Creating a Successful Season
Most people make the mistake of diving right into creating a training plan without gathering the relevant information necessary to complete the process successfully. If you’ve read the first article in this series you have a leg up since you’ve already gathered all your information! If you haven’t done this yet, get to it! You’ll also need to make sure your selected plan creation platform is set up and ready for building your training plan. If you haven’t selected a platform yet, you can find a pre-built downloadable Excel file below this article to help you get started. Once you’ve got everything ready (we walk you through everything you need in part one) we can introduce the three cycles of planning…
Meet the Cycles
If you’ve read any coaching books or articles before, you’ve likely seen the terms macrocycle, mesocycle, and microcycle. Each cycle is successively shorter and more detailed as you go through the process. The macrocycle is the longest timeline plan and has the least detail while the microcycle is the shortest timeline with the most detail. The three training plan cycles are:
Macrocycle - Lays out your entire season timeline including the goals, races, and other general pertinent information such as total time to train, number of groups, etc.
Mesocycle - Breaks the macrocycle into smaller phases of one to several months, each with a specific focus for improvement which is tied to the goals in that phase.
Microcycle - A microcycle is a 2-4 week block within a mesocycle where we write our daily training plans which are tied to the focus of the mesocycle.
Now let’s put everything together and start our plan!
The Big Picture - Macrocycle
Our first task is putting all the dates of your season, starting with the first Monday into your macrocycle planning sheet. If you’re working in the provided excel file you’ll only need to update the first date in the gray cell with the date of the first Monday of your training season. I recommend adding an additional four weeks past the last week of the season (I will explain why we do this below). Make sure to delete any columns you don’t need off the end.
Next, we'll fill in the details from your preparation work from part one. Start by plugging in the season races in their appropriate weeks and add in the goals on the week they should be completed by. The number of goals will depend on your preparation work. You should have at least one but no more than three season-long SMART goals as well as one to three monthly goals that help your team reach their season-long goal*. Finally, we’ll add in all the other details in the rows below the races and goals, as appropriate. Fill in the first cell with the name of the variable and then add in the details for each week. Some of these may be the same from week to week which is fine, while others may vary.
The Phases of Training - Mesocycles
Now that we have a season-long view we'll divide it into mesocycles. Start by deciding how long one block of training will be. This block length defines your microcycle and is usually between 2-4 weeks. To simplify your work, pick one length for your entire team. Once you’ve decided on the block length you’ll need to figure out how many mesocycle phases you’ll be using and what your fitness focus is for them. A very typical way to break this up is:
Base - Lower intensity with more volume
Preparation - Moderate intensity with moderate volume
Race - Higher intensity with lower volume
Recovery - Lower intensity with lower volume
When you decide on your phases make sure to note exactly what the training focus is in each phase and what types of workout components will be included (training zones, interval types, etc.)*.
Next, we need to divide up your season between the phases. If you’re using the four phases noted you can begin by doing some quick math to figure out the amount of time, in weeks, you will assign for each phase. A good place to start is assigning half of the time to Base, one-third to Preparation, and the rest to Race. Your recovery period will be one or two months immediately after the final race of the season so it doesn’t enter into the calculations for this purpose. Once you’ve done the math you should round the answers to the nearest number that works with your block length choice. For example, let's say you have a 14 week season. This would make the Base phase 7 weeks, the Preparation phase 4.62 weeks, and the Race phase 2.38 weeks. We can’t have partial weeks in a block, therefore we need to adjust these numbers so they are adapted to our block length. We will do so assuming we picked a block length of 4 weeks.
First, we'll increase the race phase duration to four weeks because we want at least one block of time for this phase and adjust the preparation phase down to four weeks. This leaves six weeks for the base phase which we can later turn into a two-week block to start along with a normal four-week block. While these don’t match our ratios exactly they will work for our needs. Next, we’ll put this information into our mesocycle plan. Start by marking four rows with the names of your phases and assign each one a color. Then, starting at the final or Class A event, assign your race weeks working backward through the phases until you’ve reached the start of the season.
Now we create new rows for each training zone. Make sure to color-code them, then color in the appropriate weeks based on which zone is the focus of your training. Remember you are tying zone focuses to your phases so you should be translating this to your macrocycle plan at this point*. Including a row for notes about any training interval types or drills you want to add can be helpful. Since we’re working with young riders I also recommend adding a row or two for details about the skill practice you‘ll have them doing during these times as well. This could be heavier at some points where you are emphasizing skill-related goals for the team.
The last item to add (on a new row) is the time spent training each week. For our purposes we begin with the shortest total duration in the first week of each microcycle block of training, increasing the volume no more than 10% each following week until your final week. Your final week of the block is a recovery week which should have reduced volume; I recommend using 75-80% of the time of the week before. For example, during a four-week microcycle, if week 1 is 100 minutes of training then week 2 is 110 minutes, week 3 is 121 minutes, and week 4 is 91 minutes. These times are going to help you guide your microcycle planning. As you write these into your plan keep in mind these are the maximum times, not the necessary times, you can go shorter as needed. As you get into more intense training you should be reducing overall training time.
The Daily Breakdown - Microcycle Planning
The pièce de résistance of training planning is the microcycle. Microcycles involve the detailed daily planning of several weeks of training and include outlining high intensity, long-endurance, and rest/recovery days. It’s recommended that you only plan out one microcycle at a time. As you go through each microcycle you’ll likely discover things that will alter the next microcycle. By planning a single microcycle at a time you reduce the likelihood of having to re-write your plans.
To begin, we’ll start a new table for building your daily plans. Make sure to include an appropriate amount of columns to accommodate all the days in the plan, and enough rows for the number of weeks in your microcycle, chosen in the previous step. Next, we’ll assign some basic details to each day in your table starting in the first week of the microcycle. Mark out 1-2 days for high intensity, 1-2 for rest or active recovery, and the rest are long endurance training days. Make sure you’ve listed what the focus of each day will be in your plan.
Now you’ll add the time details. Divide up your available time for the first week between long-endurance and high-intensity. The recommended approach is to take your training time for the week and assign 80% of it to long endurance and 15% to high intensity. The high-intensity time is only used for the drills during your high-intensity days. Start by placing this time on those days and creating your interval plan. There are many ways to set up interval sessions, and Coeus has courses to help you with this process*.
Long-endurance is the most underutilized component of training for many mountain bikers because it can feel too easy and too slow to be useful. Long endurance work is arguably the most important aspect of long-term aerobic fitness training for aerobic sports, including cycling. Remember that any time spent in long endurance counts including the warm-up cool down, and recovery times on high-intensity days. I recommend you plan out the high-intensity days first, then split up the remaining long endurance time between the appropriate days. Wrap up the week's training plans for the rest of the microcycle by repeating the process we’ve just covered here for the remaining weeks. Voilá, you have a training plan for your team!
Now that you’ve completed your microcycle planning don’t forget that you’ve created a single plan for your entire team which has a large range of fitness levels between individual riders. Make sure to adjust your plan so it’s appropriate for each group of riders. Write a plan for your fittest ride group first, then reduce the high-intensity volume as you move down to the least fit group. This will involve a bit of trial and error until you get to know what each group can feasibly handle. As you reduce high intensity you will also be increasing the amount of time spent in long endurance and/or complete rest for your lower fitness groups.
Making Your Plan a Reality
The key to a successful plan is executing it effectively with your team. Good things don’t come easy, so this requires more planning and work than just handing each coach a copy of the daily workout plan to be successful. In the third and final part of this series, we will cover recommendations on how to execute your training plan successfully, including two simple ways to monitor training intensity with your athletes as they train.
We’ve covered a lot of the basic information here and we’ll wrap up our series in part three. Coeus has tons of additional information to take your training plans to the next level. For more information on the topics presented in this series and to see a walkthrough of how this type of planning is completed, check out our featured courses listed below. These courses provide comprehensive instruction on how to create effective training plans for individuals or teams, and provide NICA CEUs to support your coaching license in the process.
*Additional information and instruction on how to complete these processes can be found in the courses below.
Downloadable Excel File: Macro, meso, micro example spreadsheet.xlsx
If you enjoyed this free resource, consider supporting Coeus in our mission to continue producing high-quality resources, accessible for all NICA coaches. Your donation helps ensure NICA coaches like yourself have access to a growing library of educational content and resources relevant to their work with today’s youth athlete. We appreciate your support!