Is Periodization Strength and Conditioning's Biggest Time Waster?

Jun 22, 2022

This article has been coming for a long time.

Dr. Dan Cleather in The Little Black Book of Training Wisdom defines periodization as simply “the planning and organization of training”. However, periodization has become so much more than that for some coaches.

A few years ago I wrote Are We Always Concurrent in Performance Training for


This was based on all the questions we were getting on the site about Westside training and the idea of conjugate periodization. I have to admit all the talk and terms had me confused so, I went to my experts for answers.


I quoted Physical Therapist and Strength and Conditioning Coach Bill Hartmann as he explained:

"Concurrent is training multiple qualities simultaneously. 
Conjugated = linked 

Conjugate is variant of concurrent programming and still trains multiple qualities but with an emphasis (greater portion of total training volume) on one while maintaining the others with limited volume in each training block. The point that I think a lot of folks miss is that each preceding training block of emphasis is designed to enhance the following which makes it conjugated or linked.

For example, if a high level athlete requires greater power output, a block emphasizing increased volume of maximal strength/maintaining power followed by a reduction in volume of maximal strength work and an increased emphasis/volume of power should raise power to a higher level than if both are worked on equally in consecutive training blocks." 

People make things so complicated that I needed Bill to clarify for me.

My conclusion then was that for athletes concurrent training made the most sense.  

Last week I read a quote about “auto-regulating loads based on readiness”.  Author Eric Helms describes autoregulation this way;

“Autoregulation, simply put, is just a structured approach for embedding a respect for individual variation within a program.”

Autoregulation in this context sounds to me like a long euphemism for well coached strength training. Questions like “how do you feel” come to mind. However, Helms is quick to point out that auto-regulation is not “training by feel”.

If it's not training by feel, we again seem to end up in a bit of a semantical argument. If an idea like auto-regulation does not come down to basing training on how an individual feels that day than, I'm more confused than ever.

In any case we seem to be fascinated with big words when it comes to program design.

Today, another term came across my desktop.

A member asked for info on Daily Undulating Periodization?

My question was once again, “what's that?" I needed to go and look up that one.

I realized that Daily Undulating Periodization had formerly been called Undulating Periodization and might be more aptly named Weekly Undulating Periodization because the rep ranges are alternated during the week. Alwyn Cosgrove referred to this simply as Undulating Periodization in a article a few years ago.

The reality is that we have so many conflicting or overlapping terms and ideas that I struggle to even find the definitions. In each case the proponent seems to think that their idea is “the one”.

What Works?

What works in my experience is a combination of progressive resistance exercise and basic variation. Our need as coaches to create this variation seems to be an exercise in self stimulation. I tell our coaches all the time that we should be writing programs for athletes and, not to stimulate ourselves.

We, as coaches,  want to prove our worth so we study and study looking for the Holy Grail of programming. However, the reality is , that there may be no Holy Grail program.

My good friend Chris Doyle (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Iowa Football) used to say that "The best program is the one you aren't on." The best program is the next one, provided that it is not the same as the last one.


The late Charles Poliquin wrote the best article I have ever read on periodization, Variety in Strength Training, in the 80's and, the concept was simple. The undulation was not weekly but, rather every three weeks. Loads are cycled up each week and rep ranges and or contraction emphasis are changed every three weeks . This is simply alternating what Poliquin called periods of accumulation (more volume and or more time under tension) versus periods of intensification (higher loads).

The key was a wave like approach. Literally an undulation that creates gradual upward progress.

This was my definition of Undulating Periodization, a wave like contrast to the earlier Stone/Garhammer models of straight Linear Periodization.

 In any case, change is good, progressive resistance is good and, small plates are good. I have developed incredible strength and power in my athletes with the Poliquin Undulating model for well over twenty years and combined it with the Stuart McRobert small plate, small increases concept.

Our gym has lots of 1 ¼ lb plates and we use them. Depending on the athlete the goal is something as simple as doing 1 more rep at the same load or, adding 2.5 lbs ( 1 ¼ on each side) for the same number or reps.

Trust me, the secret is there is no secret.

Spend more time coaching and prescribing precise loads and, less time wondering which magic periodization formula works best. I love the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid.

I tell people all the time MISS and KISS. Make it Simple, Keep It Simple.