This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership

Become A Member
Dublin: 23 °C Tuesday 4 August, 2020

Micro, meso, macro! A guide to setting fitness goals and actually hitting them

Here’s Dean Merton’s weekly column.

Image: Shutterstock/UfaBizPhoto

THE VERY ESSENCE of training for most people can be boiled down to the setting and achievement of goals.

Whether those goals are subjective such as ‘I want to look good naked,’ or more objective in nature ‘I want to deadlift double my bodyweight,’ the fact remains that goals we set ourselves should be just out of reach enough to challenge us. After all there is no real achievement in setting a goal we can accomplish in the next couple of days.

The time in which we give ourselves to achieve our training goals is known as the macrocycle. Without boring you with training lingo, this can simply be defined as the overall time you have from the beginning of your training cycle to the point where it concludes with hopefully the achievement of your goals.

For an athlete, the macrocycle may be from the start of pre-season until the final whistle at the end of a season, the goal being hoisting a trophy overhead. It may even be as long as four years in the case of an Olympic-level athlete, with the end goal being standing on a podium with a medal around one’s neck. For the more recreational lifter or athlete we may set a goal to end on the day of a holiday with a physique resembling that of a Greek god/goddess, or a designated day to test the strength we have accrued over our training cycle.

Either way, whether intentional or not, the macrocycle exists in every training plan you will write.

Below that is the mesocycle, which is a specific block of training designed to accomplish a sub-goal of the overall training cycle. This could be anywhere from three to six weeks in length and may include goals such as increasing endurance, hypertrophy, strength, or power in an overall sense or specific to a given muscle group.

Want to put 20kg on your deadlift 1RM in a year? You better believe you’ll need to do some hypertrophy work on your legs and back, followed by a strength block. Want to lose 10lb of body fat and look awesome on the beach? You should probably do some endurance work to increase your work capacity, followed by some hypertrophy or strength work to increase your lifting capabilities — each of these is known as a mesocycle.

The mesocycle should introduce an element of progressive overload over the course of its duration, meaning that you finish the cycle by challenging your body to a greater degree than when you started. This can be via adding weight, reps, time under tension, distance, frequency, or any number of methods. One mesocycle should naturally lead to another in a process known as phase potentiation. An easy example of this would be going from hypertrophy-based weight training into strength-based training via the manipulation of sets, reps, and training intensities over the course of two to three mesocycles; e.g. a month of 8’s @ 70-80%, followed by 5’s @ 75-85%.

shutterstock_528479449 Source: Shutterstock/ueuaphoto

Finally, the last layer of the periodisation pie is a microcycle; which takes place over the course of a single training session or training day. This is the part of the training process that most people are fairly accustomed to planning out, but it’s the two above cycles where the majority of progress is made.

The issue with that is we are entirely at the mercy of our daily whims, our levels of motivation, and our capacity to manage our daily stressors while still delivering ourselves a training effect which will allow us to progressively overload our bodies and become a better version of ourselves.

I will always make a case for taking the time to decide your goals, create a macrocycle and use this to plan progressive mesocycles which will allow your day to day workouts to be much more easily planned. However…

Does this fit my macros?

At this stage most people reading this will have heard of the “If It Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM) method of dieting. For those who haven’t it, essentially involves determining your daily macoronutrient requirements for your fitness goals and planning your daily intake of carbs/protein/fats accordingly, allowing wiggle room on the type of food you select as long as they fit into the daily allowance of the aforementioned macronutrients and calories.

This has gained considerable traction over the last few years as a way to free people from the constraints of stricter dieting principles such as aggressively cutting carbohydrates or fat in an attempt to limit calorie intake, or rather an atkins, ketogenic, or paleo approach which will ban certain types of food outright. Instead the IIFYM approach will allow you to make food choices on the fly as long as you can fit them within the framework of your daily needs.

But why do we need to limit this to a nutrition philosophy?

My question for you is when planning your workouts do you consider how your microcycle fits into your mesocycle, and how your mesocycle fits your macrocycle? Are you rigidly planning your day to day workouts (akin to a snack or a meal on this scale of comparison) and ignoring their impact on the bigger picture? Could looking at the big picture and breaking it down into smaller chunks make things a lot more manageable (this is the essence of programming mind you)? Alernatively as a paradigm shift, could giving yourself a little more freedom in your daily activities as long as you get a certain amount of work done help you to achieve your goals?

shutterstock_160379219 (2) Source: Shutterstock/Sebastian Duda

These are all questions you can and should be asking yourself about your approach to your progress in strength training, so if you take any actionable content from this article, please use the questions above to inform your future decisions on training. However since this IS a The42 article and the readers will expect something a little more clearly defined and actionable try this:

The Checklist

The basic idea behind having a training checklist is that it arranges your weekly or monthly training sessions into a list of objectives that must be accomplished in order for you to stay on track to your goals. This could be as simple as


  • 20km running
  • 150 total pushups
  • 200 bodyweight rows
  • 300 total bodyweight squats
  • 500 kettlebell swings

How you decide to split all of these objectives up is entirely up to you, some may choose to stay indoors and tap their way through the pushups, rows, and squats for one to two workouts, add in two 6km runs with added swings upon completion, and one final 8km run to finish the week. Or you may decide to do every exercise every training day in equal measures, or in unequal measures depending on time or motivation. Either way you can decide yourself what way the work gets done.

Due to my schedule, which can be a little all over the place at the best of times; I’ve been employing a very similar technique to this for the past number of months.

My weekly checklist is a little more vague, and undulates week-to-week, depending on what phase of my mesocycle I fall in (don’t worry about that), but the general gist is as follows:


  • 2-3 squat variations (back squat, SSB & front squat presently)
  • 3 deadlift variations (trap Bar, RDL, conventional, defecit usually)
  • 4-6 single leg variations (split Squat, SLDL, sled pushes, lunges, step ups)
  • 2 bench variations (flat/incline barbell or dumbell)
  • 2 overhead variations (barbell OHP/ Z Press)
  • 2-3 variations of chin ups/pull ups
  • Some rowing variation in every workout (barbell, dumbbell, cable etc)
  • 4 sweaty conditioning sessions minimum (varies week to week, usually involves assault bike based torture)
  • 2 sessions of fluff work (bicep curls, lat raises, crunches, fun stuff)

While it may seem like a lot to fit into a week’s worth of gym time, by breaking down the checklist into 3-5 mixed days, and liberally using supersets of lower and upper body exercises you can make short work of the entirety of the checklist.

To show you an example of a day in this week, check out the workout below:

Exercise Reps Sets

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 20.20.38

If this is your first day of the week you’ve effectively ticked off two squat variations, one single leg variation, two pulls, two pushes, and some sweaty stuff off your list. All the while getting an awesome quad pump for all the lovely hypertrophy #gainz in the world.

Wrapping Up

I hope that at the very least, this article gives you some food for thought on how to structure macro, meso, and micro cycles. Maybe even helping you to put together a long term plan to reach your goals that fits in with your daily life and offers a little insurance against the ever changing nature of modern life by allowing you to tip away at a checklist rather than stick rigidly to a body part split which dictates you must only train certain body parts on certain days.

As always any questions, queries, and more quandaries can be forwarded to my inbox:

Dean Merton is a Dublin-based strength coach and personal trainer. For more information you can follow him on Facebook and Instagram, or you can send him a direct message here.

You can also see some of his previous articles here.

The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!

Band aid! The piece of kit you can use to improve mobility, core and strength

Finish strong! Three ways to end your session on a high

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article

About the author:

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel