How to use block periodisation
There are different ways to periodise your training as a cyclist or mountain biker, where periodisation simply means to change certain characteristics of the training plan depending on which time or “period” of the cycle you’re in.
An interesting concept that has arisen recently around this subject is block periodisation.
In this post, I’ll try to define block periodisation and illustrate how it can be applied to improve the quality of a training plan.
What’s block periodisation?
Block periodisation is a way of organising your training so that one or two specific abilities are overloaded to provide an adequate stimuli for improvement, and are then maintained with a reduced focus.
It’s distinct from a linear periodisation model where many abilities are trained at any given time and the number of weekly workouts for a particular ability are relatively constant.
The thinking is that in each period of the training cycle, you’ll want to develop only a few distinct abilities as effectively as possible before moving onto the next macrocycle.
By focusing on overloading one or two specific abilities, you should theoretically be able to achieve a greater specific fitness improvement which can then be carried forward into the next block.
Here’s an example to illustrate…
Block periodisation vs linear periodisation
Let’s say we have a hypothetical athlete called Jo.
Jo wants to improve their VO2Max ability (maximum oxygen uptake level) in the final weeks coming into an important race.
Using a linear periodisation model over a typical 4-week block, their VO2Max training might look like this:
As you can see, the number of training sessions that focus on VO2Max don’t change from week-to-week, with each of the four weeks containing 2 workouts. These weeks would likely feature other low intensity training sessions too.
If Jo opted to use a block periodisation model, the organisation of these workouts would look more like this:
Here, you can see that the first week in the block is front-loaded with 5 VO2Max workouts, and is then reduced down to just 1 workout for the following 3 weeks in order to maintain this specific fitness. In both examples, the same amount of VO2Max training is performed (8 sessions over a 4-week period) but organised in a very different manner.
Jo’s training in the first week would almost entirely be composed of VO2Max sessions, where the following 3 weeks would feature 1 VO2Max workout for maintenance, but mostly be made up of low intensity training sessions.
Benefits of block periodisation
So what are the key benefits we might gain from this type of organisational approach?
Firstly, block periodisation might allow cyclists to induce a more effective stimulus for adaption when it comes to important abilities. This organisational model could be applied to any ability that is key to performance so that specific fitness is maximised leading into a key event.
In this way then, it may be used effectively as a pre-peaking strategy.
Secondly, it’s arguably easier to manage mentally for some athletes. It can be difficult to back up several demanding workouts week after week. Certain cyclists may find they can dig very deep for a 5-6 day period in a way they wouldn’t be able to do for a full training block. They can then take advantage of the reduced focus in the following weeks to refresh.
Drawbacks of block periodisation
There are always going to be drawbacks to any approach, so what might be the downfalls of block periodisation?
The first is that block periodisation may induce overtraining in some cyclists, particularly those with lower fitness and training history.
The concentrated weeks at the start of a block are both mentally and physically challenging, and even a string of 5-6 hard workouts in a row may be too much for some cyclists to handle.
If you were using this periodisation model before a major event and pushed things too far, it could easily ruin a big focus of the season.
Block periodisation isn’t always a practical model either. If you were an endurance cyclist who wanted to use this approach to overload your ability to ride for long periods of time, bad weather and other variables can make it very difficult to perform such a concentrated string of workouts.
In contrast, a more traditional, linear approach might allow you to shift sessions around as needed and result in greater fitness improvement.
As with most training theory, all cyclists should weigh up their individual circumstances and cautiously experiment with different ideas at non-critical times of the year if an approach seems like it might have value or application.
Any model that offers the opportunity for big reward will always be accompanied with big risk, and these ratios should always be weighed up and approached sensibly and conservatively.
Having said that, block periodisation has been shown to induce superior adaptions compared to linear periodisation, and it’s certainly a model that should be examined closely by competitive cyclists.