Block Periodization in the Sport of PowerliftingBy Brendan Gonring
This program is based on the concepts outlined in Dr. Vladimir Issurin’s, Block Periodization: A Breakthrough in Sports Training. This isn’t meant to be a program directed toward all powerlifters of all levels or qualifications, nor
is it meant to provide the reader with all of the foundations for developing a block periodization plan for powerlifting or any other sport. Rather it’s a discussion about the formation of this program for the personal use of the author and his teammates in preparation for a push/pull powerlifting contest along with the reasoning behind the application of particular means and methods.
One of the key concepts behind the use of the block periodization model is that the loading of the organism is concentrated into distinct mesocycle-blocks that serve to increase the athlete’s general and special preparedness to a greater degree than through the tradition linear or complex/parallel method of training. The order and duration of the blocks in this plan is determined, in part, by the length of the training residuals that remain after a concentrated block has ended. This refers to the fact that for every trait developed in the preparation program of an athlete, there is a delayed training effect after the cessation of training. These training residuals have different durations depending on the preparedness level of the athlete, the athletic trait being developed, and the means and methods used during the block.
In traditional periodization plans, the training residuals aren’t taken into account, and the training plan is certainly not constructed to take advantage of them. In the block periodization plan, the concentrated focus of the block is switched to another more specific aim after the end of the initial mesocycle-block while training residuals still carry on. In most cases, generalized training has displayed a longer duration for training residuals than specific or
specialized training. Thus, the plan will begin with these generalized means and move toward more specialized means as competition approaches.
In the sport of powerlifting, there are fewer traits to be developed for the achievement of sports mastery than are typical in many other athletic endeavors such as in most team sports. These aims are maximal/absolute strength and technical ability. Obviously, there are other important factors, but these are the traits that most directly relate to a high level of achievement in powerlifting. Due to this, the complex of training means can be more limited than in the training plan of many other sports, and the training blocks can be differentiated by the classification of the means utilized rather than extreme differences in training aims, as may be seen in a block periodization training plan for ball players or other individual sports in which many forms of special strength or special endurance must be displayed. Program overview
This plan will begin 12 weeks from the above stated goal competition and will include three distinct mesocycles as per the block periodization plan. The first mesocycle will be that of accumulation, which will last for five weeks. The second mesocycle will be a transmutation phase with a duration of four weeks. The final mesocycle is that of
realization, which will last three weeks. During these three months of training, a multitude of means and methods of strength training will be utilized, including the maximal, dynamic, repeated, and submaximal effort methods in general and special exercises. The guidelines of A.S. Prilepin’s chart will be used to calculate volume for the main training exercises in each session and will help to determine load levels for each of the micro and mesocycles. Accumulation
The accumulation mesocycle focuses on the development of generalized abilities necessary for success in powerlifting. This mesocycle is also very important for increasing the potential working effect of the following block’s mesocycle. Morphological changes (maximal strength, hypertrophy) of the active and supporting
musculature and of the connective tissues including the ligaments and tendons will be of utmost importance during the accumulation block. These traits will be developed through primarily general preparatory and special preparatory exercises. Secondary characteristics to be developed or retained include maximal strength, technical ability, general working capacity, and flexibility/mobility, which will be developed using a wide variety of general preparatory, special preparatory, and special developmental means.
The accumulation block will contain five, week long microcycles, each containing several individual workouts. The most important training loads will be concentrated into key workouts, which will be performed twice per microcyle, usually during the middle of the training week on nonconsecutive days to facilitate central nervous system (CNS) recovery with load level measured on a workout to workout and daily basis. These key workouts will develop the most important traits of the microcycle and will contain the highest loading and volume.
The first microcycle of the accumulation block will be an adjustment microcycle meant to introduce the workload and format of training to the athlete while gradually increasing the workload. This microcycle will contain six training sessions, and there will be two peaks in terms of load level during the week. There will be four primary strength training sessions—two of which will be considered the key workouts—containing the most CNS intensive
means and methods.
The key workouts for the week will have a primary focus on maximal strength hypertrophy and a secondary focus on maximal strength. Both key workouts will utilize special preparatory exercises with the modified repeated effort method. The first of these two key workouts will focus on improvement of the upper body musculature responsible for movement in the bench press, and the second key workout will focus on the improvement of the lower body musculature necessary for the deadlift.
This modified repeated effort method will not be the performance of multiple sets of high repetitions with low resistance but rather a high number of sets with a significant resistance (75–85 percent) for multiple sets of low repetitions with short rest periods in between. This will develop hypertrophy and strength of the active musculature as well as build the general work capacity. For the upper body key training session, the main special preparatory exercises used will be the incline bench press and the floor press. For the lower body, the box squat will be performed.
The two other strength sessions will consist of maximal strength training as the primary goal and, on one of the days, technical ability as a secondary aim. These traits will be developed through the utilization of the submaximal effort method with special preparatory and special developmental means. Again, one of the sessions will focus on the upper body and the other on the lower body. These sessions will contain a lower load level than the two key workouts, serving toward retention or slight development of the above listed traits through less CNS intensive means than those used during the key workouts. For the upper body session, the primary exercise will be the special developmental exercise of the bench press without competitive gear using various grips, and the lower body sessions will use the special preparatory exercise of the good morning as well as the special developmental exercise of squats with just a power belt.
The remainder of the training sessions will be devoted to aerobic restoration, flexibility, mobility, prehabilitation, and work capacity development through general aerobic means and movement drills. These additional workouts will focus on low intensity generalized exercises such as forward and backward sled dragging or pushing, walking or
jogging, repetitive throwing of a medicine ball, lifting or swinging of a kettlebell or Indian club, stretching, and foam rolling. All aerobic work must be low volume/time and must fall well below the anaerobic threshold. Mobility and prehabiitation drills must not fatigue any of the musculature involved in subsequent key workouts or strength sessions.
The second, third, and forth microcylces of the accumulation block will all be considered loading microcycles meant to improve goal fitness qualities of the mesocycle through the use of higher workloads in the same means and
exercises as listed above. The format of these microcycles will be very similar to the previous adjustment week. However the number of workouts will increase from six in the first microcyle to 8–10 per week. There will still be four primary strength sessions with two being classified as key workouts. The focus, means, and methods utilized will be the same as during the adjustment phase but with an increase in volume and intensity. Developmental loads will now be used on all four strength sessions with substantial loading occurring during key workouts.
The final week of the accumulation mesocycle will be a restorative microcyle meant to ensure a proper level of fatigue as the next mesocycle begins. To ensure this goal, overall volume and intensity will decrease, especially during the strength sessions. However, the athlete will continue to maintain regular restorative workouts to further in recovery from the preceding loading microcycles. Developmental loads will be used during the key workouts but with low volume, and the other strength sessions will contain only retaining loads.
The second block will be that of transmutation, in which the training load becomes more focused toward the special strength preparation needed for the sport of powerlifting. Fatigue will accumulate during this mesocycle as more workouts will be performed during the microcycles, and these training sessions will contain a higher volume and intensity than what was found in the accumulation mesocycle. This block will build upon the generalized traits developed in the accumulation block and transfer them in specific preparedness for the upcoming competition. The main traits that will be developed during this block will be maximal strength, which is of utmost importance, and speed strength, which is the secondary trait in this block. The block will also contain workloads toward retention of maximal strength hypertrophy, and restorative means similar to those used in the previous block will be used
extensively. Maximal strength will be developed using special preparatory and special developmental exercises while general preparatory exercises will be used to facilitate restoration and hypertrophy, especially of the supporting
musculature. The template of this training block will look very familiar to those who have trained following the principles of Westside Barbell.
As in the previous block, there will be four primary strength sessions. Two sessions will be devoted toward maximal strength development through the usage of the maximal effort method in special preparatory and development exercises such as board presses and bench presses with accommodating resistance with the maximal effort method and box squats and deadlift with various starting positions and accommodating resistance to build the lower body with the maximal effort method. These workouts will be considered the key workouts for the week and will fall in the middle of the microcycle.
The two other strength sessions will focus on the development of maximal strength/speed strength through the use of the circa maximal dynamic effort method in special developmental and preparatory exercises of the bench press, the box squat, and the deadlift, including accommodating resistance in the form of chains or band tension along with bar weight to increase the resistance to nearly 90 percent on these lifts. These will be performed explosively with
compensatory acceleration despite the high resistance, due in part to the overspeed eccentric effect provided by the bands in the box squat and bench press and by the contrast reactive effect provided by the significant portion of loading in the form of accommodation resistance. All four of these workouts can be classified as high CNS intensive training sessions. However, the load level is higher during the key workout sessions.
As was previously stated, restoration will be very important in this block. The usage of the higher workloads makes it all the more important to include these sessions to avoid the accumulation of excessive fatigue and to allow for successful accommodation and progression. There will be several restorative workouts throughout the week, especially prior to and after the key workouts.
This four-week training block will begin with one adjustment microcyle to prepare for the higher load level than was utilized in the previous block. It should be noted that although this microcycle is classified as adjustment, it is still higher in overall load and volume than much of the previous block. Following this adjustment, two loading microcycles and one impact microcycle containing an extreme load level will be utilized. Fatigue will accumulate during this cycle, and restoration will occur during the final block, which will be that of realization.
The realization mesocycle is meant to be directed toward achievement of peak performance in competition. This block is traditionally referred to as the taper. Because this block begins under the influence of the accumulated fatigue of the previous transmutation mesocycle, restorative measures are very important, as is a reduction in the volume and load level of the workouts. During this stage, we will develop event specific technique and tactics as well as normalize the levels of special strength preparedness and special work capacity in the competitive exercises. During this block, the majority of work will be done with the competitive exercises as well as with the special development exercises, which serve to retain special strength.
This block will be the shortest of the preparation program, containing only three microcycles. The first microcycle will be classified as an adjustment microcycle containing a much lower load level than any of those in the previous block. During this week, there will be extensive use of restorative means, which will allow for the athlete to display proper sports’ form in the competitive exercise in the successive microcycles.
The second microcycle will be classified as a loading cycle with a higher load level than the previous week yet still far lower in volume than that of the transmutative block. During these two microcycles, there will again be four primary strength training sessions, two of which are considered key workouts. The key workouts will be dedicated to event (sports) specific simulation (SSS) through the use of the competitive exercise under competitive conditions. As the meet for which this program was developed includes only the bench press and deadlift events, the key workouts will focus on these competition exercises under as a close an approximation to competitive conditions as possible. The athlete will perform three attempts, utilizing a load very close to the opening competition weight with the competitive equipment (bench press shirt, wrist wraps, briefs, squat suit, and belt) with long (5–10 minute) rest periods approximating those experienced at the same competition the previous year. The general and special warm ups for these sessions will model the progression and weights the athletes will use in the warm-up room at the meet as well. This is considered to be maximal effort work and is CNS high intensive. However, with respect to achieving a restorative effect throughout the mesocycle, the volume of work (three singles at approximately 90 percent of maximum) done using this method will be kept low using the guidelines set by A.S. Prilepin’s chart.
The other two strength sessions will be dedicated toward the retention of maximal strength through the submaximal effort method in special preparatory and developmental exercises. The bench press, deadlift, and box squat will be used for these means without the use of competitive powerlifting gear. These workouts will be considered CNS non-intensive. The training sessions at this stage will be kept short because not many general or special preparatory exercises will be included. The development of these general abilities is no longer a goal in the current mesocycle. Other work during these microcyles will be directed toward restorative measures including aerobic restoration, flexibility/mobility, soft tissue work, and relaxation. The final microcyle will be entirely devoted toward these restorative means as the competition falls on the Saturday at the end of the final microcycle.
Results and closing thoughts
The author achieved excellent results upon completion of this program. At the bench press and deadlift contest, the author improved his competition personal records in the bench press and deadlift by 40 and 70 lbs, respectively, narrowly missing a 70-lb personal record in the bench press. The author’s training partner also had excellent results on the program as well, achieving a 60-lb personal record in the bench press as well as his highest deadlift since a serious hamstring injury. These achievements were made using the same competitive gear from the previous meet and participating in the same weight classification. It is the opinion of the author that the design of the training program contributed greatly toward this improved level of achievement. Thanks must also be given to the training partners and fellow lifters who assisted the author in training and at the competition itself.
It is the opinion of the author that the block periodization approach has great potential for training toward
achievement of sports mastery in the sport of powerlifting. In a sport with such distinct goals to be developed during the preparation plan, it is very logical to follow an organizational plan that systematically develops these traits in concentrated blocks in order to ensure a higher level of achievement as the sportsman moves closer to the most important competitions.
With a training plan that maximizes the carryover of training residuals from the more generalized traits developed early in the training stage through the specialized and competitive abilities developed later, it is possible to attain a true peak in sports performance at precisely the time of the most important competitions of the annual or multi-annual plan.
It is suggested that interested readers examine Dr. Issurin's text upon which this program was based for a much further in-depth discussion of the principles of block periodization and its application to sports training.
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3. Siff MC (1999) Supertraining. Fourth edition. Supertraining International: Denver.
4. Verkoshansky Y (1977) Fundamentals of Special Strength Training in Sport. Sportivny Press: Michigan.
5. Zatsiorsky V (2006) Science and Practice of Strength Training. Second edition. Human Kinetics.
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