Thursday, February 6, 2014

Block Periodization for Resistance Trainees: 3x Higher Strength Gains on the Bench vs. Zero Benefits for Legs

The deadlift probably won't benefit from blocked periodization either... at least if you do it only once a week anyway.
I hope you all remember my recent article about the beneficial effects of block periodization on the training outcome of trained cyclists (if you don't I'd suggest you read up on it: "Block Periodization - Impressive Performance Gains in Pro-Athletes") and the hypothesis that the mechanism behind the beneficial effects Rønnestad et al. report in the corresponding paper are not actually a consequence of this specific periodization scheme. Rather than that, the benefits the researchers have observed may well have been a mere consequences of the "change", of "breaking out of the rut" and the provision of a new challenge that's absolutely essential to induce what everyone, from housewife to Olympian athlete is training for: adaptation.

Let's discard the mechanism for a moment, though and let's rather focus on the hard facts - hard facts that are complemented by the results of a soon-to-be-published paper by researchers from the University of Bologna and the University of Central Florida.

What's so interesting about this paper is ...

....that it looks at the effects of block periodization in trained strength athletes and could thus help us answer a question that may have been preying on your mind, ever since I published the previously cited article about the beneficial effects of block periodization in endurance athletes: "Do Different Rules Apply for Strength vs. Endurance Athletes?" Or, put simply: Would a weight lifter benefit to a similar extend from block periodizing his training regimen as a cyclist - irrespective of what the underlying mechanisms may be?
Figure 1: The subjects trained 4x per week - identical training plans in both groups (Bartolomei. 2014)
The answer is "yes and no" - Yes, if we are talking about the upper body, no - and that's interesting because cycling obviously involves the same muscle groups - when we are looking at the lower body performance gains in Figure 2:
Figure 2: Changes in max. strength (1RM in kg), mean power (in % of baseline) and jump height (in cm) in the 24 study particpants in response to traditional linear or block periodization (Bartolomei. 2014)
As you can see, the gains in lower body power was identical - irrespective of the type of periodization (see overview in Figure 1). For the upper body, on the other hand, the subjects who did not simply ramp up the intensity continuously from 5 sets of 8-10 reps at 65-75% of  1RM  with  less  than  2  minutes  of  recovery  between  sets to 5 sets of 3 - 4 reps at 85 -95% of 1RM with 3 minutes of recovery from week 1 to week 12 (TP group), the ...
"[p]articipants  in  BP  were  more  likely  (79.8%)  to increase the area under the force-power curve than TP. Participants in BP also demonstrated a likely positive (92.76%) decrease in the load corresponding to maximal power at the bench  press compared to TP group, and a possible improvement (~ 60%) in maximal strength and power in the bench press." (Bartolomei. 2014)
Whether that's muscle-specific reaction to the three 5-week mesocycles, instead of one 15-week mesocycle is yet highly questionable - or do you think the legs respond less to the periodization program that's depicted in Figure 3, than chest, back, arms & co?
Figure 3: Illustration of the interplay between intensity and volume of the n=14 24-year-old male, resistance trained (>3 years, >3 sessions per week) subjects in the block periodization group (Bartolomei. 2014)
Personally, I would rather come back to the "novelty approach". It goes without saying that we can assume that the abrupt changes on a blocked periodization regimen favor "growth promoting overloads". In the case of the musculature of the lower body, the simple fact that it was trained just once a week may yet have provided a similarly "novel" or at least less accustomed stimulus on every leg-day.
"Periodize Appropriately and Cut 12% Body Fat in 12 Weeks!" | more
Bottom line: Again, it's difficult to tell, whether there is any special magic in block periodization. What can be said, though, is that we can again (see "Block Periodization - Impressive Performance Gains in Pro-Athletes: Revolutionary Training Concept, Or Just a Good Way to Eventually Break Out of the Comfort Zone?" | read more) make an argument for the "breaking out of the rut" hypothesis... in this case, however, in an ostensibly muscle-specific manner that's eventually not "muscle-", but actually "training-frequency-specific".

In the end, it does not matter, if my ad-hoc explanation is or isn't accurate. For you as a practicioner who is probably training the muscles of his upper body thrice a week, the results of this study are significant - no matter what the underlying mechanisms are. In other words: The results of the A classic HST-oriented training program that is eventually "block periodized" will yield better training results than one, where you train in the same rep ranger 365 days a year. But let's be honest: That's not surprising, is it?
  • Bartolomei, Sandro, et al. "A Comparison of Traditional And Block Periodized Strength Training Programs in Trained Athletes." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2014). [ahead of print]
  • Rønnestad, B. R., J. Hansen, and S. Ellefsen. "Block periodization of high‐intensity aerobic intervals provides superior training effects in trained cyclists." Scand J Med Sci Sports 24 (2014): 34–42.