Block Periodization Model
In my latest article about programming we introduced the concept of periodization, a system used to divide training into different segments. We presented the classical model, where a full training year is divided into three phases (preparation phase, competition phase and transition phase). As you might recall, our conclusion was that while useful, this model has become somewhat difficult to use in modern sports practice, where there is often several competitive periods over the course of the year. Today we will look at a more recent model that takes into consideration the evolution that sports and training has undergone since the early theorization of periodization: the block periodization.
From the use of classical periodization, several problems had risen over the years: the training of conflicting motor abilities in a simultaneous fashion (for example, aerobic endurance and maximal strength); overly long phases that triggered excessive fatigue and detraining of some abilities; and the inability to peak (reach high levels of sports performance as needed in competition) several times a year. The concept of training blocks, introduced in the 1980’s by Russian coaches, was presented as a solution to these problems. A training block is a “training cycle of highly concentrated specialized workloads.” A block is shorter than a phase: it would last 2 to 6 weeks; it is also more concentrated and specialized: most of the training will be aimed at improving only one ability during the block. As you might have guessed, the abilities needed for your sport will then be trained consecutively instead of concurrently. For example, one block will be dedicated to aerobic endurance and the next, to explosive strength. This is optimal for continued progress, as training several abilities at the same time does not allow enough training time for each of them and disrupts the desired adaptative changes of the body.
Usually, an ability that was trained in a specialized and concentrated fashion will be retained for a period of time after cessation of training, which then allows you to work exclusively on another ability without suffering detraining of the first one.
It is important to note that this way of organizing training is based on another concept: the residual training effect. It is defined as the “retention of changes in body state and motor abilities after the cessation of training beyond a given time period.” Usually, an ability that was trained in a specialized and concentrated fashion will be retained for a period of time after cessation of training, which then allows you to work exclusively on another ability without suffering detraining of the first one. While this varies from one motor ability to another, the residual training effect approximatively lasts around 20 +- 4 days.
A training stage in the block periodization model is divided into three different blocks: an accumulation block, a transmutation block and a realization block.
The accumulation block usually lasts around 4 weeks and is used to develop basic motor abilities (general endurance, general technique and movement pattern, general strength). Here, volume is high while intensity and specificity are low.
The transmutation block also lasts around 4 weeks and is devoted to developing sport-specific abilities (speed, power, speed-endurance, sports technique, ect). Volume here is reduced, while intensity and specificity are higher.
The realization block is dedicated to peaking, which means fatigue should be dissipated and training time is devoted to modeling competition, in full or in part. Volume should be at his lowest while intensity and specificity are to be at their highest. Usually this block would end with an actual competition and its total length would be around 2 weeks.
As you might have noticed, a full three blocks training stage, while only lasting about 10 weeks, is similar in composition to the complete training year presented in the classical periodization model. This is because all the basics of this model are sound but their use had become maladapted to modern sport reality. While block periodization might seem a little more complex at first, its flexibility and remarkable efficacy make it a fantastic way to manage the training of serious athletes.