Annual Strength Programming for Athletes
One of the challenges with designing strength programs for elite athletes is trying to increase and maintain strength gains year round while having to take a competition schedule in to consideration. Due to the demands and priority of an athletes skill development and competitions, the strength training will take a back seat at many times during the year, and the biggest mistake a strength coach can make is to not plan the periodization properly. Traditional linear resistance training protocols (gradual increases of intensity over time in a straight line) work great for bodybuilding, but when dealing with competitive athletes, an undulating or non-linear program with large fluctuations in load and volume, is more appropriate. When planning an annual overview for an athlete, there are some general guidelines that you should follow, but before we dive in to those, let’s first discuss the different cycles contained in a training plan.
- Macrocycle - The macro cycle is typically an entire training year, including competition and off season. A macrocycle could also be less than 1 year if an athlete has two distinct competition seasons per year - spring 7 on 7 football and fall football, for example - or as many as 4 years when considering olympic athletes.
- Mesocycle - Two or more cycles within the macrocycle, each lasting several weeks to several months. An example would be a preseason training period or one particular 6 week training period during the off season.
- Microcycle - A short 2-4 period but can be as short as several days. There is typically some type of training protocol that makes the micropyle a cohesive training block - spending 2 weeks doing speed work, or a 4 week block of dedicated hypertrophy training.
Now that you understand the different cycles within an annual training plan (macrocycle), let’s break down the typical mesocycles during the year:
1. Preparatory - Off season (anywhere from 4-6 months)
Testing at beginning and end
Workouts 60-90 minutes, longer rest periods
2. First Transition Period- Pre Season (6-12 weeks)
High Volume of movements, lower volume of reps and sets
Basic Strength and Power focus
Workouts 60 minutes
3. In Season - Early season competition (6-12 weeks)
Workouts lasting 45 minutes
4. In Season - Peak Competition (6-12 weeks)
Strength maintenance, Peak Power
Workouts no longer than 30 minutes
5. Second Transition Period - Immediate Post season (1-4 weeks)
Within each mesocycle will be several microcycles, cased on either programming fluctuations (2 weeks of eccentric focused strength training followed by 2 weeks of isometric focus, for example) or competition schedule. an example of microcycles within the season may be 2 weeks leading up to a key competition where intensity is very high and volume is low, followed by a post competition reload week and then a general strength week. The length of each mesocycle are estimates and will vary depending on the type of sport, competition schedule, and many other factors. Remember, this is just a general outline to give you an idea of what an annual plan should look like. Your job as the strength coach is to effectively research and develop a plan that fits your athletes schedule and helps them progress year round.
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