Breaking Down the Periodized Calendar: A Guide to Volt's Blocks

Most coaches and athletes know the difference between a “workout” and a “training session.” A workout is an isolated bout of exercise, not directed toward a long-term performance goal. A training session, on the other hand, is much more. Every aspect of a training session, from exercise selection to volume and loading, is carefully planned and designed specifically for your sport. It is focused both on the long-term goal of peaking your body for optimal performance during the competitive season, and on the short-term goals at different stages of the year-long training calendar. The training session does not stand alone as a one-off workout, but instead has a designated and deliberate purpose within the training week, month, season, and year. Volt does not create workoutswe design entire 12-month-long programs, comprised of individual training sessions focused on your performance goals.

How do we do this? By using the vetted strength and conditioning method of periodization. By breaking the calendar up into “phases,” breaking each phase into “blocks,” and breaking blocks into individual training sessions, we are able to isolate the long- and short-term goals of each and maximize your physiological adaptation to them.

Each Volt training program is strategically organized to allow athletes to achieve optimal performance when it matters most, within the context of a year-long training calendar.

Each Volt training program is strategically organized to allow athletes to achieve optimal performance when it matters most, within the context of a year-long training calendar.

The goal of this article is to provide some clarity and additional information about the different components in the Volt calendar. If you are a current Volt user, this should shed some light on the philosophy behind our periodized programming. And if you are a prospective Volt user, this will give you a good idea of what you can expect from your customized, year-long, sport-specific programs.

Before we go further, I should point out one important detail: nothing that Volt does in terms of programming is unique. There is no proprietary code, no secret recipe that we are privy to that informs Volt programming. The information and expertise off which we base our programs is out therein studies, in peer-reviewed articles, in texts, in practical application; it’s just not easily accessed. Our goal at Volt is not to patent a particular “brand” of strength training. Our goal is to be a conduit to strength and conditioning knowledge for our athletes. There is no ego at stake in our programming; we are simply applying sound principles of strength and conditioning science to sport-specific training programs. Because everyone should have access to sound information, right?

The Calendar

According to legend, Milo of Croton trained by carrying a calf daily from its birth until it became a full-sized ox; an example of progressive overload. 

According to legend, Milo of Croton trained by carrying a calf daily from its birth until it became a full-sized ox; an example of progressive overload. 

The year-long Volt training calendar is organized into three phases. Each phase represents one of the designated periods within the sports season: off-season, in-season, and post-season. By breaking up the calendar year into three phases, we can isolate the training goals within each to target the physiological adaptations needed at specific points in the sports season.

Just as the calendar year is divided into phases, each phase is divided into a certain number of weeks of training, called blocks. And just like a training phase is focused on a specific goal (e.g., the goal of the off-season is to prepare the body for the physical demands of competition), each block is similarly targeted to develop specific traits within the broader goals of the block.

The most important (and arguably most ancientsee Milo of Croton of the 6th Century) feature in any good strength and conditioning program is progressive overload. The concept is simple: the human body is really, really good at adapting. If you never change the volume or loading in your training plan, you will stop seeing adaptations. This change does not always mean an increasefor example, moving from a Hypertrophy block into a Strength Capacity block, your work volume decreases as the loads increase. And moving from any block into an Unload block (more on this below), both the volume and load decrease to allow your body a calculated respite from progressive stress.

Volt progressively increases the intensity through every set of a single workout, every workout in a given training week, every week within a block, and every block within a phase. This intentional overload, if followed correctly, will result in maximum physiological readiness at just the right time in your season. It is crucial to be at your physical peak at the most competitive point in your seasonand that is precisely what a progressively overloaded program is designed to create.

Foundation Block (FDN)

  • VOLUME: Very High
  • LOAD: N/A

The Foundation block (formerly called General Physical Preparedness) is geared toward novice or detrained athletes. If you have never lifted weights before, or if you are an experienced athlete coming off an inactive post-season, Foundation is the block you will start training on. This block is designed to help you build broad-range work capacity within a variety of central movement patterns and develop a better understanding of how your body moves (and maybe how well it doesn’t). Moving through the Foundation block will give you a clearer idea of where your strengths and weaknesses are—where your mobility is restricted, which movements are the hardest for your body to perform with correct technique, etc. This information can help guide you toward suitable workout primers and finishers that fit your needs. Heavily reliant on bodyweight movements, the Foundation block will help you build the coordination, proprioception, and mobility necessary for loaded movements introduced in later blocks. Coach Jace calls Foundation the “amuse bouche,” the appetizer of the Volt calendar year.

The Foundation block was also designed to make you really, really tired. Our reasoning behind this? You won’t buy into a training program unless you can tell right from the get-go that it is challenging. We know our athletesthey are competitors. They do not shy away from a challenge, but rather welcome any opportunity to rise up. The sheer volume (reps x sets) in the Foundation block is tough enough to challenge any athlete, novice or advanced.

Hypertrophy (HYP)

  • VOLUME: High
  • LOAD: Moderate

Hypertrophy builds on the movement patterns established during Foundation, adding load to increase the physiological demand on the body. This block is designed to help you build new lean muscle tissue while increasing neuromuscular efficiency and your body’s capacity to gain strength. Adding moderate loading to the good movement patterns cemented during Foundation, while keeping the volume of work high, the Hypertrophy block allows athletes to learn how to start recruiting more muscle fibers in compound movements. Reps stay in the 8-12 range to maximize muscle fiber growth without mitigating gains in strength by moving into higher-repetition muscular endurance protocols.

Training on a Hypertrophy block will help create and solidify the connections your brain makes with your muscles while strength training; it will increase your muscle tissue’s capacity to build strength within those pathways; and it will increase the size of individual muscle fibers. If you start to notice the sleeve of your t-shirts getting a little tight, fear not: that’s normal. As you progress through your periodized calendar (and eat enough to support your goals, but not too much), in addition to your sport practice and conditioning, the increase in lean muscle should coincide with a decrease in body fat, which will mitigate any initial increases in size.

Strength Capacity (STC)

  • VOLUME: Low to Moderate
  • LOAD: Moderate to High

Once muscles have been primed for increased strength during Hypertrophy, it’s time for Strength Capacity. Lower in volume but higher in load than Hypertrophy, this block is designed to help athletes establish a good strength foundation in key structural lifts: the bench press, the back squat, and the hang clean.

During Strength Capacity, the work volume stays at around 5 reps. This provides enough time under tension to maximize the number of muscle fibers recruited during any given movement, while keeping the load high enough to stimulate a strength response. The Strength Capacity block is, therefore, tiringbut it is an essential bridge from the high-volume demand of Hypertrophy to the high-load demand of the Strength block. This block is especially great for endurance athletes, or athletes not wanting to train solely for either hypertrophy or strength.

Strength (STR)

  • VOLUME: Low
  • LOAD: High

The Strength block follows Strength Capacity and builds on it, kicking up the loading considerably. This is when athletes will feel their lifts start to get heavy. The Strength block develops the potential for maximum recruitment of muscle fibers during a movement, setting the stage for quicker and more powerful strength feats in later blocks. Athletes will continue to build low-velocity strength by increasing the force produced by muscle fibers during each lift. But while the loads are heavy, the volume is light and the rest periods between movements are longso athletes should not be exhausted by the end of the workout. Leaving a sweaty mess on the gym floor may feel productive, but may actually hinder what the Strength block is trying to achieve.

Max Strength (MAX)

  • VOLUME: Very Low
  • LOAD: Very High

As you can guess by its name, Max Strength brings the heaviest loading in the periodized training calendar. Designed to maximize force production and muscle fiber recruitment in structural lifts, Max Strength builds on the preceding strength blocks to peak athlete strength in low-velocity movements. Repetitions decrease to just 1-2 at times during this block, in order for athletes to max out their loads in any given lift. It is important for athletes to maintain control over the bar during each movement, and get adequate rest between lifts to ensure safety as loads get heavy.

The best time to recalibrate your Volt training program is at end of the Max Strength block. Why? We gradually increase the loading throughout the block, so your final week of Max Strength should be when your loads are the highest—making your recalibration data more accurate. For example, recalibrating your Strength Numbers based off your hang clean 5RM will not yield as accurate results as calibrations based off a true 1RM in the movement. And because your body is best prepared to handle the heaviest loads at the end of the Max Strength block, it is the best time to fine-tune your recalibrations. Volt always includes at least one of the 3 main movements used to calibrate the entire program in the last week of Max Strength, and sets you up for success in bumping up those RM numbers to dynamically recalibrate the rest of your training program.

Power (PWR)

  • VOLUME: Low to Moderate
  • LOAD: Moderate
  • VELOCITY: Moderate (with control)

You've got to learn how to produce force before you can learn to produce force quickly. While the preceding strength blocks will increase the number of muscle fibers being recruited for a movement, the Power block is designed to increase the rate at which those fibers are recruitedalso called the rate of force development, or RFD. The Power block increases your muscles’ RFD through moderate loading at moderate volumes. Each repetition should be executed with control and precision, but with a focus on speed of movement.

The Power block helps to change an athlete’s entire performance in his or her sport. In almost every scenario, the athlete that can get to the ball fastest, or get off the line fastest, or jump the highest or farthest will be the most successful. And the Power block is designed to do exactly that: develop speed within the strength of established movement patterns to give the Volt athlete a competitive edge.

Speed (SPD)

  • VOLUME: Low to Moderate
  • LOAD: Low
  • VELOCITY: High

The Speed block is important for activating the fast-twitch muscles fibers so essential to performance across all sports. The volume and loading are both slightly lower than that of the Power block, and the goal is to move the bar as quickly as possible with control. Why? The Speed block is designed to help athletes translate the strength and power built in the weight room into functional speed on game day. The Speed block also tapers in its loading, introducing the highest loads in the first week and gradually decreasing throughout the block. The loading taper allows for the speed of movement to progressively increase (in an inverse relationship to load values), resulting in better transfer to practical application. This transfer of strength into speed on the field or court is crucial for athletic development because it demands the application of all training objectives at once: strength, power, endurance, speed, proprioception, agility, etc. By utilizing speed training in the weight room, athletes will be better able to translate the strength and power developed in the gym into real-world competition.

But remember: the Speed block is only valuable if and only if all the other blocks were done first. Each block builds on the previous oneand Speed is a great example of how one block fuels the next. Building maximal RFD during a Power block allows for more velocity during ballistic medicine ball throws and proprioceptive movements introduced in the Speed Block, which directly impacts game-day performance. Think of it as the maraschino cherry on top of a banana split: is the cherry the dessert itself, or rather does it complete the dessert?

Muscular Endurance (END)

  • VOLUME: High
  • LOAD: Low

The Muscular Endurance block is designed to help our endurance athletes go the distance. As such, only athletes in sports that require high levels of muscular endurance (wrestling, swimming, cross country, marathon, triathlon, cycling, etc.) will see these blocks in their Volt training. 

When you perform a high volume of lightweight or bodyweight movements with short rest intervals between sets or circuits, your muscles will feel the "burn" of metabolite buildup in the bloodstream as your body works to supply energy to working muscles. By training strategically on this block, athletes will increase their muscles' ability to "buffer" this buildup, helping them endure longer bouts of exercise at higher levels of intensity. Essentially, training for muscular endurance helps athletes compete for longer distances at higher speeds. Endurance athletes will see this block more frequently nearing the start of their competitive season or endurance event, to help create maximum training transfer from the weight room to the mat, pool, field, or course.

Unload (UNL)

  • VOLUME: Low to Moderate
  • LOAD: Low to Moderate

Ah, the Unload block! Usually lasting only one week, the Unload is like the bridge of a song: a welcome, and sometimes necessary, break from the routine. During an Unload Block, athletes can expect to continue moving through proper movement patterns under load, only that load is greatly decreased compared to other blocks. Athletes should leave the weight room feeling like they’ve still got something in the tankand while that may not fly during a Max Strength block, the goals of the Unload week are different. Strategically placed throughout the year-long sport season, Unload weeks are akin to active rest in the weight room. Athletes will still retain the strength and power developed in other blocks, but will get a much-needed rest from the demands of high-volume, high-load phases. Unloading gives the body enough time to rest and recover from periods of high stress, which is essential for continuing to improve athletic performance without risking injury or overtraining. The Unload block also allows for new adaptations to occurthe rest gives the body a chance to relax from its stressed state during an intense training period, letting post-training adaptations fully take root.

The Takeaway

This is just a snapshot, a general overview of what many programs (including Volt’s) look like. The order of blocks, their nomenclature, their length within the calendar year, and how often the cycles of blocks are repeated: these are all variables that can be adjusted to yield the desired result. And Volt does just thatbut that’s for another article.

The important thing to take away from this post is that not one of these training protocols is new or incendiary. None of them is proprietary. There is no ego at stake in the training philosophies behind Volt’s programs. Our terminology may differ slightly from others’, but the guiding science is the same: the timely application of stress (in the form of volume and loading of movements) within a training session or phase, and the timely removal of stress at critical times (in the form of an Unload week), creates a pattern of progressive overload that will develop strength, power, and speed. The science is thereit is up to you to get the most out of each and every training session.

Learn more about Volt's Training Philosophy here. 

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Christye Estes, CSCS, ACSM-CPT, is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog. She is a CSCS-certified strength coach and a Sport Performance Specialist at Volt.
Learn more about Christye and read her other posts | @CoachChristye