities are afraid to let someone go because they have “been there for a long time” or they are “a nice guy”. I understand this can be a tough thing but at the end of the day, keeping people around that are unable to contribute to the level and expectation that is needed is going to create more problems and frustration in the long run. It makes sense to part ways and ensure that the people you are putting together on the staff have a very high level of skill set and interest in continuing to learn and push things to new levels. Additionally, it is important to move along from those who are insecure and create turf wars between departments. These individuals can tear a team apart in a second and create problems within the high performance team. A high performance team is one that is collaborative across the main player support departments – Sports Science, Athletic Training/Medical, and Strength & Conditioning. If the people within the staff are not interested in collaboration and working together then the high performance team will never work. In the Profit, Marcus evaluates people within the businesses he invests in and, at times, is forced to make the decision (with the other owners he has partnered with) to let people go who are not willing or able to satisfy the need of working collaboratively in a successful business.


Marcus is a stickler for process. His famous quote in the show, after handing over a check for his investment and becoming a part owner is, “I may be a part owner but I am 100% in charge”. Oftentimes, where businesses fail is not in the people or the product, but in the process. They can’t seem to put the appropriate processes in place to ensure that product gets manufactured at the right cost, without wasting money, or the product gets ordered at the right amount, without having a back log of inventory. Being a successful entrepreneur, Marcus sets up some very specific processes for these companies to ensure that business is performed in an efficient and timely manner. Within the high performance team environment this process is essential. What is the flow of data – how is it collected, processed, analyzed, and then distributed and discussed amongst all support staff and key stakeholders in the building? Things can be very busy in a professional or university team environment, making these processes even more critical. Oftentimes, information falls through the cracks because there is not a process in place for ensuring that people on the staff get together and meet on a daily basis to discuss the data and develop a plan about what to do with the data – turning data into action.


Finally, product. Obviously a high performance team isn’t making any product; however, a high performance team is serving the athlete to ensure that athlete’s health and wellness is cared for during their time with the team. This “product” is really the outcome of having great people, with a high skill set and standard for excellence, who can work together and having great processes in place, ensuring that the information flow between departments is fluid and efficient.

Collectively, these three constructs will ultimately determine the success that your high performance team has and their ability to adequately effect the athlete’s within the training environment ultimately decreasing injury and improving performance.

Book Review: Special Strength Development For All Sports by Louie Simmons

I just finished reading Louie Simmons’ new book, Special Strength Development For All Sports. I don’t know if there is a person that has influenced strength training in the United States more than Louie Simmons. He has created some of the strongest powerlifters of all time at his Westside Barbell gym, in Columbus, OH, and has worked with athletes in a variety of different sports along the way. His training system, which he refers to as Conjugate training, and methods have been heavily influenced by many of the Russian sports scientists and the work he did with the late Mel Siff. While Louie is quick to give these people credit for their concepts and ideas, which have shaped his methodology, his approach to training is truly unique and there probably isn’t a strength coach in the USA who, at one point in time, hasn’t tried “Westside Training”.

Certainly, this methodology of training is something that has influenced me when I first started reading about it back around 2002. If I had to describe the three methodologies that have influenced my training approach the most over the years I would say:

  1. Undulating Periodization – The work by Kraemer & Fleck as well as a lot of the research that has been published
  2. Charlie Francis – The concepts of High-Low and Vertical Integration
  3. Westside Barbell/Louie Simmons

These three approaches have been instrumental in how I think about training and how I set up a training program based on what things we look to focus on in each block/phase of training, which  then determines how we distribute the volume of work. These three approaches were the backbone of the training programs that Keith and I wrote when working with the athletes during my time at Nike.

Louie’s new book is a deviation from the books and DVDs he has previously put out, which are more focused on improving strength for the sport of powerlifting. While Louie has provided a vast amount of information on the web (for free, mind you) and has discussed using his methods for other sports, I think this may be the first time he has ever collected his thoughts on the topic in one single manual.

The manual begins by covering the concepts that shape the Westside Barbell approach to training. It goes over the methods of strength training, which Louie learned from Zatsiorsky’s work, and some of the approaches to strength development that most people have heard Louie talk about over the years.

The book then goes into a broad range of topics, discussing everything from the role of strength in sport to training methods for improving fitness qualities for different sports (Endurance sports, Olympic weightlifting, Team Sports, Combat sports, etc) to recovery and regeneration techniques.

One of the nice things about the book is that, while Louie is a powerlifting coach, he takes the time to discuss how these methods can be translated to other sports. I think a misconception that people have is that you have to train exactly as he advocates powerlifters to train. Louie discusses different methods of training and, particularly, incorporating plyometric activities into training, which could be thought of as a component of the “Dynamic Effort” method. Louie also explains strength-speed and speed-strength and makes recommendations of bar speed and intensities to appropriately develop these qualities. Additionally, Louie spends considerable amounts of time discussing the role and importance of General Physical Preparedness and provides a variety of training approaches to improve this quality.

Some key things Louie discussed were:

  • The importance of general fitness and how to develop it for athletes in different sports.
  • An approach to programming and periodization that encompasses training multiple qualities but having a key focus/emphasis in specific blocks. Team sport athletes need to have multiple qualities trained at a high level to have success and it can be difficult for some people to understand how to set up training phases without just trying to improve everything all at one time. Louie does a great job addressing this and talking about the various programming approaches using a three week wave.
  • The idea that you don’t need to max out each week. I am glad Louie touched on this, as I think it is something that people believe when they think about Westside Barbell training. The max effort day(s) within the Westside system are very important for increasing strength and motor unit recruitment; however, this doesn’t need to be forced each week. I believe this is important for team sport athletes, especially, as the rigors and intensity of training can be incredibly taxing on the body and trying to force a max effort lift each week could be detrimental to performance.
  • The volume of strength training. Strength coaches tend to prioritize the work they do in the gym to the detriment, oftentimes, of other things, such as fitness training, jumping/plyometrics, sprinting, etc. It was interesting to see Louie discuss the volume of strength training and share some of the volumes of strength training for athletes in different sport in countries like Russia. Louie is big on matching the appropriate training volume with the training intensity and draws heavily on A.S. Prilipen’s table for this. Louie mentions that, during a max effort session, you really only need to try and take 3 lifts above 90%. That is a very small amount of volume than what most strength coaches prescribe. As mentioned above, I think strength coaches tend to over prescribe a lot of their resistance training work and not pay attention to the actual volume that is being accrued over the training block. The idea that we want to do enough to force that adaptation we seek without going overboard is something to keep in mind. Finding the optimal amount of training is critical to allowing the athlete to continually train at a high level.
  • Supplemental and Accessory Exercises. Louie is big on using your accessory exercises and supplemental work to develop any weaknesses you may have. I think sometimes people think of this type of work as “optional”, as they put all their emphasis on the main/core lifts, but it serves a key purposes and Louie really drives this point home. Additionally, this type of work may be in a non-traditional form, for example, following your box squat, your main lift for the day, you may go and perform sled dragging in different directions as your accessory activity. This is very non-traditional compared to what most people would do, which would be just do a bunch of different exercises, but is highly useful for an athlete that has to run, cut, and change direction in their sport. A lot of your exercise selection here may also come down to the time of the season (offseason, pre-season, inseason) in terms of what exercises you select.

Over the years, Louie has been incredibly generous sharing his ideas and concepts with the strength and conditioning community. The blog on his current website even contains videos of training sessions that take place each week at Westside Barbell, posted to his youtube channel. Louie’s commitment to give back to the strength and conditioning profession has been second to none and his new book Special Strength Development For All Sports, is a wonderful resource for strength coaches looking to understand how his approach to training the strongest powerlifters in the world can be applied to developing athletes in other sports.

The Ebb & Flow of a Strength & Conditioning Program

I’ve talked a lot about training stress and adaptation in the blog over the years. As simple as it sounds, training really comes down to two things:

  • Stress the body
  • Recover and adapt

That’s it!

How you stress the body is one of the key components. Are you doing the appropriate training to obtain the physiological changes you seek? This has been discussed many times over on this site.

The other key component is the frequency of stress. Today’s article comes from a conversation I had regarding this topic, last week, with Walter Norton. For those that don’t know, Walter owns Institute of Performance & Fitness in Andover, MA. Walter has worked as a strength coach for over 20 years. He has worked for three professional sports teams in three different sports (NBA, MLS, and NHL), has served as a strength coach for a number of collegiate programs, works with a number of high school athletes everyday, and still makes time to train groups of general population folks who are trying look better, feel better, and move better. Aside from all this experience, Walter is one of the best coaches I have ever seen. When it comes to taking a group of athletes, setting up a training program to meet the needs of those athletes, and then coaching the hell out of everything – Warm Up, Speed & Agility, Lifting, Recovery/Mobility -  Walter Norton can deliver.

This past week we were discussing training and the ebb and flow of the week when writing training programs. Walter was sharing some ideas for training his groups of general population clients. His ideas match with my thought process and approach to training – the ideas are good for anyone (general public or athlete).

It is always a tough sell when training people because no one likes to hear that the intensity of some of their training sessions needs to be regulated. Walter was explaining that the most difficult day of the week for his clients is Tuesday because they have a hard training session on Monday and a hard training session on Wednesday, which means Tuesday needs to be a lighter training day. Most of the clients at the gym dislike this session. When I used to have my gym people didn’t love those days either. I think Walter phrased it best when he said, “We try and educate the clients to understand that we go easier on Tuesday to set you up for success on Wednesday.”

Let’s face it, it is easy to sell hardcore workouts that make people feel sick to the stomach or leave them lying on the floor in a puddle of sweat. People love the sense of accomplishment and like to feel that they worked hard. (Side NOTE: Training should be hard and we need to push ourselves to achieve results. The flip side is doing too little that we don’t get enough training stimulus! Good programming should walk the line between the two – doing too much and doing too little.) The problem is that there is always a cost of doing business and at some point you are going to have to pay that cost. People can usually string together a number of really hard training sessions or even several weeks of very hard training, but eventually something gives – they either start to feel bad (joints ache, muscles hurt, etc), they start to feel fatigued, tired, and irritable, or their progress begins to stall.

Most coaches don’t understand this concept. They want the clients/athletes to always feel like they got after it. The problem is that we aren’t really making the person better when we do this, we are just making them tired. Training is a process. It is not defined by one single “hard” workout. You need to educate your clients/athletes about this process and show them that there is a way to achieve their goals without foolishly applying a training session. While this may be difficult for some clients to hear (heck, you might even turn some people a way), at the end of the day you have a goal, as the coach, to help your client/athlete achieve success with their training program. Your job is not to be a drill sergeant and beat people down in every session. Your job is to educate them on what it means to be healthy. Part of that education process means teaching them what it means to regulate their training appropriately so that they can see continued results/improvement. Mark McLaughlin once said something like, “True discipline is the athlete that can do 60min of aerobic work with their HR at 100-110bpm and not push the pace because they want to “feel like they are working hard”. That is an athlete who understands what they have to do and understands the process.”

As stated earlier, these types of ideas are not unique to strength and conditioning. More sports coaches would be better off understanding this concept when they run practice. The hardest thing for a sports coach to understand is the role they play in the injury of an athlete because they don’t consider practice intensity. The sports coach who can embrace logical coaching methods and an understanding of how his/her practice impacts the physiological state of the athletes will be a coach who has a team that is always healthy, fresh, and ready to compete.