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Undulated Training

Undulation training for development of hierarchical fitness and improved firefighter job performance.

Peterson MD, Dodd DJ, Alvar BA, Rhea MR, Favre M. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Sep;22(5):1683-95.

Introduction: Firefighters routinely encounter physical demands that contribute to countless musculoskeletal injuries. Seemingly, a progressive prescription for fitness would offer superior protection against intrinsic job risks. The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of two resistance training interventions on fitness adaptations among firefighters, and to assess the degree of transfer to job-specific tasks.

Methods: Firefighter trainees were recruited for participation in this experimental study. Two distinct, periodized training models-undulation training (UT; n = 7) and standard training control (STCo; n = 7)-were used to determine the differential affects for muscular fitness and transference to firefighter performance batteries. Specific tests were administered to evaluate 1) upper- and lower-body muscular strength, 2) lower-body power output, 3) sprint speed and jumping ability, 4) anthropometry, and 5) firefighter Grinder performance (i.e., firefighter-specific job tests). The 9-week UT experimental treatment prescription was characterized by daily "nonlinear" fluctuations in training to preferentially elicit specific and distinct muscular fitness components, whereas the STCo treatment conformed to a traditional model, in which each fitness component was systematically targeted during a specified mesocycle.

Results: For both treatments, nearly all fitness and performance measures significantly increased from baseline (p < 0.05), with a trend in favor of UT. Further, the UT group experienced significantly greater improvements (p < 0.05) in Grinder performance over the STCo group. Calculation of effect sizes identified meaningful differences in the magnitude of changes in outcomes (effect size > 0.50) in favor of UT for measures of thigh circumference, vertical jump, 1RM squat, Grinder performance, and peak power output. These findings suggest a potentially greater stimulus for multidimensional muscular fitness development with UT, over a periodized STCo.

Conclusions: This study effectively establishes that UT may offer a greater transference to performance for firefighter-specific job tasks.

Some Thoughts: I found this study particularly interesting because I am a fan of programs which follow undulating training variables. So, I am slightly biased. Since the abstract doesn’t reflect the actual training template that the firefighters used, I will post it here for those interested:

Undulating Template
Day 1 – Upper body endurance and hypertrophy/lower body strength
Day 2 – Upper body strength/lower body power and speed
Day 3 – Upper body power and speed/lower body endurance and hypertrophy

Standard Strength Training Template
Mesocycle 1 (3 weeks) – Endurance and Hypertrophy
Mesocycle 2 (3 weeks) – Strength
Mesocycle 3 (3 weeks) – Power and speed

The undulating template in this model is a bit different than the undulating model which some follow, in which the total body is trained using 1 variable for the given training day. For example:

Day 1 – Total body power
Day 2 – Total body strength
Day 3 – Total body hypertrophy/endurance

While I do like the above example, I think that sometimes it can be difficult to train the entire body for strength (or power) because which ever exercise is performed first (IE, squat) will inhibit our ability to display high amounts of strength in the exercise performed second (IE, bench press). Although, this could be slightly offset by alternating exercise order every time you perform your strength workout.

The subjects in the study only lifted 3x’s a week, which is potentially why all three qualities (strength, power, and endurance) were trained with the same amount of volume and frequency through the week. In Kraemer and Fleck’s book Optimizing Strength Training Programs, a book which details undulating periodization program development, they talk about creating daily undulation of training variables, under the back drop of having a specific focus during a given training block. For example, if we were training for maximal muscle development (hypertrophy), we would still have a power training day and a strength day within the training week, however the greater amount of training that week will be focused on hypertrophy specific work and then we would simply switch the focus once that training block has been completed.

I do like the approach that Kraemer and Fleck take; however, I can see the limitations in it. For example, sometimes you have only a short period of time to work with an individual, making blocks of training to short to see the adaptations you seek from them or you may be training an athlete during the inseason for a sport which several qualities need to be accounted for (IE, football would need strength, power and hypertrophy/muscle endurance). Or, you may be training an athlete in a sport which has a long competitive season, made up of several games (IE, hockey), rather than one specific competition to peak for (IE, Olympics). However, if you are trying to have the athlete peak for a certain day or a certain competition, using the block model as detailed by Fleck and Kraemer may be more beneficial.

While some don’t believe that all qualities can be effectively trained at the same time, I think that this study, as well as other studies on concurrent training, gives promise that it may be possible. However, it would be silly to assume one could train for total opposite ends of the spectrum at the same time (IE, training for a marathon and powerlifting meet at the same time). But, I do think that you can use the undulating model in this study with good success; however, know that nothing works for ever and eventually, you may have to figure out another plan of attack to get what you want from your training program.