This is such a good article that I have cut and pasted it in its entirety.
Why Training Cycles Are Important
August 17, 2010 By Terrence Mahon
It’s true that variety is the spice of life, but there is also a necessity for repetition when it comes to building solid training programs. The great masters of coaching understand that it is the balance of training diversity and training repetition that make athletes perform better. Stemming from this came what is known in the training theory world as “cycles.”
Traditionally we use both micro-cycles and macro-cycles to create the foundation from which all training will be built upon. The macro-cycle phase simply relates to the larger picture of the running program. This would look at the athlete’s plan in relation to the entire year of training, racing, strength training, recovery period and so on. The micro-cycle often looks at a mini-block within that overarching scheme and focuses on the specific workouts that the athlete will do within that set time frame.
Micro-cycles can be as short as 7-14 days in length or as long as 3-4 weeks. The breakdown of the plan into a specific cycle allows the coach to pencil in the various energy zone workouts that need to be addressed on the calendar and make sure that all targets are hit before going on to the next phase.
The reason for breaking down training in this fashion is that it allows for two things. The first is what we call the General Adaptation to Stress (GAS for short). The second is to create a sense of “mastery” with each type of workout before going on to more challenging training schemes. Since all training is stress we look at each workout as a challenge to the GAS component.
When we add in specific energy zone workouts within that cycle we create what we call Specific Adaptations to Stress (or SAS). An example of a SAS Challenge would be the marathon-paced tempo run. When this workout is continually set up in the marathon training plan it is done with a design to stress the body specifically for the event demands of the marathon. We do this because there is a need for “mastery” with this type of workout if the marathon is going to be successful.
Time has shown us that a workout usually must be repeated 3x for mastery to occur. This “mastery” that takes place happens on both the physical and psychological level.
The first time a workout is given, the athletes mind and body are confused as to what will be stressful and what will be easy within the session. This limits the true capability of the athlete to perform the workout at its best. The second time the workout is given, the athlete then begins to feel more comfortable with the session and they will take a greater risk on either the mental side of the workout (going after what was mentally hardest in the first session) or the physical side (pushing the area that was easiest on the workout last time).
Sometimes these roles switch, but it is usually not until the third time the exact workout is given that the athlete hits all the components that the workout demands with success. Once this is done the workout is seen to have been mastered and any further repetition of that workout will not create the same SAS that we are looking for when training.
Understanding where an athlete’s training is in relation to the overall goal is important for them to know that they are on the right path. This is why training cycles were developed and why they have been broken down into both large and small components over the years. In Mammoth, our traditional training micro-cycle for the marathon is based on of a 2-week model.
This two-week plan allows us to incorporate all of the various energy systems that we need for overall athleticism as well as the specific demands necessary for the race. This 2 week cycle will then be repeated for another 2 rotations until we feel that the athlete has a true handle on all of the workouts within those two-week schemes. Once that is mastered, then a newer program is introduced that further challenges the athlete’s fitness – either on the speed side or endurance side depending on what is needed for their goal event.
Here is a 14-day outline of what a typical program would look like for Ryan Hall as he prepares for the marathon.
Two Aerobic Recovery runs, plus short sprints for acceleration development.
Anaerobic Threshold Intervals – 1k or longer per interval
Two Aerobic Recovery Runs
Uphill Aerobic Threshold Run
Two Aerobic Recovery Runs
Aerobic Run that finishes faster over the last 2 miles, plus short VO2 max intervals
Long Run – easy effort with the addition of 30-60 second intervals after 90 minutes of running to stimulate increased neuromuscular recruitment
One or Two Aerobic Recovery runs, plus hill sprints for acceleration development.
Anaerobic Threshold Intervals – 400m to 1k per interval
Two Aerobic Recovery Runs
Marathon Paced Tempo Run: 10-15 miles
Medium Long Recovery Run, additional short recovery run
Two Aerobic Recovery Runs, plus 8 x 200m intervals at 3k goal pace
Marathon Simulation: 10-12 miles @ 1 minute per mile slower than marathon pace, then 6-10 miles at marathon pace, and a 2-3 mile warm down