Q: I’ve heard that adding a killer training week before my next race could boost my performance. Is this type of workout right for me?
A: If you’re asking this question, chances are your workout schedule consists of alternating days of hard and easy workouts—with every aspect of fitness crammed into each session. For many people, this type of traditional training helps them maintain a certain level of fitness.
If you’re stuck on a plateau, though, something called block periodization (the method at the root of the “killer training week”) could be exactly what you need to improve your race times. It’s a great way “to really change your methods of fitness up,” says Scott Synold, Personal Training Manager at Crunch Gym in Miami and trainer for the 84-mile Extreme Jungle Marathon in the Amazon Jungle.
So how does block periodization work? The details are tough to cover in a short space, but here are the basics:
- Training is broken into blocks, which can be as short as a few workouts, or as long as six weeks.
- Each block focuses on one aspect of fitness, such as strength, power, or performance. Even as you work one area, though, the others will still benefit.
- The pre-race block mimics the conditions of your upcoming race, including the length, terrain, and weather (as much as possible).
In each block, you “max out every workout for a short period of time,” says Synold. Basically, you push so hard in one area of fitness that your performance suffers in the short term. When your body rebounds, though, you’ll have broken through the plateau that’s been holding you back.
And while block periodization is more than just a single week of hard workouts, there’s some research to show how cranking up your effort for a few days can improve your performance. A 2012 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that cyclists who did five consecutive days of hard workouts every four weeks had “moderate superior” performance. This was compared to cyclists using the traditional method of alternating hard and easy workouts.
So how do you use block periodization for your training? “It’s going to be a specific goal for each individual,” said Synold. If you’re training for a 10K run, your blocks will build to that race. This is completely different than what’s needed for an adventure race.
What’s more: you need a solid fitness foundation, because killer training sessions are likely to make you “so sore that you won’t be able to work out until Thursday or Friday of next week anyway,” said Synold.
For best results, talk to a personal trainer, who can help you come up with a plan that works for you and your goals.
MF EXPERT: Scott Synold is Personal Training Manager at Crunch Gym in Miami and a trainer for the 84-mile Extreme Jungle Marathon in the Amazon Jungle. He has been a personal trainer since 1999.