Adding Weight To The Bar: Training Cycles Explained In Detail

In this post I will explain the concept of training cycles and how they can be uses in your training routine. This cycling method works for a very long time, and most people may never need to do anything else to add weight to any lift.

training-cycles-add-weight-to-the-bar-natty-or-not-1

What are training cycles?

You start with light weights and build to heavier loads. Then you reduce the weight once again to a level that’s a little higher than your initial starting point – three steps forward followed by two steps backwards.

Example:


Let’s say that your best deadlift weight is 295 lbs for 4 solid reps done with good form, and you want to add 20-30 lbs to the lift in 8-10 weeks. Here’s how it can be done with a simple linear training cycle.

Note: The deadlift requires little training volume to progress. That’s why once a week training is fine.

Each week you are supposed to add weight to the bar starting from very light loads and building up to a personal record (PR).

The weight you add each week should be between 3-5% of your best lift. In our case this is between 9 – 15 lbs. You can either use 10 lbs for the whole cycle or 15 pounds for the first few weeks and later on switch to 9 lbs.

Week 1: 220 x 6-8
Week 2: 235 x 6-8
Week 3: 250 x 5
Week 4: 265 x 5
Week 5: 280 x 5 – switch to 10 lbs jumps
Week 6: 290 x 5
Week 7: 300 x 5
Week 8: 310 x 3-5
Week 9: 320 x 3-5

End

After this cycle, you can begin a new one with a starting weight that’s about 240 lbs. This linear method works for a long time and you can get quite strong without changing anything for many months, if not years.

Back when I was obsessed with lifting I got to a 197.5 kg / 434 lbs deadlift for 2 reps at something like 74 kg / 165 lbs bodyweight with decent form. All I used were similar 8-10 weeks cycles. I was supposed to hit 205 kg after another 10 week cycle, but I had problems in my life and lost my passion for the deadlift and heavy lifting at the time.

Types of training cycles

There are three main types of training cycles: linear, step and wave. I used the linear one in the example above. The weight increases from week to week until a peak is reached. There is no deload within the cycle.

THE STEP CYCLE

The step cycles requires you to keep the weight the same for a few workouts. Here’s an example:

Since you are using the same weight for two workouts in a row, you can start a little heavier in the beginning. There is no need to repeat super light weights so many times.

Week 1: 245 x 5
Week 2: 245 x 5
———-
Week 3: 260 x 5
Week 4: 260 x 5
———–
Week 5: 275 x 5
Week 6: 275 x 5
————
Week 7: 290 x 5
Week 8: 290 x 5
————
Week 9: 300 x 5
Week 10: 300 x 5
————-
Week 11: 310 x 3-4
Week 12: 320 x 3-4

End of cycle

As you can see step cycles could turn out to be quite long because you are repeating each workout. That’s why in general they are saved for advanced lifters while linear cycles are recommended for beginners. They are just not as optimal since you don’t need that much time to recover and can progress from workout to workout pretty fast.

WAVE CYCLES

Wave cycles come with a built-in deload session. Here is an example:

Week 1: 265 x 5 – initial light workout
Week 2: 275 x 5 – increase of 10 lbs
Week 3: 265 x 5 – return to the previous load from the most recent light workout
Week 4: 275 x 5 – repeat the increase once more
Week 5: 285 x 5 – add 10 lbs again
Week 6: 275 x 5
Week 7: 285 x 5
Week 8: 295 x 5
Week 9: 285 x 5
Week 10: 295 x 5 no waves –  straight up increase from here, time for PRs
Week 11: 305 – 310 x 5
Week 12: 315 – 325 x 3-5

End of cycle

This type of cycling is saved for more experienced people. It’s also a good tool to use when you want more variety in your training. Regular people don’t need wave cycles until they are advanced enough to require such frequent deloads. However, you can still use this approach even as a beginner, although it’s not optimal. Nothing bad will happen, it will just take you more time to reach heavier loads.

Why do training cycles work?

I had a friend from high school whose brother decided not to cut his hair for 4 straight years for some weird reason. Surprisingly, his hair was not really that long.

Why? Because of the enormous amount of split ends.

When you have a lot of split ends your hair length cannot effectively increase. The hair grows at the root, which is considered the only alive part. When you have split ends they keep breaking off and whatever growth you get is outset by this. Therefore, the hair is growing but it’s not getting any longer. If you want to grow longer hair, the solution is actually to cycle. You let it grow up to a certain point, then you remove the split ends and allow the hair grow even more – three steps forward, two steps backwards.

This is partially the logic behind training cycles as well. You have to cut your hair to allow it to get longer. In the lifting case, that’s done by cutting your working weights after a certain point and letting the body rest, repair itself and get ready for the next training cycle.

Another phenomenon which explains the logic behind training cycles very well is the duality we found everywhere on the planet. You will always have a plus and a minus. The examples are endless – day and night, birth and death, young and old, man and woman, sleep and awake hours…etc. Since the science of lifting weights is affected by the very same laws, we can’t close our eyes and pretend this principle does not exist.

When there’s loading, sooner or later the time for deloading will come. It’s better to plan it yourself.

How big should my jumps be?

In general, you should keep them between 3% to 5% of your best weight. When you are really strong, you can take even bigger jumps at the beginning of the cycle. Also, jumps are exercise dependent. The deadlift usually requires 10-20 lbs jumps, while the bench press does not tolerate weight increase above 7 lbs.

Jumps become even smaller and can drop to – 0,5 kg – 1 kg / 1-2 lbs for exercises such as weighted dips, pull-ups and the overhead presses.

Here’s a linear cycle applied to weighted pull-ups:

8 Weeks Pull up Training Cycle

Goal: 30kgx2 / 65 lbsx2
Current: 27kgx2 / 60 lbs x 2

Jumps should be between 3-5% of the max weight (27kg).

In this case this means: 0,81kg to 1,35 kg, but we use 1kg (2lbs) and 1.5 kg (3,5lbs) for easier math.

{Week 1-3; 1kg jumps}

Week 1: 20×5
Week 2: 21×5
Week 3: 22×5

{Week 4-8; 1.5kg jumps}

Week 4: 23.5×3
Week 5: 25×3
Week 6: 26.5×3
Week 7: 28×3
Week 8: 29,5×3 or 30×1-2

Can I keep on using cycles forever?

Yes, but the gains will slow down tremendously eventually. Your first 4-8 week cycle may add 20 lbs to a lift, but when you are advanced you may spend 12 weeks to add 5-10 lbs with less than optimal technique. Progress gets slower, but that’s the reality of life. Nothing lasts forever. No exceptions.

How many working sets should I perform?

I prefer to perform only one top set, but you can do more. Going over 2 working sets could be quite painful once you are stronger. One way to do things is to start with really high volume such as 10×3 or 5×5 and later switch to less working sets.

The first few weeks 10×3 or 5×5 will feel easy, but as the weight keeps on adding you can simply reduce the working sets. This reduction actually acts as a dealod. The weight may be increasing, but the volume is decreasing. Here’s an example:

Note: Deadlifts for 5×5 are not recommended because the last sets can cause injury very easily.

Week 1: 230 lbs – 5×5
Week 2: 240 lbs – 5×5
Week 3: 250 lbs – 5×5
Week 4: 260 lbs – 5×5 #I hate this world
Week 5: 270 lbs – 5×5 #Am I dead?
Week 6: 280 lbs – 5,4,2,1 #I must be dead

switch to 1-2 working sets for 3 reps. It will feel like a deload.

Week 7: 290 lbs 2×3
Week 8: 300 lbs 2×3
Week 9: 310 lbs 2×3
Week 10: 320 lbs x 2 – I am tired. Fuck this.

End of cycle

I had to work on a very important project and missed 2 weeks of training. What should I do?

When you miss a workout, you can simply repeat your last one and build back up again. I realize that in some cases it’s hard to have your training interrupted for 12 consecutive weeks. That’s why I prefer shorter 8-10 weeks cycles at most. One time under the influence of addiction I rescheduled a trip in order to finish my training cycle. Stupid.

Can I apply training cycles to bodyweight exercises (no added weight)?

Of course, you can. But you have to specify your goal. If your main aim is to increase the number of reps you do, you should up the volume each workout.

Let’s say that you want to increase the number of push-ups you can do in a single set. Currently, you can do 20 with good form. A good starting point is to cut your reps in two. In our case we have 10. Here’s a possible cycle.

Workout 1: 5 sets of 10
Workout 2: 5 sets of 11
Workout 2: 5 sets of 12
Workout 3: 5 sets of 13
Workout 4: 5 sets of 14
Workout 5: 5 sets of 15
Workout 6: 5 sets of 16 – starting to hate life
Workout 7: 5 sets of 17 – form is not the best but it’s still decent
Workout 8: 5 sets of 18 – twilight zone
Workout 9: 5 sets of 19 – I can’t anymore

Rest 5 days, test your max and start again by dividing the new number in half.

Notice that I used “workout” instead of “week” because you can safely do more than one push-up sessions in a week, provided that the rest of your training permits.

One comment

  1. Emir

    Thanks for the elaborate explanation.
    Though i progress really slow on the bench press i kept forcing it each training to get more reps and weight increase after 10 reps were reached. and last week i did 9 reps 80 kg at bench press at 77 kg. But this week something happened and last two workouts i got only 6 reps really close to failure.
    Until now, I have followed all of your advices except cycles and have never regretted. Today i have understood the meaning of taking one or two step backward. Thanks man. You are one of the best mentors of my life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *