Block periodization to optimize your workout plan

Tired of doing your same old exercise routine? A boring workout can lead to an unwanted training plateau, not to mention less motivation to hit the gym in the first place. Your body needs a progressive overload—or increased training volume, frequency, and intensity—to keep adapting and getting stronger. To give your body the stresses it needs to improve, give your workout routine a new structure: block periodization.

Block periodization basics

Block periodization is a road map to an end goal. Basically, you create a schedule that helps you reach peak performance at a certain date, such as your annual fitness test. When followed correctly, block periodization has been shown to improve physical fitness and sport-specific performance in both military and civilian populations.

Block periodization breaks your workout routine into training blocks spread across 3–4 months. Typically, each block is 2–6 weeks per area of performance. For example, if you want to improve your push-up or sit-up performance over a 12-week workout cycle, you might spend the first 4–6 weeks improving muscular strength to build a base, the middle 2–4 weeks working on muscular endurance, and the last 2 weeks focusing on active recovery and reducing your cumulative fatigue from the previous 10 weeks.

A block periodization workout plan typically has 3 sections: accumulation, transmutation, and realization.

Accumulation. The accumulation block, or “concentrated loading,” usually focuses on one component of physical fitness, such as speed, power, muscular endurance, or cardiovascular endurance. This block is the base for the blocks that follow and usually lasts 2–6 weeks, depending on the component of fitness you’re trying to improve. Goals for this block are fairly general, such as building strength, as opposed to a specific goal of doing 100 push-ups in 2 minutes. The accumulation block is typically a high-volume, moderate-intensity phase.


Definitions

Volume is the number of exercise sets multiplied by the number of repetitions in each set.

1-repetition maximum (1-rep-max or 1RM) is the most weight you can lift once while maintaining proper form.

Intensity is the amount you lift as a percentage of your 1RM for that exercise. Light intensity = 30–49% 1RM; moderate intensity = 50–69%; vigorous intensity = 70–84%; and near-maximal intensity is >85%.

Training load in strength training is the total amount you lift. It is calculated by multiplying volume by intensity.


 

Transmutation. During the transmutation block, you reduce your training load for up to 4 weeks, to take advantage of the gains you made during the accumulation phase. Here’s where your goals get more specific. If you want to improve your push-up performance on your PT test, you might start doing more exercises that focus on muscular endurance for your chest and triceps. Exercise during the transmutation block is usually a little higher in intensity, but the total volume is lower than during the accumulation block, which reduces your overall training load.

Realization. The last 1–2 weeks are the realization block, when you taper down your training load by reducing your volume even more while maintaining frequency and intensity as you approach event day. Your goal: Reduce the fatigue from your prior weeks of training and let your body recover. This taper shouldn’t be much longer than 2 weeks. Any longer and you could start to lose some of the progress you made in the past 2 months.

Bottom line

It can be complicated to build a customized workout program for a specific goal if you don’t have a strength coach or personal trainer. But using block periodization can add structure—and results—to your workouts. Block periodization is an effective way to work on all areas of fitness, including running speed, cardiovascular endurance, and muscle strength. Learn more about block periodization in this article from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. For more help planning your workouts, check out the Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System (NOFFS) strength and endurance training series.

References

Abt, J. P., Oliver, J. M., Nagai, T., Sell, T. C., Lovalekar, M. T., Beals, K., . . . Lephart, S. M. (2016). Block-periodized training improves physiological and tactically relevant performance in Naval special warfare operators. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(1), 39–52. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000001082

Alvar, B. A., Sell, K., & Deuster, P. A. (Eds.). (2017). NSCA's Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Garber, C. E., Blissmer, B., Deschenes, M. R., Franklin, B. A., Lamonte, M. J., Lee, I. M., . . . Swain, D. P. (2011). Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(7), 1334–1359. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e318213fefb

Issurin, V. B. (2015). Benefits and limitations of block periodized training approaches to athletes’ preparation: A review. Sports Medicine, 46(3), 329–338. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0425-5

Solberg, P. A., Paulsen, G., Slaathaug, O. G., Skare, M., Wood, D., Huls, S., & Raastad, T. (2015). Development and implementation of a new physical training concept in the Norwegian Navy Special Operations Command. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29, S204–S210. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000001085