In the previous installments of this series on how we move our athletes through our athletic “blocking” system, I went in-depth on the process of both introducing new lifters to our Block 1 program and taking the next step to Block 2 (novice). I assume that if you are reading this article, you have already read the previous ones and are at least familiar with the “ins and outs” of the program we use and the reasons we use it.
Blocks 0–2 are the most difficult, but most imperative, ranges of development within our sports performance program. In fact, it would be perfectly feasible to stop at Block 2 of our program and run through it for the rest of the student-athlete’s time in your program. Our big “three” core movements for our Block 2’s are the hex bar deadlift, flat bench press, and front squat. Using our Tier 2 strength programming with these movements will continue to yield strength gains.
Our power-based programming would not include the full Olympic movements, but it would include variations such as pulls and loaded jumps. There are many successful programs that utilize variations only on those movements. Your athletes would continue to see positive adaptations from the programming as long as they stayed in the novice program. In fact, I’ve given advice that coincides with this statement many times when asked about programming. For a sport coach who must also program for their athletes and has a shortage of experience and/or time, this would be a perfect way to “keep it simple.”A coach who has their athletes year-round and wants to take them to higher levels of development should use the Block 3 and 4 programs, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
For the coach who has their athletes year-round, particularly in a class setting, and is interested in taking them to higher levels of advancement and development, using Block 3 and Block 4 programs will allow those athletes to access a more “advanced placement” type of program. Just like a classroom teacher who has a class load that includes regular education and honors or AP level courses, the coach who chooses to go down this road will spend considerably more time and effort planning and implementing these levels.
Standards for Promotion to Block 3 ‘Advanced’ Level
We use the same chart for body weight to strength ratio promotion standards for promotion from Block 2 to Block 3 “Advanced” as outlined in my earlier piece for promoting from Block 1 “New Lifter” to Block 2 “Novice.” The differences in the charts are that the percentage of the combined goal must now reach 85% AND the back squat replaces the front squat as the movement that weighs in the total. As you can see, the body weight ratio goal increases with the movement change as well.
Take, for example, a large-framed athlete with a body weight of 200. His chart would look as follows:
This athlete is well above the 85% threshold. If his movement is also mastered, he will be promoted to Block 3. As a reminder, these numbers will be projected 1 rep max totals in lower blocks. In general (there have been individual exceptions), we do not 1RM test our athletes until the end of Block 2 (sophomore) in preparation for transition to Block 3. Until this point, we have projected their maxes off a “plus” set that we do at approximately 86% of their previously predicted 1RM for each of the three main movements. Once our athletes reach these standards, we graduate them to Block 3-Advanced and adjust programming to reflect the progression.
At this point, we also introduce our athletes to the use of our devices. Part of earning promotion to Novice is being awarded the privilege of going from a paper sheet with a workout on it to the use of CoachMePlus on a tablet. This is a step toward the gradual release of coach control to a student-athlete controlled learning model.
It is absolutely imperative that each athlete has mastered each level of our squat progressions BEFORE we even think about a 1RM back squat attempt. This is something that is a non-negotiable for me. While there aren’t many requests I would straight up refuse from a sport coach without a second thought, back squat 1RM testing is one I absolutely would. Rule No. 1 of our program is “do no harm.” The back squat 1RM of an underprepared student-athlete is a recipe for disaster that I have zero interest in being part of. I urge you to buy into the “slow cook” process and not let ego or lack of knowledge by a sport coach paint you into that corner.While there aren’t many requests I would straight up refuse from a sport coach, back squat 1RM testing an underprepared athlete is one I absolutely would, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
One other area that our Block 3’s will see move up the progression chain is Olympic movements. Up to this point, they have used variations such as the clean pull, snatch pull, or some sort of loaded jump. The purpose of this is to, once again, “slow cook” the movement for the athlete’s benefit. For us, the point of these Tier 1 speed/power movements is power development. In order to utilize the maximum benefits in this area, the athlete must have a proficient mastery of technique to achieve full triple extension and proper foot placement, etc. Short pulls, lack of extension, “star fish feet,” and/or slow robotic movements must all be worked through before promotion.
The athlete does not have to be a great Olympic weightlifter, by any means. However, they must be able to express a level of proficiency. Our Block 3’s still use pulls and jumps week to week. They also begin to use hang power cleans, hang snatches, and a hang power cleans to front squat combo during this phase.
A Review of Programming
Here is a quick overview from the last installment. For greater detail, simply review the previous article.
- Our program for all layers is a three-day-a-week split.
- We use a modified tier system that features the traditional total: upper and lower daily splits that rotate once per week through a speed/dynamic Tier 1; total strength Tier 2; and volume acclimation Tier 3.
- Tier 1: Olympic movements and variations, along with other lower intensity/higher velocity movements.
- Tier 2: Features one of our three base strength movements or a variation (trap bar deadlift, squat, and bench press), an antagonist auxiliary movement, and a prehab/mobility movement.
- Tier 3: Traditionally, this is a volume/hypertrophy tier. We do use this most of the time for that same programming. However, this is also a place where we work some additional Olympic/squat and/or pull variations, as dictated by our volume progression plan.
- Our yearly plan is split into four-week cycles. We use a concurrent periodization plan and train equally for power, strength, and hypertrophy together.
- We use volume as our priority way to overload. Intensity is a secondary factor and is not necessarily tied into volume, so both can be manipulated independently as needed.
- A “heavy” or “light” day or week, when describing a microcycle or day within a microcycle, does not refer to the intensity range we will be lifting, but instead refers to the total volume count for reps 50% or over in one of our six “counting” movement families (squat, press, pull, clean, snatch, posterior chain).
- I based our program on “The System” and what I learned about this program from coaches Johnny Parker and Tony Decker.
- Bar speed is the king of transfer to sport from the weight room. We believe that using volume as our primary mode of forcing adaptation via overload is most effective in producing our desired outcome for our athletes.
Block 2 programming used volume periodization, except in our Tier 2 strength movements (see last article for details). Block 3 shifts to volume periodization for all movements going forward.
Block 3 athletes use a wave within the days of the week, based on a rotation of “heavy,” “moderate,” and “light” days. Also, the volume count breakdown now includes our hang snatch and snatch grip variations.
We divide our four-week mesocycle into weekly three-day microcycles. We set the total volume for each cycle based on a goal number (850–875 counting reps per month) that we want our elite athletes to reach by the last few cycles before their preseason. We then work backward, subtracting ~10% per cycle (with a regression cycle at the start of each new block) until we reach the number each block will start cycle 1-1 with. For Block 2 athletes, it is 520. They will climb ~10% each cycle until they reach approximately 725 total reps. Block 3 will regress back to a 630-rep monthly total and climb to the 850–875 mark before the preseason begins. Within the week, each day is also subdivided as follows:
H=Heavy; B=Big; M=Moderate; L=Light
Total volume count for Cycle 1 is 630.
During this period, we keep the intensity ranges moderate and climb each cycle by around 2% relative intensity. In Block 2, athletes spent most of their time in the 50–69% ranges, except for Tier 2 core movements. Our goal for Block 3 is for them to do most of their reps in the 70–85% range.
According to the Soviet research written about in “The System,” this is the “sweet spot” where bar speed and intensity come together at a velocity range that translates most effectively to sport. We increase the intensity slowly and cap our relative intensity for each individual movement at 2% per four-week cycle.
Using volume as periodization requires a very mathematical approach to programming. Within each day, week, and cycle, we give a percentage of volume to each of the six counting movements. We begin as follows:
You can adjust these ratios to reflect areas of need. For example, our bench press numbers lagged behind last year. Following our testing, I went into the next cycle’s spreadsheet and adjusted to add 3% more volume to our presses and simply took 1% off of three other areas to reflect the change.
Table 6 is the actual Cycle 1 sheet I use for programming Block 3. As you can see, I use formulas to ensure we hit the ranges we need. As I stated above, Block 2 athletes spent a lot of time in the “work capacity” range of 50–60% and built slowly through the “power” range of 61–69% (what we use) and a smaller amount of “strength” range 70+%, but rarely went over 85%. Block 3 athletes have progressed to the point where we don’t need as much training/work capacity range.
In this chart, the 50–59% range is only 44 total reps for the month, or 7%. Power is 27% and strength is 66%. Remember, we only count reps over 50%. We would consider any warm-up reps below that as training reps only.
The great thing about this type of programming is that it’s a mathematical process we can adjust to fit each philosophy and need, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
As we move through the cycles of our yearly plan, we also adjust those numbers. First, by taking from work capacity and power to add greater volume in the strength zones. Then, as the preseason approaches, we begin to take from strength and add more volume to power.
The great thing about programming this way is that it’s a mathematical process we can adjust to fit each philosophy and need. Squat numbers not on target? Adjust the volume. Athletes dragging? Adjust the volume. We can do the same with intensity ranges. If our cleans or snatches need work, it’s easy to regress relative intensity. You can easily make this program into whatever you, as the programmer, desire.
Here is an example of the Block 3 Advanced session from CoachMePlus:
In addition to the advancement to higher level movements, we also build more triphasic movements into our program. We usually have aspects of isometric and eccentric work built into our training, as seen above. Our yearly plan will reflect a cycle with an emphasis on isometric and another with an emphasis on eccentric. We also utilize a cycle of contrast training just before our testing in the spring for our Block 3 and 4 athletes.
Of all our transitions, the one with the least amount of change in the day-to-day training session is moving from Block 3 to our Block 4 Elite level. This level is also the least populated of any we have. In general (a few exceptions aside), most athletes will be Block 2 as a sophomore and Block 3 as a junior. Block 4 is a little tougher to make the jump to because we consider it our “elite” standard. We have many seniors in our Block 3 who will finish their time with us at that standard.
First, we use the same body weight ratio chart as Block 3 (table 2 above), with 93% being the goal threshold. We also use the same volume progressions in both Block 3 and Block 4. Once an athlete has reached their ratio standard, they must show a higher level of proficiency in all movements than what we would expect from our Block 3’s. We really look for close to a mastery of movement, but more importantly, a standard of consistency in that movement.For our Block 4 athletes, we really look for close to a mastery of movement, but more importantly, a standard of consistency in that movement, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
In general, our Block 4 athletes have great relative strength. Almost to the point where we say, “strong enough,” and we really don’t need that athlete to be any stronger to be great on the field. A great example is a linebacker/fullback we had last year who could full squat 585 pounds at 215 pounds of body weight, pushing almost 3x his body weight. Your coach’s eye can look at this player and say, “He is strong enough. It’s time to cut back the weight and add max velocity.”
One of the main aspects of our Block 4 programming is to actually begin to dial back the relative intensity. We look at the ratio goals of that athlete and reset his 1RM back to 100–105% of those goals. So, looking at our 215-pound linebacker with the 1RM back squat max of 585 pounds, we reset his max to 445. He then used this max as his working set, using our PUSH bands to measure meters per second and power output.
Our Block 4 athletes use velocity-based training for all their Tier 2 core movements. We shift those movements from volume as the primary consideration for progression to meters per second. We use the process I wrote about in this VBT article. Our goal for our Block 4 athletes is to increase bar speed and power output to their maximum levels. We convert our power output to reflect a body weight ratio that gives us an “output” leaderboard that gets the athletes competing. Table 7 below shows part of the spreadsheet we use to keep track of our Block 4 athlete power output records.
Table 8 shows the back squat workout records of the 215-pound linebacker I mentioned above. As you can see, he worked up to the max of 2 x 445 pounds (down from his actual 1RM of 585) on his fifth set and this let him know what adjustments to make on his sixth set. He hit three reps at above .5 m/s and dropped below his target range on his fourth rep, giving him an average set velocity of .46 m/s, just below the .5 goal for the session.
In my opinion, his fourth set was actually the set that was the most transferable to the sport. He hit 420 x 2 at .56 m/s, but he hit his peak power output as well. That’s the “trick” for our Block 4 athletes—adjusting the weight until we find that sweet spot in the range we are shooting for, combined with peak power output. Our experience has shown that this percentage is different for each individual. Using VBT is the only way to find it.
This is an example of Tier 2 programming for a Block 4 athlete. Tiers 1 and 3 would be basically identical.
Our goal is NOT to create the strongest sophomores in the state, but the best-moving, most powerful and explosive athletes possible for our varsity teams, says @YorkStrength17. Click To Tweet
At York Comprehensive High School, our program is built with the “slow cook” process as the base. While this can be frustrating for athletes and coaches who want to see results fast, it pays off when our athletes reach Block 3 and 4 at the same time that they also reach the varsity level. Our goal is NOT to create the strongest sophomores in the state. It’s to create the best-moving, most powerful and explosive athletes possible for our varsity teams. By mastering movement, moving fast, and moving strong—in that order—we hope to keep our athletes as healthy as possible and allow them to thrive as juniors and seniors.
I truly hope you enjoyed this series of articles and it was useful to you. It may seem like a complicated process, and, at times, it is for the coach. However, you will see that just as athletes use a movement progression to become proficient, each block builds on itself and makes a natural and simple transition for the athlete. I may have left some information out that you need. If so, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or for any clarifications.
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