The Nine Day Cross Country Training Microcycle

Posted by Scott Christensen

Applying the principles of contemporary training theory is an important aspect of coaching cross country runners. In general, training theory applies the laws of the natural world to the science of longer distance running so that coaches do not have to rely on trial and error or anecdotal beliefs in setting up a sequential training plan for their athletes.

Training theory is also about a universal language among both scientists and coaches that is used to communicate scientific research to training application. Terms such as over-load, adaptation, reversibility, phase, mesocycle, and microcycle are just a few examples of training theory language.

Perhaps the most used concept in cross country training theory is the shortest training cycle, or the microcycle. This word is by no means interchangeable with the common seven-day week of Sunday through Saturday that rules most of our personal lives, but unfortunately this confusion is found among many coaches. Like the five-day workweek, plus the two-day weekend found in our society, a microcycle is a block of time that repeats itself over and over in some form or another with one microcycle leading into another.

The real confusion lies in how many days a training microcycle needs to be in setting up training plans for all runners including cross country. Admittedly, it is easy to line up a standard seven-day week with seven days of training forming a microcycle for organizational purposes and for clarity in explaining the workout pattern to the athletes.

FREE REPORT: Sample Cross Country Workouts & Progressions for Every Training Phase

A seven-day calendar week in our society is liked by most people because it spaces out the weekend vacation days with the workdays before repeating the rotation again. The same concept applies to distance training, but seven days is too short a time to begin a new rotation of days for most endurance events.

There is quite a variety of things a distance runner needs to do in a microcycle, far more than seven days worth, before repeating daily workout themes.

The length of a training microcycle is determined by the demands of the event, chiefly the race distance. To begin the process, a list of cross country workout themes that are appropriate for that time of year is needed. There is a higher aerobic energy system  contribution than anaerobic contribution in all the various combined zone distance races including cross country. However, both energy systems need be developed to match the characteristics of the race. Both systems take time to develop in a runner.

A list of aerobic workouts designed to improve that system are found in Table 1.

CTF-The Nine-Day Training Microcycle.T1

Table 1 indicates that there are seven distinctly different workout themes that are applicable for cross country runners training in season. The coach should select five the seven themes for each microcycle depending on the training phase and race schedule. One can conclude that a seven day microcycle will be far too short as the anaerobic work is yet to be addressed.

The 4000 and 5000 meter cross country races have an anaerobic energy contribution of between 8-12% at race pace. This is an important physiological fact for coaches to understand because training will need to be done to address this.

Table 2 indicates the various anaerobic energy system workout themes that are applicable to cross country runners. Three of the four themes should be added to each cross country microcycle depending on the training phase and race schedule.

CTF-The Nine-Day Training Microcycle.T2

Each microcycle during the cross country season is likely to contain one race or perhaps two. So, when the race is added to the necessary number of aerobic and anaerobic based workouts a total of nine days results and that is the necessary length of the cross country microcycle. The training theory goal is to complete a nine-day microcycle, adjust and realign the workouts within, and then begin the next nine-day cycle. This insures that the proper types of workouts are done before repeating the rotation of training themes.

Coaching Resource: Daily Training Schedules for High School Cross Country Runners

The final step is to sequence the various aerobic and anaerobic workouts into a microcycle so that proper recovery is given to each stimulus before a new stimulus of a similar type is applied. A possible cross country nine-day training microcycle sequence during the pre-competitive phase is shown Table 3.

CTF-The Nine-Day Training Microcycle.T3

Cross country runners need to train with a diverse mixture of stressful aerobic work and fast anaerobic work. Because such a variety of training stimuli are needed, the work and recovery must be organized into an organizational scheme that far exceeds a standard seven-day week

A nine-day training microcycle seems to be an effective length of time to accomplish the necessary training units before the workout themes begin to repeat themselves in a fresh nine-day training cycle.

Coach, I’ve laid out why the nine day cross country training microcycle is the optimal approach and I’ve given you some basic parameters for how to set it up in your own program.

If you want to dig deeper into this topic, I’ve created a (free) coaching ‘cheat sheet’ that gives you **specific** cross country workouts and progressions for all the workout types in the nine day microcycle …for general preparation, specific preparation, and the competition phases of the season.

Just enter your valid email address below and I’ll send you download instructions directly to your inbox. You’ll be able to start applying more specific workouts and strategies to your program before your next practice!



Scott Christensen - Scott Christensen’s teams have been ranked in the national top 10 eight times. He won the 1997 High School National Championship and his squads have captured multiple Minnesota State Championships. Scott has coached 13 Minnesota State Championship-winning teams and 27 individual Minnesota State Champions. He was the USTFCCCA Endurance Specialist School junior team leader for the World Cross Country Team in 2003 and the senior team leader in 2008. Scott is a 14-year USATF Level II endurance lead instructor.

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