I have mentioned Undulated Periodised Programs (UPPs) for increasing strength and endurance several times in my blogs and it’s lengthy to explain properly so here we’re going to talk all things UPPs, getting you up to date with everything you need to know about them and about the research supporting them.

What is a UPP?

A UPP is a program that can help you to achieve a strength or endurance goal. We often prescribe them to people when their assessment has shown a link between a weak muscle and a musculoskeletal pain they are experiencing; however you can use them to increase your running length or speed, your overall fitness with a well rounded gym program or your core strength with some planks and bridges for example. A UPP mixes up the reps, sets, minutes or intensity each session. Normally we take a 16 week block and break it into 4 sections. These 4 sections are then broken into another 4 sections so what we end up with is a easy month, medium month, hard month and rest month and then those months are broken up into a easy week, a medium week, a hard week and a rest week. The whole 16 week period is often referred to as a macro cycle, the months are often referred to as meso cycles and the weeks as micro cycles. Here is an example of what a general strength program for a week might look like. Notice how both the sets and reps have changed?

Monday – light day Thursday – heavy day
Barbell Squat 1 set @ 15 rep max Barbell Squat 2 sets @ 8 rep max
Chest Press 1 set @ 15 rep max Chest Press 2 sets @ 8 rep max
Row Machine 1 set @ 15 rep max Row Machine 2 sets @ 8 rep max
Ab Machine 1 set @ 15 rep max Ab Machine 2 sets @ 8 rep max

The following week of this particular program would see Monday staying the same and Thursday would increase to 3 sets. The 3rd week we would see the Thursday increase to 4 sets and then the 4th week would be a rest week where we advise doing your light day at the same weight as the week before but only 12 reps so you want be working to failure on that day. Meso cycle 1 complete!

This whole month is then repeated for the 2nd meso cycle. It differs slightly from the first month in 2 ways. First of all your weights will all be slightly increased from your strength gains in the first month and secondly the Thursday or heavy day will see you start on 3 sets in the first week, 4 sets in the 2nd week, 5 sets in the 3rd week and then your rest week will be the same as month one’s rest week.

The following month is your 3rd meso cycle. Again your weights will be slightly higher as you have gained more strength in the 2nd month. And again you will change the sets on your heavy day to 4 sets in week 1, 5 sets in week 2, 6 sets in week 3 and then rest in week 4.

The following month is the final meso cycle which will see you completing 1 macro cycle! This month is a recovery month where you do 1 set of 15 reps on the Monday or easy day and 1 set of 8 reps on the Thursday or heavy day. You drop the weights back to what you could lift at the start of month 2 and when you get to the rest week you do the same as all the other rest weeks which is only 12 reps of the same weight you were doing that month on your light day.

Hopefully you grasped all that, it’s a lot to take in though so don’t be put off if you don’t quite understand it. Feel free to email me and I will send you some more resources to help you. Once you have done it a few times, you really don’t even need to map what you are doing anymore, you just naturally follow the program, the only part I have to remember to do these days is the rest weeks and the recovery months, it is very easy to get stuck in the frame of mind of more is better, but the research tells a different story!

What are the benefits of using a UPP?

According to research using undulated periodised programs give better strength gains than standard block style programs in the long term (12 weeks and beyond). In the short term however the benefits are fairly similar so if you are into doing 6 week bootcamp challenges or similar it really doesn’t matter what style of program you are following; however if you are trying to gain thickness of muscle or gain strength or endurance for a particular reason, following the UPP approach will see better results. To be fair it is only a slight advantage, but sometimes a slight advantage is worth it. For example in a race or competition or if you have a clinically weak muscle and are trying to recover from a injury or pain. If you are interested in seeing some of the literature for yourself I have included some references below.


  1. http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2002/05000/A_Comparison_of_Linear_and_Daily_Undulating.13.aspx
  2. http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2012/05000/Comparison_Between_Nonlinear_and_Linear_Periodized.30.aspx
  3. http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/publishahead/BLOCK_VERSUS_WEEKLY_UNDULATING_PERIODIZED.96954.aspx
  4. https://scholar.google.com.au/scholar?q=undulating+periodized+program&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5

How do I make my own UPP?

The easiest way to use this model is by creating a spreadsheet for yourself. If you would like help with this please book a Clinical Pilates session with me here. To create a spreadsheet you will need a list of the exercises you wish to perform and your 1RM (rep max) for each of those exercises. There are caculators online that can help you figure this out. For example if you reach failure at 15 repetitions of a squat with 50kg on the bar, you punch in these details into the calculator tool and it will give you your 1RM. If you want to do it manually the formula is: weight/(1.0278-(.0278*reps).

Here is a link to a website that has a 1RM calculator.

Once you have your 1RM you can then very easily calculate your 15RM and your 8RM (for your spreadsheet you can use % of your 1RM to calculate all the weight for you). Basically you now have your first month ready to go. The following month you will be able to increase your weight which you can work out by your 3rd weeks success at a particular weight. For example if at the start of meso 1 you could squat 50kg at your 1RM then your 8RM is going to be 40kg. By the 3rd week you might be getting 12 reps out at that same weight so you go back to your 1RM calculator and work out your new 8RM which would be 45.6kg (1RM is now 57kg). So now you know what weight to start at for your 2nd meso cycle. You continue this process as you continue to advance through your meso cycles and macro cycles, remembering to include your rest weeks and recovery months!

What do I do once I have completed my UPP?

You just continue along the path of increasing your strength and cardio fitness! I change up my exercises each macro cycle to keep it interesting and I use a variety of body weight and machine based exercises. For cardio I use the UPP to know what distance and times to aim for each run or swim. I am running a 12km event in 12 weeks time so am currently putting the endurance model of the UPP into practice pretty seriously! I can currently run 5km at a pace of 6km per hour. From that I can work out a light run day, a medium run day and a heavy run day in terms of distance travelled. According to my spreadsheet I should be running 14kms by the end of my 3rd meso cycle, I will then have a week of recovery before the big race! Wish me luck!


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