I get asked by younger clinicians and coaches very often about programming, particularly structuring of a weekly or similar length microcycle. For the uninitiated a microcycle is a cluster of training sessions or intervention units that are placed into a period together. They tend to follow a similar theme of intervention of type of session to make up a training block (known as a mesocycle).
And invariably the questions that surfaces are around how many sessions per week, how intense should they be and what should the total volume be? And as the saying goes, ‘how long is a piece of string?’ The design of microcycle structures is individual. We have spoken at length about completing a Needs Analysis and this forms the foundation for your intervention structure.
If there is to be competition once per week, say for instance a game of a weekend, then a minimum standard to work towards is to be able to carry out a volume of training that creates enough stimulus to be able to handle the game stress in duration, volume and intensity. Similarly doing the analysis will highlight the supportive features that will be needed to provide the physical, psychological, tactical and technical characteristics that are required for performance. Using these as pillars of the intervention, then we have the struts by which to formulate our training sessions, or at least the features of these that need to be addressed over time.
Working in an order or priority from most transfer (competition activity) to least transfer (general physical activity) we can structure the importance and features of the sessions as required.
The other major factor that should be front of mind is recovery. And I have heard many elite coaches speak about programming the recovery in first. What they mean by this is that they will look at the main interventions that they would like to include, and work to understand the amount of recovery that an individual or team requires from this bout of stress.
An exaggerated example would be to use full games as your training for preparation for a soccer team. Given that playing the game is the most specific training you can do, why would you not just play games every day? Even to the lay person it makes sense that this would be too stressful to do and you would fatigue, over train and possibly injured by doing so. What we do know through time, experience and analysis that both youth and senior soccer players are able to tolerate two and sometimes three games per week for periods of time. This type of knowledge highlights that the stress of matchplay can be tolerated at a frequency of two to three per 7 days. If we consider that this is the task with the highest transfer, we can work in tasks that support matchplay, such as skill and tactical training, physical training (conditioning and strength work) around these bouts of match play. With three games per week it is unlikely that you would be able to complete a significant amount of this type of support training, but with two or less games per week it becomes easier to see that you may structure two recovery days after games (this may or may not have training elements of lower intensity built into them), and have three other days to complete skills, tactical and physical conditioning around these games.
As we have highlighted, this is something that needs to be indvidualised to the setting that you work within, however the principles hold true.
- Determine the key task that will improve the activity or feature that you would like to improve (playing soccer, increasing your squat strength, improving your flexibility)
- Understand how much recovery between these key tasks require
- Plan the support activities around the key task interventions
- Organise these into units of time that allow the individual or team to adapt and consolidate to a level of performance before increasing the stress further