Why You Should Try Macrocycle Training

Creating workout plans for the year can help you set—and achieve—your fitness goals.

Instead of just making 2017 a repeat of the workouts you did in 2016, consider taking a more scientific approach to your training. You're probably used to slating out the exercises and classes you plan to do on a weekly basis, but zooming out to see the bigger picture—and creating a purposeful training plan and peak for the year—can help you take things to the next level. 

Professional athletes do this with what's called a macrocycle. We can all take a page from their playbook and use this strategy to get stronger, leaner, or to prep for a big race or event. Yes, it's usually used by runners, triathletes, and the like but any kind of exerciser can benefit. Essentially, macrocycle training works by dividing the year into four phases: A pre-season, a skill development and conditioning phase, a strength and power build, and a final push that includes a race or competition. Here's how you can use it to make working out in 2017 more exciting and effective. Keep in mind that this is just a sample plan. For best results, consider working with a certified trainer to create your own custom plan.

*If your goals are endurance-based, do four days a week of cardio and two days a week of strength. If you're looking to build more muscle or to get stronger, do the opposite. 

Phase 1 - The Pre-Season (January - March)

  • Theme: Set great habits, don’t fear the basics, and get stronger.
  • Goals: This is the time to set yourself up for success. In order to advance, you need to master the basics: Even the most elite athletes will all go back to square one. 
  • Example Exercises/Sessions: 
    • Strength:  Focus on fundamental movements like squats, chest presses, seated rows, overhead presses, step-ups, and lat pull downs. Do 2-4 sets of 8-15 reps each with 1.5 to 2 minutes of rest between sets. 
    • Cardio/Endurance: Incorporate one day of high intensity interval training with hills or speed work on the bike, treadmill, or other cardio machine. Start with 30 seconds of work (at 85% of your max effort) and 90 seconds of rest (a 1:3 work to rest ratio) for up to 30 minutes. Additionally, perform low-intensity cardio workouts, like a 30-minute jog, bike ride, hike, or swim, up to three days a week.

Phase 2 - Skill Development and Conditioning (April - June)

  • Theme: Improve movement quality and endurance.  
  • Goals: This is the time when an elite athlete is preparing for the big block of work to come in phase 4. It's a good opportunity for you to pencil in an event, like a marathon or triathlon in October or November. The training you put in now will help you get prepared for the next two phases of the year by honing your skills. The key here is patience. It's a classic mistake to go out too hard, too soon, which will not be maintainable for the year, and is likely to result in injury.   
  • Example Exercises/Sessions: 
    • Strength: Single-limb (or unilateral) work is important because it will help with balance. Try lunges in multiple planes (forwards, backwards, sideways), single-arm presses, and single-arm rows. Then add in some bigger, more synchronized lifts with lighter weight such as cleans, push presses, or kettlebell work. Use the reps and sets prescribed in phase 1. 
    • Cardio/Endurance: Increase the duration of your low-intensity sessions. Start by adding 15% of overall time and work up to 25%. You can also add time to your interval workout. For example, start with 2-minute intervals and build up to 6- to 7-minute intervals towards the end of May and June. The work-to-rest ratio here will come down to 1:0.5 (so for 6-minute intervals you would rest for 3 minutes). Since you need to sustain the intervals for longer, drop your effort level to 80% of your max. 

    Phase 3 - The Strength and Power Build (July - September)

    • Theme: Step up your fitness, improve your performance.
    • Goals: This is the time to gain strength and power, and apply all of the smart and hard work you have done up to this point. The good habits you have established should be really solid now and will truly help you succeed.
    • Example Exercises/Sessions:  
      • Strength: Keep doing the movements that you enjoyed from the last two phases and drop the reps slightly in order to add more load or power. Aim for 3-6 sets and 3-8 reps. You can also add in some body weight plyometric training. 
      • Cardio/Endurance: Keep at least one low-intensity cardio day, which is important for recovery purposes. Meanwhile, make your interval day more intense since your overall fitness will have improved. Try 12-15 minute intervals at 80-85% effort, with 3-minute rest breaks.

    Phase 4 - The Final Push (October - December)

    • Theme: Trust your work, trust your habits.  
    • Goals: At this point, if you have put in the effort throughout the year, you should truly be feeling strong, fit, and balanced. This is where you can take your most passionate form of exercise or training and really test yourself. 
    • Example Exercises/Sessions:  
      • Strength: Consider working with a trainer to test your max in bigger lifts and to set a benchmark for yourself in an area that you would like to pursue again.
      • Cardio/Endurance: Partake in a race, an endurance challenge, or simply find a method to test yourself on your own two to three times during this phase.
        Continue low-intensity recovery work before and after the tests.