POWER BLOCK PERIODIZATION – PBP
How many times have you seen advertisements that claim to have found the “Ultimate Training Program!”? Claims like these are easy to make but hard to back up. In fact they are impossible to back up because what the creators of these plans don’t want to tell you is that there is no “best” training program. Some programs and training styles are definitely better than others but in the end a training program must meet the needs of the person utilizing it.
As a coach I have worked with bodybuilders at all levels and one thing is clear, bodybuilders often misunderstand how to manage the variables in their training. For those that are looking to make muscular size their highest priority there are certain principles that an effective program must include. As a result, several years ago I put together a style of training call Power Block Periodization that I could tailor for my own clients.
PBP is a form of non-linear periodization combined with block periodization. This program is not entirely unlike Power Hypertrophy Adaptive Training (PHAT) but there are some notable differences. This type of training focuses on progressive overload in the heavy compound movements as well as a varying rep ranges and loads to provide continued progress. Before we get into the program let’s look at the important factors that are controlled and periodized during this type of training.
Related Article: 7 Common Training Myths
Related Article: 5 Tips For A Bigger Bench
Related Free Plan: Free Workout Plan
Training frequency is often overlooked as an important factor in continued strength training progress. Many bodybuilders simply train each body part once per week and think nothing of it. Big mistake! A higher frequency approach will bring about much faster and effective growth. Think about this, we have all seen guys in the gym that bench press and curl every single day. We laugh at them because they always have tiny legs, but they very often have good development in their chest and biceps. This is because of the frequency with which they train them. Now, training a body part 7 days per week is not optimal, but you will still grow.
I realize that many bodybuilders will instantly scream “overtraining” when you try to tell them to train a body part more than once per week, but the idea that training a body part more than once per week will lead to overtraining is simply not true. Overtraining is typically more of a systemic problem that takes place due to more volume than the body can recover from over a period of time. Not usually an issue that is of concern for a localized muscle group.
In fact, research has proven that once a body part is trained, protein synthesis levels will increase for only 24-48 hours. Protein synthesis will typically max out at around 24 hours post training and drop off quickly from there (Duncan MacDougall, et al 1995) . Most of the time protein synthesis rates are back to baseline by about 36 hours post training. This means that most of the growth you will see from a workout will be had within the first 24 hours after training. This means if you are only training a body part once per week then there about 5.5 days in which you are having no significant growth.
With PBP training you will actually train every body part 8 times over every 3 week period. This is obviously a high frequency of training. At first this frequency of training will seem taxing but your body will adjust and after a few weeks it will not seem overwhelming at all.
Muscular growth is a complex process that is affected by many factors, but there is one factor that is king when it comes to continued long term progress. This is progressive overload. Progressive overload says that you must lift heavier weight for more reps over time. Progressive overload is not a new concept. For decades the research has suggested that increased tension development is the critical factor in initiating compensatory growth (Goldberg, et al 1975).
Muscle hypertrophy is simply an adaptive process by the human body. To induce this adaptation you must give the body a REASON to adapt. The number one reason that the body will build new muscle is to handle ever increasing demands placed on it in the form of ever increasing weight for ever increasing repetitions. Inducing an adaptation is not always easy.
Power Block Periodization is heavily focused on making continued strength gains. When an individual’s strength limit is reached, the program will then cycle in a load reduction followed by a slow progression upward once again.
Rep ranges play a vital role in muscle growth. The rep range used in training will have different effects on muscle growth and how the body uses different energy pathways. For training program to truly maximize muscle growth it must utilize a wide variety of rep ranges. In PBP training you will work within a wide range of repititions. Let’s examine how varying rep ranges dictate muscle hypertrophy.
Low reps are usually categorized as reps in the 1-5 range. It is often said that low reps will stimulate fast twitch muscle fibers while high reps stimulate the slow twitch muscle fibers. This is yet another false fact about rep ranges. The truth is that low reps will stimulate ALL muscle fibers from slow to intermediate to fast and everything in between. The body calls fibers into play on an as needed basis in order from slow to intermediate to fast. When a load is placed on a muscle, the slow twitch fibers will be recruited first. If the slow twitch fibers cannot generate enough force to lift the weight then the body will call the intermediate fibers into action. If the slow and intermediate fibers cannot handle the weight or tire out then the fast twitch fibers will finally be recruited. When fibers are recruited they are never recruited half way or partially. When a fiber contracts, it will contract maximally (Saladin, 2007), so this means when you lift a heavy load you will fully stimulate slow and intermediate muscle fibers.
Low reps are also effective for stimulating myofibrillar hypertrophy. Myofibrillar hypertrophy is an increase in the number and size of the actin and myosin filaments within muscle tissue. This type of hypertrophy is accompanied by strength gains since it involves an increase in the contractile tissue (Zatsiorsky, 2006). This is important because, as discussed above, progressive overload is one of the primary necessities for continued long term growth. So you can see that very heavy weight for low reps is vitally important for maximum growth.
This rep range is typically defined as the 6-12 rep range. Moderate rep ranges have consistently been proven in study after study to lead to the greatest amount of growth. The reason that this rep range is so effective for building muscle is because it does a little bit a everything. This means that it provides many of the benefits of low rep training combined with the benefits high rep training by allowing for relatively heavy loads to be used while increasing time under tension. The heavy loads allow for myofibrillar protein synthesis to take place which, as discussed, will increase the size of the contractile proteins. The increased time under tension will stimulate sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is an increase of the sarcoplasm and other non-contractile proteins within muscle cells and is primarily induced by lifting light loads for higher reps. This type of growth, although not typically accompanied by any strength gains, is the primary reason why bodybuilders tend to be more muscular than strength and power athletes.
Moderate rep training also induces an excellent muscle pump. While the pump is often thought of as a short-term training effect, it may possibly result in greater growth. Studies show that cellular swelling causes both an increase in protein synthesis and a decrease in protein breakdown (Grant et al., 2000; Stoll et al., 1992; Millar et al., 1997).
So while low reps with heavy weight is best at stimulating myofibrillar hypertrophy, and high reps with light weight is best at stimulating sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, moderate reps seem to strike a balance between inducing significant amounts of both myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. The proven track record of the moderate rep range makes it so that it cannot be ignored in your training routine.
High reps are usually considered to be any set that contains 15 reps or more. There are many that argue, since low reps stimulate all the muscle fibers and moderate reps induce sarcoplasmic protein synthesis, that there is really no need to do high rep sets. At first this sounds like sound reasoning, but it leaves out one very important factor. This important factor is the effect of glycogen on protein synthesis.
Glycogen is essentially stored carbohydrate within muscle tissue. Glycogen is hydrophillic, it causes muscles to swell since every gram of glycogen stores 2.7 grams of water along with it (Chan et al. 1982) . I know many of your are thinking, "why would I want my muscles packed with water?" Besides the fact that this added water will increase the size of your muscles, it will also increase protein synthesis. Many people do not realize that cellular hydration is an extremely strong anabolic trigger. Protein synthesis is often directly related to a muscles cells state of hydration. In response to increased cellular hydration, the cell initiates a signalling cascade that causes the muscle to grow larger to protect itself.
So what does this all have to do with high rep training? High rep training will drastically deplete glycogen stores. At first this may sound counter-productive but the body will react to this depletion by increasing muscular glycogen stores. In the long run this will allow cells to stretch and lead to greater overall muscle growth and release of anabolic hormones.
In addition to all of the above benefits, greater occlusion is associated with higher rep training. This prevents blood from leaving the area being trained, which can induce growth through increases in growth factor production and possibly satellite cell fusion (Vierck et al., 2000).
Now that we have taken a close look at some of the important factors that make up this type of training, let’s get down to it. Here is Power Block Periodization:
Day 1 – Whole Body Power Lifting
Day 2 – Chest, Triceps, Abs (OPTIONAL OFF DAY IF IT IS NEEDED)
Day 3 – Legs, Delts
Day 4 – Back, Traps, Biceps
Day 5 – Chest, Triceps, Abs
Day 6 – Legs, Delts
Day 7 – OFF
Day 8 – Whole Body Power Lifting
Day 9 – Back, Traps, Biceps (OPTIONAL OFF DAY IF IT IS NEEDED)
Day 10 – Chest, Triceps, Abs
Day 11 – Legs, Delts
Day 12 – Back, Traps, Biceps
Day 13 – Chest, Triceps, Abs
Day 14 – OFF
Day 15- Whole Body Power Lifting
Day 16 – Legs, Delts (OPTIONAL OFF DAY IF IT IS NEEDED)
Day 17 – Back, Traps, Biceps
Day 18 – Chest, Triceps, Abs
Day 19 – Legs, Delts
Day 20 – Back, Traps, Biceps
Day 21 – OFF
*Standard = Block Training Days
*Bolded = Powerlifting Days
I have provided a three week sample to show that you will not be training the same body parts on the same day each week. The cycle repeats after three weeks. You will also notice that I have the days marked as power days and block training days. This will determine how many reps you perform on those days. Let’s examine each type of day individually.
When starting this plan you will want to know your 1 rep max (1RM) or at least an estimated 1RM for your squat, bench press, and deadlift. Once you determine these numbers you will want to subtract 10-12kg (20-25 lbs) from your 1RM and use that as your starting max for the program. This will allow you to build momentum for the first 5 weeks or so. For example, if you can squat 137kg (300lbs) then your 1RM to start this plan will be 125kg (275lbs) for your starting calculations.
Here is how you will perform your squat, bench press, and your deadlift each week.
Squat – 2×5 70% max, 2×3 80% max, 1×1 90% max, 1x as many reps as you can complete) 90% max
Bench – 2×5 70% max, 2×3 80% max, 1×1 90% max, 1x as many reps as you can complete) 90% max
Deadlift – 2×5 70% max, 2×3 80% max, 1×1 90% max, 1x as many reps as you can complete) 90% max
On your last set you will attempt to complete as many reps as possible while not hitting failure. If you are able to complete 3 reps or more on your last set, the following week you should then add 5 lbs. to your 1RM and recalculate your numbers. If you ever fail to complete 3 reps on your last set then you simply use the same numbers for the following week. If you fail to accomplish 3 reps on your last set for a 2nd time, then you are to lower your 1RM by 20 lbs. and recalculate the following week. This is a continuous cycle.
Powerlifting days will also include some assistance moves. These are only meant for assistance to add additional work to your weakest areas. You can choose 4 body parts to allow for assistance work but no more. These should be your 4 weakest areas. Here are the options along with example exercises.
Shoulders: DB Overhead Press or Clean and Press
Back: BB Row or Pull Ups
Chest: DB Incline Press or Barbell Decline Press
Biceps: BB Curl or DB Curl
Triceps: Dips or Skullcrushers
Quadriceps: Leg Extension
Hamstring: Leg Curl or Glute Ham Raise
Abdominals: Weighted Sit Ups or Machine Crunch
All assistance moves should be performed for 2-4 sets in the 4-6 rep range.
BLOCK TRAINING DAYS
Block training days are done in a more “typical bodybuilding fashion”. These days your rep ranges will progress after every 9th block training workout. See below.
1st Nine Block Training Workouts – 5-7 reps on all movements
2nd Nine Block Training Workouts – 8-10 reps on all movements
3rd Nine Block Training Workouts – 10-15 reps on all movements
4th Nine Block Training Workouts – 15-30 reps on all movements
So in the 3 week example split I laid out you will perform 5-7 reps on your Block Training Days 1-12, but starting on Day 13 through Day 24 you will begin performing all of your sets in the 8-10 rep range and so on.
The amount of volume used on the block days should be set for the individual. So you will want to give more volume to areas where you are less developed and less volume to areas where you are more developed. For each block periodization workout you will want between 7-15 sets for each body part. For your weaker areas you will need more sets, and stronger areas stick with fewer sets.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
So now that we have the info of how to run each day, I will lay out a template for the first 4 days as an example. Please note that the reps ranges on block training days will be subject to which block section you are on. For the example I use the first block of 5-7 reps. Also, exercises and numbers of sets per body part should be tailored for the individual.
Day 1 (whole body power lifting)
- Squat- 2×5 70% max, 2×3 80% max, 1×1 90% max, 1x as many reps as you can complete @ 90% max
- Bench- 2×5 70% max, 2×3 80% max, 1×1 90% max, 1x as many reps as you can complete @ 90% max
- Deadlift- 2×5 70% max, 2×3 80% max, 1×1 90% max, 1x as many reps as you can complete @ 90% max
- Assistance Back movement: Barbell Row (3 sets of 4-6 reps)
- Assistance Quadriceps movement: Leg Extension (3 sets of 4-6 reps)
- Assistance Biceps movement: Barbell Curl (2 sets of 4-6 reps)
- Assistance Triceps movement: Weighted Dips (2 sets of 4-6 reps)
Day 2 (block training 5-7 reps- chest/triceps/abdominals)
- Chest pressing movement: DB Incline Press (5 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Chest pressing movement: Hammer Strength Chest Press (4 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Chest isolation movement: Pec Dec Machine (4 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Triceps movement: DB Skullcrushers (4 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Triceps movement: Cable Pushdown (4 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Abdominal movement: Cable Crunch (4 sets of 5-7 reps)
Day 3 (block training 5-7 reps- legs/delts)
- Squatting movement: Below Parallel Box Squat or Sumo Squat (4 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Pressing movement (legs): Leg Press or Lunges (3 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Quadriceps movement: Leg Extension(4 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Hamstring Curling movement: Machine Hamstring Curl or DB Romanian Deadlift (3 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Shoulder pressing movement: DB Overhead Press (3 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Medial Deltoid movement: DB Lateral (5 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Posterior Deltoid movement: Reverse Pec Dec Machine or Bend DB Lateral (3 sets of 5-7 reps)
Day 4 (block training 5-7 reps- back/traps/biceps)
- Back rowing movement: T-Bar Row (5 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Back pulling movement: Pull Ups or Pull downs (4 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Back pulling movement: Cable Row (4 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Deadlifting movement: Deadlifts or Deficit Deadlifts (3 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Shrugging movement: DB Shrugs (5 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Biceps movement: DB Curl (4 sets of 5-7 reps)
- Biceps movement: Preacher Curl (3 sets of 5-7 reps)
There it is, Power Block Periodization. This can be used as long as you see fit. I recommend taking a deload week once every 8-14 weeks on this type of training as the volume and frequency is rather high and it can be taxing. Remember that this program NEEDS to be tailored for your own needs. Adjust the volume and frequency to favour your weaker areas.
When fighting for every bit of muscle growth, blind hard work will not cut it. Think of muscle growth as a target. When trying to shoot a target you will not just fire blindly in all directions, you must aim to hit your target. Your training program allows you to aim your hard work so that you hit your intended target. Don’t let your hard work be wasted by a failure to aim.
Related Article: 7 Common Training Myths
Related Article: 5 Tips For A Bigger Bench
Related Free Plan: Free Workout Plan
Cliff Wilson (Bodybuilding & Physique Coach)