Smashing through your training block

January 21, 2013



Many cyclists spend week after week, month after month doing the same kind of training over and over expecting to keep improving indefinitely. When their improvements begin to slow down, they start asking questions why all those hours spent in the saddle are not translating into speed on the road. The key to continual improvement is breaking down your training plan into stages.  Periodization is the process of breaking up your training schedule around your goals based on different phases of training. Just like you don’t start baking a cake by making the icing first; you must build your performance foundations before you can start building up the layers.

Periodization involves identifying the key races and rides you want to perform well in and working back through the months and setting yourself a training plan. There are two types of periodization plans, mixed training and block training. Mixed periodization mixes different types of rides throughout your training phase and is probably most similar to what most people do. The week is split into hard rides and easy rides during your training cycle, generally a week. Block block periodization focuses on completing one training phase before moving on to the next stage. This would involve spending one period riding easy with the next period hard etc. Norwegian scientists recently conducted research to determine the benefits of both mixed and block periodization to your performance, and which if any is better?

The study

During a 12-week training period, eight cyclists trained using block periodization where in every fourth week they performed high intensity training for five sessions. They repeated this over the 12-week period, performing only one high intensity training session in the three weeks between the hard weeks. The second group of seven cyclists trained normally for 12 weeks with two high intensity-training sessions each week for the 12-week period. In between the high intensity sessions, both groups performed low intensity sessions to keep total training volumes similar.

Results

After the 12-week period, the group who performed block training improved more than the mixed periodization group in a maximum exertion test to measure oxygen uptake (VO2 Max test). The block group improved by 8.8% while the mixed group improved by 3.7%. Furthermore, the block group achieved higher power outputs at a given fatigue level (as measured by blood lactate levels) of 22% vs 10% for the mixed group.

Conclusion

The study suggested that block training was better than mixed training due to extended ‘easy’ periods, giving your body more time to recover between the high intensity sessions, leading to faster body adaptations. While any structured training is better than no structure, it appears that block periodization is superior.



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