The Patterning Block

The Foundation Program, which is detailed in the book Movement Over Maxes, is built around 3 blocks of development.  Those blocks are titled Positions, Patterning, and Performance.  Each has a specific place and purpose in the grand scheme of producing a well moving, strong athlete with a solid foundation for future development.

The second stage in the Foundation Program is the Patterning Block. The goal is to ingrain the technique learned from the Positions Block. Athletes will pattern the Big 5 movements over and over. The Patterning Block was originally created to take place over a 5-day period, with alternating moderate and low intensity.

The Patterning Block creates the foundation of movement and the beginnings of strength development through sub-maximal weights. This block highlights the importance of moving correctly under load. Coaches and athletes shouldn’t worry about weights—worry about movement. The weights used will be light to moderate.

The Patterning Block came about after many years of watching my younger athletes train. As coaches we often want to use variety in our programming.  Every day of the week is different.  Monday’s training is different from Wednesday’s and so on.  The biggest problem with this philosophy is that athletes don’t actually get good at what they are doing.  We don’t allow for excellence in movement because we think we need to change it. The stimulus changes so frequently that they have little time to actually adapt to the pattern and store it in their motor program.

Use the squat as an example. It is often the foundation of any athlete’s program.  It is commonly included into programs on a “heavy leg day” once per week.  Let’s play this training out using the example of an 8 week program that averages 40 reps per week on that squat day.  Probably high for most programs but it’s just an example.  Over the course of that two month program an athlete would have squatted 8 times and done somewhere in the range of 320 reps.  Compare that to a program of patterning the squat every day of the week for that same 8 week time period.  The result is 1600 reps, or 500% more.

We could even cut the reps in half per day to 20 squat reps, and still more than double a program that is only reinforcing the squat pattern one time a week. And think about this, we can train the pattern with greatly increased volume while utilizing a much lower intensity as well.  A pattern that only gets trained once per week must have significant intensity behind it or the training residuals are not strong enough to last until the next squat day.  More doesn’t always mean better especially when it comes to training.   But we can achieve great gains with low intensity, and high frequency though the Patterning Block.

The everyday concept is one that must be taken with a grain of salt. It’s not meant to crush kids.  It’s in place to create learning in the primary patterns of movement.  Continually reinforcing movements on a daily basis keeps the body learning and progression occurs quickly.  A younger athlete doesn’t store patterns as readily in their memory bank.  They lose gains quickly.  Continual reinforcement early on is incredibly important.

It comes as a shock to most coaches to find out that we squat 5 days per week. When it comes to motor learning, frequency can be key.

The guiding principles that drive motor learning and the Foundation Program follow these principles for early development:

1. Frequency

Practicing assimilating a skill means performing technically correct repetitions over and over. The Patterning Block is in place to develop the main patterns 5 days per week. Frequency of practice is the most important factor in developing a new movement or motor skill. We want the athlete to replicate these movement patterns over and over. If it’s important, we want to do it every day. Baseball players don’t take batting practice once a week, yet when it comes to lifting programs, athletes often only squat or RDL once per week. How do we expect athletes to get great at those movements when they may only do them every 7 days?

2. Fatigue

To practice and drive home technically correct movements, we must do them in a non-fatigued states. Athletes cannot be continually gassed. Learning a new skill isn’t effective when fighting fatigue. The idea of training hard when coordination and body control are impaired is not sensible at all. The principle of fatigue is combatted by the fact that movements are often accomplished with light to moderate loads in the first two programming blocks. Low to moderate intensity is key.  The Patterning Block uses sets of 5 to combat the issue of fatigue.  The use of 5 reps on a consistent basis with lower-body compound movements helps to ensure higher movement quality with a lower chance of movement breakdown.

3. Failure

At no point in the Foundation Program should athletes reach technical failure. Teaching motor skills should not go to the point of technical breakdown during a set. When athletes get close to failure, especially when learning new skills, patterns go out the window and get replaced with survival. A mindset of “get the bar up however possible” takes over on the last few reps. This isn’t conducive to a learning environment.

Details of the Patterning Block:

Goal

The goal of the Patterning Block is to ingrain the movements that have been built from the Positions Block.

Frequency

Ideally the Patterning Block is a 5x/week block that focuses on reinforcing movement daily.

Intensity

The intensity used is low to moderate. It is the beginning of a traditional high low format of training.  In this format one day is utilized as a higher intensity day for strength development, while another day is used for low intensity patterning.  The High / Low must be taken with a grain of salt.  The high intensity days aren’t in truth that high in intensity.  They are still moderate in nature due to the frequency of training.  Athletes generally haven’t stored movements well enough to get close to maximal weights.  There is no need in the Patterning Block.

Movements

The movements used are the Big 5 patterns and the beginnings of their advancements in some situations. Again the progressions utilized depend highly on the coach, athlete, and/or team.

Duration

The Patterning Block can be used in an athlete’s preparation until they reach the point where a stronger stimulus with more recovery is necessary. The stronger the athlete and heavier the weights become, the more recovery becomes a necessity and the shorter the Patterning Block will be. When technique is stable and working weights become challenging, athletes can progress to a more true High / Low format.

Developing athletes take time, patience, and consistency. Compounding poor movement patterns with heavier weights does not solve any issue of quality movement.  Everyone wants results immediately, but the training process is one of delayed gratification.  The gains athletes make in movement early on in the training process, even though small and unnoticeable, will eventually explode in the developing athlete.  Taking the time to pattern in movements will not disappoint long term development.