Michael Hulcher Breaking Muscle
One of the things I’ve come to learn in teaching seminars at Gym Jones is that many people don’t have an understanding of how to put together multiple training phases into a cohesive year (or macrocyle) of training. The major difficulty in explaining the concept of a macrocycle is that everyone has both a unique starting point and a unique set of short and long-term objectives. There’s no real universal prescription for something as subjective as “success” or worse, “fitness.” These two things mean very different things to each individual.
The first thing you need to do is start with an honest assessment of your current capabilities. This might imply that some testing is necessary. It really depends on how recently you might have tested those attributes.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s suppose that one of my goals this next year (2020-2021) is to bring up my back squat to 400lbs. Well, I can’t write effective programming unless I know what my current back squat max is, so it would be really helpful to test it.
Next, we need to set a reasonable time frame to achieve the goal. In the case of this 400lb back squat, it could very well take 2 years to add 40lbs to my current squat max (360). This depends on what other (if any) fitness characteristics need to be addressed in the macrocycle.
If pure strength is the only energy system that you plan to address, 40lbs is pretty reasonable. However, if you plan on spending half of the macrocycle (6 months) building your fitness, then 40lbs is pretty unreasonable.
You would have to adjust your expectations from 40lbs to maybe something like 20-25 lbs. If you end up achieving a better result, fantastic. If not, you had reasonable expectations at the start of the training year and you already knew it was going to be a multi-year commitment.
Macrocycles and Training Plans for Fitness
Now that you have some clear objectives, an understanding of your current capabilities, and reasonable timeframe, it’s time to lay out what the macrocycle should look like (and take note I’m keeping this discussing very global and conceptual, the granular nitty-gritty would be a much more in-depth discussion).
Assuming you have no fitness goals during the training year and you’re dedicating all of your time and energy into your strength objectives, the training year would look something like this:
- January – March Hypertrophy
- 2-4 weeks in March / April Foundation
- April – July Strength
- 2-4 weeks July / August Foundation
- August – October Hypertrophy
- October – December Strength
- December – January Foundation
Are there other ways to write this? Sure. You could definitely omit the weeks of foundation between phases, but I find that it’s a nice physiological and psychological break from the training grind to just come into the gym and do fun stuff for a week or 2 (or more should you need it).
Cycling between strength and hypertrophy is a great way to organize strength training. Hypertrophy work allows you to not only put on a bit of size, but also allows you the time and relative break from high intensity to perfect technique, develop great training habits and movement patterns, and to take the low hanging gains in the 65-80% range in terms of loading.
You can also implement some variations on the classic lifts (conventional deadlift, bench press, back squat, barbell strict press) if you plan on attacking those in the more linear strength phases. Avoiding exercise variation is a fast track to potential overuse injuries and more systemic burnout.
If your goals are more general, i.e. that of a generalist (GPP – general physical preparedness), your training macrocycle would look very different and more like how we approach the year here in the gym.
- October – December Hypertrophy
- 1-4 weeks in December Foundation
- December – February Strength
- 2-4 weeks in February Foundation / Athletic Power
- March-May Aerobic Capacity
- May – July Cardiovascular Power
- July – September Power Endurance
The fact that our training year goes from October to September is incidental and primary driven by the Advanced Seminar that we put on once a year in September. We always have some locals in the gym that plan on attending, so we train to optimize our fitness for that event. Your calendar should reflect your own training and peaking needs.
Seasonal Training Design and Training Blocks
Sport-specific training is very different. No matter the sport, there should be a clear offseason and a clear in-season approach to how you train. If you’re not taking this approach towards your sport, that’s fine, it just means that you’re not serious about it.
I’m not here to judge what you do or how you go about it, but if you want to train for an optimal outcome or to be a competitive athlete, rest assured the competition most likely isn’t wasting valuable time and energy at the local big box gym in a jazzercise class in preparation for the World Championships in any sport.
The seasonal design starts with the timeframe. When do you need to peak? If it’s multiple times per season (like a strength or power sport such as Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting or strongman) your off-season is simply any period between competitions.
Your training blocks will depend on a number of factors including results, injury status, and the time between competitions. If your sport is more traditional (like football, basketball, baseball, etc.) in-season and off-season training are much simpler in design.
Planning and Achieving Goals Go Hand-in-Hand
The difference between achieving your goals and just talking about the things you wish you could do typically comes down to planning. Make a plan, make it relevant, and make certain it’s achievable. Have clear objectives and a realistic timeframe.
Finally, execute. As always, feel free to ask questions. We have custom programming options available to you should the need arise.