To Use or Not To Use: Block Periodization Plans, with Joe Friel 

Block Periodization is one of the most sophisticated periodization models that’s producing big results for pros. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. Is it right for you?

FT296 block periodization with Joe Friel

On today’s episode, we talk about a modern and highly sophisticated method of periodizing your season—block periodization. Introduced by Vladimir Issurin in the 1980s, it led Russian Olympians to dominance. Now it’s used by top pros so they can successfully handle a season from February to October with numerous target events.  

The concept is both simple and highly nuanced. For endurance athletes, the season gets broken into six or seven stages. In each stage, the athlete starts with a several week block of base training, followed by an intensive block of very hard high intensity work focused on just one asset, and then finally a short block where they rest and get ready to race.   

Done right, the approach finds that extra one to two percent in the athlete’s form and allows them to be on top form many times throughout the season. Done wrong, it can push overtraining and mentally burn out the athlete. As a result, you’ll get a mix of opinions from coaches when it comes to block periodization. Some see it as revolutionary while others avoid it or apply it very carefully with their athletes. You’ll hear that range of opinions on this episode.  

Joining us today is none other than the legendary coach, Joe Friel. His most recent edition of The Cyclist’s Training Bible added an expanded section on the various periodization approaches including Block Periodization. Joe explains to us what periodization is and how Block Periodization differs from Traditional Periodization. We then dive deep into the pros and cons of Block Periodization, who should use it, and even if periodization is necessary for athletes.  

RELATED: Fast Talk Episode 66: Demystifying Periodization with Joe Friel 

Joining Joe, we’ll also hear from Dr. Paul Laursen (the owner of, Coach Rob Pickels (who couldn’t make the main recording and shares his thoughts), and finally we’ll hear from gravel racer Starla Teddergreen and her coach Robin Carpenter.  

One note on this episode’s listening experience: we recorded this episode over the holidays while Grant was in Montana with limited internet. Our apologies for any compromised audio quality.  

So, plan out how you’re going to listen to this episode – we recommend you do it in Blocks – and let’s make you fast! 


​Bartolomei, S., Hoffman, J. R., Merni, F., & Stout, J. R. (2014). A Comparison of Traditional and Block Periodized Strength Training Programs in Trained Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(4), 990–997. Retrieved from 

​Breil, F. A., Weber, S. N., Koller, S., Hoppeler, H., & Vogt, M. (2010). Block training periodization in alpine skiing: effects of 11-day HIT on VO2max and performance. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 109(6), 1077–1086. Retrieved from 

​Clark, B., Costa, V. P., O’Brien, B. J., Guglielmo, L. G., & Paton, C. D. (2014). Effects of a Seven Day Overload-Period of High-Intensity Training on Performance and Physiology of Competitive Cyclists. PLoS ONE, 9(12), e115308. Retrieved from 

​Galán-Rioja, M. Á., Gonzalez-Ravé, J. M., González-Mohíno, F., & Seiler, S. (2023). Training Periodization, Intensity Distribution, and Volume in Trained Cyclists: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 18(2), 112–122. Retrieved from 

​García-Pallarés, J., García-Fernández, M., Sánchez-Medina, L., & Izquierdo, M. (2010). Performance changes in world-class kayakers following two different training periodization models. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 110(1), 99–107. Retrieved from 

​Issurin, V. (2008). Block periodization versus traditional training theory: a review. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 48(1), 65–75. 

​Issurin, V. B. (2010). New Horizons for the Methodology and Physiology of Training Periodization. Sports Medicine, 40(3), 189–206. Retrieved from 

​Issurin, V. B. (2019). Biological Background of Block Periodized Endurance Training: A Review. Sports Medicine, 49(1), 31–39. Retrieved from 

​Kiely, J. (2018). Periodization Theory: Confronting an Inconvenient Truth. Sports Medicine, 48(4), 753–764. Retrieved from 

​Kiely, J., Pickering, C., & Halperin, I. (2019). Comment on “Biological Background of Block Periodized Endurance Training: A Review.” Sports Medicine, 49(9), 1475–1477. Retrieved from 

​MUJIKA, I., & PADILLA, S. (2001). Muscular characteristics of detraining in humans. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(8), 1297–1303. Retrieved from 

​Rønnestad, B. R., Ellefsen, S., Nygaard, H., Zacharoff, E. E., Vikmoen, O., Hansen, J., & Hallén, J. (2014). Effects of 12 weeks of block periodization on performance and performance indices in well‐trained cyclists. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24(2), 327–335. Retrieved from 

​Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, J., & Ellefsen, S. (2014). Block periodization of high‐intensity aerobic intervals provides superior training effects in trained cyclists. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24(1), 34–42. Retrieved from 

​Rønnestad, B. R., Hansen, J., Thyli, V., Bakken, T. A., & Sandbakk, Ø. (2016). 5‐week block periodization increases aerobic power in elite cross‐country skiers. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 26(2), 140–146. Retrieved from 

​SYLTA, Ø., TØNNESSEN, E., HAMMARSTRÖM, D., DANIELSEN, J., SKOVERENG, K., RAVN, T., … SEILER, S. (2016). The Effect of Different High-Intensity Periodization Models on Endurance Adaptations. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(11), 2165–2174. Retrieved from 

Episode Transcript

Trevor Connor  00:04

Hello andWelcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Trevor Connor here with Coach Holicky.

Trevor Connor  00:10

In today’s episode we’re going to talk about a modern and highly sophisticated method appeared as in your season. Block Periodization, introduced by Vladimir is around in the 1980s. It led Russian Olympians to dominance now’s used very effectively by top pros so they can successfully handle a season that lasts from February to October. With many target events. The concept of devote simple and highly nuanced for endurance athletes the season gets broken into six or seven stages. In each stage, the athlete starts with a several week block based training, followed by intensive block of very hard high intensity work focused on just one asset and then finally a short block where they rest and get ready to race. Done Right. The approach finds that extra one or 2% in the athletes form and allows them to be on top for many times through the season. done wrong. It can push overtraining and mental burnout in the athlete. As a result, you’ll get a mix of opinions from coaches when it comes to Block Periodization. Some see it as revolutionary, while others avoided or applied very carefully with their athletes. You’ll hear that range of opinions on this episode.

Trevor Connor  01:18

Joining us today is none other than legendary coach Joe Friel. His most recent edition of the cyclist training Bible add an expanded section on the various periodization approaches, including Block Periodization Joe explains to us what periodization is and how Block Periodization differs from traditional periodization. We then dive deep into the pros and cons of the block approach and who should use it. And even if periodization is necessary for athletes. Joining Joe we’ll hear from Dr. Paul Larsen, the owner of Coach Rob pickles, who couldn’t make the main record and shares his thoughts. And finally, we’ll hear from gravel races starlet pedigree and under Coach Robin carpenter.

Trevor Connor  01:57

One quick note, we record this episode over the holidays while Grant was in Montana with limited internet, or apologies ahead about the audio quality. So plan out how you’re going to listen to this episode. We recommend you do it in blocks, and let’s make it fast.

Trevor Connor  02:12

Hey, cycling coaches this is Trevor Connor, I’d like to invite you to ignite your spark at the 2024 endurance exchange. This year’s event is powered by USA Cycling and USA Triathlon. It offers new info and great networking opportunities. Mix it up with hundreds coaches from around the globe and soak up forward looking talks from renowned experts like keynote speaker Dr. And Hugo saw Milan I’ll also be there sharing my insights and how to choose reliable and trustworthy info in a world of information overload experience the endurance exchanges January in North Carolina for more information go to endurance

Trevor Connor  02:51

Well, welcome everybody this is I think it’d be a fun episode. We are talking from a distance Joe, you’re down in Arizona. And grant we got you up in Montana.

Grant Holicky  03:01

Yeah, I think we got everything covered. At this point. We got

Trevor Connor  03:04

the whole range. So Joe, it’s been a little bit Welcome back to the show.

Joe Friel  03:08

Thank you very much. It’s been a while,

Trevor Connor  03:10

ya know, always a real pleasure having you on the show. And today we are talking about specifically Block Periodization, you’ve given me the warning that is not your major focus. But I know in the last version of the cyclist training Bible, you really built out the periodization section. I know you’ve been very interested in the different ways you can periodized your season. So excited to have you for this episode. And hope we have a lot of fun with this. Well,

Joe Friel  03:36

periodization has always been kind of at the root of my coaching. Actually, that’s how I got started doing all this was designing training plans for athletes. And so it’s still kind of high on my list.

Trevor Connor  03:47

But as you mentioned, you know, you haven’t done as much with Block Periodization. And that’s going to be Oh, so first of all, I’m going to tell our listeners, we did a whole episode with you. This was episode 66. It was actually going pretty far back where we talked about periodization in general. So anybody who’s interested in all the different forms of periodization. What is periodization? Want that deep dive? That was another episode. Joe, please go back. Listen to that one. Do the deep dive there. We’re going to cover a little bit of what periodization is and the other forms. And so why don’t we start there? You know, as I said, you did a deep dive in Episode 66. But just give us a two minute overview what is periodization

Joe Friel  04:28

periodization. It’s got several ways of doing that. We’re talking about one of those ways today Block Periodization. But I suppose it put it in a nutshell, if we just want to talk about periodization the concept the concept is that the closer to the race you get in time on your calendar, the closer to the race you get, the more like the ratio training becomes. You start out doing very general in your training generally mean things like you’re probably gonna be lifting weights very early in the year, but no place in a bike race. or triathlon or running race? Do you ever lift weights. So that’s a very, very general that as we move closer to the race, it’s turning starts becoming like the race. So as we get down to the last several weeks prior to the race, you’re doing workouts which are very much like the events you’re training for.

Trevor Connor  05:15

So Joe, I think I actually took this right out of your book. But you know, this was the most succinct definition, I’ve seen a training periodization, which is really quite simple, which is simply a division of the entire season program into smaller periods. That’s what we mean by periodization. Right? Is it more complex than that? And I guess the second question I have for you is what has been the traditional form of periodization?

Joe Friel  05:41

Yeah, it is, it is more complicated than that. That’s a very good overview, but it’s not really get into the details. You know, if I take it down to the details, we can start talking about different ways to manipulate the various aspects of training, let’s say there, there are three various aspects. One aspect is frequency of training, how often you train. A second one is duration of training, how long your workouts are. And the third element is the intensity of your training how hard or easy the workouts are. And through a mix of those things, we can get the athlete ready for the race. But that mix of those three things becomes what we call periodization. How do I put together all the pieces to have my athlete ready to go when it comes to race day, that’s what this is all about.

Grant Holicky  06:28

So if we look at periodization, and we look at what we refer to as linear periodization, Joe, so the original mindset of this, I’m taking back to, as you noted into the 50s, what a periodization looked like before Block Periodization was introduced, it’s

Joe Friel  06:45

referred to as linear periodization is another way of defining this way of turning in the going back to the 1950s. As you mentioned, the idea is that as I mentioned earlier, that the athlete is starting to train much more specifically, as the season progresses. And so what we do in traditional or linear periodization is the athlete, you’re in the very earliest part of the season. Now we’re talking about really catalyzed into the offseason, this evidence just started showing again, you start at that point start working on the frequency of churning, so the athlete may be doing a lot of cross training. A cyclist, for example, could be running could be cross country skiing, could be doing lots of things besides riding the bike, or just putting in a lot of time. They’re not very long, necessarily long workouts, nor are the intense, they’re very easy. That says very early season, which I call the preparation season, this is where we’re starting to start to get back into training again, then we move into in this in this traditional way of looking at it, we move into what is often called the general system or general season of training, the general period, I call it sometimes referred to as the base period. This is a time when we’re now begin to back off on frequency and duration becomes the focus. So the athlete is putting in longer workouts, they’re becoming longer over time. And that continues until the athlete reaches a level of which they feel as adequate as far as whether whatever their weekly volume may be, has now achieved it, it may not be any higher, quite honestly than what they were doing the prep period. For the prep period, we’re doing all kinds of workouts, there was trust training going on besides for example, riding the bike, and now the athlete in the base period is riding the bike. That’s the primary focus of their training. Now, once the athlete is established, the general level of fitness, aerobic endurance skills, muscular force weightlifting, for example, we move into the more specific phase of journey, which I call the build period. And that’s a period where the workouts become a little bit shorter, but they become more focused on the intensity of the event returning for Healthy Athletes turning for a highly intense workout, we’ll start seeing workouts that are much more on the high end high intensity intervals, for example. So it depends really what the athletes training for what happens during this period. But they’re now becoming much more focused. And as this period progresses, the workouts become more like the race. So if if returning for a bike race, for example, road race, we might be doing this period of time is doing lots of group workouts. So if the athlete is started to experience the racing experience, without actually being a race, they may also be doing what I call see priority races. See priority races are those that are of low value. As far as the F is concerned. It’s just something you’re doing mostly to see how things are coming along. It’s kind of like a like a workout, but you’re going to a race, then there are B priority races. Those are ones that you’re going to rest maybe three days before the race to make sure you’re ready for it. It’s more important than a seat priority race. That’s not nearly as important as a priority race. So the whole season this whole this whole period of time. is built around beginning to develop the intensity that you expect to have in the race while maintaining the duration that we built up in the in the base period. So that we come into the race with both base fitness, which is the volume intensity, or the duration and other, and then we add the intensity on. And so we come to the race on race day, having both things their prime and early for the athlete to use during the race.

Trevor Connor  10:26

So thank you. That’s a great summary of traditional periodization. Now, let’s contrast that with Block Periodization. And the way I’d always heard it is, this was something was introduced in the 80s. And you saw athletes for the first time. So it was it was in Russia was introduced by Vladimir is Iran. And at the time, it was a secret, and you had all these Russian athletes showing up to the Olympics. And they were just absolutely dominating. And people were saying, what’s what’s going on here? What are they doing that’s different, is around his sense published all of this, but it was a secret at the time. And what I found really interesting is he wrote in one of his first papers, what he felt were the drawbacks of traditional periodization. And so let me quickly bring up these four points that he made. And I’m Joe, I’m very interested in your response. So the first one is he said, there’s just an inability with traditional periodization to have multiple peak performances, you can only really hit a peak once, twice, maybe three times a year. But what he really focused more on and that’s the next three drawbacks, is the issue he saw with traditional periodization is you are training concurrent systems at the same time, you’re kind of hitting all the different systems, all the different assets, to be strong athlete and your sport at the same time. And he saw issues with prolonged mixed training programs like that it can lead to burnout, it can just lead to stagnation, it gets boring, you’re always doing the same thing. He pointed out that there can be an incompatibility of training different systems at the same time. So for example, really long, slow bike rides are not something you should be doing at the same time that you’re really working on your sprint because those long, slow rides, impact your ability to train that sprint power. And then his other concern was if you’re hitting everything at the same time, you might not be getting enough of a stimulus on any given system to really produce the training adaptations that that you’d want. So these were his criticisms of traditional periodization and became the the genesis of Block Periodization. Joe, what’s your feelings about this?

Joe Friel  12:37

I would say he’s largely correct to go down that list. He’s talked about basically, how many a priori races can you do in a season. And I, I would really prefer that athletes only have really won a race, that’s the best way to really make it read the full value of, of linear periodization is to get focused on one thing and bring that focus to a conclusion. On race day. Maybe, as you mentioned, maybe maybe to a races at the very most three, three is really pushing it as three, they have to be really spread out over time over the course of the calendar. So I certainly agree with him with him on that. I also agree that for certain types of athletes, it can be overwhelming. But the amount of stuff you’re doing in a given week, not of types of workouts you’re doing in a given period of time, that can overwhelm the athlete to the point there’s never really getting focused on the athlete needs to be developed to bring that athlete along. And we’ll come back to this subject again a little bit when we talk about elite athletes I know. And that really is kind of a last point there, which is generally what we’re talking about is that age group athletes, non elite athletes are typically needing to improve a lot of things, there may be an 80%, they need to get up this close to the Khans, 100%. But they’re probably not going to make it unless they have a really long period of time to build their training, which is why linear periodization is has worked out so well for those athletes. So they have time to build all this all these systems over the time over the over the course of the entire season, and bring themselves to a peak. But elite athletes really probably only need the neighborhood of 1% improvement. They don’t need 10% they need 1% their fitness is already very high. They’re unique individuals. That’s why we call them elite athletes. They’re not run of the mill athletes. These are people who are from another planet, if you will, they are not the same as age group athletes in so many ways. So they’ve got this very small improvement they need. But it’s very difficult to get that improvement if they’re working on a lot of things at the same time. So they need to get very focused on working on just one maybe two things at a time so they can bring their fitness around so they’re ready to go on race day.

Trevor Connor  14:50

So the way I always explain this to athletes when they ask me about this, all periodization is based on this concept of overload And, Joe, I actually reread your whole chapter on periodization earlier this morning. And as a member that was that was right where you started this whole idea that you need to do damage to a system. And then if you do enough damage, your body not only repairs that damage, but it’s super compensates and repairs that system better and stronger than it was before. So the way I was explained to my athletes is imagine your body has the ability to do about 10 units of repair. So what you want to do is about six, seven units of damage, so that your body can repair all that damage, but then have those extra three units to go beyond just repairing. So if you have five, six different systems or assets that you’re trying to develop, then you have two choices here. One is you only do like a unit of damage on each asset. And then your body might go well, you know, that really wasn’t enough to super compensate. So I’m just going to repair back everyone to where it was before. Or the idea of Block Periodization is you use five, six units of damage on a single asset, really damage it, and then you get that great super compensation effect. And what you’re saying, which I agree with fully is that amateur athlete, the person is fairly new to the sport, one unit of damage might be all they need to super compensate. But when you’re talking about an elite athlete, they need to do those 567 units of damage for the body to say, I’m going to produce some improvements here.

Joe Friel  16:30

Yeah, training is all about stress, then that’s what you just described, you talk about damage, you’re talking about the stress we put on the system. And the system responds to that by growing stronger. This is a concept which has been around for a long time in sport, and is the basis of periodization. And so the issue we’re talking about here is how much can the athlete handle, can they manage how much stress can they manage and be able to move on with their attorney without being set back by and so obviously, the advanced athlete, the elite athlete is in a unique situation. And if they can really handle a lot of stress, we all are very familiar with elite athletes and what they can do. They can ride or run tremendous volumes of workouts in a week’s time, they can handle very high intensities, also in a week’s time. And that’s something that the age group athletes simply just can’t do that, you know, I’ve told you to athletes, if you have a real job, if you have a full time job, this is really secondary to your full time job. It’s kind of like job for the pro athlete is that that is what they’re all about is training that they don’t have anything else in their life, really to be focused on besides this, whereas the age group athletes got lots of things in their lives to be focused on. So it’s a challenge. So at the age of athletes is doing is trying to we’re trying to to soften the blow, if you will, to the age group athlete by making small gains over over long periods of time. Whereas the pro athlete we can make take a bigger chunk, if you will, and have the athlete respond to that bigger amount of stress, because they’re able to handle it much better age group athlete can handle it.

Trevor Connor  18:10

Before we dive into our explanation of Block Periodization. Let’s hear from Dr. Paul Larsen and his opinion of the approach

Dr Paul Laursen  18:17

a big fan actually a Block Periodization because it provides a bit of a short term target, like a nice stepping sort of target throughout an athlete’s plan as opposed to, you know, having a race that might be a year or more away. You know, I know that there’s evidence that the classic periodization works quite well. But the Yeah, just for me, it makes life and training and coaching even a lot more interesting when there’s a shorter phase to be able to train to get to that goal. And I think it’s a more holistic sort of training pattern as well. Personally, lots of ways to skin the cat as we know with training, but I like I like the concept around the Block Periodization because you can bring in the the key sets a little bit earlier for and for good reasons to be able to prepare specifically for whatever the event that sits on the Block Periodization calendar.

Trevor Connor  19:21

So let’s really define this what is Block Periodization? Block

Joe Friel  19:25

Periodization is an interesting concept. It’s the idea is we’re going to we’re going to focus on really on just two things. In a weak attorney, for example, we’re going to have a what I call abilities, we’re going to primary ability working on and we’re going to secondary which is a maintenance of ability and ability. The maintenance Disrupt is something we did in a previous block. The block may have been on a two or three weeks long will say in that part of time we worked on let’s say aerobic endurance. That was our primary focus that’s very early in the season. But now we’ve moved on from that aerobic endurance is worse should be. And we’re moving on to something different for the athlete, which may be perhaps stamina, the ability to maintain a relatively high intensity for a relatively long time, that usually comes somewhere after endurance. So the athlete is going to do, I don’t know exactly how many, let’s say two or three workouts in a week’s time, that are focused on stamina, the thing we really need to improve right now we don’t need to get a gigantic amount of improvement because the athlete is already got exceptional stamina, we just need to get that last 1% is what we’re after right now. But we’re also going to maintain the aerobic endurance that we did in the previous block. So the athlete may be doing two or three stamina workouts in a week that are challenging, but their athlete is also doing aerobic endurance workouts during the week, but far fewer of them, because now we’re just trying to maintain that ability, it doesn’t take nearly as much to maintain the ability as it does to improve the building. So consequently, we can get really focused on the primary thing we’re trying to accomplish here for this athlete right now, which is stamina perhaps.

Trevor Connor  21:03

So just to give the contrast here, when you’re talking about traditional periodization model, a mezzo cycle. So that’s your your long cycles in a season might be 12 1314 weeks, but you’re going to be training multiple assets. At the same time, the idea of Block Periodization as your cycles, these blocks or mesocycle blocks is what is often referred to them as they are much shorter, they might only be two, three weeks. But in that two, three weeks, you are just hammering one particular asset. And then maybe maintaining one or two others is what you’re saying. So you really build that asset, then you go into that next block focus on another asset, and you’re maintaining the asset from the previous block. Yeah,

Joe Friel  21:47

I’d agree with that. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do. And block proposition, which is why is primarily focused are best for I should say, for elite athletes, those who can handle this type of charting are few and far between. So again, if you’re an age group athlete, this is probably not the thing for you, there are a few athletes you run into who are age groupers, who are really at the extreme of their, of their sport, they probably couldn’t turn pro if they wanted to, for whatever reason, they’re not doing that those athletes can probably handle this, but for the rest of the rest of athletes, that make up the bulk of the events we go to this is really not the thing for them because of what you just described, which is this tremendous focus on improving something to its highest potential level of highest possible level. Because this athlete has got the potential to do that, and can do it in a very short period of time, because the game that we need is very small. Well, I

Grant Holicky  22:42

think another piece of this that’s important is the ability to rest, right. And you know, as you’re differentiating between the amateur athlete and the pro athlete, that’s one of the really big things that we find with those two types of athletes. And a pro athlete has that ability to really recover in between sessions. So we can overload them over a short period of time and a way that’s going to be very difficult to do with an age group athlete, because they have to take care of their kids if they go to work, or they have to do these things. That’s kind of limit that ability to kind of sustain these high intensity short period blocks.

Joe Friel  23:15

Well, I agree with 100%. On that grant, the elite athlete, a professional athlete, especially, is really only got one thing they’re focused on in their life. And that’s training, the age group athlete has got so many things in their lives, that it’s very, very difficult to really make a lot of headway in their training. So they’ve got to really kind of, like spurt it out over times, they can do it. You know what I tell age group athletes as you can only have if you have a high goal, which mostly group athletes do have, you have a high goal, you only have three things in your life, you could have your family or your career and training. One of the top two pro athletes, you only have one thing in your life, very few of them have families at this point, they don’t have a job for certain. So that’s really just their training they’re focused on so they can, they can rest, they can sleep, they can take naps, they can, they can do all kinds of stuff to make sure they’re ready for the next workout that the age group athletes simply can’t do. I think

Trevor Connor  24:06

another thing that’s really important to this whole Block Periodization concept, which is also something that you’re gonna see that’s different in elites versus amateur athletes, is this concept of residual effects, which is this idea that when you you train a particular system, once you stop training, it doesn’t just go away, you’re going to have a residual, it’s going to stick around for a bit. And Joe, you pointed this out that some assets have a very long residual like building that base endurance has a long residual other assets like building that top end sprint, you stopped training that for a couple of weeks and you’re going to see a noticeable drop. So is around did point out that it’s very important to start training the assets that have a longer residual, and that’s kind of what you do in the base season and then train The things that have a shorter residual later on closer to your races. But I think another thing that’s really important here, going back to this elites versus amateurs is, you see much longer residuals in athletes who have been at it for a long time. So I’ve ever seen studies where they looked at amateur cyclists who’d only been training for a year or two, and pro cyclists been training for over a decade, and they just stopped training in the amateur, you would see their vo two Max, you would see their aerobic endurance, everything would just go right back to baseline, as if they had never trained, were in that elite athlete who had been training for over a decade, they could take a year off. And yes, they would lose some fitness, but they wouldn’t get anywhere close to being back to baseline. So an elite athlete has a much better ability to maintain those residuals.

Joe Friel  25:56

That’s exactly right. First of all, they are unique individuals to begin with, they were blessed with what it takes to be a good endurance athlete, a cyclist or runner, whatever it may be, they’re blessed with that ability to do that. So what we have to do is make sure that we keep focused on what we’re doing. And the direction we’re going throughout this entire turning period. So your your point was well taken that we’ve got to have this residual effect kind of at the front focus, when we started to design the athletes program, getting ready for their their event is that we’ve got to do things very early in the season, which are going to hang around for a long time aerobic endurance being one of those things, that’s going to be around for a long time, even after they start cutting back on training. Same thing with muscular force, for example, how much strength the athletes develop is gonna stick around for a long time. Also LVD just occasional repetitions to to maintain it. But there are some things that don’t stick around. And you mentioned the sprint, that’s exactly right. Again, that’s not gonna stay around. If you don’t work on your sprint, it fades very quickly. So this whole thing is very complex. And it takes somebody who wants to really give a lot of thought to design a training plan for this. This is why it works out so well for elite athletes is they’ve, they’ve gotten really good all the time to think about these things. But they can also have the more than likely have a coach who’s going to give a lot of thought to these stuff. And make sure they’re turning is worked out in a way such that they don’t wind up losing fitness over the course of season but continually gained spite the fact they’re staying focus really on one thing during each block of training.

Trevor Connor  27:32

So I think the last important thing to point out about Block Periodization, at least looking at it is it runs model of it, he breaks the season into what he calls stages. And each stage has three key mesocycle blocks in it so and he calls them accumulation, transmutation and realization. So basically, you do a stage with those three, and then you repeat and in a given season, you can do six, seven stages, you can repeat this cycle multiple, multiple, multiple times. But what does he mean by each of these are the accumulation transmutation and realisation.

Joe Friel  28:11

down it’s just different ways of saying the very same things we’ve talked about before, which is general specific and taper or peak, which I call base build, and peak, it’s really the same idea. It’s just using much fancier words, whenever you use a word that ends in t i o n, that means it’s a fancy word. Words that don’t end in that like like base, and build, and peak and so forth. Those aren’t nearly as interesting words as words intended to do. And that’s to say, it’s the same idea as accumulation is meaning building the base, and so forth. So we’re talking about the very same concepts, it’s just being given different titles.

Trevor Connor  28:47

Let’s pause for a minute. And here again, for Dr. Larson, who emphasizes that the stages and Block Periodization are essentially many traditional periodization themselves.

Dr Paul Laursen  28:58

So as with trainings, loads of different ways to skin, the cat, as we say, but yeah, you both methods work, work great. We know, because we’ve seen, we’ve seen experiences and success with both methods. And sorry,

Trevor Connor  29:15

both methods, Block Periodization. And what would you call the other method?

Dr Paul Laursen  29:18

I call it I always call it traditional? Yeah, so for me, I use Block Periodization when they the races will align accordingly. So it’s like, you know, it’s like I’ve got a really want to do that ride or that that race, and I really want to do that race and that race would be a great builder for that race kind of thing. You know, so I’m looking, I’m really looking at the race calendar, and there’s a real desire to do you know, X, Y and Zed races, and then you know, Block Periodization, at least as I understand it, is is blocking out and doing like a a mini, traditional periodization sort of program except you’re you’re speeding it up, right? And you’re hitting, you know, more build weeks towards that event A lot sort of sooner. And yeah, so that’s, that’s when I do that if there’s an there’s an event there that has to be done and at times appropriately in the calendar, you do a block block method. So, yeah, like short base, short build short taper form.

Trevor Connor  30:23

Have you heard that your God is the gateway to good health? If you’re an endurance athlete, gut health is even more important as the GI system directly impacts athletic performance? Did you know that the weather stress levels and the size of your small intestine can affect your unique fuelling requirements? Dr. Alan Lim sports scientist and founder of sports nutrition company Skratch Labs joins the fast TalkBand podcast to discuss the vital role that gut plays in performance. This is a muscle as an episode, check out the fast FM podcast with guest Dr. Alan Lim at fast talk It is really interesting because this is very different from traditional periodization, where traditional periodization you’re gonna have a very long base phase, then you go into your your specificity or your race training phase. And then you might take a quote year you’ll have a peak, and then you might take a quick break. And you might repeat that once. But here you see this being repeated multiple multiple times, you just do a couple of weeks of base, then you have that that intensity set of transmutation. You do a two to four weeks of just hitting yourself super hard with intensity. That’s the really fatiguing block, then you recover for a week or two you race and then you go through this all over again. So you’re going back to base race and peak phase six, seven times, what’s your feeling about that?

Joe Friel  31:47

It’s a very interesting concept. And that’s really kind of at the heart of this whole idea is that we’re not going to spread this out over we’re going to spread it out over an entire year. But we’re not going to spread out the what we call mesocycles. over long periods of time, they’re going to be relatively short. And the athlete is going to do a little bit of rebuilding of what we’ve we’ve done in the past. It won’t take long to for example, get aerobic endurance back then we’ll come back very quickly. Fernanda, this, this nature. And then we move on to the next thing, which is the higher intensity stuff, we work on those things where the athlete needs improvement. And of course, what was also happening throughout this entire time, which we haven’t mentioned yet, is that the athlete is being tested to find out if they’re actually making the gains that we want. We’re not just doing this with wishing and hoping with the fingers crossed. But let’s say we’re trying to improve the athletes vo to max aerobic capacity, we want to know where that is at the start of this, this block that we’re doing are going to focus on on vo two max. And we want to see how we’re doing as as the block progresses. So it involves being somewhat of a lab rat, where you’re really being tested considerably throughout the season to make sure we’re making the gains we want. Otherwise, we’re just guessing. And that’s something that typically age group athletes don’t do perhaps can’t even can’t even do because there’s a lot of problems associated with trying to go to a laboratory every week or every two weeks to find out how you’re doing not only the money, but just taking time out of your life to do something like that is difficult. That’s one of the reasons why it’s very difficult for age group athletes to even follow Block Periodization plan and why it works so well for for advanced athletes they are, we’re really staying very close, the coach is saying very close to how that athlete is doing at all times. If we’re taking measurements constantly to make sure we’re making sure we’re doing the right things and moving in the right direction. We’re not just wishing and hoping.

Trevor Connor  33:40

I think another thing that’s important here is when you look at that transmutation phase to that phase where you’re hitting that intensity hard. So let’s say the the particular asset you’re working on is your sprint power. You’re not just doing a couple sprint workouts for those couple of weeks, you are doing a lot of Sprint workouts, you’re hitting them really hard. And even for an elite athlete, by the end of those couple of weeks, they are fatigued, they’re going wow, that was a big hard block of a lot of sprint work and whatever this kind of secondary work was for maintenance, but they’re gonna be very tired at the end of it, and then they have to recover quickly and get ready for their event. I’d imagine that’s something that an elite athlete can handle pretty well. I would worry about an amateur athlete pushing themselves into an overreach or an overtrained phase doing that

Joe Friel  34:32

you have ever read about Kevin dishes training, you get this idea of how difficult it can be that we think of sprinters all together. It’s like a natural ability, which it is to some extent, it’s quite true that it’s got to be continually maintained and nursed and improved upon. Otherwise an athlete like Cavendish is not going to be able to maintain it throughout, for example, the build up to a grand tour, which I understand he’s going Do the Tour de France again, make sure. But that’s that’s the sort of thing that that type of athlete needs to be very focused on is, is how do I make sure I’m not overdoing it, he could just spend his entire preparation period, just sprinting, but that’s, that’s not gonna give him the results he wants, there’s more to it than that, he’s still got to get to the finish line, if you can’t get to the finish line, and there’s no reason to have a sprint. So he’s got to have some level of aerobic endurance, he’s got to have some level of stamina, to be able to get there. And then he can unleash his sprints, all these things are put together in a very meticulous manner. So that he comes to race day with all these things lined up and ready to go for him. It wasn’t something that just happened haphazardly is something that happened because there was a very specific plan designed around this as preparation.

Trevor Connor  35:51

Well, I can give you an example of it from my own experiences, my old coach probably used a bit of a hybrid between the traditional periodization and Block Periodization. So as we’re getting towards key events, he would follow a bit of that Block Periodization approach where we would do that transmutation phase, and we would have one workout that we would just hit really hard. And the time I really remember is when we are getting ready. I think this was 2006 Canadian nationals was in Quebec City. Joe, I’m sure you’ve probably seen some of the races in Quebec City and that hill that you have to hit. It’s about a three minute Hill super steep. And we were doing 14 laps where you would go up this hill, and we knew that was the key asset to develop. So several weeks ahead of Canadian nationals, we found this hill that was very similar to the hill at Nationals. We were motor paced, and we went and did 14 repeats up this hill. And every time we had to be well over 400 watts. And I can tell you, by the 14th time of the climb every workout, there were only a couple writers left. It was just killing everybody. I remember getting through it a few times. And by the 10th 11th time, you’re just seeing stars going there just couldn’t be anything harder. And there was some truth to that. When we got to Nationals. It was 14 laps. But you had 1520 minutes in between each hillclimb to recover so everybody’s dying and Canadian nationals we’re getting to the 10th love and time and go on. Yeah, this hill hurts but it’s nothing compared to those workouts. We were doing it everybody did really well. So that’s that’s the kind of transmutation hit that system. Super hard type workout.

Joe Friel  37:30

Yeah, exactly right. Reminded me of my college days, I was a runner in college. And this is back a long, long time ago, when we’re still doing zetafax intervals. And the hills adipec was the kind of the forerunner in the 19, late 1940s, early 1950s for how to train for running. And I used to call it intervals till you puke. It was we would do these 400 meter intervals. I actually in those days at 440 yards is Traxion us work and metrics or metric in those days. It’s been four and 40 yard intervals. And it was extremely challenging and made the race day seen a heck of a lot easier. But somehow he always got through it. Not

Trevor Connor  38:12

only is it hard, there are other challenges with these high intensity blocks. Let’s hear from Starla. Tedder green and Robin Carpenter was some of the other challenges.

Starla Teddergreen  38:23

Like honestly, that just sounds like it would mentally crack me. Like I liked the variety and I like the change and just knowing day after day after day that I’m going to be slogging it out. And then it’s like, okay, you get through that. But then now I’m just resting, Resting, resting, resting. I would just, I don’t know, I would, I would absolutely mentally struggle with it physically. Sure. I could get it done. But mentally that’s I

Robin Carpenter  38:45

personally hate doing the same workout over and over again, or even even twice. Honestly, sometimes. It’s dicey for me from a fragility standpoint, now

Trevor Connor  38:55

I know why you and grant worked so well.

Robin Carpenter  38:59

It makes it too easy to compare to like where you were the previous week, and to then sort of get up all in your head about like, Oh, am I getting worse? Am I getting better? I like to, I like to mix it up a lot more. And just maybe not like mixing up totally different energy systems necessarily, but having the workout, just maybe it’s the total exposure time is exactly the same. But just having it be a slightly different shape where I can, like, just have something new to focus on and not be comparing it immediately to what I was doing last week really helps for me. I mean, this is a great example of where you can go wrong with this type of training now, I mean, is incredibly difficult. It’s a huge load. And I think you have to be as you mentioned earlier, Joe, it’s it’s so much about the balance of when you’re loading for how long you’re loading when you move to the next piece, and how you come back and forth. The guidance is crucial because you can do honestly You could do one extra session and push them but you end overtraining out of overreaching? Yeah,

Joe Friel  40:05

that’s you’re exactly right there. That’s the reason why the coach really needs to be present. That’s the best situation always, when you’re working with an athlete at this level, and they’re doing this type of training, the coach needs to be there at the workout, or at least somebody that representing the coach needs to be at that workout to, to make decisions. When do we stop? That’s the first decision. When do we stop doing this, this workout and call it part of the day, the sometimes the athletes, and probably most athletes actually will push themselves beyond their capacity to handle it, and thinking they’re doing themselves some real good. But actually what they’re doing themselves is is a lot of harm. And so somebody needs to say enough, let’s call it a day. And so that’s always challenging for an athlete to do. So the type of workout Trevor was talking about that that is really the big, big problem is when do you stop that workout? Would you call it quits when I was in 440s. As a runner, it was the same thing. Back in those days, the coaches didn’t pay much attention to how the athlete was responding, they mostly pay attention to what they had done in their mind. And everybody had to do the workout regardless of how they responded to it or not. But things have changed a lot since then, we’ve become a lot more intelligent today about how coaches should work with their athletes to make sure we don’t push them beyond, which is what how you get going on about overtraining or over extreme overreaching.

Trevor Connor  41:29

And to give you an example of this, and I’m glad you both brought this up just that importance of the rest after you do this. There’s a study led by Dr. Ron Istat. I think this is from 2012, that I can’t remember. But the title of it is effects of 12 weeks of Block Periodization on performance, and performance indices and well trained cyclists. And in this study, they saw some real performance gains some some real improvements in these athletes using Block Periodization. But to give you an idea, here’s the protocol, it would have the block would have one week, where they would do five high intensity sessions in that week. And these are not easy high intensity sessions. So they would destroy the cyclists for a week. And then they would have three weeks of training mostly easy with just one intensity session each week. So as one of that big kind of workout, and what’s that you’d call that transmutation phase, and then three weeks of recovering from it, essentially, with just a little bit of maintenance. And they would do so that was four weeks. They repeated that three times over the 12 weeks, and they saw huge gains. But you can see they’re spending a lot more time recovering from the huge effort than they spent doing the huge effort. Yeah, those

Joe Friel  42:49

are extreme weeks, when you have doing around five, five hard workouts in a week’s time that that is extremely challenging. Very few athletes can handle that. That’s again, why it’s best we’re talking about is for for elite athletes, not for age groupers. But deciding when to when to rest is the hard part. If you give the athlete the choice, too often, they will decide not to rest continue to push on with the hard training. So that’s really the challenge is making sure you’re rested as as, as you shouldn’t be. And that that brings up an entire new area of attorney we won’t get into here. But it’s extremely important, this whole idea of recuperation. Post workout is extremely important. And I’m afraid way too many athletes ignore it, they don’t really pay attention to what’s going on with their recovery. Well,

Grant Holicky  43:38

and it brings up that, you know, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And some of that is an old Neil Henderson line that he used with a lot of athletes that I’ve taken and you say it, you know, that’s why being a coach being there is so important, just because you can do that last one doesn’t mean you should. And then as you’re saying how you recover from it. You know, one thing that I’d like to throw out there with what I see myself using Block Periodization with and a lot of other coaches and athletes using it for is we watch it and cross a lot we’re watching athletes have two races that are hard a week, they’re usually doing a session a week, that’s hard and most of that stuff’s very similar. It’s high intensity, it’s it’s really, really hard at short bursts. But we’re watching people go through a period of time where there’s a lot of that racing, and then they’re leaving the racing for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks at a time and then just focusing on base. You know, this is where I’m watching some elite athletes use this idea of Block Periodization well, okay, I’m getting my intensity out of racing. I’m gonna take a little recovery after this high intensity race block. Now I’m gonna go away and go into the mountains and you’re watching across athletes are the road athletes, they’re not doing a whole lot of quote unquote hard rocky training, right? They’re just riding some miles. They’re just getting the base back Back in their legs, and it almost serves as a natural block. And this is maybe why we’re able to see these frequent peaks over and over again over the course of the season.

Joe Friel  45:10

Yeah, this whole idea of how do you prepare an athlete using Block Periodization is very, very complicated. There’s lots of pieces here to be to be dealt with, you just broke major one, which is, when we take a break from this opportunity to do something that’s more basic, is just putting in the miles. That’s one of the key pieces of this whole thing is how do I make sure I’m not pushing the athlete beyond their limits. And again, from what I’ve seen, with athletes given no outside help on this, they will usually decide to continue to push themselves at a very high level, as opposed to backing off and give themselves some rest, as a coach would do. A smart coach knows when the athlete needs to be rested, and can lay that out in advance, and then watch to see what happens as the training progresses to make sure we don’t overdo it. So

Trevor Connor  45:58

let’s shift gears here a little bit, I think we’ve established the really important message that if you are an amateur endurance athlete, this is probably not for you. If you are a higher level endurance athlete, particularly if you’re somebody who feels like you’ve been plateauing and you’re reaching pretty close to your potential, this might be something to consider keeping that in mind. And we’re talking more to those higher level athletes right now, what are some of the advantages of a Block Periodization approach,

Joe Friel  46:29

probably the biggest advantages is that we can we can really make sure we get the athlete brought to a peak of fitness, and the abilities that are most important to their, to the race they’re preparing for. That’s a real challenge. It’s not something that most athletes are able to discern for themselves. This is where a coach really comes in extremely handy, if you will, that somebody can look at it from a from a different perspective and look at what the needs may be as far as recovery and rest throughout this period of time. And how we’re going to manipulate all the various pieces to make sure it happens at the right pace. And why we wind up with where we want to be on race day because of all this not simply somebody who’s totally overtrained and completely wasted. The real challenges for the age group athlete is being able to do this without coaching. If it’s an elite age group athlete, which there are some out there, they’re not a lot of them, there are some of them, if they’re athletes out there, those people need to have a start Missmiss Block Periodization I’ve coached too many athletes who I had to tell them to stop training and block or the rest. Because the block was just too hard for them. Period of turn, it was too hard. Nobody dressed now more than I thought we would, whereas the athlete was willing to continue on. And that’s usually a disaster when the athlete decides to push themselves a little bit harder, because they think they can handle more.

Trevor Connor  47:52

Yep. So just going back to some of his arounds writings, you know, a couple of the benefits that he brought up is a that ability to peak multiple times in the season. And you certainly see that, you know, when you’re talking about the the current professional race calendar, that’s critical because athletes are expected to be on form for so much of the season, that ability to get on form quick. And then kind of take that break, go back to a couple of weeks of basic training and then get back on form, again, is almost a requirement for athletes at that highest level when you’re talking about professional for example, professional cyclists. As grant explained a couple of minutes ago, there are ways to apply Block Periodization concepts effectively. Rob pickles wasn’t able to join this episode, but he did share his thoughts and ways he’s modified it effectively even with amateur athletes.

Background Noise  48:44

I typically do a modified Block Periodization that works really well with amateur and working athletes and this is based on Dr. Bent Ron’s dad’s research in the area whose research we’ve had on the show. One of my favorites out there, the format is typically like this and obviously things vary a little bit based on the week and the athlete. But the first week is a high intensity week. Typically there are four intensity sessions with a layout like Monday, intensity, Tuesday, intensity, Wednesday, recovery, Thursday intensity, Friday intensity, and then Saturday is either off or recovery ride before a long a robic ride on Sunday volume for something like this. Well, it’s going to vary per athlete, but typically we’re looking in the seven to eight hour range. The second week is a high volume week that’s focused on base training. With some athletes, especially those at a higher level. There’s still one intensity session included, but mostly we’re focused on zone two below the first lactate turn point workload. Again, the volume is going to vary by athlete but typically it’s in the 10 to 14 hour range so significantly higher than that first week, the intensity week. The third week is either a recovery week for athletes who aren’t used to high training loads or it could be enough other base week a repeat of week two for those athletes that are doing the extra base week we’ll do the Recovery Week and Week for the Recovery Week. And my scheme is decreased volume and a focus again on that zone to typically maybe in the six to eight hour range with two days that are completely off. And something to note about this is that the high intensity week needs to be really purposeful. I typically focus on one area of improvement based on the athlete and their goals, meaning those intensity workouts are focused either above or below threshold. But I do try to mix up the workouts, keeping them with the same goals. So an athlete on Monday might be feeling good, feeling pretty fresh. And so they’ll do three by 20 minutes at 95%, which is a pretty tough workout. But sustainable, they’ll come back on Tuesday with some shorter efforts, maybe at that same 95% of FTP. But this time, we’re doing five by five minutes with a one minute recovery. So overall, smaller volume or frequent recoveries makes that in my opinion, a little bit easier of a workout for that athlete, but they’re still focused on the same adaptations. Now we need to consider the cumulative effects of all of these workouts and not go all in just for one of them. If we take that same three by 20 minute workout I mentioned before, we could do that at 100 to 105% of FTP. But that would leave the athlete absolutely trashed. And how would the following workouts that week be completed probably with pretty low quality. So I tend to prescribe workouts that are tough, but the athlete could have done another rep if they had to. And that seems to leave a little bit on the table leave a little bit for tomorrow, but ultimately allow that athlete to generate more of that adaptive signal as they progress through the week. Now the benefits of this is very much in my opinion that adaptive signal, because we’re sending the body instructions to get better at one particular thing per block, it seems to elicit adaptations that lead to larger performance improvements. I also think that this is easier for the athlete to focus, they can wrap their head around a singular purpose. And it creates a feeling of forward progress as they work through the blocks as opposed to week after week of essentially the same workout scheme. Lastly, I think that this is amazing for time management for working athletes is oftentimes difficult for three weeks per month in a traditional periodization to be in that 10 to 12 hour range. With this form of Block Periodization athletes only need one or maybe two high volume weeks per month. And because those weeks lack intensity, they’re not nearly as physical or mentally taxing as in more of a traditional scheme. So ultimately, I find that this Block Periodization causes really large improvements in general endurance fitness. And it’s great during what would be considered the traditional base phase of training. However, in all honesty is not necessarily the best scheme for race specific performance improvement. And so I typically do a few weeks of traditional periodization, where I’m able to focus on fewer really hard individual workouts that help athletes get ready for race day.

Trevor Connor  53:12

Something that I wanted to bring up. So I found this really interesting. So there was a very recent paper, this just this year, published by Dr. Sylar, where he did a review comparing traditional periodization to Block Periodization. And, you know, I’ll give you the headline to it to start with, which is they basically said There just isn’t a lot of evidence of one being better than the other, that you tend to see similar improvements. But what I found very interesting with and these are not studies on amateur athletes, these were studies on on pretty high level athletes, it’s more of it was just was cyclists. But what I found the most interested in is, Block Periodization seemed to produce the biggest gains in top end. So if you’re talking about power at VO to max, when you were talking about power at VT two, you really saw big gains in Block Periodization. But interestingly, once you started getting to the lactate threshold when you started getting into aerobic endurance Block Periodization didn’t have any benefits. As a matter of fact, in one study, you really didn’t see Block Periodization raising VT one so that aerobic threshold that what can you sustain for long periods of time, didn’t really seem to improve that very much. So it seemed like Block Periodization was great for really bringing about that explosive top end, but might not actually be the best for building that really good base aerobic engine.

Joe Friel  54:38

That’s interesting stuff. Whenever you talk about research in sport science, we always have the same problems that pop up. Number one is they’re usually small number of subjects, or 20 peoples is a big number of subjects in a sports science study, whereas in a medical study they’ll have 10,000 subjects To see what what happens when they reduce a particular drug. So that’s, that’s always questionable. And then you had the range of improvements, you’ll have somebody who improves a great deal and somebody doesn’t improve at all if it gets worse, and a lot of things in between. And so we start looking for averages and draw conclusions. From those averages. The studies are often quite short, a few weeks, or as good studies go on for a few years. That’s kind of what we’re stuck with when in sports science, because there’s not a lot of money behind putting these studies on. And we’ve got to make do with what we’ve got at the time. So there’s always some limitations when it comes to sports science research on what conclusions can we draw, I would tend to trust more what we find out with individual athletes. And what I’ve seen from individual athletes who have used Block Periodization. And have somebody guide them through that is that is very effective. They they did extremely well using the system. Could they have done just as well, if they had used a non Block Periodization, perhaps linear periodization? Or some other variation? On linear periodization? We don’t know, could they have simply done it by the seat of their pants without any periodization plan whatsoever, and just decide today, they’re going to give this x workout tomorrow, they’re gonna do Y workout and Z workout, we don’t really have research that really is overwhelmingly giving us answers to questions. It points us in the right direction. And it’s interesting to hear that there’s a study that says they didn’t see a lot of difference between the two types of training. But it always raises questions for me on on who improved and how much did they improve, and who got worse and so forth. So these, these are always difficult subjects. Again, I agree that we need to be looking at research because it gives us at least some idea of what’s going on. Otherwise, we’re stuck strictly with opinion.

Grant Holicky  56:50

Well, I think it’s really sorry, Trevor, it’s really interesting. Now, when you look at those and kind of what you’re noting there is using it with specific athletes in specific ways. You know, if we know that that athlete thinks that way, in blocks, I really want to go and give this a go for these two weeks, or there’s the break in the race calendar, where it makes a lot of sense to target one specific thing for a period of time. That may be where we’re seeing the benefit for athletes and under but understanding that somebody doesn’t necessarily think that way. That’s not how they’re kind of wired. That’s one of the things that most of our research can’t take into consideration, right? What’s the individuality of those athletes? And what do they look for? And what are they asking for. And so what you bring up, Joe, I think is a really good point. There are places to use this. But for me, personally, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. I think that’s where I’ve used it with my athletes. And as I said before, with our racing, we come out of a racing block, we’ve got some time to work on base, we’re gonna focus on base. So we came out of a racing block recently with an athlete, and they said, Okay, I feel amazing, but the only thing I’m missing is high end. And so we were able to make a transition here over two weeks really focus on high end, and see where that took them down the road. So

Trevor Connor  58:14

I wasn’t gonna go there, but you to have brought this up. This is a good conversation, particularly because grant I know you prefer the figure out your athlete day to day. But here is I’m going to read the conclusion of this. This 2023 study from Dr. Sylar where they say, we do not find evidence in the available research literature that a specific periodization model. So they were comparing traditional to block is consistently more effective and train road cyclists. But then it goes on to say, neither do we find evidence that a periodized training model is superior to a day to day programming approach, combined with a polarized a pyramidal training, intensity distribution, ensuring adequate recovery from day to day. So they’re taking it a step further and saying, if you are just planning day by day, but you’re planning and effectively that can actually be just as good as periodization. So I’m going to throw it to the two of you. How do you feel about that? Is that going too far?

Joe Friel  59:15

No, it’s not going too far. I’ve got a friend who’s a triathlon coach. He’s coached several world champions, our men winters, he knows the stuff he puts on camps for his athletes throughout the winter. And what he tells me is the most important thing he does every day, he shakes the hand of each athlete and looks them in the eye and says How you feeling? He says that’s the most important thing he does every day. And he could learn a lot from that and front sessions on how the athlete in that day relative to what they have planned. And I think he’s I think he’s got a real point there. When I was in college, for example, the coach is talking about those intervals to your peers. And a while ago. He was right there with us. He looked at us and he was talking to because he knew how we were our bonding, he could make decisions based on all the information he was gathering. And he wasn’t doing this through churning picks, he was right there at that particular time with that athlete, talking to them, and drawing conclusions about what they could do insuring that day, and perhaps even going forward based on all the information he’s gathered, which is really probably what you’ll will see more of that with elite athletes. And we will see that with age group athletes age group athletes, are largely coached by coaches who are working at some distance away. Usually, they have zoom conversations, that elite athletes typically have their coach with them, or somebody else who can step into the coaches place and assistant coach who can help out and that makes a world of difference, being able to see what the athlete is, is experiencing, and to hear from them how it’s going, is the most valuable information you can get from the athlete? Well, I

Grant Holicky  1:00:57

think, you know, you brought up training teams, and this is one of the things where I think training peaks can do a really good job, the comment section, and some of the things that they’re trying to do with a smiley face and a frowny face. They’re trying to give that same type of information to a coach that you would get being in person with that person, if I’ve got a comment every single day, I’m going to watch how those comments change based on the load and based on some of the things that we’re doing. And you you’re going to know sometimes by their mood, where they are before you’re going to see it in their workouts. But one thing I will say with this idea of day to day, I think day to day is important. And I think that ability to be agile and to move is important. But a clear plan of attack over a period of time, whether that period of time is two weeks, because you’re really dealing with something specific, or you’re looking at a period of time before months, or a year or whatever that is, I think the two things to me that are really crucial with it is the ability to have a plan and a direction and where we want to go and how we’re going to do it. But then the ability to be agile, the ability to change, the ability to look and do something different becomes really important as well. So while I do like that idea of like, Okay, we’re gonna, we’re gonna shift on a dime here, and we’re gonna go do something else. I think the value of periodization in general is in building a plan and having a plan of attack and a direction. One

Joe Friel  1:02:26

of my favorite sayings is that a goal without a plan is really a wish. And we’re talking about here’s planning, how are we going to plan we’re just talking about the how to, there’s many ways of doing it. But a plan is necessary to be working toward a goal shouldn’t be done simply by the seat of your pants. I think the coach I was talking about was trying to make decisions to offer the plan going forward from what he’s learning about the athlete on a day to day basis, which is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing is what the athletes should be doing for themselves also, but most athletes are not that good when it comes to making decisions, subjective decisions about how they should train, they’re usually continue to push us as hard as I possibly can to see what happens. So. So that’s a very good point, grant. And I certainly agree that that’s critical to the success of the athlete. Yeah,

Trevor Connor  1:03:16

that actually is very much in line with where I wanted to take us with this episode, which was that question of what ultimately are you doing with periodization and something they Dr. Sylar brought up, but I’m not going to particularly point out there’s a researcher has been publishing stuff very recently named Dr. Kiley, who has been challenging periodization in general, saying that it’s not really that based on physiology, and one of the counter arguments I’ve heard is, you know, particularly Block Periodization, we’re trying to zero in on quote, energy systems. But we’ve already talked about this on the show in the past that you can’t really focus on a particular energy system that all training tends to hit the same pathways. It’s just not that specific. So trying to say I’m just going to work one asset, not always the way our physiology works. And so I’m not sure I’m going to I personally go as far as as Dr. Kiley, but if anybody’s interested, he has one particular paper called periodization theory, confronting An Inconvenient Truth. But my question to the two of you, which is I think where you’re going is, perhaps an athlete who knows what they’re doing working with a good coach can train day to day and do a fantastic job. But maybe the value of a craving that yearly training plan of having a periodized structure to it is just to keep the athlete directed and in control to remind the athlete, it’s February, you shouldn’t be going out and killing yourself. Conversely, maybe just the one benefit of Block Periodization isn’t so much that you’re targeting a particular asset. I would argue the the benefit is more having that elite athlete who has to do a ton of training stress to get an adaptation to Have them know that two week periods coming up, where I’m going to have to kill myself, but then I’m going to rest. So I think I can get through those two weeks. And it’s just about going really hard. I

Joe Friel  1:05:10

agree, those are very good comments along the lines of what should be happening. Sometimes I I’m sorry, we ever call that periodization, maybe it should just been called Planning periodization has almost become a dirty word. In some circles. I see athletes on social media talking about periodization, as if it’s something that is really bad for you. It’s not that way at all. But they’ve jumped to conclusions, because they’ve read a research study someplace that found there was some faults with periodization, as it was, is with any way you would design a training plan for an athlete, there’s always going to be false. The issue is, can we find those faults and correct them as the as the athlete is progressing through their workout through their week, through their month through their year. And we keep making changes and updating the plan so that it’s more in line with what we’re aiming for, as a final goal for this athlete. But you’re right, there’s actually a lot of research out there, you can read that, that really bad mouse authorization, that is really a bad thing to be doing, we shouldn’t be talking about periodization at all we should be, we should be given a different name and call it something else. Because we’ve got this idea in the back of our heads, it seems like from some of these research studies, at least, that is carved in stone and can’t be changed. That whenever you set up a plan for an athlete, and we call it periodization, the athlete has to do that. And that’s really not to worry at all, it should be very flexible. It should be the sort of thing as I mentioned with my triathlon friend who’s a coach, as he’s making decisions on a daily basis, should he follow the plan today or deviate from it in some way. And that’s exactly what should be happening all the time. Plans are not something that are carved in stone, they’re not going to change, we need to be very flexible, when it comes to a plan and make decisions based on what we’re finding out with new information along the way. On

Trevor Connor  1:06:56

that note, I can tell you from experience, when I first started coaching, I would map out the entire season plan for my athletes. And after about 567 years, I got more in the habit of first I’d map out the base phase and I map out the early season phase. And I’d kind of map out a month or two at a time and one of my athletes asked me about that and said, Trevor, you’re getting lazy, you’re procrastinating. Why are you doing that used to map out the whole season. And I went look back at those past years when I coach to look at the original season plan that I put together and look at what it looked like by June, whatever I had put together in December for July and August and September was nothing were anywhere close to what we actually ended up doing. I’d completely end up throwing out the second half of that that season plan and building a new one. So I said, you know, there was no point in building that far out because as you said, the season change things change with the athlete. So I just found it was better to build the season plan a couple of months at a time and see where the athletes at. I don’t know if that’s the right approach or not. But just what I found, Joe, what’s what’s your feeling? It seems like that’s in line with what you’re saying.

Joe Friel  1:08:09

Very wise, man, Trevor, that’s a good way of looking at it. I started doing this back in the 80s designing training plans for athletes. And I always laid out everything in somewhat details not down to the exact thing we’re going to do in within a workout. But I’d lay it out for the entire season. But you know, I always did it in pencil. This is before computers, I always did in pencil because I knew it was going to change and I never had an athlete and all those years of coaching, who had their training plan unchanged. By the end of the season, it went exactly as planned. And it never happened not once and I can’t tell you how many athletes I’ve coached hundreds, but never did it wind up being the plan and by the time the season is over. So again, always vessel always landed for races, they’ve you know, they catch the flu, they have a business trip, they’re going to take someplace for a week or whatever it is going to happen. People have things in their lives all the time, we all do. And because of that the plant has to change the plan cannot be carved in stone. And it’s something you do without variation from now until the last race of the season. Well, I think

Grant Holicky  1:09:17

this is all really good stuff. And I couldn’t agree with you guys more like obviously this is the heart and soul of the things that I like to do.

Trevor Connor  1:09:27

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Grant Holicky  1:09:53

The big question I think I’d like to ask going forward is we’ve talked a lot about where we can have it there. energist to using Block Periodization or disadvantages to using it, I’d like to get into how we can practically apply this, like, is there a place that we can do this? And I think for me one of the things and Trevor was interesting to see, you know that with the Sadler study earlier, one of the places that I really like to use this is with high end work. And it’s another thing that you notice that it’s this is mostly with my professional athletes, but they know it’s coming, we know we’re going to do it, we’re going to put a lot of emphasis and effort into it. And then we’re just going to turn it loose, and they know they’re going to get a break afterwards. So that’s one place that I use it. Where do you see this being used, I

Joe Friel  1:10:39

can see it being used with really high performance athletes, the elite athlete, that’s that’s where it’s going to be used this got it, it’s got to be done with somebody who’s got a coach who’s handy to the athlete on a regular basis, daily basis is preferable, almost hourly, while the workout is going on. And the post workout period. So if the athlete is being monitored, you really can’t leave it to the athlete late to make decisions during a workout. So they’ve got to be if if a coach can’t be there, the athlete has to be given some what ifs? What if you feel very tired? Or if you’re doing intervals? What if the power drops? 10%? Whatever it may be? What if this happens? What do we do, then? That’s the sort of questions that an athlete has to be able to answer. And having the coach there solves the problem. If the coach isn’t there, then the athlete needs to be empowered to make decisions. Based on some help, they’ve been given probably by the coach on how to go about doing this, I find very few athletes who are willing to make those decisions or even know how to make those kinds of decisions. So the coach is critical to that athletes success on that particular day. And that particular workout, because the coach can make those decisions that probably the athlete is not going to make.

Trevor Connor  1:11:58

Yeah, and I just gotta throw one other thing in there, which is, I think, if you’re doing a true Block Periodization, and you’re doing this sort of high intensity, if you’re an elite athlete that you need to do to produce those gains. This is also something that’s very hard to do alone, either having your coach there or better yet, having training partners that you can do it with, to really drive you I think is important, you know, I’ve gone through some of these blocks myself, and I can tell you, most of the time I got through it, because there was somebody else with their tongue hanging out just as much as me, and neither one of us was going to be the first one to quit. And that was the only reason we got.

Grant Holicky  1:12:36

Yeah, that definitely helps in this setting, right? Having other people that you’re going to go and be able to suffer with and be able to get up on a daily basis, okay, we’re gonna go do it again. Okay, we’re gonna go to it again, like you need that kind of support or team environment to be able to do that, you know, one place I see this working has mentioned that before is is a bit of a combination piece, right? We were using, I’m using with my athletes, these blocks that fit in around their racing, or around their other pieces of their schedule going okay, we haven’t touched this in a while, because we couldn’t we raise six weekends in a row. So now we’re going to touch some base, and we’re going to spend some time there. Or, you know, we haven’t hit any high end. So we’re going to put some emphasis into that. I think personally looking at this and exclusively doing Block Periodization, for the typical athlete is just pretty Elite Dangerous, there’s just a really, really good chance that you’re going to overtrain, you’re going to put yourself in a pretty big hole.

Joe Friel  1:13:37

You know, this is this is a type of periodization I don’t believe I’ve ever used it with any athlete. And I’ve been coaching for a long time, a lot of good athletes. And I’ve always been just a little bit hesitant to do it. Because of coaching at all. All the athletes I’ve coached with very few exceptions have been long distance coaching. That’s why turning fix camp out. It’s like a coach athletes without going to be there, hand in hand with them. But the athletes got to be able to make decisions. And if the athlete is not the type who can make those decisions, then it’s better off to do something different. So I’ve tend to stay away from this type. I have stayed away from it over the over many years. Not that it’s not a good way of charging an athlete, I think it’s extremely good way of turning an athlete. But it raises lots and lots of issues and lots of questions about how are we going to do this most important being? How do I make decisions on a daily basis if I’m not there?

Trevor Connor  1:14:29

So we’ve been having a good conversation here. We are definitely overtime, which I don’t mind because it’s been a great conversation. But Joe, I think we’re I would like to finish this out. You have made it very clear that this is not something that an amateur or masters athlete should be considering or at least if they’re considering that they should be really given some thought to whether this is the best approach for them. So my question to you is what would you rack mand as an alternative to that masters athlete to that amateur athlete, what sort of approach do you think is the way they should be going?

Joe Friel  1:15:09

Most athletes will do really well, just by following a traditional linear periodization, the most common has been used cash for, I don’t know, something like 60 years, something like that this type of training has been around, there have been world champions, Olympians, people at all levels have achieved extremely high performance using that type of training. And it’s relatively simple to follow. It just requires you to do certain basic things and follow them for a long period of time. The bottom line, I would say, I guess, is if if you have a full time job, you’re probably better off not doing Block Periodization you’re better off doing some other form of periodization. And I was recommended, if you’re not a sports science, just follow a linear, traditional periodization plan. And you should do fine with that. Great.

Trevor Connor  1:15:58

Well, guys, I think it’s time to start closing this out. You both know how we finish out with our one minute take home messages. Joe, I have a feeling we know what yours is. But we’ll let you go first. What do you feel is the most important message here for our listeners? Well,

Joe Friel  1:16:14

it’s basically what I just said, the most most basic thing here is that you’ve got us knowledge of what you’re doing before you do Block Periodization is really not cut out for for most athletes, it is very complicated. It takes somebody who knows what they’re doing. And it’s sort of thing that better off having a coach lay this out for you, especially a coach who’s very experienced with this and knows how to work with the athlete, especially long distance to make sure it works out correctly. And the bottom line is, is I’ve said here a couple times already in this conversation, is if you have a full time job and you have a family, it’s probably not for you. It’s probably designed for that person who has neither of those things. He’s full time athlete, very few age group rallies can say that.

Trevor Connor  1:16:59

Grant, you have any thoughts here?

Grant Holicky  1:17:01

Well, I think my big takeaway is I agree with just about everything Joe just said, I think one of the big takeaways for me is, and I’m always big on harping on this, how you rest and where you rest, I think we get so enamored with a load that we don’t talk enough about the unload, and that’s where the compensation happens. So with Block Periodization, I think the danger for so many athletes and coaches that are looking to use this is are we doing a good job at the onload? Are we doing a good job at the compensation phase? And how are we using that? Well, so for me with it, and I wouldn’t call what I do with it a Block Periodization. But I do think there’s value in taking short periods to focus on one piece that’s been ignored for a long time, for whatever reason. And that’s where I look at it, but with the right usage of unloading and compensating after that period. Right? Well,

Trevor Connor  1:18:03

what’s interesting is the part of this conversation I enjoyed the most was actually the second half, where we actually went way off script, we went off of the the outline and started having, to me a really fascinating conversation that just raised some thoughts that I had never had before. So Joe, I mean, that always happens with you. And I appreciate that. And what I got from you is the fact that I don’t think there’s anything particularly magical about periodization, I don’t think it’s a case of you have to periodized or you’re never going to get anywhere close to your best form. I think an athlete whose experience working with a good coach can go day by day and get to the same place can get to their peak fitness. So what I got out of this is probably the greatest value of periodized in and I’m not gonna be one of those people who’s anti periodization, I think you should use as a matter of fact, I think when you’re talking about a Masters athlete who has a life and a job and all these other things to think about, probably the greatest value of periodization is having a structure. Because you can’t spend every day analyzing your workouts and figuring out what’s best the next day, and spending 30 minutes on the phone with your coach discussing the options. You don’t have a lot of time to think about it. So having a plan, having that structure so that you know, tomorrow, I shouldn’t go out and kill myself tomorrow. So just be continuing to be easy. And that’s what I’m doing for the next few weeks. And then I’ll get into my high intensity once March comes along. Just something like that to give you that guidance that can be flexible is probably the greatest value that you’re getting out of this. It just guides you. It directs you. Well, guys. Thanks a lot. Always a pleasure.

Joe Friel  1:19:50

I have fun, Trevor grant. Thank you.

Grant Holicky  1:19:52

It was good to see you again. Joe. Thanks for coming on.

Trevor Connor  1:19:55

That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always, we love your feedback. Tweet us @fasttalklabs or join the conversation at You can also learn from our experts at For Joe Friel, Dr. Paul Larson, Rob Pickels, Starla Tedder Green, Robin Carpenter, and Grant Holicky, I’m Trevor Connor. Thanks for listening!