What are training blocks?
Instead of a linear progression I prefer to use blocks of training. A block of training is simply a certain period of training that uses the same exercises; the same training means, and that has similar training objectives.
A training block should not be shorter than two weeks (or two micro cycles of 5-10 days). A period shorter than that cannot lead to significant, chronic, positive adaptations. Generally a training block will either be 4 weeks in length or 8 weeks for a "double block".
Each training block is its functional unit, meaning that you plan each training block individually. Several blocks can be planned in advance, but when you do so you only plan the individual training sessions one block at a time. You may establish the goals of 4-6 blocks in advance, but the specific training to be used is planned 4 weeks, or 1 block, at a time. This will allow the coach to adjust the program according to how the athlete responds. During a block the loading schemes change every week. However the exercises stay the same for the whole block. You change exercises with the start of each new block. You have four different loading schemes possible in block training:
1. Introductory loading: This is where you introduce the athlete to the training methods and exercises that will be used in the whole training block. The volume and intensity is low because all we want is to establish the current level of the athlete and to get him used to the exercises being used.
2. Base loading: In this portion of the block the volume of training is maximal. The objective is to perform a very large amount of work, as much as the athlete/bodybuilder can tolerate. The fact that more sets are used will lead to more structural adaptations.
3. Shock loading: If the base loading week is based on a lot of volume, the shock loading portion is based on using a lot of intensity. The volume is lowered somewhat, to around 70-80% of that of the base week. But the loads used are higher. The fact that more intensity is used will lead to more functional adaptations.
4. Unloading/Test: This is planned at the end of a training block and is used to test how much the athlete progressed and help decide on the upcoming block. The test is planned for the 5th day of the week. On this day you will test your maximum on 3-4 different exercises (if you compete you test your competitive movements). The first 4 days of the week use a very low volume, no more than 50-60% of the volume of the base week. The intensity is 5 to 10% inferior to the shock week, but maximal for the test day. After the test day you have two days of complete rest.
The most basic and easiest block to use is the four-week block. With a four-week block you devote one week to each type of loading. This is the best way to develop optimum results with most athletes. Once again, understand that the exercises used stay the same during the whole duration of the block, but you change exercises each time you change blocks.
The most effective training block is as follows:
Week 1: Introduction loading
Week 2: Base week
Week 3: Shock week
Week 4: Unloading and test
Here are a few blocks that I like to use:
Athletic/Strength block for a very efficient nervous system
Week 1: 3 x 5 (80-85% of max)
Week 2: 3 x 5 (80-85% of max), 3 x 4 (85-90% of max)
Week 3: 3/2/1/3/2/1 (90% / 95% / 100% / 92% / 97% / 102%)
Week 4: 3 x 3(85-90% of max) for the first 4 days, test on the 5th day
Athletic/Strength block for a lesser nervous system
Week 1: 3 x 8 (77-82% of max)
Week 2: 3 x 8 (77-82% of max), 3 x 4 (85-90% of max)
Week 3: 5/3/2/5/3/2 (85% / 90% / 95% / 87% / 92% / 97%)
Week 4: 3 x 6(80-85% of max) for the first 4 days, test on the 5th day
Those are the two basic cycles I use with most of my athletes in the off-season and it has been shown to bring great strength and power gains. However, this is for athletes and strength development. For bodybuilding purposes the same approach can be used and it becomes:
Bodybuilding block for fast-twitch dominant/easy gainers
Week 1: 3 x 8
Week 2: 3 x 8, 3 x 6
Week 3: 7/5/3/7/5/3
Week 4: 2 x 6, 2 x 3
Bodybuilding block for mixed fibers/average gainers
Week 1: 3 x 10
Week 2: 3 x 10, 3 x 8
Week 3: 8/6/4/8/6/4
Week 4: 2 x 8, 2 x 5
Bodybuilding block for slow-twitch dominant/hard gainers
Week 1: 3 x 15
Week 2: 3 x 12, 3 x 10
Week 3: 10/7/5/10/7/5
Week 4: 2 x 10, 2 x 6
Youíll notice that I did not give percentages for the bodybuilding blocks, thatís because when planning a bodybuilding training I recommend using a load close to your best (for the plan number of reps) at all sets.
With blocks of training I like to use 4 sessions per week. Depending on the type of client I will use one of the following schedules:
Day 1: Lower body
Day 2: Upper body
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Lower body
Day 5: Upper body
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off
Day 1: Chest and back
Day 2: Legs and abs
Day 3: OFF
Day 4: Biceps and triceps
Day 5: OFF
Day 6: Anterior/medial deltoid and rear deltoid
Day 7: OFF
At each workout 4-5 exercises should be used, each of the exercises respect the loading (sets, reps, and intensity) guidelines for the week. A good exercise selection could go something like this (these are just suggestions):
Day 1: Full back squat, Romanian dead lift, 1-leg back extension, lunges
Day 2: Bench press, incline press, push press, barbell rowing, seated rowing/chins
Day 4: Power snatch from blocks, power clean from blocks, front squat, jump squat (light)
Day 5: Push jerk, ballistic bench press (light), over speed chins (with partner help), 1 arm rowing
Day 1: Low incline dumbbell bench press, flat flies, dips, seated rowing, barbell rowing
Day 2: Full back squat, lunges, Romanian dead lift, leg curl, abdominal work
Day 4: Zottman curl, hammer curl, preacher curl, overhead cable triceps extension, EZ-bar lying triceps extension
Day 6: Alternate dumbbell shoulder press, incline lateral raises, 1-arm cable lateral raises, Bent press, bent over lateral raises
These are the exercises for one block of training, the exercises should change after the 4 weeks. Obviously, these are just examples of possible exercise choices. You can use equivalent exercises if you feel more comfortable with other choices.
When you change blocks you must first choose new exercises. You do not have to use all new exercises at each block, but itís best to change at least 3 out of 5 for optimum results. The amount of reps, sets and intensity can vary depending on the goal of the athlete. The guidelines I gave are those of my workhorse blocks; those that I will use most of the time. However there are some times where I will use more volume or more intensity depending on the needs and capacities of the athlete. If you understand the structure of a 4-week block you can easily manipulate volume and intensity according to the needs of the athlete while still respecting the basic principles of block loading.
As I mentioned, during a block the goal(s) is/are stable. Meaning that one block might be devoted to strength development (strength block), another one to power development (power block), another one to speed development (speed block), and yet another one to hypertrophy (hypertrophy block). Now, just because a certain quality is emphasized during a block doesnít mean that you do not include work for other capacities. Even during a phase where there is a certain emphasis you still try to maintain (or even improve) other physical capacities.
But generally speaking each training block should only have one general objective. And depending on what type of activity an athlete does, the correct arrangement of the blocks will vary. I will briefly discuss each type of block as well as give you the proper block sequence depending on the type of athlete.
Types of blocks
There are three general block divisions, each having several types of blocks. The divisions are: special-strength work, track work, and sport work. For the purposes of this book only the first division of blocks will be explored.
The special-strength work category can have several types of blocks. The most common being: strength block, power block and hypertrophy block.
Strength block: A strength block is also called concentrated strength loading. Meaning that a large volume of work is dedicated to improving limit strength in all of the muscle groups, and during this type of block, strength work will constitute around 75% of the total training volume while 15% will be dedicated to power work and 10% to hypertrophy.
Power block: A power block can also be called conjugated-sequencing loading. This means that you use a wide array of training methods situated on the whole force spectrum (see the chapter on training methods for a complete listing of these methods) with an emphasis on ballistic work, speed-strength and strength-speed work. During this phase power exercises comprise 50-70% of the training volume while limit strength work accounts for 20-30% and hypertrophy work for 10-20%.
Hypertrophy block: The hypertrophy block is also termed a structural block. Quite simply, the objective is to increase the size of the muscular structures (muscle and tendons). During this phase, high-volume/controlled eccentric and isolation exercises are used a lot. Basically, it includes the most effective bodybuilding methods (see the chapter on bodybuilding tips for some ideas). 50-70% of your training volume is spent on hypertrophy work, limit strength work accounts for 20-30% and power work for 10-20%.