The Cycle of Life

Programming is about accepting the up and down nature of stress, recovery, and adaptation.  We accept that when we stress the body the body will not perform as well as it builds itself up better than ever.  Because we accept that, we program in cycles. 

The largest cycle that we plan for is the macrocycle.  A macrocycle is a full programming cycle that consists of the four phases of training that culminates in the peak of the athlete.  As a reminder, the four 'usual' phases of training are General Physical Preparedness (GPP), Hypertrophy, Preparatory, and Competition.  The objective is to have the athlete in that competition phase peaking at the most important time of the year.  For team sports with one major season the macrocycle ends with the season and has the athlete peak for a major tournament or playoffs.  For weightlifting or powerlifting, a national level competition may set that year’s macrocycle.  

However, for most lifters there may be multiple macrocycles in a year that allows the athlete to peak for 2 or 4 major competitions.  This can be done by having an overarching macrocycle that allows for a minor peak and a major peak for a minor and major competition, or having distinct macrocycles.  I personally have begun to favor longer macrocycles of about 6 months with one minor peak and one major peak.    

The phases of a macrocycle are where the coach decides which physical attributes to focus on.  The idea is that by stressing different physical attributes in a step wise fashion the athlete can be built from the 'ground up'.  By the end of the macrocycle the attributes most specific to the sport have a solid foundation from which to peak for competition.  In the GPP phase we are improving the athletes general fitness.  This will help them later in training to handle the volume and stress without injury.  With the hypertrophy phase we are trying to peak the size of the muscles, so they can later be trained to work in the fashion we want.  In the prep phase we are working on peaking strength levels.  We are using our improved fitness and improved muscle size to train harder and become stronger.  In that last phase, our competition phase, we are training for competition readiness and slowly dissipating fatigue to allow our bodies to perform better on our big day.  

These phases do not operate as distinct blocks, and can instead be viewed as a continuum with one phase blending seamlessly into the next.  Sean Collins likes to describe the transition of phases as a hypertrophy-volume phase giving way to a strength-volume phase giving way to a competition phase.  During the hypertrophy-volume phase, GPP is still stressed until giving way to just hypertrophy training.  As the GPP becomes less and less the intensity is gradually increased and the volume is slowly dropped until we more fully embrace our prep phase or strength-volume phase.

A standard macrocycle with one major peak may look like this.  Please note that after a major competition there needs to be a transition period of a week to several weeks.  This is a way for the athlete to physically and mentally prepare for the training to start again.  


Next week we will delve deeper into the cycles with the mesocycle and microcycle.  Sorry for the delay this week.  We had an awesome competition this past weekend and it took all my mental powers.  Next Tuesday at 10am, I promise!

Kurt Roderick, CSCS, USAW-ASPC L2, CF-L3, AOLC