How to really train for competition (weekend warriors included)

Bryan Lang

Author: Bryan Lang, PT, DPT, MHA, CSCS, Cert.DN: Doctor of Physical Therapy, Business Owner, Associate Professor, and Blog Contributor. Explores common client questions, helps find solutions for every day functional health concerns, and interprets difficult theories in healthcare rehabilitation. Committed to life-long learning and education. Learn more about Bryan on Google+.

I’m going to tell you the fundamental flaw of athletes that are transitioning over to weekend warriors. You don’t have a workout plan. I don’t mean you don’t have a set group of exercises you do on different days. I mean you don’t have a PLAN of the grand scheme of how to train throughout the whole year. Let’s take a professional football player for example. Do you think they do the same exercises all year round? If they did that, there would a huge spike in injuries over the season. Professional football players know that they save certain training for certain parts of the year. Heavy weight training on a regular basis can’t be performed during the football season like it can be during the offseason. So, the professional football player saves the offseason to work on increasing muscle mass and strength with regular heavy weightlifting. The training during the season is going to be specialized on how to make that professional athlete better at his position. The best players have it figured out, but honestly, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Let’s walk through periodization cycles and then start developing a plan for you.

There are three types of time periods in a periodization cycle; macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles. Macrocycles generally constitute an entire training year. However, in the case of an Olympic athlete, their macrocycle might be four years given that the Olympics is once every four years. Within a macrocycle are two or more mesocycles. These can last several weeks to several months. The number of mesocycles will depend on the number of sport competitions the individual has within that period. Finally, each mesocycle is divided into two or more microcycles that are typically as long as one week, but could last for up to four weeks depending on the program. Microcylces focus on daily and weekly training variations.

The point of implementing meso- and microcycles into a macrocycle is to design variability in training. This is to help decrease injury and also to improve performance. Generally, intensity and volume of training and conditioning programs is what is manipulated the most. “The periodization involves shifting training priorities from non-sport-specific activities of high volume and low intensity to sport-specific activities of low volume and high intensity over a period of many weeks to prevent overtraining and optimize performance.” This is the basics of rehabilitation of an injury with physical therapy. Start with exercises that are low in weight, but can be performed a healthy number of times and progress the client to higher weight, higher skilled, and more work-related exercises as they heal and progress with physical therapy.

The Preparatory Period *mesocycle*

This is during the year that there are no competitions or only a limited number of sport-specific practices. In essence, it’s an off-season. The whole goal in this period is to establish a baseline level of conditioning again starting with low intensity and high volume (think 100 push ups instead of 5 repetitions of a 300 lbs bench press). Technique training, meaning technique in performing a specific sport, is not an emphasis here because the general strength and conditioning program generally takes up too much time and energy to also do sport-specific training during the preparatory period. As the preparatory period continues, the microcycles gradually increase the intensity of the resistance training, volume decreases, and there is a shift to more sport technique training.

Hypertrophy/Endurance Phase *microcycle*

-The first microcycle within the Preparatory Period is called the Hypertrophy/Endurance phase. This microcycle generally lasts 1-6 weeks. It starts with very low intensity, high volume workouts. The primary goal at this phase is to increase lean body mass and to develop a baseline level of endurance for more intense training in the later phases. As an example, a sprinter might have started with longer distance runs than what he does for competition and now is moving to low intensity plyometrics and resistance training exercises. In this stage, these exercises might not be similar to running (like a leg press or a hamstring curl). A resistance training program will consist of low to moderate loads and high repetitions.

Once the six weeks of this phase has been completed, it is followed by an intermediate recovery week. This microcycle consists of low-intensity, low-volume training prior to begin the next phase. This week is a way for the athlete to rest and let his muscles recover before pushing into the next microcycle.


  • Very low to moderate intensity is  50-75% of the 1 repetition (rep) maximum.
  • Very high to moderate volume means three to six sets of 10-20 repetitions.

Basic Strength phase *microcycle*

-This microcycle is later in the preparatory phase as the athlete's goals begin to change to increasing the strength of muscles essential to the sport movements that are required of him. Returning back to an example of a sprinter, his program might now include interval sprints for moderate distances and more complex plyometric drills. His resistance training becomes more specific to sport (lunges, squats, kettlebell swings) and involves heavier loads for fewer repetitions than in the hypertrophy/endurance phase.


  • High intensity is 80-90% of the 1 repetition maximum.
  • Moderate volume means three to five sets of four to eight repetitions.

Strength/Power Phase *microcycle*

-This is the last stage of the preparatory period. For the sprinter, their interval and speed training intensifies to near competitive pace. This is starting to really focus on the explosive movements required of the sport. Therefore, speed and training drills are performed. Plyometric drills are incorporated in order to mimic sprinting. Resistance training programs will  involve performing power/explosive exercises at high loads and low volumes.


  • High intensity is 75-95% of the 1RM, depending on the exercise.
  • Low volume means three to five sets of two to five repetitions.

First Transition Period *mesocycle*

This is the period between the preparatory period and competitive periods. It is the break between high-volume training and high intensity training. Often this is about 1 week long and involves low intensity, low volume training. Again, this is the time where the athlete can rest before he moves into a another period or phase. In this case, it’s a new mesocycle.

Competition Period *mesocycle*

The main focus in this period is to maximize strength and power through increasing the intensity of the the training, but while subsequently decreasing the volume. This period can last 1-3 weeks or for most organized sports; it lasts a season, which could take months. An example of exercises is a sprinter placing more emphasis on speed, reaction time and sprinting-specific training. If the athlete is in-season, the prolonged time of high level competition means that some manipulation of the intensity must be performed weekly (microycle). However, the general period is characterized by very high intensity and very low volume activities. If performed correctly, at the Competition Period, the athlete should be at peak potential and this will last for about three weeks and if you try to stretch it, you risk overtraining. Those in organized sports will have a different goal to preserve strength, power and performance by performing moderate intensity and moderate volume drills.


  • The competition period includes peaking and maintenance, both microcycles
    • For Peaking
      • Very high intensity is greater than or equal to 93% of the 1 repetition maximum.
      • Very low volume is one to three sets of one to three repetitions.
    • For Maintenance
      • Moderate intensity is 80-85% of the 1 repetition maximum.
      • Moderate volume is about two to three sets of about six or eight repetitions.

Second Transition (Active Rest) *mesocycle*

Before starting the whole macrocycle over again after the competitive season is complete, this period of active rest is performed. It breaks up the competition period and the next macrocycle which is the preparatory period. The Second Transition lasts for 1-4 weeks and is unstructured, non-sport specific recreational activities performed at  low volumes and low intensities. Basically, it’s a time for the athlete to rest and just have some fun. This is important for recovery from injuries and rest from the competitive season. An example with be a sprinter playing recreational volleyball, soccer, and swimming at a low volume and light loads.

Another use of the active rest concept is to place a week of rest (called an unloading week) between long phases (three weeks) or periods. The point is to prepare for the increased demand in the next phase or period. You will see this later when looking at an example of a sport season near the end of this article.


  • The second transition (active rest) period consists of recreational activity that may not involve resistance training.

What this looks like in Sport Season Terms:

  • Postseason
    • Basic Strength
    • Hypertrophy
    • Basic Strength
    • Active Rest
  • Off-season
    • Hypertrophy
    • Basic Strength
    • Strength/Power
    • Peaking
    • Active Rest
  • Preseason
    • Strength/power
    • Power
    • Active Rest
    • Strength/Power
    • Power
  • In-Season
    • Active Rest
    • Maintenance Program
    • Active rest before the postseason starts again

You need to stop working out and start training. Periodization will prevent you from hitting plateaus and start reaching your exercise goals sooner. If you don’t know where to start, consider working with a movement specialist like a physical therapist to gauge your fitness level and develop starting exercises for your plan.