How often do you think your coach just picks the HARDEST and WEIRDEST exercises possible to throw at you for a workout?
Better question – how often do you do that for yourself?
Be honest.
As a coach, when clients suggest that I laugh and think to myself “If only it was that easy!”
As a client, I think that would totally suck if my coach just threw exercises together. How would I know if I was making any progress in exercises?
That’s why a good coach doesn’t just throw workouts together!
A good coach takes all the variables into consideration (more on this later) and strategically puts them into a training program.
A good coach utilizes a periodized approach to overload and promote adaptation within the body.
Periodization consists of a 3-part cycle to appropriately stress the body over time, allow it to recover, and then stress it again to improve health and fitness results.
I came up with this 3-part blog to walk you, the client, and any coaches currently programming in this style to literally show you the entire process of designing training programs.
Okay, so where do we start?
Well, with all of my clients, I like to work backwards or from the outside in. I take a look at the desired end result or goal and work backwards to create a skeleton or template until I reach the starting point.
So, in training terms, that means we’re starting with the macrocycle.
What Is a Macrocycle?
Macrocycle refers to your season as a whole.
“I’m not an athlete – I don’t have a season!”
Athletes aren’t the ONLY people with seasons, but I do like to use athlete terms to help clients understand what their health journey will look like (we’ll get to that in the next section).
The macrocycle is really the long-term or annual plan broken down into smaller, more specific time blocks that work towards achieving your goal in a healthy and satisfactory timeframe.
Because the macrocycle is the longest phase in a periodized plan, it includes the most variation. There are harder training phases to stress the body and promote adaptation, easier phases to promote health and recovery, and phases in between to promote specific types of adaptation.
Now, it’s also going to be the phase with the most changes.
The macrocycle provides a birds-eye view of your training; therefore, as you approach the specific phases, adjustments will be made to fit your specific needs.
What Is It Made Of?
As mentioned before, there are seasons of your fat loss and muscle building journey because believe it or not, you CANNOT and SHOULD NOT always be aiming for fat loss OR muscle building.
Seasons are designed to allow for varying intensities, adaptation, and LIFE.
There are only 2 things that matter in a season:
  • Performance (How well you perform and showcase the work from the other seasons)
  • Recovery (Rest, repair, and recover in preparation for the next competition).
A season varies from person to person.
It can be a singular event or a string of events.
Take 2 examples of athletic seasons:
  • Marathon Runner – 1 Singular event.
  • Pro Football – 16 Games or a String of Events
However, most reading this are NOT athletes, so how does this fit in when training for fat loss and lean muscle building?
Well, your “season” is your goal date or event to which you’re working towards.
It may be a photoshoot.
Your wedding.
A high school reunion.
Your next physical.
But most often, this is a singular event that together we are working to look and feel your absolute best.
As an athlete, it’s easy to identify the post-season – it’s playoffs!
For them, the goal remains performance and recovery, but because it follows the season, it likely has a larger emphasis on recovery.
Again, you’re probably not an athlete looking to win a championship, but that doesn’t mean this doesn’t apply to your training.
You do have a post-season, but it looks different for every individual.
If you were training for a competition, this time is utilized to recover the body physically, provide the body with additional nutrients for bodily repair, lower stress levels, and return to “normal.”
If you were in a fat loss or lean muscle building phase for an event or a goal date, then this is when we modify training to fit our lifestyle by doing the things we love, working out the appropriate number of days for our schedule, and focusing on decreasing the intensity of training to promote overall health.
Post-Season might vary the most in length because it truly relies on how you feel and how your body responds to a return towards or near maintenance level calories.
Unfortunately, this season is skipped most often, and people assume they can just jump right back to a caloric deficit and beating themselves up in the gym.
Typically, new clients struggle to understand off-season the most.
Because it’s labeled as the OFF-Season, many think this is the time to go lighter in training, take a less dialed in approach on nutrition, and simply maintain progress.
It’s actually just the opposite.
Now is when, as your coach, we’re going to gradually raise the intensity of training, dial in the nutrition, and push fat loss and lean muscle building!
Quite honestly, this is the season where we push an prioritize RESULTS.
From a training perspective, there’s a fairly even utilization of endurance, hypertrophy, and strength training to really help facilitate progress.
As we move to Part 2 and 3 of this series, you’ll see specifically how the off-season is progressively dialed in, but know this is the LONGEST of the four Macrocycle phases.
The off-season might be the longest, but the pre-season is arguably the most intense.
The pre-season is crunch time.
This is when you are SO CLOSE to your goal event, date, or competition that we’re making every last effort to push and maximize results.
Workouts might be at their peak intensity.
For my clients, I’m hoping to promote a good muscular pump and work them to capacity in every session.
It is important to note that this is the season before The Season, so recovery must be a priority. (Remember, the last thing you or I want is for you to feel TRASHED on your big day!).
Therefore, rest periods might be longer and total number of sets might diminish in this stage.
How Do We Apply It?
Alright, so we have this information on seasons, how does that get applied to our training?
Determining your Macrocycle is like creating an outline – you create the skeleton, but don’t quite fill in all the details because they may change as you go.
Here’s what I typically recommend to clients when they look at their Macrocycle.
Make a General Map of Your Year
Identify your large goal – GET SPECIFIC by including dates and measurable end points.
Smaller Targets – Breakdown your larger goal into smaller targets. I encourage my clients to set targets at the following dates
  • 1 Year
  • 6 Months
  • 3 Months
  • 1 Month
  • 2 Weeks
  • 1 Week
Identify MAJOR Events
This will help to assess your commitment level throughout the year! The more events you’re able to identify as motivation or challenges in your year, the better prepared we are in our meso- and microcycles.
Create a General Schedule of Your Seasons
Fill in the outline a bit more by generally identifying your season, post-season, off-season, and pre-season.
Work with a Coach to Breakdown into Meso- and Microcycles
Laying the foundation and creating the general plan for a macrocycle is easy; however, specificity comes within the meso- and microcycles, so I strongly recommend you work with a coach to dial this in and get you the best results!
About The Author
Jordan Davies is the Co-Owner of Complete Performance. Jordan has her B.S. in Exercise Science and Psychology, and her M.A. in Holistic Health Studies. She is a CSCS certified strength and conditioning coach, and a PN-1 and NCI-1 certified nutrition coach. She loves to study how the human body needs to be moved and nourished and making that fit to your unique lifestyle. Click Here Now to Apply for Coaching with Jordan.