Traditional vs. Undulating Periodization in Youth Athletes

Coaches working with youth athletes need to keep them injury-free and constantly improving.

Every coach worth mettle uses some form of periodization, which is a big word for planning variations in an athlete’s training over a given portion of time. Periodizing a training program effectively allows an athlete to steadily progress and achieve “peaks” in performance when necessary.

Every coach worth mettle uses some form of periodization, which is a big word for planning variations in an athlete’s training over a given portion of time. Periodizing a training program effectively allows an athlete to steadily progress and achieve “peaks” in performance when necessary.

Two popular forms of periodization are traditional (TP) and daily undulating (DUP). Traditional is characterized by high initial volume and low intensity that gradually shifts to low volume and high intensity. Undulating is characterized by frequent shifts in volume and intensity, usually on a daily or weekly basis. While a graph of these changes will show many peaks and valleys, the trend line is the same as traditional.

A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research pits these two styles of periodization against each other to discover which is more effective for increasing strength, power, and hypertrophy in adolescent elite judoka athletes.

While this population appears quite specific, the results of the study reinforce some principles both coaches and athletes should consider during the program planning process. First, let’s look at the study design.

The Study Design

Eleven total athletes ranging from 14.2 to 15.4 years old engaged in strength training three times per week during two, four-week mesocycles separated by a seven week washout period.

The first mesocycle, preceded by a two-week period for baseline measurements, utilized traditional periodization. The second mesocycle utilized daily undulating periodization. The two-week baseline included regular Judo training with no strength training.

Mesocycles one and two had both Judo and strength training, and the washout period had no Judo with only recreational activity. Both mesocycles used the same exercise list, with the goal of improving upper, lower, and total body strength and power.

The exercises selected were the snatch, clean and jerk, squat, knee flexion curl, lat pull-down, barbell bench press, and barbell bench pull. Total and lower body exercises were performed in the morning while upper body exercises were performed in the afternoon.

Tests for the one repetition maximum (1RM) were administered twice during baseline, once after TP, once after washout, and once after DUP. Anthropometric and ultrasonographic measurements were also taken to monitor hypertrophy.

The Study Results

Traditional and daily undulating periodization were equally effective in improving lower, upper, and total body strength, power, and hypertrophy. The researchers concluded that the force-velocity characteristics of the chosen exercises may have been the root cause of the athletes’ performance increases.

In other words, the researchers think that the speed of the bar combined with the amount of force being exerted by the athletes had greater effect on their improvements than the periodization type.

Study Considerations

The group of athletes selected for this study were young in chronological, biological, and training age. All possessed a lot of talent. These factors cultivated a fertile combination for improving performance. When this combination is present, any program that follows the basic principles of strength training will elicit performance improvement.

It is true that some styles are more effective than others, but there is no need to try and get fancy with program planning in this specific population. The low chronological age should encourage coaches to keep things fun in the training environment so the athletes don’t burn out.

The athletes’ biological age places them in a phase of life when anabolic hormone production is high, thus creating a conducive environment within the body for adaptation. Low training age suggests that the athletes should make steady initial improvement as a result of learning new motor patterns and improving neurological efficiency.

In simpler terms, they’re practicing new skills and getting better quickly. Finally, these athletes were categorized as “elite” in the sport of Judo, so they’re highly talented. Talent has too many components to break down in this article, so suffice it to say they most likely achieved proficiency in movement skills much faster than average.

Complicated Periodization Isn’t Needed for Kids

These athletes probably would have improved from any fundamentally sound training program, no matter the type of periodization. Traditional periodization is a common starting point because beginners respond well to it.

Undulating periodization becomes necessary for athletes of higher training age, because it allows for more recovery and the training of multiple performance qualities at once. It also provides a solution to a problem that may not exist yet in this population.

Within this study, both types worked because of the psychological and physiological conditions present in its chosen population. Coaches lucky enough to be given a young and exceptional athlete to develop should aim to keep them interested, injury-free, and constantly improving.

More on youth programming: The Middle School Block Zero Strength Program

Keep your athletes moving safely: Coaches: Learn How to Keep Young Shoulders Healthy


Ullrich, B., Pelzer, T., Oliveira, S., & Pfeiffer, M. (2016, August). “Neuromuscular Responses to Short-Term Resistance Training With Traditional and Daily Undulating Periodization in Adolescent Elite Judoka“. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(8), 2083-2099.

Headline photo credit: Vladimir57 via Shutterstock.

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