Understanding the 4-Week Block – Part 2: Goals and Organization

In Part 1, Understanding the 4-Week Block: Advancing our Training Program I touched on some basic ideas of setting up a 4-week cycle for our training. This is not only important for helping us advance our training and reach our goals but, it is also helpful in making sure that we don’t get injured, as we now have a planned system that effectively loads and unloads the body during a given training cycle. In Part 2, we are going to determine what our goals are and talk about how we can organize over a longer period of time.

What do you want?

Choosing a goal can be difficult for most. Everyone wants everything and they want it NOW.

“I want to be big and ripped.”

Unfortunately, things don’t work that way. Being big is a good goal and being ripped is a good goal; however, it is tough to be all of those things at once (without pharmacological intervention at least). You can’t serve to many masters!

So, we pick one goal first and focus on that and then we transition into our next goal. Obviously, diet is going to play a huge role in whether or not we can gain muscle or lose body fat – this is primarily the reason why we can’t gain a huge amount of muscle mass and lose weight at the same time (unless you are total beginner to exercise and have a lot of body fat to lose). You need a surplus of calories in order for hypertrophy (muscle growth) to take place and you need to limit calories in order for fat loss to take place. If the calories are to high, fat loss wont occur and if the calories are to low, you have no energy to go towards repairing the cellular damage that is taking place from training.

The interesting thing I have found is that with a little “tweaking” and fluctuations, training can stay relatively the same through the periods of either muscle gain or fat loss. What I mean by this is that you are always going to have the basic qualities represented in your training program:

Strength – 1-5 reps per set
Hypertrophy – 6-8 reps per set
Muscular endurance – 10-15 reps per set

*Note I left out power because for most trainees, unless they are training for sports performance or a strength sport, there is not much of a reason to use this. In addition, the three terms above can be a little misleading in that hypertrophy can take place in any of those rep ranges provided adequate calories are consumed. However, for lack of a better term, “hypertrophy” is what I chose to represent the 6-8 rep range. Typically, I would refer to that as submaximal or repetitive effort work, and then everything in the 10-15 rep range I would call auxiliary or assistance work. For the purposes of this article, since it is not geared towards sports performance, the terms above will refer to the corresponding rep ranges.

The only thing that varies between the phases is the volume of work performed in each of the rep ranges. In the muscle building phase, when more calories are being consumed, we can handle more strength work and higher intensities. In the fat loss phase, when less calories are being consumed, we will do more in the hypertrophy and muscle endurance work to elevate the metabolic demands of the body; however, a low volume of strength work will be needed to help maintain muscle mass and ensure that we don’t loose the adaptation that we have worked so hard to achieve in our previous phase of training.

So, just to review:

Muscle gaining phase = Higher intensity lifting (strength and hypertrophy rep ranges) and a lower volume of muscle endurance work

Fat loss phase = More hypertrophy and muscle endurance rep ranges with a lower volume of strength work

Organizing things

Now that we have an understanding of what our training objective is, we can set up the goal for each of our 4-week blocks. So, lets assume that we are giving ourselves 12-weeks for our hypertrophy goal. The 4-week blocks of training may look something like this:

Block 1 (Weeks 1-4):
Break in phase
Primary Goal: Hypertrophy work
Secondary Goal: Strength
Tertiary Goal: Muscle endurance

Block 2 (Weeks 5-8):
Strength enhancement
Primary Goal: Strength
Secondary Goal: Hypertrophy
Tertiary Goal: Muscle Endurance

Block 3 (Weeks 9-12):
Maximum Hypertrophy
Primary Goal: Hypertrophy rep range at highest volume
Secondary Goal: Low volume of heavy strength work
Tertiary Goal: Muscle Endurance

Program example:

Once you have established the goals for each of your 4-week blocks, it is time to get started.

First, pick a training split. How much time will you be devoting to your lifting? Since I typically lift 3-days a week, I’ll work off of a 3-day per week total body training split (I know, totally selfish…oh well, it is my article!)

If you’ll recall in part 1, I briefly discussed my issues with using the same intensity (IE, 3 sets x 5 reps) for an entire workout. They were:

a.) Unless you are a total beginner, after a certain point in your training career, you will find that the first exercise will get the most focus and then everything else in the workout tends to go down hill. So, you wont be able to use the same intensity for each exercise in the workout.

b.) Training everything with one intensity or one rep range, does not represent the broad scope of our goals above.

Because of these issues, my advice would be to pick a lift to focus on during each training session and then have the other exercises represent the other rep ranges that fall into the secondary and tertiary goals of our 4-week block.

If you were training on a 3-day routine, that would mean that you are going to have a push focus on one day, a lower body focus on another day and a pull focus on the final day. Everything else on those days would fall into a different training category (IE, push focus on day one and then pull and lower body are trained as hypertrophy and muscle endurance).

Remember from part 1 that we will be unloading in the 4th week of each training block, and the highest amount of volume will come in week 3. So, here is an example to go off of:

Block 1 (Weeks 1-4):
Break in phase
Primary Goal: Hypertrophy work
Secondary Goal: Strength
Tertiary Goal: Muscle endurance

Day 1 – Upper Push Emphasis

Exercise

Week 1 (mod. volume)

Week 2 (low volume)

Week 3 (high volume)

Week 4 (unload)

1a) Bench

3×5

3×3

6×3

2×5 (light)

2a) Front squat

3x8ea leg

3×6

3×8

2×8 (with 20% less intensity)

2b) Chin ups

3×8

3×6

3×8

2×8 (with 20% less intensity)

3a) DB low incline flyes

3×8

2×8

3×8

2×10

3b) DB hammer curl

3×10

2×10

3×10

2×10

Day 2 – Lower body emphasis

Exercise

Week 1 (mod. volume)

Week 2 (low volume)

Week 3 (high volume)

Week 4 (unload)

1a) Squat

3×5

3×3

6×3

2×5 (light)

2a) 1-arm DB row

3x8ea arm

3×6

3×8

2×8 (with 20% less intensity)

2b) Incline DB press

3×8

3×6

3×8

2×8 (with 20% less intensity)

3a) RDL

3×8

2×8

3×8

2×10

3b) Skull crushers

3×10

2×10

3×10

2×10

Day 3 – Upper Pull Emphasis

Exercise

Week 1 (mod. volume)

Week 2 (low volume)

Week 3 (high volume)

Week 4 (unload)

1a) Pull up

3×5

3×3

6×3

2×5 (light)

2a) DB shoulder press

3×8

3×6

3×8

2×8 (with 20% less intensity)

2b) BB split squat

3×8

3×6

3×8

2×8 (with 20% less intensity)

3a) Standing 1-arm cable row

3×8

2×8

3×8

2×10

3b) Calf Raises

3×10

2×10

3×10

2×10

As you can see in the program, in this initial “break in phase”, we are using a low volume of strength work (the first exercise in each workout) and then following it with our hypertrophy work (the second pairing and first exercise of the 3rd pairing) and our muscular endurance work (the second exercise in the third pairing).

In Part 3, we will put together the last 2 training blocks and walk away with a full 12-week training program.

Part 3: Understanding the 4-Week Block Part 3: Finishing Up The Program

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About the Author
Patrick Ward holds a Masters Degree in Exercise Science. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and a USA Weightlifting-Certified Club Coach. In addition, Patrick is a licensed massage therapist focusing on Neuromuscular therapy and Active Release Techniques (ART). He lives in Chandler, Arizona and is the owner of Optimum Sports Performance and the Co-founder of Reality Based Fitness. He can be reached at patrick@optimumsportsperformance.com. Visit website: optimumsportsperformance.com 

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