Building your own training program is a great way to achieve your long-term goals, but where do you start?
By breaking down your program into smaller time frames and using specific phases of training – macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles – you can find success.
In this article, I’ll dive into everything you need to know about planning your first training program and give you samples of each phase of training so you can understand these concepts in practice.
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Periodized Training: Macrocycles, Mesocycles, and Microcycles Explained
When you develop a program for a specific goal, it is helpful to create a timeline to allow you to create short and long term goals and to train for those goals in a special way.
Coaches will use things called macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles to organize those chunks of time into one long timeline that details exactly what needs to happen, and when.
What is a Macrocycle?
A macrocycle is the longest of the three cycles, and refers to the entire program as a whole.
This may be a whole training season, or competition cycle. It could also be the entire program set out to achieve a specific goal.
For example, a hockey player may look at their entire calendar year as a macrocycle, with smaller phases within that (mesocycles and macrocycles).
What is a Mesocycle?
A mesocycle is the second largest of the three cycles, and usually refers to larger chunks of time within the macrocycle.
Most macrocycles allow for 3-5 mesocycles, however this can vary based on the sport and the goal.
In the hockey example, we can break the macrocycles (entire calendar year) into 4 mesocycles (off-season, pre-season, in-season, post-season).
What is a Microcycle?
A microcycle is the smallest of all three cycles, and can be a small as needed to fit into the mesocycle and it’s goals. This can be anywhere from 1-week to a couple of months.
In the hockey example, we could break down each mesocycle (off-season, pre-season, in-season, post-season) into a few different microcycles that a couple of weeks each.
For example, in the preseason mesocycle, you may want to spend 2-weeks getting players back in shape doing general conditioning and then 2-weeks adding more specific sport drills and exercises.
Putting It All Together
- The Macrocycle would be considered the entire year of training.
- The Mesocycle could be considered 1-block of training, for example, the “pre-season training program”.
- The Microcycles could be considered the weeks of training within the pre-season program.
Example of a 12-Week Macrocycle
To help you visualize how macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles work, here is an example of a 12-week program geared toward increasing muscle mass.
- The entirety of the 12-weeks can be considered the macrocycle
- The mesocycles will include three 1-month blocks, each block becomes increasingly more difficult and focuses on different set/rep schemes. Each mesocycle will also focus on different parts of the body to more or less of an extent.
- Each mesocycle will be broken down into four 1-week microcycles. The microcycles (the weeks of training) also build up in difficulty from week 1 to 3, and week 4 is considered a deload.
Lower Body Focused Mesocycle (Month 1)
The first, 4-week mesocycle will be devoted to building muscle throughout the entire body, but will have an extra emphasis on building the lower body.
You will train your lower body 3 times per week, and upper body twice per week.
- Day 1 – Hamstrings, Quads
- Day 2 – Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms
- Day 3 – Quads, Hamstrings
- Day 4 – Shoulders, Back, Chest, Arms
- Day 5 – Quads, Hamstrings
The mesocycle is broken down into four, 1-week microcycles:
- In week 1, you will train all exercises to a point where you can get 2-3 good reps left before failing within the prescribed rep range.
- In week 2, you will train to a point where you can only get 1-2 good reps before failure.
- In week 3, you will train to a point where you can get no more good reps before failure.
- In week 4, you will repeat the same weights you did in week 1, and leave 3 good reps in the tank before reaching failure, as this will act as a deload and recovery week for you before moving into the 2nd mesocycle.
Upper Body Focused Mesocycle (Month 2)
After spending 4 weeks with a greater emphasis on building the lower body, you will now enter a 4-week mesocycle where you will train the lower body twice, and the upper body 3 days a week.
The upper body workouts will have you place a greater focus on training the chest and back by making the third day an additional chest and back workout.
- Day 1 – Chest, Back, Shoulders, Arms
- Day 2 – Quads, Hamstrings
- Day 3 – Shoulders, Arms, Back, Chest
- Day 4 – Hamstrings, Quads
- Day 5 – Back, Chest
The mesocycle is broken down into four, 1-week increments. You will follow the same intensity weekly progression as you did in the microcycles from the first mesocycle.
In essence, week 1 is medium, week 2 is medium-hard, week 3 is hard, followed by a deload on week 4.
Peak Muscle Growth Mesocycle (Month 3)
This is the last mesocycle of the 12-week macrocycle, and it will be your hardest training phase.
You will be training 6-days a week with the goal of maximizing the amount of volume placed on each muscle group – training each muscle twice per week.
At this point in your macrocycle, your body should be able to handle the additional training frequency.
The final mesocycle is again broken down into four 1-week microcycles. Instead of taking a deload on week 4 as with the prior mesocycles, the idea in this phase is to train as hard as possible over the course of the entire month.
You will train for 3 days in a row, and take a rest day on day 4. As such, your workout schedule will change week-to-week.
Microcycle 1 – Week 1
- Monday – Chest and back
- Tuesday – Shoulders and arms
- Wednesday – Legs and lower back
- Thursday – Rest
- Friday – Chest and back
- Saturday – Shoulders and arms
- Sunday – Legs and lower back
Microcycle 2 – Week 2
- Monday – Rest
- Tuesday – Chest and back
- Wednesday – Shoulders and arms
- Thursday – Legs and lower back
- Friday – Rest
- Saturday – Chest and back
- Sunday – Shoulders and arms
Microcycle 3 – Week 3
- Monday – Legs and lower back
- Tuesday – Rest
- Wednesday – Chest and back
- Thursday – Shoulders and arms
- Friday – Legs and lower back
- Saturday – Rest
- Sunday – Chest and back
Microcycle 4 – Week 4
- Monday – Shoulders and arms
- Tuesday – Legs and lower back
- Wednesday – Rest
- Thursday – Chest and back
- Friday – Legs and lower back
- Saturday – Shoulders and arms
- Sunday – Rest
6 Tips for Planning a Successful Macrocycle
1. Give Yourself Enough Time to Plan Properly
Be sure to give yourself enough time to plan a macrocycle properly, so that you have the ability to devote time to building a base, building up on that base, and then fine-tuning your performance at the very end of the cycle.
Those are typically the three stages of every macrocycle, and each, allowing you to build upon the previous to maximize performance and minimize injury.
Most lifters should allow a minimum of 12 weeks to prepare themselves for a goal, however, some goals may even be on a much longer timeline.
2. Be Realistic with Your Goals
You need to be realistic, and what you can achieve throughout one macro cycle, as many lifters will underestimate the amount of time needed to accomplish a lofty goal.
Below are some general guidelines of how long a macrocycle should be based on your goals. These timelines are set for beginners, so if you are more advanced than that, you may need to add another 4-8 weeks.
Strength improvements will take the longest to develop, with a minimum of 12 weeks being allowed to see an improvement.
For significant muscle growth or fat loss, 8 to 12 weeks is the minimum amount of time you should play on your macrocycle.
Increasing aerobic fitness and endurance could take anywhere between six and eight weeks for most beginners, however, this can vary based on the individual. Intermediate and advanced individuals may find their aerobic fitness comes back, relatively quickly compared to muscle and strength.
3. Be Flexible in Your Timelines
Things will pop up in your training that will require you to be flexible. Maybe its travel, a crazy work week, or even injury.
The best way to combat this is to to give yourself enough time to be flexible (first tip). If that doesn’t solve your issue, then you need to determine what is the most important things you need to do (that you can do based on your limitations), and execute those.
Most people will get overwhelmed when things get hectic because they feel they need to do every little thing in their macrocycle.
When making your program, try to focus on what it essential to your success, and what is non-essential but still important. If you have limitation, focus on the essential first and do what you can.
4. Don’t Push Through Injuries
Injuries might happen along the way. The kye with injuries are to catch them early, rather than ignore them.
Catching an injury or some slight discomfort early may mean getting a massage and taking an extra rest day (or maybe having a deload week even though your program doesn’t have that planned).
If you ignore through those signs, you may set yourself up for a long-term injury, one that will severely impact your timeline.
5. Plan Recovery Weeks Between Each Cycle
Recovery weeks are important as they allow you to reload before the next wave of progressions and intensity. When doing recovery weeks, you don’t need to completely rest, but you should have a slight dip in the overall stress of teh workouts.
This may mean doing 5-10% less weight than you did in your hardest week of the cycle, or maybe only doing 2 sets instead of 4 sets. The goal in these weeks is to get into the gym, get some good work in, but leave not feeling beat up.
Your body will need to recovery between the phases, making a few days or a week a good amount of time to take workouts a little easier to allow you to push harder over time.
6. Review Your Macrocycle When You Have Completed It
When you are done with a macrocycle and have completed your event, it is important that you take some time to look back on your results.
- Did you like the outcome?
- Did the plan prepare you for success?
- What could you have done differently that would have made things better?
- What did you do in this program that you are not sure you need to the next time around?
- Would you run this same macrocycle program again, and if so why? If not, why?
All those questions are ones I recommend all coaches and individuals answer after every macrocycle to help them build better ones in the future or fine tune an already great plan.
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Having a plan is key to any successful endeavor, and a macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles are all ways to organize your training into a timeline.
By breaking down your training timeline into smaller chunks you can create both short and long term goals to strive for, and still have flexibility to adapt to things outside your control and still get the results you want.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.