Periodization is a pretty complex topic in the strength and condition industry. Periodization can be looked at as how you organized your training program based on different time periods of the year, season or even over the course of multiple years.
It’s one thing to be able to create a good workout or even workout program, it’s an entirely different monster when it comes to planning out and executing a multi-month or even multi-year plan to lead to a desired outcome from training. In order to do this well you must have a great understanding of the different methods of training there are, with systems in place to ensure the best possible execution of the methods you decide will work best for you and your situation.
It’s important to understand that there are many ways to accomplish the same desired outcome, some more efficient than others but it will always depend on what the athletes sport is, the desired outcome, your environment, what is available to you as a coach, and what your limitations may be. That said let’s go over some basic understanding of the different styles of periodization. This could also be thought of as training methods.
It’s important to understand that if you use one method it does not mean you can’t use another. You could use one method during a certain time of the year and another later on. In fact, no one’s training system should be purely block training, Conjugate or concurrent. A good system should know when to use the best methods for certain circumstances.
Block training refers to training specific qualities during specific blocks of time in order to peak a quality at the right time or “peak performance”. This method relies on training residuals to last so when you hit a peak of the desired quality, other aspects of strength such as aerobic endurance, hypertrophy, and maximal strength are still left over from pervious blocks. Typically, this may look like a block of muscular endurance/hypertrophy with rep ranges of 8-12, one block of maximal strength with heavy weights of 80% and above and rep ranges of 1-6, then lastly a block of power working with weights between 50%-70% of one’s maximum in rep ranges of 1-3 primarily focusing on speed of the bar or speed of movement. It’s usually speed and power as the last block because the training residual for that is the shortest. The result being a peak in power capabilities while maintaining near maximal strength and endurance.
Concurrent training refers to training multiple qualities in the same workout. This means that all the qualities of strength are address in a single workout or each workout during the week/training cycle. This means at some point speed, power, strength, and muscular hypertrophy are all trained in the same session. This tends to be the most effective approach for younger athlete that don’t require a lot of volume of a certain quality in order to develop it. This could also be an effective means of training during the inseason when maintenance is the primary goal. The only draw back would be for more advanced athletes this may not be enough volume or stimulus to cause an adaptation.
Conjugate training is training multiple strength qualities in the same program but on different days. Using the Dynamic effort method which primarily focuses on developing speed and power. The Max effort/heavy effort method which primarily focuses on developing maximal strength. The repeated effort method which focuses on development of muscular hypertrophy, endurance and workcapcity. Then lastly extra workouts and GPP sessions that focus on development of conditioning, workout capacity, the ability to recover and generally being in better shape.
In our gym we primarily train high school athletes and younger, making block training as defined above suboptimal for a few reasons. One they don’t need to focus on one quality at a time in order to develop it, in fact most of them can improve multiple qualities at the same time for years because they have little to no experience in the gym. Even when athletes are pretty strong if their training age is young meaning they have not been in the gym for many years then a concurrent training style will still bring results. The second reason we don’t use this form of block training is because usually this is used to peak at a specific time and peak a specific quality of strength. For team sport athletes and high school athletes that play multiple sports they need to be at peak performance for long derations of time. Peak performance doesn’t happen at a specific event for these athletes it needs to happen for many months throughout the year. For that reason block training doesn’t work but could be used when specialization occurs, if they need to prepare for a specific event, or for track athletes when a specific quality needs to be peaked.
That said we do use a form of block training for our younger athletes with our concurrent training model but not quite in the same way most people use block training. For younger athletes that need to become more neurologically efficient and more proficient at the exercises we cycle Eccentric focused exercises with isometric focused exercises then more traditional style of lifting. This can be looked at as triphasic block training or tempo training but this does a great job at teaching the exercises to the athletes allowing them to master the movement before progression to the next level of training. This looks a little something like this, one month of slow eccentrics on every lift where there’s a 4-6 second count on the way down with an explosive up phase, then one month of isometrics in which they are holding a positioning in the lift that’s mechanically disadvantageous for 2-5 seconds. An example of this would be a goblet squat with a 3 second pause in the bottom. After a month of this it will be followed up by the same lift for another month where there is no slow eccentrics or pauses, this is where the heaviest weight will occur as well. After this cycle we’ll repeat the same blocks but as a higher level of progression of exercise allowing for mastery of every exercise/lift. During this time, we will still train speed work, power work and conditioning each day making it a concurrent training program as well. This does as great job for years in which we eventually progress an athlete to a conjugate training method while still returning back to the triphasic method during the early post-season/off-season.
The conjugate training method is a way to peak performance for longer periods of time than block training making it a more ideal training method than block for more advanced team sport athletes. When concurrent training no longer produces enough volume to create a training effect then the conjugate training method is the next step to continue results. The problem with block training compared to conjugate is that it requires the athlete to be absolutely spot on with their training. Meaning if they miss a session or need to auto-regulate due to lack of recovery this will greatly affect the end result. During the conjugate approach it’s much easier to roll with the punches when this happens. During the training week conjugate can be organized in many ways from 3 workouts a week to 6 workouts a week with 3-4 workouts a week being the primary workouts. This would look a little something like this
Day 1- Dynamic effort lower (or full body if training 3 days per week)
Day 2- Max effort upper day
Day 3- (optional)- extra workout/GPP day/ conditioning
Day 4- Max effort lower day
Day 5- Dynamic effort upper body day (if you train more than 3 days a week)
Day 6- (optional)- extra workout/GPP/Conditioning
I’ll note that with the extra workouts if practice and sport load is high these can act as extra training days. Lower body days and upper body days will be separated by 72 hours for optimal recovery. Having the extra workouts between those are a great way to promote better recovery and higher work capacity. Doing this for the late offseason and preseason will allow the athlete to entire their sporting season with peak performance that can be more easily carried out throughout the whole season then block training because you don’t have to rely on training residuals.
At the end of the day this is what works best for us with our athletes and our situation for training. Being in the private sector we don’t always know how long we will have each athlete for and this approach tends to be the best for us. This may not be true for a high school strength coach or a college strength coach where they know exactly how long they will have their athletes for or when their athletes are specialized in one sport where block training can be a better option. But what matters more than any system is the execution of the program with the right intent and the one that the coach feels they can coach the best and has the greatest understanding of.