Among our coaches here at GHP we have an event we do twice a month internally called “Shop Talk”. Us coaches get together informally and discuss various aspects of training. Usually Khyla or I have a theme and then we discuss our experiences with it, questions about it, research, etc.
We do a number of things to improve ourselves as coaches, and of them, Shop Talk is my favorite.
Recently, we were discussing training cycles. How to optimize them, variables involved, what different athletes are doing now here, and what I’ve changed over the years I thought it’d make for a great piece of training insight for you.
How Adaptation Works
Training cycles are used to optimize how your body adapts to training. The difference between just “exercising” and “training” lies in intent. Training is generally about improving a specific physical attribute or a set of attributes whereas exercise is moreso just working out for the sake of “checking the box”. Though, it's a mindset as well, as you can consider exercise as training for “life” and I can definitely dig that.
Let’s say you want to improve explosive power. There are certain types of training that will help you become more explosive than others. As someone capable of doing intense training, doing heavy squats, sprints, maximal jumps will likely help more than doing 100 bodyweight squats and running a mile.
Thing is, you shouldn’t just train like that all year round. The law of diminishing returns rules that after some several weeks or months, you’ll start improving less and less from it. And potentially get “burned out”. So then you need to cycle in some lower intensity training. Intensity as in “percentage of best ability” not effort.
I recently wrote about changing up training. This is where that matters. Changing up your training focus periodically allows you to improve various aspects of your athleticism and avoid getting stagnant and not improving.
What Are Training Cycles
Here are some common ways of organizing training when it comes to training cycles. I’ll share with you how I use them.
Macrocycle - I use this as a yearlong cycle of the competitive season. Often, this is the theme of the entire year of training. With newer and/or younger athletes in the gym, this is mostly about building their “work capacity” to handle more volume and intensity over the coming years. We do a lot of low intensity work. Whereas for our group of HS seniors the goal is to make them as absolutely powerful as we can as they go through their last year of HS competition.
Macrocycles can also span multiple years.
Over the course of a young athletes lifetime, when I get a kid in 7th-8th grade, we patiently guide them to build a large engine and lots of relative strength in 7th-10th grade and then build up a lot of strength and explosiveness over 11-12th grade as they learn the entire weight lifting library, have experienced a wide range of speed training so they are very well prepared for collegiate competition.
Be careful not to overdo the high intensity training. High intensity work can lead to injury or burnout when done poorly. Some college athletes burn out early in college because in high school they trained so intensely, so often, that they struggle getting better in college unless they take some time away from training or doing low intensity work.
Mesocycle - This is often several weeks, a season, or set of months. Usually this has a singular primary focus for training that is done for 6 weeks to 3 months. For our spring/summer sport athletes, during early winter training, we work on a lot of slow strength. Eccentric and heavy strength work. This builds a very large engine.
Then during the “competitive cycle”, often March-June/July we cut down volume and do more powerful explosive work.
Sometimes I will have smaller mesocycles inside of bigger ones. Over a 4 month, 18 week period, I may run 3 6 week mesocycles with different variations to hit the main focus of that 18 weeks.
There can be secondary focuses. And the focus can really be whatever you feel you need to improve. Single leg strength. Full range of motion lifts. Upper back strength. Rotational ability. Springy, ankle dominant plyometrics. etc.
Microcycle - This is usually 1-6 weeks. As I’ve grown as a coach, I’ve gotten increasingly creative with how I organize microcycles. Often, for more intermediate programs, I will plan 2 week microcycles where 4 of the lifts have slightly differing but complementary focuses. I really enjoy having eccentric days paired with heavy strength days as they both individually, and collectively, help people get very strong.
Same theme applies for secondary focuses.
Tapering - This is a decrease in volume and often has an increase in intensity that’s maximal. This gets athletes neurologically primed to perform at their best. Often this happens in the 1-6 weeks leading up to major competitions that athletes ought to be fresh for. Tapering is set up to allow for a lot of recovery and is often many athletes favorite time to train.
There are other terms out there but these are the common ones we use the most at GHP when planning training in the gym and on the track.
Here is a big example for a high school senior runner.
Macrocycle - Peak Performance
Mesocycle - Strength Building
Microcycle 1 week - Eccentric work and Heavy strength
Day 1: Back Squat 3 x 8 4ECC
Day 2: Deadlifts 6 x 4
Let this help serve you as a guide to have focused training for yourself and learn more about how we get down at GHP. Training can be as creative as you are, so long as what you organize physiologically makes sense to get the results you want.
Just please, don’t do 3 sets of 10 or 5 sets of 5, all year long. Just, like, please. You deserve better than that.