Is it time to re-think the 7-day microcycle length?

When teams and athletes endure long seasons or twice-weekly matches, the ability to plan microcycles from match to match is more important than ever. As always, there is more than one way to skin a cat...

James de Lacey

By James de Lacey
Last updated: March 2nd, 2023
5 min read

Is it time to re-think the 7-day microcycle?

When teams and athletes endure long seasons or twice-weekly matches, the ability to plan microcycles from match to match is more important than ever. As always, there is more than one way to skin a cat…

James de Lacey

By James de Lacey
Last updated: March 2nd, 2023
5 min read

Contents of this Research Review

  1. Objective
  2. What They Did
  3. What They Found
  4. Practical Takeaways
  5. Reviewer’s Comments
  6. About the Reviewer
  7. Comments

NRL athletes play more than 20 regular season matches during their six-month season, with 5-10 days between matches.

Original study

Eggers, T., Cross, R., Norris, D., Wilmot, L., & Lovell, R. (2022). Impact of Microcycle Structures on Physical and Technical Outcomes During Professional Rugby League Training and Matches. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance1(aop), 1-6.

Click here for abstract

Objective

With professional sporting competitions looking to eke out as much value from sporting teams as possible by having them play long seasons or twice-weekly matches, the ability to plan microcycles from match to match is more important than ever. One example is the Australian National Rugby League competition (NRL), where 24 regular season matches are played over six months, with 5-10 days between matches.

As always, there is more than one way to skin a cat with some teams preferring to rest matchday (MD) +2 and start training MD +3 while others prefer to start training on MD +2.

Currently, no research has examined the impact of these different microcycle structures on technical match performance and physical load during field sessions. Therefore, this study aimed to identify how different microcycle structures affected on-field physical training load and physical and technical performance during matches.

What They Did

Thirty-four professional rugby league athletes (age = 26 ± 4 yr) from the NRL were followed for the 26 week in-season.

For the first half of the season, the first skills session of the week was performed on MD +2 with the main field session on MD -3. This was labelled the early microcycle (MCearly). For the second half of the season, the first skills session was performed on MD +3, allowing for an extra day of recovery. The main field session was performed on MD -2. This was labelled the delay microcycle (MCdelay).

Physical output was measured using Catapult GPS during training and matches. Playerload per minute (PL.min-1), Playerload below 2 m.s-1 per minute (PLslow.min-1), metres per minute (m.min-1), high speed running >4.0 m.s per minute (HSR.min-1), and high-speed running >5.5 m.s per minute (Sprint.min-1) were the variables assessed.

For technical statistics, metres gained and frequency of runs with the ball, tackles missed, and tackles made were analysed from match footage.

What They Found

  • All physical measures during the first skills session increased in MCdelay compared to MCearly. Physical output was maintained during the main field session on MD -2 even with the increased physical output in the previous day’s skills session. 
  • No difference in technical match performance was seen between microcycle structures.
  • Interestingly, HSR.min-1 increased while PLslow.min-1 decreased in matches during MCdelay compared to MCearly.
  • Practical Takeaways

  • The 7-day microcycle is a hotly debated topic with many options. I’ll list them below:
  • Option 1
    MD +2 (Easy skills day)
    MD +3 (Volume/contact technical session)
    MD -3 (Off)
    MD -2 (Fast technical session) 
    MD -1 (Potentiation session)
    Option 2
    MD +2 (Easy skills day)
    MD +3 (Off)
    MD -3 (Hard technical session)
    MD -2 (Off) 
    MD -1 (Potentiation session)
    Option 3
    MD +2 (Off)
    MD +3 (Easy technical session)
    MD -3 (Hard technical session)
    MD -2 (Off) 
    MD -1 (Potentiation session)
    Option 4
    MD +2 (Easy technical session)
    MD +3 (Volume/contact technical session)
    MD -3 (Fast technical session)
    MD -2 (Off) 
    MD -1 (Potentiation session)
    Option 5
    MD +2 (Off)
    MD +3 (Technical Skills)
    MD -3 (Off)
    MD -2 (Main Fast Session) 
    MD -1 (Potentiation session)

  • Overall, it seems removing an extra training day during the in-season from typical microcycle structures allows for better recovery, by improving physical outputs during training without impacting competition performance.
  • Within collision sports, physical recovery takes much longer than non-contact sports due to the increased muscle damage and therefore, the extra day may be warranted.
  • If using MD +2 as a training session, this is best used as an easy gym session (bodybuilding/prehab style) with technical light skills such as individual and team skills based on the previous match. For example, if a team struggled with defending a particular attacking shape, the session can be dedicated to fixing this issue before going full speed or contact the following day.
  • James de Lacey’s Comments

    “Delaying the start of a microcycle raises the question of what you do with the extra day off. It could be a knee-jerk reaction to have to do something such as bringing the players into the facility for ‘recovery’ and wellness. I think complete rest at home is a better option so they can spend time away.

    “However, that doesn’t mean it has to be mental rest. An interesting idea would be using virtual reality to go through game scenarios so they can do mental reps without the physical toll. While this technology hasn’t made its way into rugby (mainly within American football), sending players video to analyse at home is another option to keep them sharp and learning.”

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    James de Lacey

    James de Lacey

    James was the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Romanian Rugby Union. He has previously worked in America’s professional rugby competition Major League Rugby with Austin Elite and the NZ Women’s National Rugby League Team. He is a published author and has completed a MSc in Sport & Exercise Science from AUT, Auckland, NZ.

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    James de Lacey

    James de Lacey

    James was the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Romanian Rugby Union. He has previously worked in America’s professional rugby competition Major League Rugby with Austin Elite and the NZ Women’s National Rugby League Team. He is a published author and has completed a MSc in Sport & Exercise Science from AUT, Auckland, NZ.

    More content by James
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