elitefts™ Sunday edition

An Interview with Vladimir Issurin

YJ: What is the history of the block periodization concept, and how has it evolved into what it is today?

VI: The initial attempts to design block periodized training were already fulfilled in the early 1980's by prominent coaches mostly in individual sports such as swimming, canoeing, and track and field. These innovations were initially concerned with the inability of athletes to take part successfully in many competitions following a traditional periodization plan. Another important reason was the unsatisfactory progression that athletes were making during multi-targeted mixed training. The prominent coaches and researchers noticed that traditional mixed training produced conflicting training responses and excessive fatigue. At that time, I was working with the USSR canoe-kayak national team, which executed a huge volume of training workloads. Together with the head coach, Vassili Kaverin, we elaborated on a revised version of an annual plan that was implemented into the national team’s preparation. A bit later (1985) we published the first paper (of course in Russian), which afterward was translated into many languages.

At the same time, similar renovations were performed in other sports. Namely, the great track and field coach, Anatoli Bondarchuk, created the original block periodized plan for hammer throwers, which certainly was very different from our design. However, the general idea was similar—to provide a high concentration of sport-specific exercises and avoid conflicting responses of non-compatible training workloads. Thus, the first publications devoted to block periodized training were released in 1985 (Issurin, Kaverin) and in 1986 (Bondarchuk). During the last decade, the term “block” became very popular and widely used. It usually means “the training cycle of highly concentrated specialized workloads.” The current situation with block periodization is paradoxical. On the one hand, this is a reality of contemporary sport. However, on the other hand, very few publications can be found where the curious readers can learn what it is.

YJ: How long have you been working with this idea and developing your new book on the subject?

VI: As I said previously, the idea and common approach were generated in the early 1980's and the first paper was published in 1985. The further specifications, clarifications, and approvals took another 6–7 years. Since 2002, I’ve published papers elucidating the block periodization concept, and they were released in Russian, German, Italian, Lithuanian, and later in English. In fact, these publications were the precursors for the entire book. I instantly started to write a book in English even though my writing skills were far from complete and my work was moving slowly. Another point is that during this time period, I was deeply involved in preparing high performance athletes. Thus, many positions were updated and described more accurately. The total time span for writing the book was about four years.

YJ: For the layperson, could you explain the difference between block periodization and classical periodization as developed by Lev Matveyev?

VI: In a few words, the difference concerns the backgrounds of the training theories. The so called “classic periodization” presupposes the division of the annual cycle into relatively long periods of complex, mixed training where the athletes develop many abilities simultaneously. In this case, augmentation of training stimulation is obtained mostly with the increase of the workloads magnitude. As a result, the training volumes of world class athletes reached an enormous level in the 1980's.

The block periodization system presupposes the administration of highly concentrated workloads directed to a minimal number of abilities, or targets within relatively short training cycles, in training blocks. Thus, each block is focused on the proper combination of athletic abilities, which are developing mostly consecutively but not concurrently. The benefits of block periodization are associated with more selective and highly concentrated training stimulation such as possibilities to design multi-peak preparations, reasonable reductions of total training volume, and possibilities to avoid negative interactions between restrictedly or non-compatible training workloads.

YJ: In the book, you show divisions of different abilities such as strength, speed, and endurance. How would you subdivide things such as different types of strength (i.e. maximal strength, explosive strength)? How would you arrange them sequentially?

VI: The block periodization concept assumes the subdivision of athletic abilities into “basic” and “specific” ones. The basic abilities usually contain general endurance, muscle strength, and basic coordination for certain sports. The basic abilities are the targets in proper mesocycle blocks termed “accumulation.” The specific abilities relate to any kind of sport-specific endurance, sport-specific strength (including explosive strength), and event-specific skills. They are concentrated in another mesocycle block termed “transmutation.” The third type of mesocycle blocks are focused on full recuperation, maximal speed, and event-specific tactics (including all technical demands). They are coined “realization.” The realization block should be finalized with competition or at least some trials. This is the general concept, which, of course, should be creatively adapted to sport-specific requirements.

YJ: Will using this concept affect the content or frequency of a workout or simply how they are scheduled?

VI: As the training system, the block periodization affects any links of the athletic preparation. The book contains special chapters devoted to designing workouts (training sessions). The main difference from the traditional approach concerns the accentuation of training workloads on the athletic abilities targeted for this block. The properly selected “development workouts” offer athletes a highly concentrated program where special attention should be given to compatible combinations of workloads in order to avoid conflicting training responses. The system gives the coach much freedom in length and frequency of several workouts but postulates distinct demands to structuring the content.

YJ: Is this concept limited to only high-level athletes or can it be implemented earlier?

VI: The block training is proposed mostly for high performance athletes because the traditional multi-targeted mixed programs provide the low-level athletes with sufficient training stimuli for their progression. However, I know a number of examples in different sports (sailing, swimming, rowing) where the block periodized programs were successfully implemented into the preparation of youngsters. In any case, several approaches can be recommended for low-level athletes such as designing the final stage preparation for targeted competition.

YJ: What kinds of performance improvements have been observed at the world class level with athletes using the concepts in your book?

VI: My knowledge and expertise have been mostly concerned with coaches and athletes who were under my supervision or whom I collaborated with. The first well-documented great successes belong to the USSR canoe-kayak national team that earned three gold and three silver medals in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and eight and nine gold medals, respectively, in the World Championships of 1989 and 1990. Since this period, the great swimming coach, Gennadi Touretski, has implemented properly modified block periodized programs into the preparation of the best Russian and Australian swimmers. The swimmers coached by Touretski (i.e. Alexander Popov, Russia) and Michael Klim (Australia) attained fantastic results in the Olympic Games of 1992 and 1996 and a number of world records. The world famous track and field coach and scientist, Anatoli Bondarchuk (who actually lives in Canada), has elaborated his proper version of block periodized training, and his athletes became the gold, silver, and bronze medal winners in the hammer throw at the 1988 Olympic Games.

During the last decade, I have received many reports on successful implementation of block periodized training in different sports. Some of the world recognized coaches and athletes who have used the block periodized plans sent me their positive feedback, and these testimonials are presented in the book.