Block Periodization – A Primer
The fundamentals of a block based training system.
What is Block Periodization?
It is a training system that relies on a sequential series of blocks to increase sports performance. Each block targets a specific training quality, with all qualities building on each other to a cumulative higher state of sports performance.
Block periodization relies on very few training qualities during training stage, as trying to train multiple qualities in an upper or high level athlete will result in substandard adaptation to all of them. By rationally sequencing the blocks from least needed to most needed, from longest lasting to shortest lasting, the ultimate training stage will be higher than if you trained all qualities simultaneously.
The concept of residual training is a primary factor in residual factors of training. Some qualities, usually marked by gross structural changes, last longer than others, that require mostly neurological factors. Increased strength, hypertrophy and aerobic conditioning can maintain their previously built state for roughly 30 days without much loss. Maximal speed of contraction and rate of force development are factors that take longer to build and do not last as long following training (their rate of detraining is higher).
In addition, the rate of increased development, or rate of adaptation, of these factors decreases over time. Early in the training block you may see a quick increase in the quality training, then a marked decrease in the rate of adaptation. It is during this time that you would move to the next training factor, instead of trying to beat a dead horse and eek out additional gains in that quality.
Based on these residuals and rate of adaptation, we can build structured blocks to form a block periodized program. It is important to note that the concepts of linear or undulating periodization can happen within a block program, however concurrent runs against the concept of block periodized programming. There are three stages within a block periodization program:
The length of each block is determined by the level and experience of the athlete. Lower trained athletes will have a higher transfer of training by having longer accumulation phases, whereas high level athletes only need the accumulation phase of training for re-development and retention, and longer phases of transmutation.
Accumulating is a block of building general fitness and strength, and using Bondarchuk’s classification of exercises, will primarily consist of general preparatory exercises. This stage will not directly increase sports performance, but will set the foundation needed to directly allow you increase more specific factors such as maximal speed, rate of force development, and more sport specific exercises. Most volume and effort work will be done within this stage for team sports.
Transmutation is the next block. This is the phase where the general modalities are dropped or limited in training, and more sport specific training factors are implemented. The general motor and technical ability developed in the first phase are transmutated to event specific readiness. Specialized technical abilities are the emphasis in this phase.
The last phase is the realization phase. In thise phase, the abilities built in the transmutation phase are realized in the event of sport specific readiness. Qualities such as maximal speed and rate of force are prioritized in this phase, followed by full restoration to ensure maximal ability during competition.
This system is ideal for team sports in most ways. Most team sports have an extended period of competition, in which a single or double peak is not sufficient. The block method allows you to lay out your times of competition and develop your programming backwards.
In addition, the block method allows you to emphasize and prioritize training qualities (strength/size/endurance/speed) based on the multiple factors that change from sport to sport and person to person. Other systems such as concurrent train all these factors simultaneously, but the reality in sports performance is that not all these factors are needed to an equal degree, and are not all needed at the same time, which brings me to my next, and probably most important point: Block periodization allows you to peak your athletes using the appropriate means at the appropriate time. If speed work is most necessary, you will emphasize it most nearest competition when all other factors have been built and maintained (via concept of residuals).
In talking with coaches, most team coaches use a modified form of block periodization with their athletes, even if they don’t explicitly use that term or describe in that way. A greater understanding of residuals, sequential affects of training, as well as transfer of training based on specific application of stress, will allow coaches to make minor tweaks to their programs and have large, lasting effects.
For more information, I cannot recommend the book Block Periodization enough.