Explaining Macro, Meso & Microcycles

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Macro, Meso and Micro Cycles – what are they?

Although the terms sound slightly confusing, they are actually quite straightforward concepts. Before we get into what each term means it is important to note that coaches rarely use these terms in practice; instead the approaches are applied when it comes to programming and periodization.

To refresh our memories, periodization is the process by which a training plan (i.e. annual) is divided into specific time blocks that each have a particular goal and provides your body with different types of stress. This allows both you as the coach and your client to create some periods of hard training as well as periods which facilitate recovery. Periodization also helps you develop different physiological abilities during different phases of training such as strength, hypertrophy and fat loss. 

We cover the science of recovery, utilizing the principles of: periodization, client lifestyle, nutrition & training in the Strength System International Certification Bundle by Sebastian Oreb. Click here to enrol!

Periodization is broken down into 3 cycles:

  • Macro-cycles
  • Meso-cycles
  • Micro-cycles

Macrocycles: A macrocycle refers to the full season or training period as a whole. So for an athlete, if the competitive season occurs once per year, then the macrocycle will be the full year. If there are two competitions within a year, then we say there are two macrocycles. These macrocycles are then further divided into mesocycles.

Mesocycles: Here we start to thinking about what types of training we want to prioritise at different times. A mesocycle therefore refers to a particular training block within a season, i.e. strength phase. Here the focus will be on strength that will support the main overriding goal for, let’s say, a powerlifter, whose main goal will be to pull big numbers at a powerlifting competition. So for one mesocycle, the focus might be hypertrophy, for another it might be skill acquisition. A mesocycle can go for a few weeks or a few months.

Microcycles: Within a mesocycle we have microcycles. These are the smallest unit or block of time within a meso cycle and are typically a week long but can range from a few days to a few weeks. 

Regardless of whether you use these terms or not, the important takeaway from this is that having structure and a time-scale to your programming will be a key factor to success. Long term goals are great, but breaking this down into 6-month or even 12-month blocks can be very useful to properly strategise how we approach things.

When we take these macrocycles and break them down into mesocycles we get the chance to focus on different aspects of training which we want to develop. We can then taper this into more skill work during the mesocycles as we get closer to the deadline. Microcycles are important as we think about managing workload and also plan for ample recovery.

Any coach who doesn’t look at the meso- or macrocycles, aka, the ‘bigger picture’, isn’t thinking of the best way for the client to progress in the most efficient way.

Setting a goal and working BACK by looking at what they need to do now in order to get to the end point eventually is the best way to keep things organised and simple. It’s easier to see at what points it will be critical to train with intensity, focus on structural balance, work on technique or aim for progressive overload when you can see a timeline in front of you.

Remember that periodization allows you to get the most out of your training by having a good understanding of each of the three cycles and then using these cycles to create a plan that allows you to peak for your most important events throughout the year.

If you would like to learn more about this topic check out our online courses:

1. Oreb, S. (2020). Strength Systems International Certification Level 1. Clean Health Fitness Institute. 
2. Bannister, S. (2018). Micro, meso and macrocycles explained. The Strength and Conditioning Coach. Retrieved from:https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/macrocycles-mesocycles-and-microcycles-understanding-the-3-cycles-of-periodization/

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