periodisation and training cycles

The Annual Plan

The annual plan is important in that it directs and guides athletic training over a year. It is based on the concept of periodization and the principles of training. The objective of training is to reach a high level of performance (peak performance) and an athlete has to develop skills, biomotor abilities and psychological traits in a methodical manner.

Preparatory Phase
This phase consists of the general preparation and specific preparation. Usually the general preparation is the longer of the two phases.

Competitive Phase
This phase may contain a few main competitions each containing a pre-competitive and a main competition. Within the main competition, an uploading phase and a special preparatory phase may be included.

Transition Phase
This phase is used to facilitate psychological rest, relaxation and biological regeneration as well as to maintain an acceptable level of general physical preparation. This phase lasts between 3 – 4 weeks (maybe longer) but should not exceed 5 weeks under normal conditions.

Program Design.

A training program should always be considered as ongoing and should be broken down into long and short term blocks or periods of time that can be termed “cycles.” Breaking a program down into cycles is helpful for prioritising your training goals and requirements. The cycles can vary greatly in the amount of time that they span. They are designed to apply more focus on certain goals and needs while placing less attention to others based on established priorities. Macrocycles are long term cycles that may take several months to a year and help to set the priorities and time lines to accomplish training goals or address individual needs. Macrocycles will need to be broken down into more manageable segments called "mesocycles."

Mesocycles would enable a person to better track their progress, reassess their goals, design new routines and make any needed adjustments (to training, diet, sleep, rest etc) in order to stay within the time lines of the macrocycle. Mesocycles can vary widely in length, usually ranging from 3-12 weeks. A normal 6-8 week mesocycle works well for most people. This is enough time to experience significant and measurable results, yet not become bored with the resent routines. This time frame is also short enough to allow a person to identify and correct controllable problems and adjust for uncontrollable variables that may have surfaced before they can inhibit further progress. People should reassess and gather as much pertinent data as possible between mesocycles to help design the new routines and appropriately for continued success.

Training Phases.

The mesocycles (phases in a macrocycle) are planned to focus on certain training priorities, but other goals should not be completely ignored in the process. Competitive athletes normally need to focus on specific training phases such as strength, endurance, and/or speed. But most benefit from improvements in several if not all of these areas. If a person spends a 6-8 weeks in a mesocycle completely striving for strength, that person may lose endurance or mobility if training for these parts are not also reinforced to some degree. Balancing priorities within a mesocycle is exactly what training phases are designed to do.

Many studies have shown that it is ineffective to attempt to improve on every bio-motor ability simultaneously during each training routine, because there is not enough time in a training session to apply that and adapt to that much varied muscle stimulus. Therefore, a mesocycle can be divided into training phases lasting 1-3 weeks that focus primarily on only certain neuro-metabolic adaptations. These shorter time periods allow for progress in one area without loss in others. However, training phases must be planned appropriately throughout the mesocycle to ensure that all priorities are addressed. For example, an 8 week mesocycle focussing primarily on strength could include a 1 week phase of endurance training and a 1 or 2 week phase of hypertrophy work in order to maintain the conditioning goals and body composition the person may also desire. The following are different types of training phases that could be included in a mesocycle to address different priorities.

Transitional phase:

This phase is typically the first week of a mesocycle and is characterised by low intensity and low volume training. This phase is normally used to begin a mesocycle when the previous mesocycle has ended with high intensity strength or power phases. During this week, assessments are done to measure progress and to identify any adaptations achieved in the previous mesocycle. The new program is designed and introduced to the body with an emphasis on training technique. New movement patterns are learned, and the planned exercise sequence is practised. Diet and nutritional strategies are also reviewed. The recommended volume for this phase is 1 or 2 sets per exercise for about 10 to 12 repetitions.

Endurance phase:

These phases typically consist of lower intensity and higher volume routines. Muscular and cardiovascular endurance is the primary focus. However, this is also a logical phase for focusing on repetitive performance of new or difficult exercises because the intensity loads are low, which will help with attempting to master new movement patterns. Exercises that require different stabilisation strategies or have higher balance demands are ideal for additional practice during these phases. Further descriptive titles can be used for a phase if endurance weeks are combined with other complementary phases, such as a transitional-endurance phase or an endurance-hypertrophy phase. Volume recommendations range from 1-3 sets for about 15-20 reps per exercise but occasionally are prescribed with as high as 50 reps in extreme cases.

Hypertrophy phase:

These phases are designed to apply the greatest combinations of intensity and volume in order to give muscle hypertrophy or muscle growth. This overlap of increased intensity and the maintenance of high to moderate volume also make these phases highly metabolic and induces greater hormonal responses than other training phases, making the great for bodyfat reduction as well as hypertrophy. Hypertrophy phases can be appropriate even for those people not interested in large increases of muscle mass, as long as exercise selection and volume for specific muscles are properly planned. Recommendations for sets and repetitions span from 3-5 sets per exercise for 8-12 repetitions. Hypertrophy training covers a wide range of time under tension, so more descriptive titles can be used to designate the training priorities, such as hypertrophy-endurance phases or hypertrophy-strength phases.

Strength phases:

These phases are characterised by high levels of intensity and reduced volumes of work. Greater rest periods and slower training tempos are also typically implemented to maximise motor unit recruitment. These phases focus on more neural and intramuscular adaptations than hypertrophy and endurance phases. Stability is a prerequisite for maximal strength: therefore, fewer exercises are selected and fewer positioning options and techniques that overlap with other training phases, such as strength-hypertrophy phases and strength-power phases. Volume recommendations are from 5-8 sets with 3-5 repetitions per exercise. With that recommendation, you can see why most people prefer combinations of hypertrophy and strength because this many sets of heavy loads are often too high risk for perceived benefits.

Power phase:

To produce power, the speed or rate of force production is as important, if not more so, as the amount of force produced. For this reason, power phases of training are characterised by the use of moderate intensity and even low intensity loads, with low volumes of sets and repetitions and faster tempos. Power training is difficult with standard resistance exercise movements because a proportional amount of effort that does not promote gains in power must be spent on decelerating the weight loads. Power training will often incorporate different more ballistic movements like power cleans, snatches, plyometrics exercises. Power training exacts a high neural demand for the quick productions and reductions of force, plus the increased need for dynamic stability and balance. Therefore, volume recommendations for power typically range from 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.

The division of a macrocycle into a manageable mesocycle and the division of mesocycles into the various training phases may seem like a difficult process, but its well worth the effort. Once someone clearly knows their goals from a given period of time, this sets the priorities for the macrocycle. Whether the overall goals are related to endurance, strength, hypertrophy, or weight loss, the next step is to create the different sub goals that are set at reasonable time periods throughout the year, and then design the appropriate mesocycles to achieve them.

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