A major issue amongst the novice and intermediate athletes of the strength community today is their vision. The amount of emails and questions I get regarding how to get ready for X in 4 weeks completely out weighs the questions I get regarding long term progress. I of course answer with the best advice and help I can give, but I always try to point them in the direction of long term preparation. I do this for two reasons:
1. It gives the best results
2. It highlights those who are exceptionally motivated
The people who are looking down the line for success will always beat the ones looking for an easy way out. I truly believe everyone has the ability to reach their goals, but the proper motivation and guidance are needed.
The Long Term Plan
This is where devising a macro cycle comes into play. A macrocycle is essentially a long term block periodization plan that leads an athlete to an ultimate goal. This goal is typically a competition or a milestone that has high levels of emotional attachment. This means the macrocycle is your treasure map to striking gold. If you know anything about gold miners, you know they don’t just mindlessly hack away at the same spot hoping for something to magically change.
This is the major flaw in the training programs of many athletes.
If someone decides to compete in a strongman show 20 weeks out, the worst thing they can do is begin hitting the competition events right away. They are hacking away at the same thing hoping for improvements in performance to come. Specificity is an incredibly important portion of a training program, however, if it begins to over take its purpose it can certainly inhibit you. The reason sport specific training can elicit a peak is because for a short period of time the sport specific traits are exposed to higher volumes and given more emphasis while under residual fatigue. This causes the body to super-compensate the recovery/neural aspects of the stimulus (i.e. the sport specific training). This is your ace card and your final progression. If you play that card too early, then you're going to miss out on a lot of potential for improvement and eventually have to settle or fold.
So what is supposed to fill the rest of your macrocycle? It is most effective to reverse engineer it when looking at your own training. I will take you through how I am viewing an upcoming goal of mine through a long term lens. Beginning around 28 weeks out, this is the first major step in my longer term plans. There is no standard number of weeks when planning a macrocycle, however, I would recommend a minimum of 15 weeks to allow you to flow well.
Goal: bulk up to 198 and total over 1460
First 5 weeks:
-Kcal set 3100 weekly, maintain BW of 188
-Increase muscle mass and work capacity
Weeks 6-10 (in this phase currently)
-Kcal drop to 2800-2600, increase body comp
-Increase movement quality and muscle mass
-Kcal increase until BW reaches 190-192
-Begin implementing SPP and developing alactic capacity
-Kcal increase to maintain 193-195
-Bulk of sport specific volume handled
-Cycling of Kcal throughout week to maintain 195
-Peaking phase begins
Now this is a very rough and vague outline for where my training and nutrition will go. My longer term goal is to compete in the 231 class in strongman, meaning I will be bulking long term. Hence the cut of bf % and kcal because it's easier to maintain body composition while gaining weight than to improve it. To aid in this goal I am currently doing a John Meadows program 7 days a week, then I will transition into a phase were I develop efficient patterns in the bench, squat, and deadlift while returning to the alactic energy system. Finally, from week 17 on I will be focusing on building strength and preparing for the meet.
The goal of this was to show you the changes and transitions training must go through in order to properly prepare you to reach a goal. When creating an effective long term plan you must objectively look at yourself. What are your weaknesses? What will be your limiting factor in performance? What is your long term vision? It is uncommon that you are creating the last major macrocycle, this only happens once or twice in a life time. Most macrocycles are only means to further progress yourself using other goals as a medium.
The most important variables are the energy system the sport utilizes, the strength demands of the sport, the movement demands of the sport, favorable anthropometrics, and the conditions the sport will be performed in.
These are by no means the only ones, but these can generally be applied to all sports.
So you're at block one...how do you start? I recommend looking at the most successful participants in your sport and break down their performance and learn about them. You should have a clear indication of the direction you want to go with the program based on the research you have done before hand. Since you are working backwards it should be easy to periodize everything. The beginning portion of your program should be set to fixing weaknesses and creating a rock solid foundation. It should then progress to focusing on building important attributes for the sport. Finally, the program should be heavy in sport specific volume that translates best to your goals.
Think about how treasure maps work in movies: the trip begins nice, but as you get closer and closer to the treasure you have to evade more dangers until you finally reach the end and are glad its all over.
Step 1: Pick 1-2 goals that you will be programming toward
Step 2: Pick the qualities and attributes you would like to improve to reach the goals
Step 3: Do the calendar math on how many total weeks you will have
Step 4: Pool together the movements you will be using
Step 5: Establish the method you would like to peak with and its attributes
Step 6: Begin reverse engineering the program back to week 1
Step 7: Sit on it, and review the program multiple times before you begin
I may be beating a dead horse with this, but when it comes to planning out the macrocycle reverse engineering is most effective. You have a clear cut end goal with the traits you want to peak. You then take one step back and start asking yourself questions: what type of training protocol would allow you to peak for this? And so on and so forth.
Long term progress is not a linear track. This is where too much specificity can hurt you. If you spend more time developing your aerobic GPP you have a greater ability to handle general volume, which will allow you to handle more specific work, which will allow you to handle even greater amounts of specificity and so on. Do not allow yourself to view this process linearly, it is very much cyclic in nature. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid of long term commitment. Don’t be afraid of any bumps in the road. Don’t be afraid of the success you may reach.
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