Periodization: It Just Works

Ok, by now you guys are aware that I am pretty crazy about the whole conjugate undulating periodization (CUP) thing. I am constantly talking about it, writing about it and it always seems to pop up in my blog articles. You have probably heard the term so much by now that you probably dream about it in your sleep.

Ok, maybe I wouldn’t go that far! But still, it’s my trusty training buddy and I love conjugate undulating periodization a lot. If I didn’t think it was so important to you, it would have been long forgotten by now. If long-term gains in size and strength are on the menu, then I will always recommend this form of periodization. No hesitation needed. Yes, there are other forms of periodization that you can use, but there are just too many drawbacks to them to be useful in the long-term.

So why am I writing another article on CUP? Don’t we have enough of them? Well, you know what it is. But, are you convinced yet that it’s the best form of periodization out there for long-term gains in size and strength? Some people surprisingly don’t think so. In fact, there are some weightlifters out there that think CUP is not the best form of periodization for size and strength. Wait! There is something that might actually top CUP? Short answer: not really, and I will explain further in this article why that is so. The reason for writing this article is simple: I really want to further strengthen my argument over why CUP wins everytime for long-term size and strength gains. By the end of this article, you will further see why CUP plays such a fundamental role in my weightlifting philosophy. Hopefully yours to!

Enter Daily Undulating Periodization

I want to bring in a new form of periodization: daily undulating periodization (DUP). The good news is it’s not as difficult as it sounds. In fact, DUP is pretty much CUP but without the conjugate element to it. Pretty obvious, right? As you know, CUP consists of three elements: conjugate, undulating and linear. All three of these elements come together to form the CUP system. When you look at DUP, you still have the undulating and linear elements but this time, the conjugate element is removed. I think someone thought: yes, it’s useless, let’s get it out of here! But that’s a shame because it’s the conjugate element that actually makes the CUP system so powerful. So in a nutshell, DUP is really CUP without the best part: conjugate? Ok, fair enough. But why do some people argue that DUP is really a better training system for size and strength than CUP?

The Cool Sounding SAID Principle

Why might DUP be more effective than CUP? Meet someone new: SAID (Specific Adaptations To Imposed Demands). Eek! That sounds complicated. Don’t worry, it isn’t, the name just makes it sound cool. SAID is pretty important to you as a weightlifter. In fact, it pretty much explains why you get certain results when you train a particular way. In other words, the results you get depend on the stimulus used. Example? Sure, why not! When you use low reps and a high weight (high-intensity), you prioritize strength gains. But, when you use moderate-high reps and a moderate weight (high-volume), you are aiming to optimize your size gains. Therefore, the type of adaptation you get (size or strength) depends on the type of training stimulus used (high-volume or high-intensity). That is pretty much SAID in a non-complicated nutshell. But in this case, it’s really important in the debate of: CUP Vs. DUP for optimal size and strength gains.

SAID PRINCIPLE.png

  • “A” represents a training stimulus (high-intensity) to induce the adaptation (a stronger muscle). According to SAID, a stronger muscle adaptation is caused by a specific training stimulus (high-intensity)
  • “B” represents a training stimulus (high-volume) to induce the adaptation (a bigger muscle). According to SAID, a bigger muscle adaptation is caused by a specific training stimulus (high-volume).
  • This is the basis of the SAID principle: the type of adaptation induced will depend on the nature of the training stimulus utilized.

DUP and SAID Vs. CUP

Now that you have an idea of what SAID is, how does this fit into the whole CUP Vs. DUP argument? Unlike CUP, DUP uses the same exercise selection through a weightlifters entire training period. There is no conjugate element in DUP, thus you will be using week in and week out the exact same exercises in your training program. According to SAID, this is better because it means you will be able to train specifically those lifts, more often. SAID says: if you want to get stronger and progress on a particular lift, you must do THAT exact lift. If you want to perform better at a back squat, then you must do specifically the back squat. So if you look at it this way, CUP is not great. Why? Well, in CUP you are rotating the exercise variations on a frequent basis. You might for instance spend 3 weeks doing the back squat, the next 3 weeks doing a front squat, and then finally the last 3 weeks doing a hack squat. In a CUP designed program, you would then be rotating frequently between these three variations. If we take what SAID says word for word, then you would never be able to fully progress over the long-term on any of these three lifts because you are constantly changing like a mad man. So, what are we saying? Even if you change your volume and intensity in CUP, you will never make progress because you are never given the chance to make progress on any exercise. According to proponents of DUP, there is too much variation and not enough specificity in CUP.

Training Specificity And The Repeated Bout Effect

What is the counterargument? The reason for varying your exercises often in CUP is to try and prevent the biological law of accommodation from striking. Some weightlifters think that accommodation occurs because of something known as the repeated bout effect. Simply put, an exercise done over and over again until your hearts content, will gradually cause less structural damage than the previous bout. Over time then, it becomes harder for any one exercise to create the necessary damage that will allow your body to adapt over time (grow stronger and bigger).

Some evidence suggests that changing your volume and intensity alone is enough to overcome this repeated bout effect. But from my experience and observing some of the problems other weightlifters encounter, I am not really convinced by this suggestion. Why? Well firstly from personal experience. I have tried and compared my progress on both CUP and DUP methods and even when I do vary constantly my volume and intensity, my performance always comes to a grinding halt using DUP (yes! My sleep and nutrition doesn’t change). It’s happened too many times for me to call it chance. As soon as I varied my exercises on a regular basis, my performance just skyrocketed away. But also, many weightlifters when they do stall try changing their volume and intensity more, and even change programs (with the exact same exercises). But after a while, they still eventually encounter the same frustrating problems. Whatever they do, they can’t seem to keep progress going on a long-term basis. In my eyes, the common factor in all of this is their lack of exercise selection. This is why I am convinced that exercise selection plays a defining role in ensuring long-term size a strength gains.

A final argument against DUP as a better method is the whole training specificity principal. According to DUP, you will be limiting your progress if you vary your exercises. Why? According to SAID, you make progress on a particular exercise by doing that same exercise again. I couldn’t disagree more. I am afraid that the training of specificity principal overrides SAID in this case. You won’t loose gains by not doing a particular exercise for a period of time. Why? Take the back squat for instance. If you are doing a powerlifting competition and you need to get better at specifically the back squat, then yes, do the back squat. But, over the long-term you don’t need to be doing only the back squat to make progress. If you rotate regularly between back squats, front squats and hack squats, the gains you get will still transfer to the back squat. Yes, there might be a short period of time where you don’t perform the back squat. But, the squat variations you do perform and rotate with do ensure that any squat performance gains made are transferred to your back squat.

In CUP, varying exercises doesn’t mean insanely long periods between one exercise and a similar variation. Typically, you can rotate one variation (e.g. back squat) every 3 weeks with front/hack squats. The fact is, when you look at this way all these exercises are still specific to improving your squat. I am not saying: you must replace a back squat with incline bench press. That’s the WRONG way to go about planning your exercise selection. Why? The incline bench has got nothing to do with the back squat. Improving on the incline bench is not going to improve your back squat. Completely different movement patterns and muscle groups worked. But, the front and hack squat is going to improve your back squat! If you think about it, you are still obeying the SAID principle. You are still using specific training stimuli (here the front/hack squats) to improve your back squat. Not only are you still obeying the SAID principle in CUP, but you are also preventing the law of accommodation. So what do you reckon, CUP still comes out on top? I think so!

dup vs cup.png

  • “A” represents what is happening through conjugate undulating periodization: training of specificity (accomplished), SAID principle (accomplished), but WITHOUT the problems of accommodation.
  • “B” represents what is happening through daily undulating periodization: training of specificity (accomplished), SAID principle (accomplished), but this time WITH the possible problems of accommodation.
  • Overall, conjugate undulating periodization wins. Why? Simply because the exercise variation still meets the principles of specificity and SAID, but avoids the problems of accommodation (something which DUP does not).

CUP Still Wins As The Best Method For Long-Term Size And Strength Gains

Looking at the arguments for both CUP and DUP, it’s pretty clear that CUP still comes out on top. I do agree if you are training for a powerlifting competition and you need to practice specifically the back squat, bench and deadlift, then yes DUP probably makes more sense. But in the long-term (that’s you guys!), CUP seems to win as the better system for size and strength gains. If you are not constrained by the need to do particular exercises, then it makes complete sense to rotate on a frequent basis. As long as your exercise variations are optimally chosen (obeying specificity), then not only do you still obey the SAID rule in CUP, but you also have the added advantage in reducing the risk of accommodation. For these reasons, CUP still appears to be the best form of periodization out there for long-term gains in size and strength.


 

If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below!