Block Periodization: What’s all the hype?

In my periodization series, I touched on Block Periodization (BP). Since that series ended, I’ve gotten a number of questions on what BP looks like and how to actually use it. Rather than try to reply to everyone, I promised to post a more thorough discussion of BP, so what I will present here is the bare bones review of the structure of BP and my own opinions on how to utilize it training. To keep this article concise I am going to break down the most relevant and salient features of Block periodization.

Multiple Peak Performances

This begins with the premise that athletes often peak several times each year, and therefore need to build-up, specialize, peak, and recover multiple times. It also recognizes that the a single peak rarely leads to the absolute best performance. We often see this in pro cycling or even in triathlon, where an athlete performs exceedingly well, or wins, but states that they are still X% below their best, or perhaps a few kilo’s overweight still.  From here, the athlete will take a short break then begin building again.

Long-term training lingers

As most athletes learn, the more you train, the better you get, even when you’re not training. We see this in a single season, as well as after several seasons, where long periods of training lead to resilient fitness; in technical terms, this is a residual effect. Training residuals are the key to performance, because some abilities, like aerobic fitness, capillary density, and general endurance can last a long time, while peak fitness, enzyme levels, and peak sprint power output can seem fleeting or ethereal; e.g., aerobic endurance lasts about 30 days with minimal maintenance, while peak sprint power lasts about 5 days. Knowing which aspects of “fitness” lingers and which dissipate quickly is critical to sequencing training, because we cannot train all abilities simultaneously; some must be ignored or maintained to focus on others. This is one reason why high-intensity intervals should be done year round, even if minimally.

Focused Training

Following on that last point, a key component of BP is that only a small number of abilities (typically 1 or 2) are trained within a single block, and each block ends with a peak, before moving to the next block. An example of such a plan is Alberto Contador’s 2014 program, as mentioned on our Facebook page. If planned appropriately, each successive peak should be higher (see Issurin fig 5, pg 203). The training performed in each block is concentrated, involves a very high training load phase (Accumulation), followed by an adaptation (Transmutation) phase where specific abilities are honed before peaking (Realization). Each block lasts as little as 5 weeks but no longer than 12 weeks and abilities are developed consecutively.

For single activity sports like cycling, one can see a number of advantages to this approach. First, an ability is maximally loaded and potentially developed. Second, training is more focused, with motivation levels staying high as you train towards goals closer together. Third, each peak gives you the needed benchmark to make program changes to address weaknesses, before making a final peak to the most important goal. Finally, multiple peaks allow for more chances for success, and really reflect modern sport. With all that said, what could be the downside?

Well, the most obvious downside is that BP simply does not work well, if at all, for multi-sport athletes. Training say aerobic cycling endurance while maintain run and swim training will yield little improvement. Likewise, focusing only on endurance for all abilities, while maintaining everything else can lead to far to high a training load. This is not to say it will not work at all, rather, I think there are better options. Moreover, I contend that you can utilize some of the features to create training camps and mini-overload blocks, which is nothing new to sport. For an alternative view on block periodization, see Koprivika’s article.

Tips for Implementing Block Periodization

If you still think you would like to try this model, and I certainly think its worth it for cyclists and runners who train for multiple events, then here are some things to remember:

  1. You must assess your strengths and weaknesses, and determine what their residuals are. Timing of the consecutive training sequences is critical to Block working.
  2. Aim for shorter mesocycles, particularly during the Accumulation phase, where training loads are highest.
  3. Make full use of the Transmutation phase by recovering from the previous training load, and maximizing intensity with lower volume.
  4. PEAK! Seriously, train for an event or block of events – you could get away with a 2-3 week period, but you must pull the plug, recover and prepare for the next block.
  5. Use the transition between blocks to reassess abilities and plan accordingly. One thing I like about this model is that you only design and detail one block at a time, rather than months or more of training, which is unrealistic for nearly everyone.
  6. Finally, as a reminder, the number of abilities that actually determine performance often outnumbers what you can train at one time. Refer back to #1 to determine what is MOST important to training, and, which have the longest residual (lingering) impact.

Well, that’s it for my take on BP. If you’d like to read more, I’ve included a couple of review articles by Issurin, 2010 (considered the Block expert) and Koprivika 2013, who views BP as more hype than real training model. As always, post comments on the article and certainly let me know if you’ve tried this model and what your thoughts are.

Issurin 10 New_Horizons_for_the_Methodology_and_Physiology_of.2

Koprivika 13 – Block Periodization – Breakthrough or misconception.


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