Understanding the 4-Week Block – Part 1: Advancing Our Training Program

I have been here at IronMagazine Forums for aboutseven and a half years (and have been a moderator for about 6 of those years)and in that time I have seen some great changes in the content and informationbeing delivered to the forum members.

Most of my interests lie in the realm of training, and someof the things we have seen over the years are:

a.) A shift from the standard one muscle per day training plan.

b.) More emphasis on pre-hab exercises to help ensure that we stay healthy

c.) A less is more approach to training, in that people are not doing 50-sets perworkout in an effort to hit the muscle from a variety of angles.

d.) A basic understanding that we need to have some sort of periodization that reflects our goals during certain times of the year.

This is all great stuff and I think that it has helped theforum members get better results with their training.

One area where I think we can still advance is,understanding how to set up a block of training. Typically, an individual willpost their workout and then people will help them revise it until it looks likesomething that makes sense. A training day may then look something like this:

Bench Press 3×5
Lunges 3×5
Chin ups 3×5
Db curls 3×10

While there is nothing wrong with the above program, thebiggest problem is that it doesn’t tell the person how long they are to stickwith 3 sets x 5 reps, and how they progress that over the coming weeks.

Do I try and add weight each week?

Do I keep the weight the same each week?

How do I know when to change the rep range?

What do I do when I can no longer add weight on thebar?

These are all common follow up questions that people tend tohave regarding the above program and, they are valid questions! The programabove is nothing more than a list of exercises with a group of sets and reps.

I’ll admit that the above program would be fine for a totalbeginner, as they need to just keep performing the same thing in order toproperly learn exercise technique and develop some capacity to exercise. Inaddition, their gains initially are going to be neurological (increasedintra/inter muscular coordination, enhanced understanding of the movement,etc.).

What about those who are no longer beginners*? How shouldthey set up their program? How should they progress the intensity and volume?

*NOTE: If you have been training for a year ortwo and still don’t know how to squat or bench press with competent form, you arestill a beginner. Be honest with yourself!

For those that fall into this group, I propose the 4-weekblock.

Why a 4-week block?

The reason I like the 4-week block is because it is simple.It fits well over a one month period, and you can have 3-weeks devoted toworking hard, and one week to back off and allow the body to rest, recover andadapt to you beating the hell out of it.

How do we set the 4-week block up?

There are many ways you can progress intensity and volumeover the 4-week period (or 3-week period really, since week 4 is a back offweek).

One simple way is to make your increases over the 3-weekperiod so that week 3 is the highest in volume and/or intensity and then unloadin week 4.

For example:

Week 1 – 3x5Week 2 – 4x5Week 3 – 5x5Week 4 – 2×5 (with 20% less intensity)

Over the 3-week run up, you can try and:

a.) Keep the weight the same and just increase the volume (basically, you are increasing 1 set of 5 reps each week).

b.) Keep the weight the same for weeks one and two and then in week three work up to a 5-rep max in the last set (just be aware of what you are doing in sets 1-4 sothat you don’t tire yourself out).

Another example, and my personal favorite, is to modulatethe volume between the weeks. The reason I like this so much is becauseinstead of starting with a small amount of volume in week one, you start outwith a moderate amount, to help get an idea of where you are with the lift.Week two you are going to lower the volume to give yourself a little bit of abreak from week one and then in week three you will do the highest amount ofvolume and go for broke (and week 4 is obviously the back off week again).

For example:

Week 1 (moderate volume)- 4x5Week 2 (low volume)- 3x5Week 3 (high volume)- 5x5Week 4 (unload)- 2×5 (with 20% less intensity)

Over the 3-week loading portion of the program you can try:

a.) Keep the weight the same in week 1-2 and then in week 3 try and go all out.

b.) Use a moderate load in week one to establish a base. In week two, since the volume is lower, try and raise the intensity and see what you can do and then in weekthree use the weight from week 2 and try and attempt to perform it at a highervolume.

Either of those options will work and you may need to fudgearound with it a bit to see what works best for you. Usually I go on how Ifeel. I always start week 1 out with moderate weight and keep it to acomfortable workout, just to set the base for the upcoming weeks. If I feelgood in week 2, I’ll typically increase the weight a little bit from week 1.In week 3, I’ll try and work up higher in weight if I feel good. If I don’tfeel like the lift will be there (I try not to fail in the gym or increase theload if I am unsure whether I’ll make the lift), then I keep the weight thesame as in week 2 and just try and work on increasing the volume – which isstill an improvement and valid progression, even if I am not putting moreweight on the bar.

Remember, we have our entire lives to get strong! You don’thave to break a record in every 4-week block, no should you! You can save thePR lifts for a special time when you are feeling good and confident and knowthat you can move up in weight.

So, now that we have a basic understanding of manipulatingthe volume, lets apply it the above exercises:


Week 1 (mod. volume)

Week 2 (low volume)

Week 3 (high volume)

Week 4 (unload)





2×5 (with 20% less intensity)





2×5 (with 20% less intensity)

Chin ups




2×5 (with 20% less intensity)

DB curls





Taking the program a step further

The next problem I see with this program is that we have theexact same intensity and volume for all of our lifts! Again, while this maywork for a beginner or novice lifter, a more seasoned lifter is going to findit hard to perform a routine like this because they will most likely put alltheir effort into the first lift of the workout, meaning that the other 3-liftswill suffer.

In addition, this program is highly unspecific to any onegoal. So, over the next series of articles, I’ll show you a few simple ways totailor the 4-week block to your needs and then, string it together with acouple other 4-week blocks and make it into a full 12-week program!

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

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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