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28. 2. 2012.

Current issues in building the macro cycles in sports

Vladimir Koprivica
Faculty of sport and Physical Education, Belgrade, Serbia

Twentieth century, among other things, has been marked by a great development of sports. This in particular applies to the second half of the XX century, when practically all sports disciplines have sped up their development by improving the training methodology, expanding forms and scope of competition, construction of new sports facilities, much better organization of championships and trainings etc. All of said has been accompanied by increasingly voluminous expert and popular information, rising popularity if sports and financial investment in sports. Hence, from leisure activity, sport has become a professional activity for many individuals. For those who invest the money in sports, it is an opportunity for profitable business venture which generates financial as well as other gain.

Such momentum in sports has not been possible without educated professional personnel and influence of the science, which according to measure of progress in sports has been gaining an increased importance. By discovering certain patterns in sports, the science has enriched the practice, but the athletic practice, prompted, in biggest part by need and will to reach the maximum, has always been one step ahead.

The accumulated practical results and experience have asked for professional and scientific explanations. However, only after the World War Two, especially in the period from 1960 to 1970, first works had been published which explained in entirety the segment of training and competition. By leaning on his predecessors, in the first place L. Pikoli and N.V. Oyolin, the most reputable international authority in this field, L.P. Matveyev(1964) had formed new theoretical postulates which he expounded in detail in his subsequent books(Matveyev, L.P. 1977, 1999, 2001, 2008). These works had a profound impact on practically all theoretical works of this type in the world(e.g. Ulatovski,T. 1971, Harre,D. 1974, Bompa, T. 1983, Platonov, V.N. 1987, 1997, Choutka, M. Dovalil, J. 1991, Zeljaskov, C. 1998) and in Yugoslavia( e.g. Petrovic, D. 1977, Malacko, J. 1991, Najsteter, Dj. 1991).

Macro cycle, as a generally accepted term, has been in the beginning identified with one of the season(year) in sports, since the single cycle variant of training was dominant which comprised preparatory, competition and transition period. A substantive increase in the number of competitons and improvement of financial basis of sports made possible the championships throughout the whole year(even in typical seasonal sports disciplines), which, in turn, effected the change in the traditional structure of the season. Instead of a season with one championship period, now more frequent are cycles with two, three and even more competition periods. If each of these cycles has retained all three periods which make its constituent parts, even much reduced, that has meant that during the seasons more macro cycles could have been realized.

The breakup of classical competition-training season where the competition period lasted long-time(6-7 months) into two shorter macro cycles, fully complied with the patterns of getting, keeping and losing sports fitness. Older researches(Matveyev, L.P. 1977) but also newer research( Matveyev L.P. 1991, 2001) as well as sports practice have shown that provided the strict criteria are adopted in regard to sports fitness  an athlete can remain in good shape/with good sports fitness up to 2,5 months. With good planning and realization of training process, that period coincides with competition period. The next macro cycle commences with the new training period which favors creation of conditions for getting back athletic fitness and its duration in the course of second competition period. Because of the said, many athletic disciplines have moved from monocyclic to two-cyclic variant of the season.

Due to ever increasing domination of the seasons with two and three macro cycles, a monocyclic variant of the seasons has been neglected and considered as obsolete. However, very soon, it has come out that ”…the structure of the annual training-competition cycles of top athletes is not built from 3-4-5-6 macro cycles as deemed by some experts” (Suslov, F.P. Sepelj, S.P.  1999).  The more complex structure of macro cycles and training-competition season, besides transitional factors which determine it(development patterns, keeping and losing of sports fitness, specific characteristics of athletic discipline, patterns of athletic development of an individual and his adaptation abilities, orientation toward important contests, etc., Koprivica, V. 2002), has been caused by many factors and is of later date.

In the current development of sports, for one sports season consisting of one or more macro cycles, the following features are important:
  1. All seasons differ among themselves, and in particular the season in which athletes prepare for the main competition, not only during that seasons, but also preparations lasting for several years – for Olympic Games.
  2. A season may have more macro cycles, but three at most, since practical experience shows that in athletic disciplines wherein three-cycle periodization is used, practically there are no athletes who prepare at the same time for three main athletic events divided into three macro cycles(Suslov, F.P.1988). Top tennis players are forced to do that by the system of valuation of results, but in particular because of this, in equal international competition, it is almost impossible to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in one year.
  3. Sports calendar which is under ever increasing pressure of sports commercialization is expanded up the measure which is no longer rational. The calendar often extends to 10 months per season so that the former separate macro cycles of the seasons have been completely joined. So, we have again obtained a monocycle variant, without interim period necessary for recuperation and new preparation. Since competitions in many athletic disciplines extend during major part of the season, it would be more correct that the competition period be named period of basic competition.
  4. The ratio of duration of competition and preparation period is being more and more disrupted. A theoretical recommendation is that the preparatory period must last from 1/3 to ½ of the season’s duration, is being less and less honoured in practice. In Chart 2 we can see that ratio is 1:4,5 and not in relation to the whole season, but only to competition period.
  5. The optimal ratio of training and competition practically does not exist any longer if it is participated at all or at most of the competitions throughout one season. There is an important defference here between individual and team sports. The advantage of individual sports is that for an athlete and individual competition calendar may be made which suits his needs and abilities. Hence many top athletes, especially in the year immediately prior to Olympic Games, pay all attention to main competition of the season. Some of the most successful athletes choose mono cycle variant of the season in which they increase the duration of the preparation period and reduce the number of competitions to needed minimum period. Even in these circumstances, the athletes in some sports disciplines cannot evade a large number of competitions during the season.(J. Jankovic 83, R. Nadal, R. Federer, N. Djokovic each 80 games in the year 2008)
  6. Preparation period is used for gradual long-time getting into shape/obtaining athletic fitness. In order that a greater improvement of results and stability of sports fitness may be guaranteed, it is necessary that in macro cycle sufficient time be set aside for preparation period which provides unforced getting of athletic fitness( Matveyev, L.P. 2001). Because of that in professional sports literature preparation period is most often called a period of fundamental preparation.
  7. The ever decreasing preparation period imposes a need that the preparation period be extended to the first part of competition period and that less important competitions be used as a powerful factor of preparation for acquiring sports fitness during main competition events( Koprivica, V. 2002).
  8. The increase in the number of competitions, among them commercial competitions as well, did not bring about an increase in the number of appearances of most of the top athletes in individual sports in the course of the year. However, in sports disciplines the number of competitions and matches is increasing continually which the top teams cannot evade. For example, in basketball, from former periodization with two or three macro cycles( Furaeva, N.V. 2001), now there is an enormous number of matches which account for over 30% of active days of the training-competition cycle(see Chart 2) and season with one competition cycle which lasts for long time(Elevic, S.N.). Because of the said, the teams that want to win the title, gather a large number of top players who can jointly bear the burden of a strenuous season and win. In some athletic games, a number of matches in the same sports year are within reasonable framework(Chart 3).
  9. Very often in sports literature is neglected the fact that a periodization of sports training is a process of managing the athletic fitness. The competition calendar is put into the first plan again, as the main factor which determines the structure of the annual cycles. According to research done by N.V. Furaeva(2001) even the experts are doing this. This can be a great strategic mistake in practice which moves away the athletes and teams from success at major competitions.
  10. The changes which had been noticed brought about a series of positive effects: a complex management of the training and competition process has caused the formation of a numerous expert staff made up of specialists of various profiles; a control of trainings and competitions is beind improved as well as the system of monitoring competition activities; possibilities for control of athletes’ health are improved, doping control is improved as well as methods and forms of its application; conditions for rehabilitation of injured athletes are being ameliorated; athletes’ diet is under more strict expert control; better and faster information are obtained on opponents; modern information technology makes possible fast data transmission and procession thereof as well as forming of valuable database; new training machines and better equipment are used; conditions for fair refereeing at athletic matches are much better etc.
  11. In more and more complex situation the following may be noticed as well in the practice:
·         A hierarchy of compeititons is being disrupted and advantage is more often given to commercial, well paid competitions over major sports events of the season, even over the Olympic Games;
·         There are no required cycles of recovery in long competition periods
·         The athletes are increasingly exposed to enormous specific strains so that some of them after extremely strenuous seasons receive serious injuries and are poorly prepared for the next seasons, where, as a rule, they obtain poorer results.
·         A transition time period is reduced so that in athletic games the player who in this period have both preparations and matches for the national team are overstrained.
·         There is a growing number of major sports events/competitions in successive order during the season, and thereby a possibility is diminished for: variation of load, rational distribution of load, change in direction of load and rest, correct ratio between general and specific, application of prophylactic training etc. ;
·         The phase of immediate preparation for the main competition is mostly in the competition period, so the risk of loss in increased if the various competitions are intertwined;
·         A map of sports competitions is expanding, since the competitions are taking place on all continents and trips and frequent changes of time zones and climate conditions are an additional load of athletes( e.g. Novak Djokovic travelled 115 thousand kilometers in 2008)
·         Work with national team selections requires a correction of sports calendar in the year of major sports events so that the athletes may have rest from competition in the first part of the year; and then prepare themselves well for the main competition of the season;
·         Due to increased number of sports obligations( competitions, trainings, travels), a possibility for top athletes to get educated and qualified for life after the athletic career is finished and diminished.

An acute problem of creating macro cycles of top athletes and their place, number and structure in the season is not followed by presentation of concrete material from practice. Example given in Chart 2 for the squad participated in four competitions in the same season may serve as an indicator of current competition and training load in top sports. In this example, through figures and ratio or various parameters of the season, one can see numerous issues of macro cycles and competition seasons in top sports.

Chart 1. Structure of monocycle and two-cyclic variant of annual cycle(without transition period) of the world’s top athletes(according to Suslov, F.P.,Sepelj, S.P. 1999. revised)

Macro cycles   WEEKS(average number, min-max)


Two- cycle
First MCC
Second MCC

Mono-cyclic variant (N=7)






Chart 2. Basic information on preparation and competition period “Partizan” Basketball Club in the 2007/08. Season

Numeral indicators
Duration of the preparation and
competition period

318 days

Preparation period
58 days(18%)

Competition period
260 days(82%)

Ratio of duration of preparation
And competition period


  1. Active days
(trainings and matches)
Competition days

Training days
Ratio of training and competition days

2. Days of rest
Ratio of active days and
days of rest


Total trainings
(matches and trainings)

During preparation  period

During compeitition period
Ratio of trainings in preparation
and competition period

Ratio of trainings in preparation
and competition period

Average exercises per day
Ratio of number of days of the competition period and number of official matches


Chart 3. Overview of matches played(official) of the Red Star volleyball players in the 2007/2008. season


14- Regular part of the seasons
6- Mini league
8 – Play off
1- 1/8 Finals
2- ¼ Finals
2- Final tournament

6 – CEV cup

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