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Block Periodization for Bodybuilders

For those folks out there that don’t know, Professor Yuri Verkhoshansky who is considered one of the fathers of Russian sports science, has a new website up that contains a lot of his articles (some translated, some not).

This is not exactly light reading, mind you, but if you’re a sports science geek (like I am), you’ll find it pretty interesting to read through.

It just happens that he’s got a forum up on his site as well, and with the help of his translator, Prof. Verkoshansky has had a lot of interesting things to say.

The big one has been shooting down all the terminology-wankers that are constantly screaming “Westside isn’t conjugate!!!!” He clarified that the “conjugate method” used by WSB is not the same thing as the conjugate-sequence system he spoke about, but that it really doesn’t matter in the final outcome.

At any rate, this brings me to the point. In all that chaos of discussing what the conjugate-sequence system is, he did end up 1) clarifying a lot of the questions and 2) giving some interesting ideas to explore.

Really all the CSS is is a way of organizing your training approaches over time so that they build on one another and maintain the strengths developed in the previous phase. This in itself is nothing particularly new or brain-shattering, although it does fly in the face of what a lot of Western interpretations of the “periodization” concept.

He explains that the CSS is used in conjunction with the block system of training, which again is not new per se, but rather implemented a little differently than you might see. Each block of training is perhaps 4-6 weeks long on average, and is devoted to a specific goal (training emphasis).

The difference here is that, much like the planning espoused by Charlie Francis, each block might have a specific goal, but elements of both the prior block and the upcoming block are transitioned in as well.

Say you have Block A devoted to running, Block B devoted to heavy weights, and Block C devoted to jumping. In Block A, you’d start to introduce training from B (heavy weights) even though running is still your emphasis. As you get into B, you’ll still keep running, but heavy weights are now your goal, and you’ll steadily replace running with weights. As you move through the cycle, you’ll start to introduce jumping (block C) until you phase out the heavy weights.

That’s the essence of the CSS and block training system.

Now, I’ve said for awhile that for strength sports you really can’t do things like this because there’s not “enough” diversity in the training required; this system can work great for performance athletes (see Charlie Francis again, also the Australian sprint cycling teams use something similar), but ends up being overkill for those without the need for that much complexity.

However, recently over on Verkhoshansky’s board he made a post that got me thinking again, which can be seen here.


To quote (do keep in mind Prof. Verkhoshansky is not a native English speaker, so the writing may be hard to follow):

if we are talking about the organisation of the Block system in Bodybuilding, I have to repeat that it should be realized in completely different way respect the Olympic disciplines: with another base of principles of the conjugate-sequenced use of different emphasis training loads.

In what way it’s possible to create this system? Because I haven’t the experimental data of the practical application of this system in Bodybuilding, I can only explain my opinions regards the possible conceptual theoretic models that could use.

In Bodybuilding it’s not necessary to increase the power effort of the competition exercise, as in Olympic sport disciplines. The final objective of the Bodybuilding training is muscle hypertrophy. So, the specific exercises in this case should be represented by the high volume (repetitions number) overloaded exercises performed slowly without muscle relaxation.

To involve the major part of muscle mass in the morphological reconstruction process, assured by this specific method, it’s need to activate the neuro-muscular mechanism of strength capacity (to “weak up” the “slipping” motor unities). This allows also to perform the specific exercises with more heavy weight. The maximal effort exercises and the use of Shock method should assure this possibility. So, the explosive strength exercises are not specific means that could be used only to the CNS stimulation of the maximal strength increasing.

Before to start using these two very hard training methods, it need to prepare the neuro-muscular apparatus of athlete during the special preliminary training stage.

So, with the use of the classic variants of strength training methods, the Block system could be created, for example, in the following way (Note: remember that each block must include the training means of the precedent and the following blocks: the training methods of each current block must be gradually substituted by the following block’s training methods).

1° block. The preliminary stage.

Could be used the exercises of your block A1.

The 10RM exercises should be performed slowly with maximal amplitude. The explosive exercises should prepare the athletes for the use of the following Shock method.

2° block. Maximal strength increasing based on the functional-morphological reconstructions without great muscle hypertrophy

Could be used the serial-repetition method (the exercises must be performed without muscle relaxation):

1° set – 8-10 repetitions with the 80% weight, 3-4 min rest.

2° set – 5 repetitions with the 90% weight, 3-4 min rest

3° set – 3 repetitions with the 93% weight, 3-4- min rest

Usually it’s used 2- 3 series of each sets with 6 – 8 minutes of rest between each series.

3° block. Maximal strength increasing based on the neuro-muscular mechanism stimulation.

It need to use the maximal effort method (the exercises must be performed slowly with muscle relaxation):

1. 2-4 sets of 2-3- repetitions with 90-95% weight. The rest intervals – 4-5 min.

2. The method that could be used only each 10 – 14 days:

1° set – 1 repetition with 90 – 95% weight,
2° set – 1 repetition with 95 – 100% weight,
3° set – 1 repetition with 100 and more that 100% weight.

Every set should be executed for two times. The rest intervals – 4-5 min.

3. The Shock Method.

4° block. Maximal strength increasing based on the functional-morphological reconstruction with muscle hypertrophy.

Could be used the repetition method (the exercises must be performed without muscle relaxation):

2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions with 75-80% weight), 2 min rest.

The 3° block methods and the 4° block methods could be used in the same training stage in more traditional way: for example, using the maximal effort exercises only ones a week (one training session – the maximal effort method, two training sessions – the repetition method).

Also, it’s possible to start using only the maximal effort methods (untill the stabilization of the maximal effort weight increasing) and, after that, to use only the repetition method (untill the new stabilisation of maximal strength increasing). This changing of methods could be used several times.

5° block. Muscle mass increasing without the increasing of maximal strength.

Could be used the hypertrophy’s training methods with the gradual increasing of training volume (total repetitions number); for example, the “pumping” super series of 30-60 second exercises with lower (30-70%) weight executed with reduced amplitude.

6° block. The pre-competition preparation

Could be used all the traditional methods of subcutaneous fat diminution.

So, in the second part of the Block system training model for Bodybuilding, the intensity of loads (the overload weight) should be gradually decreased, but the loads volume (the repetition number) should be gradually increased.

Yuri Verkhoshansky

All in all, it’s at least some interesting food for thought. This is very similar in some ways to the more well-designed bodybuilding programs already out there, and it includes both foundational strength training methods alongside more traditional “bodybuilder” type training. The emphasis on different types and methods of training is a nice change of pace from most programs that only manipulate rep ranges.

In any event, these comments have proven interesting to think about if nothing else.

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