Block periodization is relatively new. I started toying with it about a year ago. As with all such training experimentation I tried it on myself first. I was pleased with the results. I do a few road races and time trials that are on the same courses from year to year. Using block periodization I produced some of my fastest TT times and I won every road race. More importantly, I learned a lot about how to block periodize training.
At the start of the 2011 season last winter I began using it with the advanced athletes I coach. I’ve been very pleased with the results but we’re talking about a small number of subjects. I’m still learning and know this will go on for a long time, probably years.
There is a limited amount of research on block periodization but that which is available is quite positive [Breil, Garcia-Pallares, Garcia-Pallares].
In the last of the three studies cited below researchers at the University of Murcia in Spain manipulated the training of 10 world-class kayakers. They were tested 4 times during each training cycle over 2 consecutive seasons. For one of the cycles they used the linear periodization model I describe in my Training Bible books. For the other they used block periodization. The two periodization models resulted in similar gains on incremental tests to exhaustion. But here’s the kicker: Linear periodization required 10 more weeks and 120 additional hours of training to achieve the results of block periodization. Block required only about half of the volume.
The same results in half the time means that the advanced athlete can accomplish a lot more in training in a given time. This may also mean that, overall, more fitness can be gained in a season. But realize that with such a study it’s not possible to use a “double-blind” protocol. Both the athletes and the researchers knew when linear and block training was used. You can’t hide or mask that sort of thing. This leaves the possibility of the placebo effect muddying the results.
This study also used exercise to exhaustion as the test to measure improvement. In the real world endurance athletes don’t race to exhaustion at a fixed intensity. They vary the intensity based on how they feel at any given moment in the race in order to produce the fastest time possible over a given distance.
So, unfortunately, research is not always perfect. But the same results, even if it is a test to exhaustion, in half the time as a placebo effect is a pretty big leap. So I believe that while all of this may have somewhat influenced the results, placebo was undoubtedly not the major cause of testing improvement.
Before getting into how to use block periodization I want to address a side issue: Should moderately trained or even novice athletes use block periodization? Why is it recommended only for advanced athletes?
Advanced athletes have a training “base” which generally goes back for several years of highly focused training. All of their unique event-specific abilities (aerobic endurance, muscular force, speed skills, muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance and/or sprint power) are very well developed. That is generally not the case for moderately trained athletes and certainly not true for novice athletes. Should moderately trained or novice athletes follow a block plan which emphasizes only one or two abilities for several weeks their other abilities will fade quite badly and may even return to base levels. Since the advanced athlete has such a high level of fitness in each of the abilities that are important to his or her performance, the erosion of fitness in those not being stressed will remain high [Neufer].
In Part 5 I'll provide an example of how to use block periodization. This should be posted by Sunday (if all goes well) as I leave on Monday for my camp in Switzerland and a talk at the Wilmslow Royles bike shop in the UK on 19 June.
Breil, F.A., S.N. Weber, S. Koller, et al. 2010. Block training periodization in Alpine skiing: Effects of 11-day HIT on VO2max and performance. Eur J Appl Physiol 109(6):1077-86.
Garcia-Pallares, J., L. Sanchez-Medina, L. Carrsaco, et al. 2009. Endurance and neuromuscular changes in world-class level kayakers during a periodized training cycle. Eur J Appl Physiol 106(4):629-38.
Garcia-Pallares, J., M. Garcia-Fernandez, L. Sanchez-Medina, et al. 2010. Performance changes in world-class kayakers following two different training periodization models. Eur J Appl Physiol 110(1):99-107.
Neufer, P.D. 1989. The effect of detraining and reduced training on the physiological adaptations to aerobic exercise training. Sports Med 8(5):302-20.