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Macrocycle: Definition and How it Fits Into a Training Plan

What is a Macrocycle?

A macrocycle is the “big picture” overview of a periodized training plan that aims to achieve a specific outcome. It varies in length depending on the athlete and can be as short as four to six months (typically for powerlifting) or as long as four years, as is the case for Olympic athletes. A macrocycle consists of mesocycles, smaller blocks of training that aim to achieve short-term goals.

What Are Macrocycle Phases?

Depending on the trainee or athlete’s long-term goals, a coach can break down a macrocycle into distinct phases, each for developing specific characteristics.

By sequencing these phases correctly, they can build up on one another and lead to better long-term results. 

For example, a powerlifter who is 18 months away from competition would have plenty of time for a solid macrocycle with distinct phases, such as:

  • Phase 1 – general physical preparedness (GPP). Do various movements to improve work capacity, build cardio, improve mobility, fix muscle imbalances, and add some muscle.
  • Phase 2 – hypertrophy. Do more sets across multiple exercises, lift lighter weights, and take shorter rest periods between sets to build muscle.
  • Phase 3 – strength. This phase can make up the bulk of the macrocycle, giving the powerlifter plenty of time to get enough quality practice with the big three and close variations. The goal is to build skill, neuromuscular efficiency, and maximal strength.
  • Phase 4 – peaking. Train in a highly specific way to improve performance on the big three and include a period of planned overreaching, where the training volume is higher and generates more fatigue. Following this phase and shortly before competition, take some time to do less challenging training to allow for recovery and supercompensation to occur.

In this example, each phase prepares the lifter for the next. GPP can help resolve lingering issues for a more productive hypertrophy phase. Adding more muscle can increase strength capacity.

Finally, a well-executed strength phase can set up the powerlifter for a productive peak and the best possible performance on competition day.


1. How long is a macrocycle?

A macrocycle’s length depends on the athlete’s long-term training goals. It can last as little as a few months or as long as several years, such as for Olympic athletes.

2. How is a macrocycle different from a mesocycle?

A macrocycle refers to a trainee’s long-term training approach to achieving bigger goals, such as preparing for a powerlifting competition. In contrast, a mesocycle is a training block within that macrocycle, where you focus on one or two specific things, such as building endurance.

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