Cliff Wilson
by Cliff Wilson on 04-02-2013 in Winning Mentality

Power Block Periodization - PBP

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I pace back and forth as I mentally prepare for my last set of squats. I have been dieting for 18 weeks now and I have been able to hold on to my strength levels very well, but with energy levels not what they used to be, I have to muster up even more mental focus during training these days. I get under the bar, unrack the weight, descend into the hole, and drive upward with everything I have. It is a struggle and I am not sure if I have another in me, but I go down for another. I come back up even slower than the first time. My legs are shaking and my head feels like it might pop, but I dip down for one final rep. The rep seems to take forever as I gruelingly inch the weight up, but I get to the top.  Three reps, just as I had planned.


After I finish, a guy approaches me and asks “why are you lifting so heavy? If you are getting ready for a show aren’t you supposed to lift lighter to burn the fat?”. I am still lightheaded from my squats, but I quickly explain to him that lifting with higher reps will not burn fat and that lifting heavy while dieting is important to maintain muscle. He then asks if I ever lift with a higher rep range. I answer his question, which leads to another question, followed by another. Finally I have to politely say I need to get back to training. This is extremely common, not just in the gym but also through the internet. I often get a simple question about training but it never ends with one question. The true problem is that very few bodybuilders know how to properly set up an effective training plan.

So with this blog I am going to lay out one of my favorite training methods called Power Block Periodization (PBP). I came up with Power Block Periodization to ideally cycle load and frequency for effective and continued growth.  I have used this style of training during my own prep as well as some of my top level professional clients during offseason.

PBP is a form of of non-linear periodization combined with block periodization. This program is not entirely unlike the PHAT program 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.

Frequency

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 day. The idea that training a body part more than once per week will lead to overtraining is simply not true. 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.

Progressive Overload

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 adaption 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 more 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 a in a load reduction followed by a slow progression upward once again.

Rep Ranges

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 reputations. Let’s examine how varying rep ranges dictate muscle hypertrophy.

Low Reps

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.

Moderate Reps

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

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 signaling 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 counterproductive 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:

THE SPLIT

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

Bolded= Block Training Days
Red= 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.

POWERLIFTING DAYS

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 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 300lbs. then your 1RM to start this plan will be 275lbs. for your starting calculations.

Here is how you will perform your squat, bench press, and your deadlift each week.

Squat: 2x5 70% max,  2x3 80% max,  1x1 90% max, 1x as many reps as you can complete)  90% max

Bench: 2x5 70% max,  2x3 80% max,  1x1 90% max, 1x as many reps as you can complete)  90% max

Deadlift: 2x5 70% max,  2x3 80% max,  1x1 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 example - DB Overhead Press or Clean and Press
Back examples - BB Row or Pull Ups
Chest examples - DB Incline Press or Barbell Decline Press
Biceps examples - BB Curl or DB Curl
Triceps examples - Dips or Skullcrushers
Quadriceps example - Leg Extension
Hamstring examples - Leg Curl or Glute Ham Raise
Abdominals examples - 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 weaker and less to where you are stronger. 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 - 2x5 70% max,  2x3 80% max,  1x1 90% max, 1x as many reps as you can complete)  90% max

Bench - 2x5 70% max,  2x3 80% max,  1x1 90% max, 1x as many reps as you can complete)  90% max

Deadlift - 2x5 70% max,  2x3 80% max,  1x1 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 Ext.
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 training as the volume and frequency is rather high and it can be taxing.

There are many effective training methods, programs, and periodization plans within bodybuilding. This is another one you can add to your arsenal. I have had great success utilizing this plan myself as well as with my clients so I am sure it will serve you well. If you have been a bit aimless in your training this is your chance to train with a plan and a purpose. There is no magic bullet to muscle growth, just an effective plan and lots of hard work. Here is part of the plan, now it is up to you to provide the hard work. Go CRUSH IT!

  Cliff Wilson

Cliff Wilson began weight training his freshman year of college while playing basketball for Valparaiso University. At 6’1 weighing only 156 lbs. and 14% body fat, he was far from the ideal playing weight so he began weight training to gain muscle. During this time Cliff found a passion for weight training, nutrition, and bodybuilding.

Cliff Wilson is now a competitive natural bodybuilder, top bodybuilding author, and one of the leading contest prep coaches in the country. Cliff's methods of training and nutrition which are based on scientific research and proven with experience have allowed him to train top professional bodybuilders around the world. In recent years Cliff's clients have amassed hundreds of class wins, dozens of pro cards, and several professional titles worldwide.

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