Louis-Alexis Gratton |
Periodization for Powerlifting
In previous installments, we’ve exposed the concept of periodization, first through its classical model and then its more recent and refined block model. With the basics in place, it’s now time to tackle on periodization specifically for powerlifting.
The first thing to do when attempting to design intelligent training for a sport is to look at the biomotor abilities needed to perform said sport.
The first thing to do when attempting to design intelligent training for a sport is to look at the biomotor abilities needed to perform said sport. With powerlifting, where your ultimate goal is to lift the most amount of weight possible for one repetition in the squat, bench press and deadlift, the answer is pretty straightforward: maximal strength.
Maximal strength is influenced by neurological factors (mainly motor units recruitment, rate coding and synchronization as well as neuromuscular inhibition) and morphological factors (muscle fiber type and degree of hypertrophy). From there we can propose that, to train for maximal strength, we need to:
- Develop muscle mass;
- Improve neurological factors in newly gain muscle mass.
As we said previously, our preferred way to organize training here at Montreal Powerhouse is through the block periodization model. As you might recall, in this model, training is divided into stages, which are further broken up into three blocks: accumulation, transmutation and realization. The accumulation block is used to develop a base, with high volume and low specificity training; the transmutation block builds on that base through the use of sport-specific training, with higher intensity and reduced volume; and the realization block is used for peaking  through very low volume but high intensity, with the competition being modelled, either in full or in part.
With this information, we can now design a three block training stage for maximal strength, which would look like this:
- A hypertrophy block, which includes mainly variations of the competition lifts as well as various exercises for the supporting musculature. Reps should be kept within the 6 to 12 range, with intensities ranging from 60% to 75% of 1RM.
- A strength block, which includes mainly the competition lifts and some close variations. Reps here should stay in the 1 to 6 range, with intensities ranging from 75% to 90% of 1RM.
- A peaking block, which includes the competition lifts and minimal variation, with reps staying in the 1 to 3 range and intensities ranging from 85% to 100% of 1RM. This block would normally conclude with a competition.
The hypertrophy block will build a foundation for the upcoming strength work in the strength and peaking blocks, where neural factors like motor unit recruitment but especially synchronization and rate coding  will be improved. As you can see, the stage as a whole shows a pretty simple progression, with a lot of exercises variations with light weights and higher reps at the beginning, slowly going towards only the competition lifts with heavy weights and low reps at the end.
Depending on circumstances it might even be prudent to alternate between hypertrophy and strength blocks without peaking.
In the conventional block periodization model, the accumulation and transmutation blocks each last around four weeks, while the realization block has a shorter length of two weeks on average. In powerlifting, where the abilities trained are drastically limited, the duration of these blocks can be lengthened to an average of six weeks for the hypertrophy and strength blocks and four weeks for the peaking block. Note that these durations can vary a lot according to the timing of competitions throughout the year. Depending on circumstances it might even be prudent to alternate between hypertrophy and strength blocks without peaking, especially for beginner lifters or those on a long off-season, while more advanced lifters competing more frequently might benefit from doing only strength and peaking blocks.
While a very general overview, we hope this series has helped you gain a better understanding of training organisation for optimal sports performance. For further readings on the subject, the following books are strongly recommended:
- Bompa, Tudor.Periodization Training for Sports, 2nd edition. 2005, Human Kinetics.
- Bompa, Tudor. Periodization, 5th Edition. 2009, Human Kinetics.
- Bondarchuck, Anatoliy P. Transfer of Training in Sports, Vol. II. 2010, Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
- Bondarchuck, Anatoliy P. Transfer of Training in Sports. 2010, Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
- Israetel, Mike & Al. Scientific Principles of Strength Training. 2015, Self-Published.
- Issurin, Vladimir. Block Periodization 2 : Fundamental Concepts and Training Design. 2008, Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
- Issurin, Vladimir. Block Periodization: Breakthrough in Sport Training. 2008, Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
- Kurz, Thomas. Science of Sports Training: How to Plan and Control Training for Peak Performance, 2nd edition. 2001, Stadion.
- Zatsiorsky, Vladimir & Kraemer, William. Science and Practice of Strength Training, 2nd edition. 2006, Human Kinetics.
-  Attaining the best sport-specific performance at the appropriate moment, usually on the day of the competition. ↑
-  Blocks taxonomy derived from Mike Israetel and Al.’s book, Scientific Principles of Strength Training (2015). ↑
-  Schoenfeld, Brad. Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy. 2016, Human Kinetics. P.07 ↑