Model of the competition microcycle
On the following picture there is a model of competition microcycle (Sunday, and Wed-Sun model, although there are couple of models)
One thing that is rather obvious is block organization of the competition microcycle. I call this macro~micro, where the micro elements have similarity with macro elements (like atom and galaxy, microcycle and macrocycle).
Besides macro~micro concept, competition microcycle can have weaknesses~strengths organization, where in the first part one works on weaknesses showed in the previous games (make sure to keep to your general plan and not to jump bandwagons after every game), and work on strengths and lifting confidence of the team before the next match. Another concept can also be variable~stable where one is breaking up the performance and work on it in the early part of the microcycle, and later provides stability of the performance (which also increases confidence). There is also general~specific concept, where you get more and more specific as the match closes by (field, conditions, equipment, time of day, specific game-like drills, etc) .
Also note that the recovery part of the microcycle can be extended to 1-3 days , while the taper and intensity parts somehow blend together. Anyway, we are left with the small amount of time (1-2 day) to work on our physical preparedness. Depending on the PI (Peaking Index) and number of days between games and travel factors this time period in which we can utilize development loads can even be shorter and the load utilized even smaller. Time crunched we are.
So, what should we do in that case and how it should be organized? Let’s deal with hat should be done first.
First off, maintenance (lower priority of development) of maximum strength (MxS) is off highest importance, since if the strength levels fall, the power will fall, power endurance will fall and injury risk will be higher. Thus, we need to find time for 1-2 (depending on PI, days between games and travel) strength training sessions. The key point here is to keep the intensity high (doesn’t need to be done to failure though, but in terms of percentage and weight used) and volume low. Also, another key thing to remember is that keep doing the exercises you have introduced in the preparatory period – don’t make drastic changes (weight, number of sets, exercises) because you might induce soreness and heavy legs. I made this mistake couple of times. I will be back on this concept.
Second important thing is speed and power because it has the shortest residual training effects (based on Vladimir Issurin). Thus, you need to keep doing it. Doesn’t need to be general, but you can rather utilize sport specific drills (especially in agility). You can also use this in the taper part of the microcycle in the smallest amount. We also call this training session toning session where you tone CNS (whatever that would be) with high speed, short duration and long rest drills, or even some strength training (complex training). This session can even be done morning before the game.
And last but not the least comes conditioning. Since we are time crunched and there is plenty of research on it, in my opinion we should rely more on higher intensity training, both for aerobic power and glycolytic power/capacity and RSA, since it is time efficient and provides good stimuli for maintenance. During the recovery part of the microcycle we can utilize more low intensity prolonged type of activities (water running, bike, non-specific and no-pounding activities).
Now the question is how to organize this, both in terms of (1) microcycle organization and over the (2) whole competition period.
For the microcycle organization we can utilize Tudor Bompa’s principle of energy system rotation, where each training day is stressing certain energy system. For example, one day we will do speed, power, agility and strength since it stresses ATP/CP mechanism. Other day we will stress aerobic/lactic system. This is not written in stone and I have seen successful programs doing strength and conditioning in the same day, same session, everything. I guess it depends on your situation, constraints, and context. I highly suggest checking the following books: Block Periodization , Periodization in Rugby and Total Training for Coaching Team Sports since they cover microcycle organization.
Regarding the whole competition period – I have couple of concerns I am trying to solve myself.
Platoue effect. As I have pointed out in the last part, most high intensity conditioning gives effects pretty quickly, but also shows platoue of the effects reached pretty soon. The question is why to keep doing them since they are not bringing anything new to the table and they are grueling? Well, in my opinion for couple of reasons. First, you don’t need extreme training effects with mixed-sports anyway. Second, it is show that higher-intensity conditioning maintains training effects when the overall training volume is reduced, like during the competition period (see Mujika, Bangsbo el al. and Baker). Third, if you stop doing the high-intensity intervals for certain period of time, and then reintroduce them later, you might get adaptation stiffness, a term coined by late Charlie Francis. Basically, it means you will get sore, heavy, and maybe strained with minor injuries happening. Again we come back to the concept of keep doing what you have done in preparatory period, but with different emphasis/volume. Always keep a thread of something, because if you reintroduce it in full volume later you might get negative effects (nothing special to worry about, but it can be problematic in competition period).
Being flexible. Why would we need to follow prescribed template (feed forward) anyway? During the competition period players should have more time to do individual training, and based on their strength~weaknesses and positional demands (there should be a nice complementarity between the two, with emphasis changing) they can do additional training aimed at improving lagging characteristics or adapt to positional demands (using feedback to modify training or as would late Mel Siff call it Cybernetic Periodization). If we keep testing and monitoring players we can also put some more volume of training to a certain quality that has been falling down. For example, if we see the player is losing aerobic capacity (via tests, monitoring like OmegaWave, HRV or basic morning HR) we can put some more easy low intensity activity. If their power is falling we can put some more power training or strength training (depending on the strength levels). Again, we should not be short-sighted and linear like this – because we first need to know whether the player is losing performance due de-training or fatigue (under-recovery, life style factors, etc). I guess that open communication and regular monitoring is the key here.
Boredom. The competition period is rather long and sometimes we are sick of looking the same people, being on the same place and especially doing the same training drills all the time. So, here come variations of the same basic stuff. Slightly different games, teams, training schedules and locations, different intervals (with the ball and without, with different work-rest ratios, etc), different warm-up, etc to provide variety, while doing the same stuff without causing adaptation stiffness. Coach should be wise to trick the players from the boredom of the routine (by using some fun games to bring them into training state), manipulating and reading their emotional states, and stopping training or modifying it, developing good team ambient, communication, etc. I think that this psychology of training is often overlooked aspect of coaching. I certainly need to work on this one myself.
So, in my opinion the key to competition period is:
- Keep doing the stuff you did in preparatory period (concurrent training), but with less volume (keep the intensity), keeping other things priority (performance on the game, injury prevention, freshness)
- When in doubt reduce volume, not intensity
- Try to avoid adaptation stiffness by keeping threads of things all the time
- Be more flexible, utilize Cybernetic Periodization and prescribe more individual work based on individual characteristic and positional demands
- Be wise in terms should the athletes need more work or more rest, because under-performance can be due de-training, but also due under-recovery
- Prevent boredom by introducing variations
One solution I was writing about couple of years ago was summated microcycle from Total Soccer Fitness by Ian Jeffreys (I have made similar solution in this old article: Planning the competition period in socccer). The point is to rotate microcycles with different emphasis. This can be interesting solution in the situation where there is even less time for concurrent training. The key is to keep the thread of non-emphasized qualities (very low volume). Interestingly, if those emphasis microcycles are prolonged or repeated in series, we can get something very close to block/sequential approach.
For example, if we have three days (or training sessions) to work on certain qualities, we can make the following solution:
Block A (strength)
1 training sessions aimed at strength and speed (low volume, or done in taper phase of the microcycle)
1 training session aimed at aerobic power (high intensity intervals)
1 training session aimed at strength
Block B (speed)
2 training sessions aimed at speed
1 training session aimed at strength and aerobic power (high intensity intervals)
Block C (conditioning)
2 training sessions aimed at aerobic power (or Glycolytic power/capacity and RSA or a combination)
1 training session aimed at strength and speed
The duration of the block can be mathematically split into equal duration of 3 weeks, or you can have different durations based on emphasis and biology of adaptation (in which case Block C would be shortest). Based on your sport you can make different number of blocks, combination of qualities and their duration. The key here is to keep a thread of all qualities all the time to avoid adaptation stiffness.
Another solution, which is more along the “Keep It Simple Stupid” line, is basically complex-parallel with variations and individual work. For example:
1 session aimed at speed, agility and power (can be combined with strength session)
1 session aimed at strength (Total body, or two session Upper-Lower, or two Total body with one being really easy)
1 session aimed at aerobic power (high intensity intervals and small-sided games)
1 individual session based on individual characteristics~position demands.
Variations in aerobic power can be created by utilizing different intervals or their location, different organizations of small sided games, etc. Dan Baker provided example of in-season variations in strength training in this article. It is also important that in this complex-parallel solution there is a smart way of timing and sequencing of training sessions along with manipulation of overall training volume (see Baker). Also, being prepared for complex-parallel training is important, but we have done it in the prep period anyway.
Well, that is it. Please note that I am not an expert on all this and I am still trying to understand mixed sports and their planning/programming problems along with team player and group psychology (which I find under-rated in modern internet writings). I want to give special thanks to guys from Monkey Island forum especially to Arthur Smith and Steven Bubel for acquiring me full research papers on demands. Thank you bro!