You can’t do the same thing in the weight room all year round. Why? It’s a guaranteed way to get lackluster results.
The solution is periodization, which is a planned change in your workouts over a period of time. You can change things like weight, sets, reps, training days and exercises. The result is a continual challenge for your body and improved results from your time in the gym.
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There are many ways to periodize a program; however, for sports performance, one method stands above all the others: block periodization.
Block periodization divides the athletic year into several blocks of training, each with a specific focus. Most sports have three distinct phases: off-season, pre-season and in-season. Within these phases, you can create training blocks to focus on specific areas of your performance. For example, you might focus one block on building muscle, the next block on strength and the final block on endurance and injury prevention.
Block periodization allows you to train specific athletic attributes, peak for your season and account for activity in your sport.
For an application of block periodization, let’s look at college football.
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Typically, the off-season lasts 16 weeks, comprised of a 4-5 week winter phase, 3 weeks of spring football, a week off for spring break, and approximately 4-5 weeks before finals start, which begins a 2- to 3-week discretionary period in whichworkouts cannot be made mandatory.
Using the football off-season, we can see that the winter (4-5 weeks) can be dedicated to conditioning, injury prevention, and some hypertrophy training to prepare for spring football. During spring football (3 weeks), we transition to 2 days of training per week focused primarily on injury prevention. Following the week off for spring break, we can move to a hypertrophy/strength block for the remaining 4-5 weeks of the off-season.
So, within the off-season timeframe of 16 weeks, we get about 13 weeks to train using three separate training blocks, each focused on different athletic attributes.
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Where things get really interesting and fun is programming each block. Some coaches opt for a simple linear progression, meaning that each week, they simply increase intensity (weight) and decrease sets and reps. However, this is not the most effective way to improve performance over time.
More effective schemes use a non-linear, undulating schedule. It might sound complicated, but it’s actually fairly straightforward.
With an undulating periodization scheme within each block, strength coaches can plan load and de-load weeks. For example, a 4-week strength block could consist of 2 consecutive weeks of loading, 1 week of de-loading for recovery, and the final week as a load week, where they might test and go for PRs.
Following the strength block would most likely be a power block, in which we program for explosiveness. This would typically happen in the summer, or pre-season. The residual effects of our strength block will help improve power and, as we go through our power phase, we can actually continue to build strength.
Depending on whether we are running a 2-day, 3-day, or 4-day program, we can vary our periodization in endless ways. For example, within a 4-day program, we could program 2 upper-body days and 2 lower-body days, each with a strength day and a power day. This would allow us both to focus on power and continue building strength. Since strength and power are directly related, this may not be a bad way to structure this portion of the program.
A 3-day program could work hypertrophy, strength and power all in the same week. For example, we might program the Bench Press for strength on Monday, power on Wednesday, and hypertrophy on Friday. Our other main lifts, perhaps the Squat and Power Clean, would follow the same template, but on a different schedule. For example, if Monday were a strength day for Bench Press, it could be a power day for the Power Clean and a hypertrophy day for the Squat. We’d do all 3 exercises in the same day, each with a different emphasis. The other alternative is to work only 1 or 2 primary lifts during each workout.
Each block in the training year can be programmed in many ways, depending on the needs of the athlete or sport. These are just a few examples of how the scheme can be manipulated within each block. As long as the focus remains the same and the program does not stray from its goal at any given time (e.g., endurance, hypertrophy, strength, power, etc.), the programming possibilities are virtually endless.
Using block periodization allows you to focus on specific areas of performance during different times of the year rather than trying to develop everything all at once. It’s a progressive system that, when informed by careful planning, will produce tremendous results and help to maximize an athlete’s or a team’s performance for the competitive season.