What Is The Optimal Training Block Length?
Maybe one of the more underrated reasons why I find many of my new athletes start seeing the progress that they do is from optimizing their training block length. The typical 4 week training block has been around forever and seems to be the gold standard for what everyone should do. Maybe this is due to old school beliefs, maybe due to the popularity of 5/3/1 and Juggernaut 2.0, maybe because it is close to 1 month, or maybe its just the easiest way to set up a billing cycles for online coaching. But whatever the reason, not everyone fits into the 4 week mold. If anything I would say I have very few athletes who do, and would be leaving progress on the table by cutting their training blocks short. So to answer the posed question of “What is the optimal training block length?”, it is whatever length that peaks an athlete’s performance. After reading through this post, I’d highly recommend searching “Making Sense of Bondarchuk: Athlete Adaptation Profiles” and read through that multiple times. I don’t know if there is an article I’ve read that has had as much of an impact on my coaching as that one did. Because from that article it really gave me a sense of how to optimize training block length for individual athletes, and let’s look at what goes into that:
The number 1 priority is peaking an athlete’s performance. This is the point at which the athlete’s performance has been optimized, and in the case of how I track training, their projected 1RMs have peaked. If you look at the second picture, you will see two separate athlete’s 1RM projections through their training blocks. On the bottom we have @posten.lifts, and we have found he peaks the 5th week. As can be seen, there is consistent progression week to week in his projected 1RMs with week 5 being the highest. From experience, I know that if we go a 6th week Patrick’s performance will decrease, so due to this we have 5 weeks of training followed by a 1 week deload. On the top we have a different scenario, where with @lstomasiello we experimented with a 4 week training block, but what we found is come the 4th week his performance dropped off. He peaked week 3, but then his performance declined while fatigue rose in week 4. So for Lorenzo, we now have a good idea that in week 3 he peaks, so the 4th week we now deload. This is actually a fairly easy system to implement. All you need is some type of test set for squat, bench, and deadlift, track the projected 1RMs, and find when the athlete’s performance is peaked. To do so I create a more open ended style training block so that we do not have constraints on how many weeks it can go. We track these projected 1RMs and wait until we see that drop off, then deload. Then moving forward we continue to test this theory. We set up training blocks based on what we believe is the optimal length, and then continue to track this same data to make sure progress is following similar trends. Occasionally I may add another week to retest this block length and see if anything has changed to where we may reconsider how long each block will last.
Now if you read the article I stated above, you will notice not all athlete’s progress week to week is linear. While I have found is most of my athlete’s follow the linear model, but I definitely have some that follow a different pattern. For instance, Matt tends to have a slight progression weeks 1 and 2, but then his performance dips week 3, before then progressing again in week 4 and peaking week 5. So it is very important to take the data from multiple training blocks on end to gather enough information to have the best predicted training block length.
Knowing your optimal training block length can be a big factor in optimizing your progress and individualizing your program to best suit your needs. Do not fall for the typical 4 weeks is best model, but rather test and retest to see when you peak and optimize your performance.