Macrocycles are not an easy topic to teach in a blog. The intricacies of the macrocycle are underpinned by a lot of interlocking scientific principles and as a result, trying to convey how and why periodization works is far outside of the scope of this blog…
However, in my bid to educate the amateur athletes of this world to step away from “just getting miles in their legs” and approaching sport as a more scientific endeavour, it is imperative to look at the mechanisms behind periodization so that you can create, or at least appreciate when you work with a sports scientist, the importance in and work behind periodization!
At Faultless Fitness each of our athletes has a live macrocycle that is kept updated as calendars change and means that every time we test our athletes they get improvements in the specific adaptations we target. This in turn then leads to PB’s on the field and why they keep coming back!
Have you got GAS?
No, I am not being rude! General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) is literally the entire process you’ve been utilising your entire amateur or elite sporting career. GAS is the process whereby your body adapts to a stimulus that has caused it damage and it is the sole reason that we can get stronger, more powerful, faster and more enduring.
There are three phases in GAS that we need to be aware of when designing our macrocycles 2:
- Alarm Phase
- Resistance Phase
- Exhaust Phase
The alarm phase happens after the body has undergone stress. This is the period when the body is attempting to heal from the damage sustained and is usually when you experience muscle soreness. Depending on the levels of stress received and the capacity of the body to deal with that stress, this phase and soreness can last from days to 2 weeks 3.
Once the body has regressed the acute traumas it has endured, the body enters the resistance phase. This phase is where the body attempts to reduce the likelihood of suffering such great trauma when receiving the same level of stress. It is the resistance phase that makes us stronger and better than we were previously. The body does this through a process called supercompensation that allows the nerves to distribute workload across the muscle allowing it to adapt and heal whilst training is still being undertaken.
However, should the workload be too high for the rate of recovery, the body will move into the exhaust phase 4. This is where the symptoms from the alarm phase returns and fatigue, pain and underperformance set in and the body loses the capacity to adapt. The rate of recovery can be affected by lack of sleep, poor nutrition, overtraining and even mental stress from work for example.
It is therefore imperative as athletes and as sports scientists that we avoid the exhaust phase at all costs to maximise recovery. As an anecdote to this, I often express to my clients that any… person… can drive an athlete, or themselves, into exhaust and hope for an eventual adaptation by throwing huge stress stimuli at them. As a sports scientist, our purpose is to create the maximum possible gain from the minimum possible stimulus. This is how we maintain PB after PB across the season; Alarm… Resistance… Alarm… Resistance…
Avoid exhaustion… Check!
Now we have seen what we do, and do not, want to achieve when planning our training plans, the question that now faces you is; how do you actually do that? This is where periodisation comes into its own. Periodisation is designed to first align the phases so that they provide a peak in performance during the most important competition/s of the year, and second provide a planned level of stimuli to elicit the responses and adaptations you require without accidentally pushing you into exhaust.
In my next article, I will explain what your macrocycles should look like!