Lately, DUP (daily undulating periodization) has been all the craze.
I get emails saying I want to be on "the DUP program" and even researchers such as Mike Zourdos has jokingly called this type of periodization "The DUP."
I found out beginners have a very limited understanding of periodization, even though it's a critical part of exercise programming. Much more than the best type of bicep curl or whether you should squat high bar or low bar.
This article will briefly discuss the three main types of periodization, examples of each and why they aren't mutually exclusive.
Macrocycle - Long term training block. Can range from 4 weeks to years depending on athlete.
Microcycle - Phases within a macrocycle. Often shorter and used for specific type of training.
This was the first type of periodization documented, way before myself or many of the readers were even alive, dating into the 1950's when the Russians used it to peak for the Olympic games.
The original plans were well-thought out, normally with several microcycles building upon each other in preparation for an event.
Using the example of Olympic weightlifting, a trainee may begin their macrocycle with less specific work (higher reps, since the sport is a 1RM) and work to more specific over time.
The term "linear" refers to the intensity of lifts or can just as easily be noted with a decrease in reps.
Sample Microcycle for back squat:
Week 1 - 4x12 @ 70% 1RM
Week 2 - 4x10 @ 75% 1RM
Week 3 - 5x8 @ 80% 1RM
Week 4 - 6x6 @ 85 % 1RM
Most people understand this - now here is the cool part. A program can also be linear over successful microcycles. By adding a second microcycle after the one just presented when we can see this.
Microcycle 1: Microcycle 2
Week 1 - 4x12 @ 70% 1RM Week 5 - 4x9 @ 75% 1RM
Week 2 - 4x10 @ 75% 1RM Week 6 - 5x7 @ 80% 1RM
Week 3 - 5x8 @ 80% 1RM Week 7 6x5 @ 85% 1RM
Week 4 - 6x6 @ 85 % 1RM Week 8 8x3 @ 90% 1RM
Ok - so now we see a program can be linear within a microcycle and can be linear when comparing microcycles.
*If you're lost notice how microcycle 1 ends with 85% of 1RM, while micro cycle 2 ends with 90%, this is why it's linear from microcycle to microcycle. Both of them are linearly increasing load over the course of 4 weeks.
This is the nuts and bolts of linear periodization. Like all forms of periodization there an infinite ways of manipulation and as a reference, Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 is likely the most popular linear program I'm aware of.
This is the new school on the block (no pun intended, ok maybe) with research and application being used the past few decades.
As we continue on I really want to hammer the point home that these types of periodization are not mutually exclusive. Actually, majority of the time, programs are a mixture, as you'll see.
Giving a similar example as linear periodization here is a mock microcycle of non-linear periodization.
Week 1 - 4x8 @ 75% 1RM
Week 2 - 4x10 @ 70% 1RM
Week 3 - 5x4 @ 85% 1RM
Week 4 - 6x6 @ 80 % 1RM
Now we see that neither intensity or repetitions show a straight line trend. Instead we have a wave.
Note: Many people assume that non-linear periodization is synonymous with DUP, but this is not the case. DUP in the literature ,  and in application is unique in that it requires the trainee to perform a movement several times per week and vary the intensity daily.
Therefore a program could utilize DUP, but still be linear within the week.
Sample DUP Week
Day 1 -4x9 @ 75% 1RM
Day 2 - 5x5 @ 82.5% 1RM
Day 3 - 7x3 @ 87.5% 1RM
From the knowledge you obtain earlier you can quickly identify that as linear periodization.
I hope you're starting to see why things get fishy.
Linear periodization- the intensity (load) increases linearly over a given microcycle and/or from microcycle to microcycle.
Non-linear periodization - intensity (load) will wave up in down over a microcycle.
DUP - intensity (load) will wave up and down during one week of a microcycle.
Now is where things get really cool and hopefully not too confusing.
Like a micro and macrocycle, there is no specific length of time a training block may be. I commonly like to use 4-8 week training blocks, but they can be much, much longer.
Traditionally block periodization was used to emphasize a certain skill.
Sample block periodization:
Weeks 1-4 - 5x8-10 @ 70% - Emphasis on hypertrophy
Weeks 5-8 - 8x1-3 @ 65% - Emphasis on power
Weeks 9-12 - 5x1-3 @ 85-95% - Emphasis on strength
Notice again, that block periodization is neither married to linear or nonlinear periodization and you'll soon see the holy grail - which is a nonlinear, linear block periodization program. Yeah, mind blown.
So, which is best?
That's a stupid question. Again, it assumes that we can't use them all!
It's easy to fall into a dogmatic type of thinking, but few programs are purely linear or nonlinear.
The best part about all of this is that it doesn't matter too much. Because any solid program will utilize any all three types of periodization.
Check out part two of this article series, where we discuss how to implement linear, nonlinear and block periodization into a 16 week training program.