Block vs Random Set training

Just started reading a little bit about motor learning and am by no means of an expert but from what I have read it seems like learning is better accomplised in a random task order setting rather than the normal block sets that seem to be used so often in training. So my questions are:

Would it be better to use more of a circuit or even somewhat randomized order of say sprint drills? I believe this would be so with my favorites fast leg drills and bounds. Also I believe this would probably be best with other sprint drills as well though I doubt the ability of many other sprint drills to actually be able to accomplish much.

Also could this be used effectively in the actual sprint workout? I could see maybe in varying short sprints, but maybe not in terms of combining short and long sprints or could you just vary length of recovery and still be fine? Or could this not work at all in such a complex exercise?

I know short term acquistion increases using block, but long term retention increases using more random order.

What about the fact that drills are often part of the warm-up and, as such, are ordered according to their intensity etc?

Randomness may be true but only because it is a stimulus change. For instance, if you constantly watch tv you’ll get sick of it but if you watch one show, go outside for a run, shower, come back and watch another you in all most likelihood won’t mind. Same thing applies. I think your thinking too far in depth on it and realisticly it won’t make that much of a difference in the long run. You could use a circuit type approach but when your doing sprint drills the purpose is to perfect the movement so by constantly changing it, your always going to be thinking of new cues, etc etc. I know it’d just make me confused and dizzy! (the reason why powerlifters don’t use circuits - if they did, they wouldnt be able to really fully concentrate on one thing) Also, over a long term I don’t quite understand what you mean. Perhaps always varying the type of workout week to week? What is your definition of “random over a long term”?

Renegade -

your missing my point here, you dont use random order because you are bored with block sets and in the long run it does make a difference, at least shown in other scenarios that is why i am acquiring about in sprint training. And the purpose is so that you do have to think about the cues in a somewhat simple sense. The long run means that yes in the short term it is more beneficial to use block sets, but that it because the body is mimicing the action not learning the action. Using random order the body learns the action better because it has to think about how the current event needs to be done, so it bascially learns how to learn without the cues. So your performance wont be as good in the short term ie during that set, but in the long run it is better to use.

Charlie -

That is my main concern or question I was hoping you or another high level member would be able to chime in about. In my opinion I think in terms of drills it maybe be easy enough to find interchangeable drills that are different enough but at a somewhat similiar intensity as well as in the area of plyos. Also without risking injury depending how you setup your warm up would the order of intensity matter that much?

However I do not know if this would work in regards to actual sprinting. I mean if you vary more than say 20 meters in sprints it is working the body in a very different way and I dont know if changing rest intervals or intensities would be appropriate or how much different “learning” you would be getting out of alternating.

Gotcha. If it helps, the way the memory absorbs data (academic info such as dates and forumlas, etc) most efficiently is by constant repetition over a prolonged period. For instance, I’m doing a physics course over the summer everyday. By the time I’m done, it WILL be in my long term memory from constant use. Like anything, if you “dont use it you lose it” so I think that a short term gain is more benefical then a long term gain for what I stated in my previous post about confusion as you add on extra things. A lot of students in school suffer from doing 8 subjects at once in the earlier grades but as they enter Grades 11, 12, and even university they are narrowing their subject field so it is much easier to concentrate. You can get more done in a shorter ammount of time with higher levels of concentration. Now to apply this to learning movements over the long term, in my opinion (and from what I’ve seen in various athletes) the same idea applies. In theory it may be advantagous but realistically, in my opinion…block is best! If you think about it in a different way, agility drills could kind of be the type of random training your talking about. Up, across, back…all different movements in one go (sort of like a superset in weightlifting). People seem to just adapt well to block though and I believe that it’s because of the concentration factor.

I hope that’s what you meant lol.

I am not talking about adding on or not doing something for long periods I am talking about order that is it.

So hypothetical here very simple say 3 exercises all roughly the same energy expensed in all over roughly the same time period so it would be like:

xxx yyy zzz

These not being extremely taxing the idea is say your performance should slope upward pretty fast in each at the time you do it.

However if you do say

xzy yyz zxx

Or however you want to shape it your performance in each should be lower by the third rep of each letter than it would be in the third rep of each letter in block. However, when performing the task at a later period your performance should actually be better in the second scenario because your body had to relearn it from the slight layoff in comparision to more of a mimic type learning from block.

This works fine and well when your performing tasks that do not expel significant energy.

However the problems and my questions come in when A the amount of effort of the different tasks is varied and/or the overall energy of 1 rep may have significant potential for decreased performance on future reps.

Yea that’s what I thought you were talking about. Even over the long term though I think it’s better your body is accustomed to the repetitive style of movement from training. For instance, when your learning the drive phase and starts… it’s not until the 2nd or 3rd rep where your really starting to feel the movement properly. If your doing a circuit type approach you’d be starting off at ground zero everytime it came around again in the workout…possibly making the same mistakes over…etc…not very advantagous imo for correcting errors. If your varying intensities of the exercise it’d just make an even bigger gap. How are you supposed to make corrections when your going to fast to get basic motor skills fine tuned? If your talking about already learned exercises that your perfecting then I suppose it would be alright but really …I think mentally…the pros of block outweigh the long term minute gains of random. Easier on the mind to align things and more time to collect thoughts and review (between reps). That’s what I’m really trying to get at.

Do you have any citations I could look at? I’d be interested to see the figures.

Very interesting idea. Like you said the only thing I would be worried about is,depending on what you are doing, that one task takes away too much from the others, particularly if the task isn’t specific to the goal that you are trying to accomplish. Also, could you point out which books/papers that talk about this? Thanks,

Like I said I just started looking at this stuff, here is an article thats available online:

Also New Conceptualizations of Practice: Common Principles in Three Paradigms Suggest New Concepts for Training by Schmidt and Bjork '92

I couldnt find this article for free online, if you have access to an science database you may be able to find it I really didnt look too hard for it though so you may be able to get it free somewhere. Both basically cover the same topics. The latter gives info regarding a few more studies it was 12pgs in pdf format for me.

Now, are you trying to learn skills that you need to apply, or just drills? Because Charlie said somewhere (Speed Trap?) that going for perfection in drills is counterproductive. The goal isn’t to do, say, perfect As, but rather to have them help your sprinting. So why bother mixing up the order and perhaps not warming up optimally?

Also, doing them in random rather than blocks may eat up more CNS energy that could be used in the actual running.

Having said all that, I use some motor learning stuff in my practice. One I find useful is the observation that people have a strong tendency to repeat what they just did. So if your form sucks and it’s preventing you from doing the drills pretty much right (which I doubt) then you could throw in a different movement between reps so as to “break up” the pattern that you just established. Conversely, if you do a good one, then do that again without any other stuff in between.

Problem is 95% of the time a trainee without a coach doesn’t know what’s right from wrong, even if they think they do :wink:


Agree with what you are saying. I guess it would all depend on what your goal or focus is with drills. If it is part of warmup then yeah it probably wouldnt make sense, especially if you are not trying to perfect the drill anyhow.

Personally I think the place where it might be of use is more in a plyometric setting or fast leg drills and bounding as I have said before.

Taking a look at the cns part of it is definately the most difficult part. Trying to understand what effects the mixture would have in terms of short and long term fatigue however whatever terms you use to describe those, as well as the need if any of switching rest intervals and intensities to accomidate such a setup would also need to be looked at most likely through trial and error. Like I said the first thing to try it probably grouping exercises that would have similiar cns requirements then maybe later branch out to see if similiar cns requirements would be needed for the program to be effective.

You know what…I’ve thought about this over the past 2-3 workouts and I agree with it being implemented for plyometrics and the sort. Sprint drills no but plyometrics/medicine ball work/ etc…I can see it working because the technique of the exercises are not what’s being developed. Kind of like a calesthenic circuit.


I’m actually quite interested in this now for exercise implementation. I remember when I did a calesthenics circuit instead of weights (logistical reasons) and I saw huge improvements over a month in comparison to the block calesthenics I had done previously. Chins, dips, pushups, situps repeat. So there has been success…I wonder about the implementation for learning movements though (to your thoughts about fatigue, mine about mental concentration, etc). Did you just think about this reading on neuron programming or did you specifically find it referenced somewhere?

Pavel Tsatsouline spoke of this. His example was in a powerlifting context. Do a set of squats, then a set of bench, then a set of deadlifts, set of bench, set of squat, etc. The deadlift and squat are alternated because of the similar muscle groups. I believe it was in an article in Muscle Media, and might also be in his Beyond Bodybuilding book. Someone has the book might now, so I can’t check. You may want to try a search with his name for the random practice.

Hey ok, in the training articles section one of our members (sorry I forgot who you are! Credit to you though!) posted a link to a specific CACC forum (new thread, go check it out). Anyways, I found this:

Not to become a “hammer throwing weightlifter” (so the Soviet hammer throwers called some of their colleagues from the East), but a “weight lifting hammer thrower”, for instance, to illustrate the problem. Based on this position, we never went to the gym straight after a throwing session was finished, but this is a more more or less common approach in training, one can find also in Germany quite often.The idea behind is, to give the body time to adapt. Learning the correct movement does not take place only on the circle or runway, the hours after the workout are of importance too, for the neural processes of learning/relearning (synaptic plasticity, neural self-organisation). There may be a reason for lifting weights after the “main job” was done, but it is unknown to me why to do so. The most important thing is what is going on in the athlete’s BRAIN…Finally, we train the BRAIN, connecting neural pathways by all things we do.

Klaus talks about keeping his athletes out of the gym right after a session until later because the brain has to adapt to the movements. I know its not -exactly- the type of thing your talking about but it’s the same idea…different stimulus from different movements and he doesn’t want to interfere with development by taking away from the mental stimulation of the session because the entire purpose is development. Basically what I was saying in a different context…it still relates though! If we are talking about circuit stuff where learning movements isn’t involved, then I do think its ok (such as the Pavel circuit posted by RyanH above - which just builds overall work capacity imo more than anything), but for really learning something…not my style.