Want Bigger Muscles Faster? Science says Cycle your Training!

Before the Lifecycle improved coronary flow and made a lot of people a lot of money, and before steroid and GH cycling gave the word cycle a bad name, blighting bodybuilding, Eastern European and Soviet Coaches and physiologists had quite a different view of the word cycle. It had nothing to do with sitting on a bike.

As far back as the mid-sixties, many athletes were improving their skills and physical attributes involved in their sports (such as speed, power, acceleration) by following something formerly called periodization. Today, virtually every world-class Olympic athlete follows a variation of a periodization training system. Indeed, it would be safe to say that every world record in weight lifting, track and field and swimming are a result of periodization.

Well listen, believe it or not, bodybuilders can use pretty much the same training system to make consistent "drug free" gains in both size and strength year round!

Four Specific Cycles or Phases

  1. Hypertrophy – muscle size increase – heavy weights, but for moderate/high reps.
  2. Strength / power – medium reps, very heavy weights.
  3. Power – low reps, very heavy weights.
  4. Rejuvenation – active rest

Hypertrophy-Phase 1

If you divide your yearly training into phases or cycles, you’ll maintain a better mental outlook, more motivation and your body will also respond better physiologically.

The first phase of training I suggest, is the one that builds muscle size and pre–orients your muscles to be geared up (condition–wise) to go for strength and power which will theoretically allow you to even add more muscle size. Plus, you will condition your tendons and joints to handle the stresses of heavier weights to come.


Deon Lozon steadfastly improves using cyclic training plans

I recommend (as do most responsible trainers that you do 6–15 reps per set for size with the great majority of reps falling somewhere from 8–12 reps. I also like 3–4 heavier "work" sets after a systemic warm–up plus 2–3 warm–up weight sets per exercise. As you might note, so far this sounds pretty much like a standard common sense bodybuilding workout.

  • "With a cycle training approach your training weights should come near, but never exceed, your limit. That means you do not train to failure. Some say that doing anything to FAILURE produces an ultimate negative mindset, but more importantly, training to positive and negative failure can cause a form of cortisol adrenal over–production, as the stress is just too high. (To his wise defense, Mike Mentzer, was a proponent of this type of training, and realized this and advised one that you could NOT train with ultimate intensity often, so you had to reduce volume).
  • "Nonetheless, the premise of periodization avoids too much constant adrenal stress and recognizes both the mental and physiological needs to cycle the varying proponents of training. One simply can not come into each session and always work harder. While this may sound good in theory it never works in practice–never. So, instead, in this phase, the goal is to make small steady increases in your workload parameters, on a weekly basis. Success breeds success. Failure breeds failure.
A Recommended 8–day Size Training Cycle or ‘Training Week’:
Day One: Chest (Heavy), Back (Light), Shoulders (Heavy)
Day Two: Rest
Day Three: Legs (Heavy), Arms (Light)
Day 4 Rest
Day 5: Chest (Light), Back (Heavy), Shoulders (Light)
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Arms (Heavy) Legs (Light)
Day 8: Rest
Repeat Cycle

Continual progression is a big key and much harder for NON–DRUG USERS!

So, start the first week of each phase at 90% of your best. Yes, 90%. Leave a bit in reserve. By this I mean if you can do 225–lbs for 10 reps in the bench press, then start week one with 200 for your 3 work sets.

Yohnnie Shambourger is a well-known bodybuilder who cycles his training pre–season for hypertrophy, off–season for strength/power and pre–contest to peak for competition. He has produced a very motivational instructional video, Unleash the Winner in You!

Each full 8–day cycle increase your training weights by just 5–lbs.
Week 1, 200 –lbs, 3 x 10 Week 2, 205 –lbs. 3 x 10
Week 3, 210 –lbs. 3 x 10
Week 4, 215 –lbs. 3 x 10
Week 5, 220 –lbs. 3 x 10
Week 6, 225 –lbs. 3 x 10
Week 7, 230 –lbs. 3 x 10
Week 8, 235 –lbs. 3 x 10.

After eight weeks, you have gone from a best of one set of 10 with 225-lbs to 3 sets of 10 with 235-lbs. Guess what? This probably means that on a well-rested day, you would now be able to get 240-245 pounds for one set of 10! A big improvement! You will have gained strength along with great size improvement.

These were heavy day discussions. On your light days use just 80-85% of your planned heavy day poundage. This is crucial. The greatest strength increases occur when a particular muscle group is trained heavy once every 7-10 days and stimulated but not maximally trained 3 – 5 days later. So, instead of 3 sets of 10 with 220-lbs in week 5, you would use 175-185-lbs instead!

Exercises / Days

What about the exercises?

For muscle size and increased strength we at BodyMuscle suggest:

  • Days 1 and 5
    Chest: bench presses and incline presses (either with the bar or dumbbells)
  • Back: bent–over rows and pulldowns or chins
  • Shoulders: a shoulder press exercise such as behind–the–neck presses or dumbbell presses.
  • Days 3 and 7
  • Legs: High bar squats to below parallel, leg presses and deadlifts, on your heavy leg day. On your light day do not do any deadlifts.
  • Biceps: biceps curls (either with the bar or dumbbells)
  • Triceps: one triceps press such as close–grip bench presses, dips, pullover & press or triceps pushdowns

The Hypertrophy phase will enable you to add muscle and lose fat! At BodyMuscle, we advise a diet of 50% protein, 20% carbs and 30% fat during this phase. (Our supplement suggestions for each phase are listed in a convenient table at articles end).

Strength and Power Phase 2

This will be another 8–week cycle. To develop strength and power, the greatest athletes in the world generally work with 2–6 reps. Since we are geared to bodybuilders we adjust this slightly and in this phase, we advocate 4 5 sets of 5 to 7 reps.

Here is how this cycle works. Well use our previous example for the Bench Press where you ended Phase 1 at 235 for 10 reps. Do an active system warm–up, then with weights 95 x 10 and 155 for 10. On your final warm up set do 205 for 6.

Then go to your target weight which is actually only 10–lbs. above the weight you ended up at sets of 10 in your first phase. So, start at 245–lbs. x 3 sets of 5–6 reps. You are leaving yourself some extra so you continue to gain positively all the way through the cycle.

Okay, now you will once again, increase your target weight each week. Try 5–lbs increase per week like this:
Week 1, 245 lbs. 3 x 5–6.
Week 2, 250 lbs. 3 x 5–6
Week 3, 255 lbs. 3 x 5–6
Week 4, 260 lbs. 3 x 5–6
Week 5, 265 lbs. 3 x 5–6
Week 6, 270 lbs. 3 x 5–6
Week 7, 275 lbs. 3 x 5–6
Week 8, 280 lbs. 3 x 5–6

Use the same exercises for Phase 2 as you did in Phase 1. Use 5-6 reps as your goal for Bench Press, Bent Row, Squat and Deadlifts and 6-7 reps for your arm and shoulder exercises (as well as the secondary exercises Inclines, Pulldowns and Leg Press). Dont forget that every other bodypart workout is a light day at 80 85% of your target weights for the week

As an option that many bodybuilders love to do is the down-set After your primary strength and power work, try doing one down set of 10 reps to maintain your increased muscle size from the hypertrophy phase. This is a down set not a burn out set. Dont go to failure here. Instead use about 70% of the weight you used on your work sets and stop when you reach 10 reps. As eight times Mr. Olympia Lee Haney (1984-1991), said, Stimulate dont annihilate.

During this strength/power phase we feel an enhanced good complex carb source is advisable.

Power Phase 3

In physics, work is a measure of force and distance. (w = f x d). Power means doing a specified amount of work per unit time. If you can move mass M over distance D in 10 seconds and then (after training) move the same mass M the same distance D, but do it in 5 seconds, you are twice as powerful!

Our experience has been to spend a maximum of four weeks in the power phase and to use 2-3 reps in benches and deadlifts, 3 4 reps in the squats and bent-over rows, and 5 – 6 reps for all other exercises. Again, follow your 2-3 warm-ups, and 3 power work sets and then do a down set of 10 reps with about 70% of your target weight, just as you did in the strength phase.

You ended your strength cycle at 280-lbs. for 5-6 reps.

So start at 285-lbs for your target weight, 3 reps each, for week 1.

Then add 5-lbs per week over the 4-week cycle progressively, just as before:
Week 1, 285-lbs. 3 x 3 reps
Week 2, 290-lbs. 3 x 3 reps. Week 3, 295-lbs. 3 x 3 reps
Week 4, 300-lbs. 3 x 3 reps

During this 20-week periodization cycle, you should go from a 10-rep maximum of 225-lbs. and that probably equates to a 300-lbs. for a one rep maximum for most people, to doing a couple of sets of 3 reps with your maximum one rep before! That is a huge increase for a natural athlete!

One thing – if you are planning to enter a bodybuilding competition you should follow the power phase with a pre-contest training phase similar to the hypertrophy phase and perhaps just slightly longer.

You would want to train in a slightly higher volume - semi intense manner using as much weight as possible for 8 to 12 reps. This type of training stimulates all muscle fibers and all the elements of the muscle cell.

If you are not competing following phase 1, 2 and 3, then go into a rejuvenation phase.

Rejuvenation/Active Rest Phase 4

Now heres a chance to stay out of the gym completely, focus maybe more on sports and/or cardio, of if you must go to the gym try some new equipment with no structured routine.

But active rest should only last 2-3 weeks and then its time to start another cycle start phase 1 at a slightly higher level than your last time through.


  • Start each phase with a target weight that is less than your maximum!
  • Make sure to keep light days light about 80-85% of your target weights on the heavy days.
  • Stick to your planned program even if your target weights on a particular day feel light. Resist the temptation to add more weight or do extra reps! You are in this for the long haul!
  • Rest long enough between sets so you can be successful on the next set.
  • If you are unable to get all your sets with a planned target weight, use that same weight when your next heavy day comes around.
  • Start your second complete cycle at a slightly higher level than you did the previous cycle.
  • You should do a general systemic warm-up plus 2-3 warm up sets, and then, 3-4 work sets per exercise during each phase. Your first one or two warm-ups should be around 10 reps. The reps on your final warm up should be the same number of reps as your target sets during a particular phase.
  • Don’t forget your down set of 10 reps with 70% target weight during the strength and power phases.

Brent Jones uses cycle training and credits Beverly heavily for upping his mass over the last 2 years. He is preparing for the 2001 North American Championships

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