A mesocycle is a cycle of training that generally lasts four weeks to six weeks. Sean, Kaleb, and I prefer the four week mesocycle for practical reasons and have found it effective for training athletes of diverse abilities and training histories.
Each mesocycle is firmly entrenched within a larger phase of training dictated by the macrocycle. The mesocycle has the goals of that phase of training (GPP/Hypertrophy/Prep/Comp), but also distinct objectives that are to be met by the end of the cycle. For example, if we are working on the split jerk during a Prep phase within a particular mesocycle we may focus just on the drive of the jerk. We will spend four weeks trying to straighten the drive (as not to come forward on the toes). At the end of the four weeks we see if we were successful. This is a technical improvement that we are working on, and is a good goal for an early prep mesocycle. A mesocycle may also have goals that are more about physical adaptations like increasing the training max for the athlete, or increasing the work capacity.
If we remember the Fatigue Model (see Programming Part II) we can create several different organizational structures for a mesocycle. One of the most common mesocycle formats is the Step Loading Mesocycle. This is very common method of making improvements in the lifts.
The step loading mesocycle is a great way to see increased gains for a newer athlete. The stress of each week causes an adaptation in time for the next week’s increased loading. After several weeks of step loading (or even longer depending on the athlete’s development), the accumulated fatigue requires a deloading to dissipate.
Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength is a type of step loading mesocycle with the intensity being stepped up throughout the cycle. At a certain point fatigue accumulates and there needs to be deloading. This may be after four weeks, six weeks, or sometimes several months depending on the athlete. Often the step-loading mesocycle can be repeated with the athlete getting even further before requiring a second deload. The second mesocycle would start the loading higher than the first. To what degree greater is dependent on the length of the first cycle.
Another common mesocycle structure is the ‘Shock Mesocycle.’ The shock mesocycle is utilized to make significant, but delayed improvements to performance once fatigue is dissipated. The shock mesocycle makes use of two or more weeks of high training loads to ‘shock’ the athlete. Afterwards there is a deloading, which allows for the athlete to recover. Through that recovery the athlete is able to make significant gains in performance.
I utilize this mesocycle structure for a lot of my weightlifters. Week 1 is ‘get used to it.’ The volume and intensity are of medium loading, and the athlete is able to adjust to the training with fair enough ease. Week 2 sees an increase in volume with intensity staying about the same, which allows for increased performance through intermuscular coordination. Week 3 sees a slight drop in volume, but an increase with intensity to lead to a similar high training load as week 2. However, the focus for this week is more intramuscular coordination. The fatigue should be high by the end of this week, but some of the performance increases from week 2 should be apparent. By week 4 the double shock weeks lead to the need for a deload. The next mesocycle should see an increase in performance as the fatigue subsides after the easier week.
The Step Loading and Shock Mesocycle are most common for Prep Phases or even a Hypertrophy Phase. BUT for a competition phase for weightlifting or powerlifting, there is a tapering of volume over a few weeks and an increase of intensity before a deload and the competition. The idea is that the decrease in volume will allow for heavier weights to be lifted, which will prepare the athlete for the competition. The deload of volume and the shorter deload of intensity will allow for recovery and a peak for competition. This mesocycle is referred to as a Peak, and can lead to 2% to 7% increases in performance on competition day.
Stay tuned for next week where we will be breaking down the microcycle and wrapping up our programming discussion!
Kurt Roderick, MA, CSCS, CF-L3, USAW-ASPC L2, AOLC