The art and science of constantly improving and peaking at the right time while not burning out. In other words, why always pushing 100% is the worst idea you can have if you want to improve long term.
I have been wanting to write about this topic for some time. I believe it might answer some of the questions we get in the gym such as “what happened to programming? It is too easy and boring now” or, my favorite “is it a good idea to do 3 trainings right after each other?” You already know the answer by looking at Jirka’s face when you tell him you just finished your WOD and you are heading to the weightlifting class.
I will start with what periodisation actually is, what it consists of, why it all matters and how you can incorporate its principles into your training so you keep improving and improving.
Periodisation is the process of dividing an annual (or seasonal) training plan into specific time blocks, where each block has a particular goal/purpose and provides your body with different types of stress. This allows you to create some hard training periods and some easier periods to facilitate recovery. Periodisation also helps you develop different physiological abilities during various phases of training. The foundation of periodisation consists of three main cycles: macrocycles, mesocycles and microcycles. These cycles are built upon each other. Though their time frame might differ a bit from sport to sport and goal to goal.
Periodisation works on the concept of overload and adaptation; by stressing the body over time, allowing it to recover, and then stressing it again (supercompensation), athletes can gradually build fitness.
A macrocycle refers to your season as a whole. For example a full year of CrossFit, which is 52 weeks when you can produce any work. It gives an overview and vision of where you would like to get and, when competing, when your form should be the best.
For crossfiters, there is something we call the Open, the so-called peak for many people. Most of CrossFit programmings have it in mind and they follow the year structure based on that. At the same time, it has to be said, that not that many programmings actually program well enough. Since they have to be scalable for multilevel classes of many people, they cannot take into account individual needs.
On top of that, programming for multilevel classes with a variety of movements and rep schemes when trying to get better in everything while people do not come consistently, but they wanna have fun on a daily basis… guess what. It is hard. Very hard. That is why we kind of disregard macrocycle and focus more on meso and microcycles.
A mesocycle refers to a particular training block within that macro time frame. It lasts around 3-4 weeks, a month, and is dependable on the type of goals you have and how long it takes to reach them.
One month, we can focus on strength by getting our back squat, power clean and deadlift stronger, the next one, we can either continue with the same, or changing priorities. This is the time when specific goal-related programming and its fit to person and its capabilities plays a significant role. It is also the time when we observe changes in training intensity or load as well as recovery windows or weeks so that our bodies can actually progress from one meso to another and not feel like a complete shit.
Good, well thought and well-calculated (yes, programmings are calculated as mathematical equations with many factors) meso programming gives you constant improvements which do not occur every week, but at the end of mesos. Therefore usually 3rd or 4th week. And do you know what usually comes after meso peaking? Deloads. A week with lower intensity to recharge body and mind. No growth is linear, nobody can withstand 8+ weeks of a constant push. This is one of the foundational principles for improvements - knowing when and how lower workout intensity and stress, so that one step back can mean two steps forward. This is the time to be wise and to put your heads into trainings more than muscles, because some of the weeks will be intentionally with 75-80% of your max power outputs.
In the gym, we take this into account by following well-written and tested programming, adjusting it to our needs of improvements as well as offering different classes which would suit as a good alternative for when you want to re-focus on something else.
A microcycle refers to the smallest unit within a mesocycle; usually a week of training. It is basically a meso in a shorter time frame. In micro, we focus on two important things.
Role of weekly schedules and body adaptation to cumulative stress in relation to meso goal. Some people prefer to train mo-tu-we, Thursdays off, Fridays again on and weekends for other activities. Some people come mo, we, fri and it fits their needs to get stronger, because they have enough time to recover. Some people come 2 times a week and hope for results. Well, a rule of thumb - a week has 7 days. If you do not work out more than half of them, you cannot expect any changes. Even though this comes down to individual time possibilities, there are rules on which days and how often to train based on what you would like to achieve at the end of meso. You might have heard saying “lets take it easier today” when we had a Thursday training. Simply because we wanted you to approach the WOD as active recovery and not another body punisher.
The second thing is training intention and intensity. Do you recall why we sometimes talk about the intended goals of a workout? Or a feeling? Or what you should focus on? We do it in order to get the most out of a trainings, if executed as it should be, with 100% effort. When a workout is prepared to take in between 8 to 10 minutes and you are able to do it in 5, you are either on a way to beat Mat Fraser, or you did not follow our hints how to scale it according to your capabilities.
Once we have this gibberish behind us, what kind of very specific takeaways anyone could take out of this and incorporate them into a daily routine?
The good news is we do most of the work for you. We do and adjust the programming, see you on daily basis and we are aware of what you need to focus on. But at the same time, there are things we just cannot do for you and should start thinking about them:
1. In order to improve, you have to know where you start from. What are your at least approximate maxes for lifts or weight you are able to do 1 rep? How fast is your 500 on a rower? How many push-ups or pull-ups can you do?
2. Goals. You do not have to have an overall year goal, but there should be some things you would like to improve. Once you know it, we will help you with how to get it.
3. Track, track, track. If you know where you start from, you have your goals, but you do not know how often you trained and what you lifted, you do not know what you missed in your trainings or how many trainings you have done. Or what went wrong. Or good. We made this very easy for you by giving you a SugarWod app. Tho, it might serve as ego-boosting for some, it serves a much better purpose - to help you understand your progress, validate it, repeat it or change it.
4. Come to WODs to have fun as well as do WODs with intention. Focus on small things you would like to get better each time. You will see how much you improve in a month. Or a year.
5. If you wanna get better at everything, you will not get better at anything. Want to get better at something faster? Give it some time after classes. And do it again. And again. 10 minutes of TTB practice 3 times a week will make a huge difference in a month. At the same time, keep it simple. Do not chase 4 exercises at the same time. It will come. No worries.
6. And lastly, talk to coaches about your individual needs. Once we know your baseline fitness, your strengths, and your weaknesses, we can help you set up some additional exercises. Give you some more guidance. Because a goal without a plan is just a wish. Let's not stay in the realm of dreams, but get down to earth.
These cycles work for us as guiding principles on how to think about training and how to structure it. They are the rules and guiding signs and on the road. By structuring your season with these cycles in mind, you can ensure that you’re building and recovering adequately for optimal adaptation. But there is still more to it. Periodisation and programming are just one thing that has to be supported by good recovery and nutrition. About these topics some other day. For now, just improve, no excuses.
And in case you would be keen to know more, I would recommend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMX9GgIMbxYhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTAEx9WDNKghttps://open.spotify.com/episode/0Jy9viZSQbrVVXuPLBmlOG?si=BArsW9DbQDyWepweJ2pUsw
Written by Coach Honza
CrossFit Meat Factory