Peaking for Strength with Weight Cycling

One of the beautiful things about training is there really is no right or wrong, just better and worse.  I’ve spent the past few years experimenting with different programs and reading about different methods to get stronger.  From what I’ve found, the best program for me has been quite simple to follow and flexible with the workouts.

I have been following the method of weight cycling for my squat, bench press, and deadlift which is described below.  I do have to attribute the thought process behind the weight cycling method to Andy Bolton, world class powerlifter and the first man to deadlift over 1,000 pounds.  Bolton describes his technique with weight cycling in his book Deadlift Dynamite (highly recommended read).

Here is my interpretation of weight cycling and how to do it:

For those without a specific date to peak

  • Establish your 10RM for squat, bench, deadlift
  • Weekly cycles with planned increases of 5-15lbs
  • Start the first micro-cycle with 10RM and perform up to 5 sets of 5 reps
  • Continue pushing forward each week increasing 5-15lbs as long as you can complete at least one set of 5 reps.
  • When you have exhausted your (hopefully new) 5RM, and can no longer hit 5 reps, set your goal to complete as many sets (up to 5) of 3 reps. Continue increasing each week.
  • Once your 3 rep sets are exhausted, re-start the program with 5 reps again but increase the starting weight of the first cycle 5-10lbs from the previous first cycle’s starting weight.
  • After completing two full rotations of 5’s and 3’s, test your new 1RM.

For those with a specific date to peak (within 12 weeks from today)

  • Establish your goals for the competition
  • Work backward from the competition date to today’s date and determine how many weeks are left.
  • Keep the week before competition as a deload week (no more than 60% of 1RM) and start planning from 2 weeks out from competition.
  • Work backwards from the goal weight planning with 2 weeks out being a 2 rep PR (10-15lbs lighter than your goal weight). 3 Weeks out should be 10lbs lighter for 3 rep sets.
  • This may result in a few cycles depending on how far out the competition date is. For example, planning 12 weeks out for a competition, you may plan two 6 week cycles with a peak after the first 6 weeks.
  • Start each cycle with 5 reps until 5’s are exhausted, drop down to 3’s, then 2’s, deload, and blow away the competition on the cycle before your competition.

Here is an example of a 135lb female powerlifter planning 12 weeks out from a powerlifting meet:

Goals:

Squat 275

Bench 175

Deadlift 345

 

Current:

Squat 254

Bench 165

Deadlift 325

 

Week Squat Bench Deadlift
1 185 x 5 135 x 8 235 x 8
2 185 x 8 140 x 5 265 x 5
3 195 x 5 150 x 5 275 x 5
4 205 x 5 160 x 3 295 x 3
5 225 x 5 165 x 2 315 x 2
6 235 x 3 170 x 1 330 x 1
7 245 x 3 145 x 5 295 x 2
8 250 x 2 155 x 3 315 x 3
9 255 x 2 165 x 3 325 x 2
10 270 x 1 170 x 1 335 x 1
11 (Deload) 165 x 3 to 5 115 x 3 205 x 3
12 (Peak) 275 175 345

 

Realizing that the body can only take so much heavy or intense training, I only have three heavy days a week which will consist of my programmed main lift and a few assistance exercises.  I will typically add three additional days where I will work on technique/speed work, a bodybuilding pump workout, or stability and core with single limb exercises.  I consider these lower intensity workouts to be flexible as they are hardly planned and done by feel that day.

-Dan and Tasha

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