The Cycles of Cycling

Athletic training of any kind is a process of stressing a system, letting it recover and adapt to the stress, and then stressing it again at a higher level. This cycle of training exists at every level; from intervals and recovery in a single workout to a hard season of racing followed by a rest in the fall or winter. Even on the largest scale, you often see riders who miss a season due to injury and come back the following year stronger than they were before they stopped. Can you imagine taking a rest season?

Seeing your training in this pattern of repetitive components can help you plan from top to bottom and find a rhythm as you execute it. It's no different than those fractal art pictures that look like a bunch of random swirls; if you stare at them long enough and change your focus, instantly a picture appears that you hadn't seen before. In the context of our training plan, that picture is your fitness. The cycles you see are:

1. Career
2. Season/Calendar Year
3. Macrocycle (phase or period of season, 2-18 weeks)
4. Mesocycle (2-6 weeks)
5. Microcycle (1 week)
6. Minicycle (3-4 days)

Many coaches define their cycles in different ways but use the same terms, which can sometimes be confusing. The key is understanding that each process of stress, recovery and adaptation builds on itself in repetition to create the cycle. Two minicycles make a microcycle, four microcycles make a mesocycle, multiple mesocycles make a macrocycle, and so on.

The Career

Many riders may not even have begun to think this large, but it can be important to know what cycling means to you in the long term. Do you want to be a European pro, or perhaps find time to stay fit enough to be competitive in local racing despite the pressures of a job or family? Both ends of the spectrum are difficult challenges that require different approaches and different mindsets. Planning for career goals is an important part of what will motivate you to go out the door every day to train.

The Seasonal Cycle

A season can vary greatly from rider to rider based on geography, style, ability, and a host of uncontrollable circumstances that have yet to be set in motion. Generally, a season has a typical structure of peaks and valleys that starts at a certain level of fitness and ends, overall, having acheived a higher one. For each season, it's important to have concrete goals. Upgrading to the next category, making it onto the national team, or improving your time up Mt. Washington are all things to build a season around. Some riders may simply be looking to stay at the level they are at, but perform well as certain times of the year.

The Macrocycle

A macrocycle is a 2-12 week period within a season where a particular energy system or type of training is focused on. Your six main types of macrocycles in the Cycle-Smart system are the off-season, the pre-season, the base period, the intensity period, the peaking period, and the maintenance period. We detailed some of these in previous articles.

The Mesocycle

The mesocycle is a 2-6 week training period within a macrocycle. It typically consists of 3-5 progressive weeks of training followed by a recovery week.

The Microcycle

The microcycle is normally a period of one week, though it can be adjusted to eight or six days long.

The Minicycle

The minicycle is a period of 3-4 days. There are two in each microcycle. For most people who live according to a weekday/weekend work schedule, the first is the Monday through Wednesday or Thursday period, and the second is Thursday or Friday through Sunday. In an eight-day microcycle, the Monday-Thursday minicycle can be repeated twice. In the case of limited training time during the week due to work or other concerns, the shorter, three day Friday-Sunday minicycle can be done first, followed by the four day cycle. This moves more of your shorter workouts to the weekdays, and lets you maximize the weekends where you likely have more time. Within each minicycle, the days play out in a traditional LeMond/Koechli-style program, as follows:

Monday: Active recovery day
Tuesday: Short duration ride, sprints, anaerobic work capacity, maximal intensities
Wednesday: Average duration ride, threshold or VO2max work, middle intensities
Thursday: Long duration ride, endurance and tempo work, lower intensities
Friday: Active recovery day
Saturday: Same as Tuesday or Wednesday
Sunday: Same as Wednesday or Thursday

Increasingly, I reverse these cycles as the default, with recovery days Monday and Thursday, and a sprint workout Friday leading in to the weekend.

The details here will allow you to color in some of the outlines we've drawn in previous articles, and help you see both the big picture and the little details hidden within. With each installment we'll help you build, execute, and understand a yearly training plan by breaking down and explaining each aspect as we go.