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Cycles, Cycles, Cycles: How focus and variation are the key to get the most from your fencers

06/13/2018, 6:30am CDT
By Jason Rogers

Jason Rogers, 2008 Olympic team silver medalist.

Earlier this year, I wrote a two-part series on the role that simplicity can play in helping you to get the most out of your training sessions (read Part 1, Part 2). In this article, I’m going address how to apply that idea across the course of a full season.

If you’ve spent any time with strength and conditioning coaches, you might be familiar with the term “periodization,” which is a methodology for structuring training to position an athlete for maximum performance at the most important competitions. It’s heavily science based, and so today we’ll leave hardcore details aside and just discuss one element of periodization that can use to improve how you think about building your fencers’ long-term training programs.

Using cycles to make your long-term training plan

Periodization breaks training down in “cycles” to introduce both organization and variation to challenge (and rest) the body, unlocking greater gains. During these cycles, athletes are tasked with performing a number of exercises, drills or activities that are focused on one goal* for a specific period of time. When one cycle is complete, athletes move into the next which will have a new group of exercises and, often, a new goal.

The cycles work together in a complementary way to make sure that athletes are both focused on achieving something specific and don’t burn out from too much repetition. One of the reasons why cycling can be such a powerful tool in fencing is that fencing coaches often develop a specific way of running a group class or giving a lesson that becomes so routine it is rarely altered. This leads students to become very good at the spectrum of things that are taught but does not position them as well for long-term growth.

In periodization, it is common to plan a long cycle (a macrocycle) that is divided into shorter cycles (mesocycles), each of which are then further divided into even shorter cycles (microcycles). The idea is that each smaller cycle is strategically planned to cumulatively support the larger goals.  

From principles to practice

Let’s look at how I used this methodology during my own career in the lead up the 2008 Olympic qualification season. One of the main challenges that I struggled with during that time was that my attack was weaker than my defense. So the macrocycle period that I chose was one year long (the 2006-2007 competition season) and the overarching goal was to develop an even stronger attack.

  • Macrocycle (Summer 2006 - Summer 2007): Goal to build stronger attack

Then within that larger cycle, I had four mesocycles, each three months long, each of which had its own goal that laddered up to the overarching goal:

  • Mesocycle 1 (Summer): Goal to build raw strength

  • Mesocycle 2 (Fall): Goal to transfer raw strength to functional strength

  • Mesocycle 3 (Winter) Goal to maintain gains during competitive season

  • Mesocycle 4 (Spring) Goal to maintain gains during competitive season

Each mesocycle had a corresponding set of microcycles which included a specific set of exercises and drills that worked in a complementary way towards the goal of the mesocycle, and thus the macrocycle. For example:

  • Mesocycle 2 (Fall): Goal to transfer raw strength to functional strength

    • Microcycle 1 (Week 1 - Week 3): Goal to focus on completing the attack (and not falling short)

      • Monday & Thursday: 45 min of attacking drills (attack must finish attack or lose 2 points)

      • Wednesday & Saturday: 45 min of attacking drills (fencing with no blade contact, two points awarded to a successful attack)

    • Microcycle 2 (Week 4 - Week 6): Goal to focus on strong blade action in the attack

      • Monday & Thursday: 15 min of blade contact drills in lesson

      • Wednesday & Saturday: 45 min of attacking drills (two points for attack scored with pris de fer)

    • Etc.

Now, of course, your fencers won’t always be able to stick to the plan. Life happens and people get distracted. Also, they can’t simply halt all other activities like footwork and free fencing. But the value that comes from planning out training sessions in this way is that you achieve a higher likelihood that a greater percentage of their energy is going towards activities that can actually progress their fencing.

Final Thoughts

Don’t be put off by the fancy vocabulary. This is simply good planning, a skill that every great coach must have in their arsenal. Also, keep it simple at first because, remember, a plan is only as good as its execution. The positive reinforcement of consistently meeting the goals you set is a key part of locking in positive habits. If your plan is too detailed from the outset, you run the risk of overwhelming both yourself and your students.

So, if you’re digitally inclined, crack open an Excel spreadsheet. If not, a simple training journal will do as well. I encourage you to set aside an hour this week to think about long-term goals and get planning!


  • Special thanks to Livia Lanzoni personal trainer and coach at Avant Garde Fencing for her contributions to this article.  

  • *Cycles can have more than one goal, but it’s less ideal.

About the author

Jason Rogers is an Olympic silver medalist, two-time Olympian in men’s saber and founder of Better Fencer, a website offering advice and insights from the best in the sport of fencing. Click HERE to get the free Better Fencer eBook “10 Mistakes All Fencers Should Avoid."

Tag(s): Blog