Bodybuilding Articles Powerlifting Articles

Understanding Training Cycles for Maximum Strength and Size Gains

  • 13

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 isn’t 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 it’s 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 it’s 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, let’s 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 opposite…they 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 can’t pretend that Johnny isn’t 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 it’s 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 isn’t 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%

Let’s 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, it’s 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. It’s 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.

Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw is the primary content manager for Muscle and Brawn. Questions? Please visit the forum.
  • Dandapani Jun 4,2013 at 6:19 pm

    QQ, in all these cycle programs with % of 1RM, when do you retest 1RM to set a new max?


  • Ran Dec 30,2012 at 10:16 pm

    Looks like an awesome wokourt. Sorry I am going to miss it. Just got done with my wokourt. Just not the same in a hotel fitness room by my lonesome. Hope you all had a great family day. Thank you Mark, Loretta, and crossfit family. I am very blessed and very thankful.

  • shannon Dec 30,2012 at 9:16 am

    How many sets do you do in one workout with his program and how many times a week would you do this workout? Lets say you are trying to add more weight to your bench press.

    Thank you

  • Steve Shaw Aug 11,2009 at 9:22 pm

    Mat A:

    Please keep in mind that the example application above is for bodybuilders, not powerlifters. As stated in the article:

    “The move to a LP style bodybuilding training routine isn’t complicated.”

    For bodybuilders:

    Calculate the weight to use for that day, and do as many reps as possible. As the end of the 12 weeks, estimate or find your new 1RM and plug that in.

    This program defines weight to use. It is not a percentage-based system of increasing weight. You try to increase reps instead. Does that make sense?

    Focus on doing as many reps as possible with the calculated weight over the course of the 12 weeks.

    This article is exploring the benefits of RLP vs. LP, and is not a program per se. Research revels that LP is superior to RLP. This article provides a sample application of a rep scheme for bodybuilders.

  • Mat A Aug 11,2009 at 2:34 pm

    I think I am missing something. Looking at your 12 week program, it appears that week 12 will be lifting the same weight as week 1.

    How do you incorporate strength gains into this cycle?

Leave Your Comment

Your Comment*

Your Name*
Your Webpage