Planning the Macrocycle: Tips for the Young Strength Coach

The idea to write this article came to me while thinking of ways to improve my interviewing skills. Essentially, my problem was the inability to put my “training philosophy” into a few short words that a sport coach could interpret. Perhaps the “philosophy” question is the most common question during an interview. However, I find it difficult to put what we do into a few short sentences. There are so many different loading schemes, exercise selections and progressions, and individual and team needs called upon in certain circumstances that narrowing hours and hours of planning and hair pulling down to a simple explanation doesn't do our job justice. Simply stating “I do everything” sounds too much like “I have no idea what I’m doing so I just put a bunch of random stuff together that’s difficult and hoped for the best.”

It also occurred to me that many interns are subject to creating programs as part of their curriculum. Clearly, this is an essential aspect of our job, but interns are sensitive. Their feelings are like that of a guest on Maury after finding out he's the father. One piece of bad news and their lives are over. While criticism of their programs will help them in the end, interns are asked to create programs with little to no experience and limited guidance. This may be unfair to the interns, but this is collegiate athletics with jobs on the line. Some things take priority.

With the scenarios mentioned above in mind, I thought it might be helpful to illustrate some of the programming tools I use while mapping out my macrocycles. It should be stated that this is what has worked for me. There are a ton of other considerations when programming, which is why Supertraining was written. The purpose of this article is to help young strength coaches with some basic tips for programming while referring them to helpful sources along the way.

Creating an annual plan

While I can't recall ever being tested and I don't trust the norms and standards created by our public education system, I can say with a small beacon of confidence that I'm a visual learner. This is why I find annual planning schemes very helpful as a starting point in programming. As with training in general, I like to look at the big picture while determining how to put my athletes in the best position for competitive success.

I've attached an example of an annual layout I did for collegiate wrestling. General templates for these can be found in a bunch of books. However, I prefer the example available in Joe Kenn’s The Coach’s Strength Training Playbook, which is a book that every strength coach should have. It isn't the exact template in his book, but you should modify it regardless to suit your style and needs as a coach.

A few notes about the plan—the loading schemes will change throughout the course of the year. This is inevitable, and it's probably a bad idea to plan that far ahead. However, I like to determine where I want to be at certain points in the year and work backward to achieve these intensities. Putting loading schemes in the plan helps. In addition, clear physiological goals are set for each block of the year. Therefore, when you do have to make changes, they are easier to make because you understand what the goals of the mesocycle are and can easily stay on track.

It should be noted that the goals of each block consist of training compatible motor abilities. It's essential that you don't train incompatible training methods simultaneously (i.e. lactic and aerobic endurance systems). This results in spinning your tires and wasting time. To see what I mean, check out the chart from Vladmir Issurin’s book Block Periodization, which details compatible training modalities.

You may also notice that I use a peaking index created by Tudor Bompa. Each number corresponds with different levels of readiness, fatigue, muscle soreness, and training intensity. This is helpful in maintaining perspective for where you need to be at certain points in the year. Check out an outstanding article explaining the peaking index on Mladen Jovanovic’s website. In fact, do yourself a favor and read everything that he has on his blog. It's far more informative than anything I can write.

Finally, each block is three to four weeks long. This depends on the competition season, uncontrollable events, the coach’s demands, and how many weeks are available to you. The set/rep schemes (although not entered) are based off of Prilepin’s chart and fluctuate between high, low, and optimal, depending on the time of year, goals for each block, and necessary adjustments through observation. Also, the base intensities can act as a deload week, especially if the primary stimulus is changed. Just something to keep in mind.

Other considerations

Before moving on, I think it's important to mention the obvious. Your goals in each block of training are dependent on the demands of the sport. The entire year of training culminates to being prepared for the competition period. Intelligent programming doesn't consist of repeating an eight- or twelve-week program over and over year after year. It sounds painfully obvious, but you’d be surprised. As the great Charlie Francis said, “If we repeat the same program year after year, our window of opportunity for improvement becomes less and less.”

I firmly believe that being adequately prepared for competition is dependent on an understanding of identifying the dominant energy systems of the sport and training them. Get strong and master the basics in the weight room and get in “sport-specific” condition. I'm glad I could throw sport-specific in there—the most bastardized concept in the game.

Most team sports predominately utilize the aerobic and alactic-anaerobic pathways. Explaining the energy systems is a whole other article. Joel Jamieson of recently came out with an outstanding book on energy systems called Ultimate MMA Conditioning. If you're unfamiliar with this book or Mr. Jamieson’s website, check it out and get better.

The actual content of the mesocycles is dependent on what you think is best for your athletes and is beyond the scope of this article. However, I believe it's important to progress your lifts as well as your warm up. Far too many warm ups consist of running around a little bit and doing some arm circles. Make this time count for something by targeting common injury and immobility sites like the shoulder capsule, neck (head), hips, and knees. No matter how much nutritional information you give your athletes, they will always live on a steady diet of Pop-Tarts and Red Baron if they eat at all. Therefore, your recovery methods become paramount, especially if you want to continue to push during the preparation phases and get stronger during the competition period.

My final point is train what you intend to improve. If your goal is to improve sprint mechanics and acceleration, train that. If improving aerobic capacity is your goal, train it. Don’t just put a bunch of cones and ladders everywhere and call it speed, agility, and quickness or COD or any other catchy term you found on the Internet. Lumping a bunch of stuff together and having your athletes work hard is just that—a lump of crap. Smart training can be difficult and demanding while supporting the improvement of athletic ability. If an athlete asks what he's trying to accomplish during a training session, you'd better have an answer for him outside of “hard work.”

The purpose of this article was to help the young strength coach understand a little bit better how to map out an annual plan. This may have sent some people down a trail of endless articles and more confusion than anything, but Buddy Morris said it best with "The more I know, the more I realize what I don’t know” or something to that effect. I believe it's important to understand that having a plan will put your training goals in perspective and keep you on track throughout the year.

Having said all this, if you can’t coach the lifts, all the programming knowledge in the world is useless. So do your athletes a favor—coach ‘em up! If anyone has any questions or is in need of some help, I would be glad to help as best I can. Email me with any questions.