The 21 Day Cycle for Training Programs

Sport training programs are usually based on a 7-day microcycle. This is true in Weightlifting and it is probably true in most sports. It’s just part of the natural order of things that the weekly rhythm of life is difficult to escape. As a result, in Weightlifting, the heaviest training days in a build-up to a competition tend to occur once a week, that is 7 days apart.

The question is whether this 7 day cycle is suitable for advanced athletes who train very frequently and endure very considerable workloads. Could it be that the 7-day cycle does not allow for sufficient recovery between heaviest sessions? On the other hand, could it be that an advanced athlete can train ‘heavy’ more frequently than every 7 days?

In truth, no-one really knows the answer to these questions and it is probable that there are many factors that ensure that the optimal microcycle differs from one individual to the next, for example the definition of ‘heavy’, the training workload across the week and the athlete’s personal circumstances are some of the factors.

But here is a different approach to the usual 7-day cycle. This method utilises a 21 day (3 week) cycle consisting of two micro-cycles: 1st micro-cycle – 10 days. 2nd micro-cycle – 11 days. The stars indicate the relative level of intensity.

21 Day Micro Cycle

The above illustration indicates that in the 3 week cycle there are two sessions at 90% and two sessions at 95% (or more). These heaviest sessions are high in intensity and low in volume. It’s really problematic to use percentages as it creates all sorts of expectations and problems with athletes but nevertheless percentages are a necessary evil. These 4 heavy sessions in the 3 week period should not just be seen as pushing for maximum singles on Snatch or Clean & Jerk. Further away from the competition, these heavy days can be used to push for high results on any variation of the Olympic Lifts e.g. snatch from knee, power snatch, power clean & jerk, front squat, back squat, etc. Furthermore, it does not have to be all about singles either. The intention is simply to aim for high intensity using lower reps.

Immediately following heavy sessions are two very light sessions (65%) for recovery and there are a further three light sessions at 70%. All of these light sessions are incredibly important. There are also 3 days off in this scheme of things (6 days per week training) and this also aids in recovery.

There are also 9 training sessions between 75-85% intensity (medium intensity). This is where the bulk of the training occurs for strength, speed and technique and it is in these sessions that the greatest volume occurs in the cycle.

In a 12-13 week build-up to a competition, the 3 week (21 day) cycle outlined above allows the athlete to complete 4 cycles each and each cycle can have a slightly different stimulus. The first 2 cycles can have more emphasis on strength and power lifts, while the last 2 cycles can have more emphasis on full movements and pushing every 10 days for very high performance.