• Incorporating Recovery into Your Microcycle
    It is critical to understand the importance of planning rest periods in an athlete's weekly training plan. Includes a sample recovery program.
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  • Recovery_foam rollersTraining design involves thinking processes that “carve up” time so that different periods are used to accomplish particular tasks. The microcycle is one level of organization involving approximately 1–2 weeks (7,10,14). In most planning situations, the microcycle is set to one week in order to compare well with our standard calendar.

    The microcycle is the shortest period involving focused planning that adheres most strictly to the goals of the mesocycle (approximately one month) in which the microcycle is found. In other words, the microcycle is used to accomplish the larger goals of the mesocycle.

    Each mesocycle incorporates one or a few goals that are sequenced to follow a progression that leads to the coordinated and sequenced development of the athlete from a condition that is not competitive to a condition that is competitive.

    Planning the Microcycle
    Planning the microcycle involves the use of varying training loads that are punctuated with varying recovery modalities. For example, a microcycle may be planned so that Monday has a medium training load, Tuesday has a high training load, Wednesday is low, Thursday is medium, Friday is high, and Saturday is a medium training load.

    Almost any variation of training load on a given day can be justified depending on the type of adaptation the coach would like to see in the athlete, training history, and what is planned for the future.

    Microcycles can be designed to elicit high levels of fatigue, encourage rest, encourage skill development, simulate a competition schedule, and so forth. However, one of the most important lessons in training design is that you can’t go “all-out” every single day. Managing training load during the microcycle is crucial so that each microcycle achieves at least part of the overall goals and objectives of the mesocycle.

    Understanding Recovery
    Recovery is arguably one of the most important aspects of training design, but also one of the least studied and understood (2,3,4,5,6,8,9). Most training design approaches deal exclusively with training loads, hard days, medium days, easy days, and how they relate to each other. Little consistent thought is applied to the idea of rest and recovery probably from the assumption that, “if they’re not training then they must be resting.”

    Unfortunately, assuming that athletes are getting adequate rest when they are away from training is usually incorrect (1, 11,12,13). Athletes, left to their own devices, are likely to engage in energy draining activities unwisely during their “off” times. This has become increasingly apparent in observing, monitoring, and developing athlete plans.

    In order to ensure that athletes get high-quality rest, and enough of it, you should plan rest and ensure that the planned rest is executed. Figure 1 shows an example of a microcycle that has two training sessions per day, and has designed specific and aggressive recovery activities.

    Although individual programs may have difficulty ensuring that they have access to different types of recovery, it is typical that programs simply take advantage of the recovery modalities to which they do have access.

    For example, massage is prescribed in the example microcycle. You may not have access to, or can afford, massage. However, athletes can massage each other and self-massage can also be helpful. You may not have access to hot and cold tubs either. However, it is unusual not to have access to hot and cold showers, or hot and cold water for bathtubs. These may be substituted for the more expensive and dedicated recovery

    Day of Week  Mon  Tue  Wed  Thu  Fri  Sat  Sun 
    Total Training Load         Medium High Low Medium High Medium       Off
    AM Training  Medium High Low Low High Medium Off
    Mid-Day Recovery  Nap Cold tub + nap Nap Massage Cold tub + nap Massage Off
    PM Training  Low High Low/Med Off High Off Off
    PM Recovery           Hot-Cold Contrast       Heat therapy + massage Hot-Cold Contrast    Recreate        None Nap Off        
    Comment    Massage only if >1 hr after training.   Otherwise postpone until Wednesday  See Tuesday       Off
    Figure 1 also shows sessions marked “recreate.” These are activities where the athlete should take part in relaxing activities (i.e., those that do not elicit more fatigue), usually away from the training venue, and with the intent of achieving a brief fun and distracting time. Sessions marked as “off” mean that the athlete does not train during those sessions.

    Note that Figure 1 shows the days of the week across the top and the nature of the training and recovery schedules along the left side. The second row shows the total training load (low, medium, and high). The third row shows the morning training load. The fourth row shows the recovery plan for each day. Note that the Monday recovery plan during the mid-day recovery is a 30–90 min nap. This should be mandated and enforced.

    Tuesday has a cold plunge and a 30–60 min nap and so forth. The fifth row describes the training load for the afternoon or evening training. The sixth row describes the recovery activities following the afternoon or evening training. HC Contrast refers to hot and cold tub or shower contrast baths (going from cold to hot and repeat 5–10 times) ending on hot because the athlete is going to sleep after the treatment. If the athlete uses hot and cold contrast approaches that do not lead to sleep, or the athlete is nursing an injury or muscle soreness, the athlete should end on cold.

    Massage is also prescribed after the afternoon or evening training. However, massages should be separated from prior training by at least one hour. Massages are also a kind of stress so you should attempt to separate training from massage by enough time that the athlete does not show up for the massage still warm and anxious from the preceding training session.

    If the athlete cannot separate the massage from preceding training sessions by an hour or more then the massage should be postponed until the next day. “Hot” simply means that the athlete took a hot shower, hot tub treatment, steam, or sauna. Using a hot modality prior to massage can help the athlete receive the massage in a more relaxed state, and thus make the tasks of the therapist easier to accomplish.

    The example microcycle plan shown in Figure 1 should provide some food for thought regarding how you are implementing training and recovery activities, and most especially, incorporating planned recovery activities into your microcycle training plan. Recovery is simply too important to leave to assumptions and a lack of planning. Although real-life may intrude on rest due to homework, job tasks, family responsibilities, and so forth, you should attempt to ensure that the athlete has opportunities for high-quality rest throughout the microcycle.
  • Bill Sands

    About the Author:

    William Sands, PhD, CSCS

    William Sands has a wealth of experience as a coach, researcher, and educator. Most recently, Dr. Sands served as Education Director for the NSCA and Director of the Monfort Family Human Performance Research Laboratory at Colorado Mesa University. He has contributed research and coaching expertise with the U.S. Olympic Committee in the fields of exercise recovery, biomechanics, and exercise physiology. Dr. Sands coaching background is in gymnastics where he produced several Olympians, more than a dozen national team members, and several World Championship Team members.


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  • Disclaimer: The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) encourages the exchange of diverse opinions. The ideas, comments, and materials presented herein do not necessarily reflect the NSCA’s official position on an issue. The NSCA assumes no responsibility for any statements made by authors, whether as fact, opinion, or otherwise. 
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