Undulating Periodization Strength Training Program



Ryan is the Director of strength and conditioning at Pro Performance RX In Morgantown, West Virginia. Ryan has been working in the private sector with hundreds of youth athletes for the last 5 years. He is always excited to talk training and dig deep into the Why. Never stop learning, growing and adapting. In the great words of Bruce Lee be like water. To connect further with Ryan reach out to ryan@properformancerx.com

// Strength training with undulating periodization

Build the Perfect Strength Training Program with Undulating Periodization!

For the low price of 19.99, if you order within the next 30 minutes, we will give you the best, most awesome program for all athletes, at all times, in all situations. Just load it up and you’ll create monsters!

-Insert Hand slapping face emoji here-

Now that I have everyone’s attention, listen up. Here is the start to building better programs and understanding how undulating periodization strength training programs work. 

3 hard to swallow truths that will improve everything in strength and conditioning:

Truth number #1

There is no perfect.





Truth number #2

“If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything” 

Create principles for your program.





Truth number #3

There are no secrets.

Stop searching for the one special movement or arguing over a specific exercise.





The Undulating Periodization Program Method

Navigate the day to day chaos to better benefit your athletes and get the most out of them.

“Systems are everything.” –Every successful large company

The next few paragraphs we will dive into the nuts and bolts of building a foundation for programming and the unique touches and aspects to utilizing an undulating programming method that we use everyday at our facility. It has drastically improved our athletes.

What is an undulating periodization Program?

It is a program with a dynamic scheme that allows for weekly and daily fluctuations and changes while still having a base structure to build off of. No more of the strict old 4 and 8 week block programming. Here is the reality. Things happen and change constantly. Controlled chaos is the life we live and need to understand in order to be able to build the best programs. Taking a step back, let’s start with: Building a foundation of principles “Referring back to truth number 2.”


  • Squat
  • Hip Hinge
  • Push- Horizontal and Vertical
  • Pull- Horizontal and Vertical
  • Carries
  • Crawls
  • Core and everything else
  • Utilize Bilateral and Unilateral Movements

 Train in all 3 planes of motion

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1. Sagittal

Forward/backward motion, dividing the body into right and left sides

2. Frontal

Side-to-side motion, dividing the body into the front and back

3. Transverse

Twisting/rotation motions, dividing the body into top and bottom

Lastly, don’t forget to sprint and move fast. I believe we sometimes forget to do this oneEvery great program fills the buckets for all of those movements. These are non-negotiables.

Fill the Buckets

What are buckets? Think of a strength training program as a table with a lot of buckets on it. There are many different types of buckets (ones with holes, big ones, small ones, etc.). Here is the catch: you only have a limited supply of water to fill them up. Which ones do you pick? You can only fill them up so far before they spill over and become a mess, so we must choose wisely. Now, relate this to a strength and conditioning program. An athlete can only handle so much intensity, volume and exercises before they get overwhelmed and exhausted (mentally and physically overflowing). Same things apply to coaches and programming too. 

This is where we take a step back and analyze. There is no need to try to do everything. Pick what is really important. Basics are always important. These basics are the principles our programs should be based on. Do we have the basics covered: push, pull, hip hinge, squat, carry, and core? Only once the basics are established should we ever consider adding more. Cut out the excess.

Adaptable factors– After we have the basics checked we can then change, adapt and evolve.


What your books might teach you

  • Volume – sets, reps, etc
  • Frequency – times per week
  • Length of session
  • Equipment
  • Space
  • Number of athletes
  • Tempo
  • Equipment
  • Position
  • Fun
  • Novelty
  • Engagement/Focus
  • Mental Toughness
  • Maturity
  • Encouragement
  • Gym flow
  • Boredom
  • Readiness/sleep/nutrition


The number of factors and things you can change can be endless so don’t drive yourself mad. Stick to a few main ones and change things from there. Otherwise, you will fall back into the paralysis by analysis problem. 

Example of the ins and outs–

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Example 1

Undulating periodization programming with weekly volume in sets and reps. This one is pretty straight forward.

Think light, medium, and heavy.

Movement= Romanian Deadlifts 

Day 1: Moderate weight at 3 sets of 5 reps. Build the pattern under some stress.

Day 2: Of the same movement we go light weight 3 x10. Re-establish good form and time under tension.

Day 3: Same movement 3 x 3 super heavy. Make the athletes grind it out and work on maintaining proper technique under a real challenge.

Example 2

Undulating with exercises.

Sticking with our hip hinge motion.

Day 1: RDL

Day 2: Sumo Deadlift

Day 3: 1 leg Romanian Deadlift

Still the same movement pattern but we alternated positions, angles and unilateral and bilateral.

This allows for the change in volume and fatigue on certain areas.

Thinking in depth on it, an RDL is a little more hamstring dominant, but then we move to a sumo which requires a little more quad and adductor while still maintaining the hip hinge pattern and putting a little less stress directly on the hamstring. Finally a 1- leg RDL that while hard, can get us a little more time under tension and a decrease in total weight moved compared to the previous two movements thus allowing a little more central nervous system recovery. 

Example 3

Undulating with whole workouts based on an athlete’s readiness.

Wednesday our athletes come in from an away game: tired, no sleep, no breakfast.

What we do = Alter volume or switch workouts 

The next day, Thursday morning, our athletes get out of school early, all have smiles and look to have had an awesome day and are well rested. What do we get after it?

Maybe add an extra set or two or an impromptu team challenge workout at the end.

Where’s the undulating part? Well, there it was. We changed things both days, but by the end of the week we still covered our movements, planes of motion and volume etc.

It is as simple as changing things with one or two factors.

What I want to be taken from this article today is alternative ways to view programming so you can be more successful in implementing the programs you already have with your youth athletes.

Again, 3 different factors done 3 different ways allowing one result= success with being adaptable and allowing your programs to evolve and change with the current situations.

Side note* One underrated factor is athlete’s engagement. We should do things to keep our athlete’s engaged and create a fun environment. Let’s take a new exercise and its impact on how it can change the entirety of a session. One example is the variety cascade. 

Novelty = increased focus = better engagement = more effort = more success.

Do what you can to produce the most success. This also aligns with producing the most success long term. So, we get athletes familiar with a movement for a couple weeks and then add variety to them that aligns with the progression of a movement the athletes are capable of. Do not be afraid to think outside of the box and add fun variations of each movement.

Common movement variations

Introduce one big change at a time. You can manipulate the programs you currently have with a few minor adjustments and get the most bang for your buck. To get you started, below are a couple ideas/variables you can change or adapt in your current programs. I recommend picking one and testing it for a cycle.


  • Utilize unilateral and staggered stances: trap bar deadlift with one foot forward, one foot back
  • One-leg/one-arm variations: one-arm overhead kettlebell press/one-leg Romanian deadlift
  • Odd objects: stone/sandbag/yoke/slush pipe
  • Carries/loading and unloading: pick up a heavy object from the ground and load in/on a box
  • Sleds: One-arm sled pull/lateral sled walks
  • Landmine twists/presses
  • Kettlebells: one-arm swings, snatches, Turkish get-up
  • Crawling: all types
  • Back extension with rotations
  • Tempos- 3 second eccentrics, isometrics


We are not good coaches unless we can modify our plans.

After each session modify and make notes of what worked well and what did not. For example, did front loaded split squats crush every athlete? If that is the case, the next session, the athletes should move back to goblet squats to establish a stronger base. This still qualifies as a squat pattern and fills that bucket. You can not be afraid to make changes. If you get a flat tire you pull over and fix it so the car does not get damaged worse. If you see some problems with the program, stop and make a tweak so the athletes do not end up injured.

Now that you know those things, what’s next? Well, this is where the art of programming comes into the picture by combining the planes of motion with the main movements needed in each program.

Start with why

A simple system:

  • Step 1 – Identify your goal 
  • Step 2 – Write out program based on time, equipment, athletes, etc.
  • Step 3 – Review sets, reps, movement patterns, and planes of motion
  • Step 4 – Adapt as needed- Session/Day/Week/Month/Year
  • Step 5 – Revise and repeat

Final Thoughts

Small changes make for big impacts. Do not alter everything you are currently doing. You do not necessarily need to have every movement pattern and every plane of motion in every workout.

You just need to make sure you have it covered by the end of each week.

Review what you are doing, identify the gaps in the planes of motion, movements, or programming factors and make one change. Work with it and adapt it.

To summarize, we always go back to the “keep it simple” method. Create a principle based system, analyze the system (did you fill the big buckets?) and then don’t be afraid to adapt and modify. There are many methods and systems that work. Use the one that best fits you, your staff and your athletes. Always remember that there is NO perfect program. There is only an appropriate program for the time and place. We must constantly re-evaluate and adjust, pre workout, intra workout, post workout, weekly, monthly, etc. Additionally, do not be afraid to think outside of the box and have a lot of fun. Undulating periodization programming is simply put as intelligently modifying and manipulating as things happen.

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