Periodization, the planned distribution of work during exercise, has been around for decades, but few gym-goers actually use it. In a recent Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study, two kinds of periodization were compared to see which would make the participants stronger and more powerful.
The first kind of periodization studied is called traditional periodization, and is sometimes called linear periodization. Traditional periodization is when the load of your lifts gradually increases over the course of a cycle, typically one that’s planned for a training year (usually referred to as a macrocycle). As the load increases, the volume decreases as a result.
The traditional method was compared to block periodization. The basic idea of block periodization is that each macrocycle is divided up into three distinct mesocycles. A mesocycle is a chunk of the training year that focuses on a specific goal. Each mesocycle is lined up in a specific order so that the results of the first mesocycle feed into the next in a logical pattern. Hypertrophy is developed first, followed by a mesocycle of strength, and finally a third mesocycle of power.
In the study, researchers compared traditional periodization to block periodization using a four-day-per-week workout over the course of fifteen weeks. They tested the participants both before and after the program in a selection of strength, power, and explosiveness exercises. The lifts used were the same between both programs (two pressing days, a pulling day, and a leg day that included a few upper body lifts), and the total workload was the same as well. This means that the volume multiplied by the load for each program was identical. Because of this study design, the only difference between the programs was a timing of the intensity and volume to fit into the framework of each design.
Overall, block periodization won the day. The athletes improved bench press performance significantly more in both strength and power when compared to the traditional periodization. There was, however, no difference between the two in leg strength or power. The researchers speculate that because the participants were well trained, the frequency of training was too low for the legs to see a difference.
It should be noted that the mesocycle of traditional periodization is usually a year long. However, this program lasted only fifteen weeks. While the evidence in favor of block periodization is strong here, it’s possible that the traditional periodization is getting short shrift. Block periodization, by design, is made up of shorter mesocycles that may get superior results in the short term, but perhaps not the long term.
That said, it certainly seems as though working with block periodization is the way to go, at least over a fifteen-week period. Without some major failing, it isn’t likely that a program that shows better results in the short term won’t also be better in the long term, but it is possible.
If you aren’t currently periodizing your workout plan, it may be a good time to start based on this information. Bear in mind there are other forms of periodization as well, like the conjugate method employed by many powerlifters, in which more than one trait is worked at a time. Whatever plan you choose, having a plan is better than having none.
1. Sandro Bartolomei, et. al., “A Comparison of Traditional and Block Periodized Strength Training Programs in Trained Athletes,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(4), 2014.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.