Understanding Training Cycles for Maximum Strength and Size Gains By Steve Shaw
Most lifters know that the body adapts to a training style over a given period of time. Eventually, even with the best training program, strength and/or size gains grind to a halt. Often, a lifter will change programs and find that the progress still isnít there.
This failure to progress is caused by a simple misunderstanding of what change means to the body. Simply switching from Doggcrapp Training (Lower reps, higher weight load) to German Volume Training (Higher reps, lower weight load) might shock your system, and is on the right track, but itís not the answer to all your training problems.
The golden key that opens doors to ongoing progress is the cycling of repetition and load. Let me expand upon this point, because itís a piece of training wisdom that you need to remember:
To maximize size and strength gains, a trainee needs to cycle from lower weight and higher reps, to heavier weight loads and lower reps.
Got that? Confused? To better understand the relationship between repetitions and load, letís look at a recent study.
Repetitions vs. Load. In Comparison of linear and reverse linear periodization effects on maximal strength and body composition, researchers in Brazil compared the following 2 training patterns:
LP (Linear Periodization) - Decreasing repetitions while increasing load over the course of a training cycle.
RLP (Reverse Linear Periodization) - Decreasing load while increasing repetitions over the course of a training cycle.
Over a 12 week period, a LP study group cycled down from lighter weights and higher reps, to heavier loads and low reps. The RLP did the oppositeÖthey began with heavy loads and low reps, and cycled to lighter weight and high reps. The rep range parameter for this study was 4-14.
Changes in load and repetitions were performed in microcycles, meaning that the LP group occasionally took a step back and decreased weight. Similarly, the RLP group occasionally took a step back and increased weight.
The results of the study? Both groups got stronger, but the LP group experienced noticeably greater upper body strength gains. Also, the LP group gained muscle mass and lost fat, while the RLP group did NOT gain any muscle.
Linear Periodization was the hands down winner in this study, resulting in greater muscle mass and strength gains.
Bodybuilding and RLP. We now see that the change required by the body to insure consistent gains in size and strength is not always due to a specific training program. In fact, most bodybuilding programs are set up in micro-RLP format. Lifters will push for more repetitions with a given weight, and once they hit a given rep ceiling, will increase the weight and repeat the cycle.
For example, Johnny Gymrat is currently squatting 225 pounds for 5 reps. Over the course of the next month, Johnny trains hard, and is now able to knock out 12 reps with 225 pounds. The next time in the gym, he bumps the weight up to 245 pounds and hammers out 5 reps. Over time, Johnny Gymrat is eventually able to squat 245 x 12 reps. He continues to repeat this RLP cycle ad nauseum.
Of course, we canít pretend that Johnny isnít making some mass gains. To interpret the results of the study as implying that muscle mass gains are impossible without LP training would be foolish. But itís obvious that linear periodization acts like an amplifier; it leads to a greater degree of strength and muscle using the same average repetitions and load over a given period of time.
Application. The move to a LP style bodybuilding training routine isnít complicated. It simply involves a few extra minutes of planning.
To transform your current RLP style routine into a 12-week LP program, plug your one rep max into the following equations, and it will provide you with approximate weights to use for desired rep ranges:
4 Rep Set. Multiply 1RM x 91.67%
5 Rep Set. Multiply 1RM x 89.00%
6 Rep Set. Multiply 1RM x 86.00%
7 Rep Set. Multiply 1RM x 83.33%
8 Rep Set. Multiply 1RM x 80.67%
9 Rep Set. Multiply 1RM x 77.67%
10 Rep Set. Multiply 1RM x 75.00%
11 Rep Set. Multiply 1RM x 72.00%
12 Rep Set. Multiply 1RM x 69.33%
13 Rep Set. Multiply 1RM x 66.33%
14 Rep Set. Multiply 1RM x 63.67%
Letís look at the example of a trainee who has a bench press max of 300 pounds. Plugging 300 into the above equations yields the following:
275 x 4 reps
267 x 5 reps
258 x 6 reps
250 x 7 reps
242 x 8 reps
233 x 9 reps
225 x 10 reps
216 x 11 reps
208 x 12 reps
199 x 13 reps
191 x 14 reps
12 Week Program. Here is a sample rep scheme format for a 12 week LP cycle. As you can see, the cycle is comprised of 4 week microcycles.
Week 1. 12-14 reps
Week 2. 10-12 reps
Week 3. 8-10 reps
Week 4. 12 reps
Week 5. 10-12 reps
Week 6. 8-10 reps
Week 7. 6-8 reps
Week 8. 12 reps
Week 9. 8-10 reps
Week 10. 6-8 reps
Week 11. 4-6 reps
Week 12. 12 reps
Conclusion. As with all things, itís easy to turn a training principle such as linear periodization into a carved in stone, fanatical belief. LP does NOT work for all people at all times. The human body is much more complicated then that, and not all lifters are at the same place in time with regards to their strength and/or size development.
Beginning lifters tend to gain size and strength on any program. Advanced lifters fight for every ounce of muscle and strength gains. Intermediate trainees can spend years fooling around, searching for a magical system that provides the magical gains they experienced during their first year of training.
Incorporate LP into your routine design strategy. Itís proven to amplify size and strength gains, and can be implemented into just about any training system from Doggcrapp to good, old fashion volume training.