Building muscle mass is not like saving money. If you consistently deposit money into a savings account, even one with a minimal interest rate, your savings will continue to rise. However, if you consistently weight train for many years, you will not necessarily continue to build more and more muscle mass. In fact, it’s more than likely that your body will actually resist the push to build more muscle size as you become more advanced.
When we first began weight training, the results came so easy. All we had to do was show up at the gym and start throwing weights around. It didn’t matter if we really trained hard, if we used proper form, if we did too many sets and reps. We could train every day for hours at a time, doing endless exercises and sets for just one muscle group (50 sets just for the biceps!) and our muscles sprouted like flowers in spring time. It was a wonderful experience!
Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last. It might have taken a year or perhaps only months but eventually the muscle gains came screeching to a sudden and definitive halt! The disappointing results may have made you take a closer look at your exercise form or even cut back on the number of sets you were doing so you don’t run the danger of overtraining.
However, despite doing basically EVERYTHING right, gaining muscle can still be a frustrating experience for the advanced trainer. Your body adopts the attitude “been there, done that” and refuses to budge even though you are now doing forced reps, drop sets, supersets and every other high intensity training technique you can think of.
Yet, despite your years of training experience and your body’s stubborn response to building muscle, there is a basic tenet that applies to developing more muscle mass, whether you are a novice beginner or an advanced bodybuilder. It is the Rule of Progressive Resistance!
Even though your muscles may seem like devious little creatures that bob and weave their way around your attempts to make them bigger, the truth is that they don’t have a mind of their own. Your highly sought after muscle cells are merely composed of fibers, liquid and other sarcoplasmic substances. If they are stimulated correctly, they will grow. End of story!
So, how can you make your experienced muscle fibers, who have been through it all after so many years of consistent, hard training, finally begin to respond again? The answer is to progressively overload them with more resistance. Those stubborn muscle fibers won’t have any chance but to grow bigger and stronger from the overload placed on them.
The best way to consistently overload the muscles with more resistance is to CYCLE your workouts. By slowly but progressively adding more resistance to your workouts, week after week, the muscles will slowly adapt by getting both bigger and stronger. If you have been trying to “force” muscle growth by training harder and harder, this may finally be the solution for you to start growing again.
The muscles don’t know what “hard” training is. They just respond to more stress. If you impose greater amounts of stress on the muscle, it will have no choice but to respond by adapting to that stress. The adaptation response in this case will be to increase the size and strength of the muscles in response to that increased stress.
Cycling your workouts will allow you to slowly impose more resistance (stress) on the muscles over several weeks (a cycle). This method of progressively increasing the resistance on the muscles will naturally allow the body to increase strength without trying to force the muscles to respond.
By using both a Power Cycle and a Mass Cycle, you will be developing both muscle strength and size with the overall goal of building bigger muscles. The key to developing either strength or mass is in the amount of repetitions performed. More weight and less reps (3-5 repetitions) will develop greater strength and power. Slightly higher repetitions (6-10 reps) is more conducive to building more muscle mass and size.
We always begin with the Power Cycle first because the goal during the training cycle is develop more strength in the specific mass-building exercises. The more weight you can use for the proper amount of reps, the more muscle mass you will build. By devoting a set amount of weeks to primarily building up strength, you will be able to use that increased power to build more size.
For example, let’s take everyone’s favorite exercise, the Barbell Bench Press, and illustrate how you could use the Power and Mass Cycles to build more size and strength into the chest. To start off, pick a weight that you can do 6 repetitions with in the Barbell Bench Press. For example, if you could do 225 pounds for an easy 6 reps, that would be a good weight to start off with in Week 1 of the Power Cycle.
Week 1 – 225 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps
Week 2 – 235 pounds for 3 sets of 4 reps
Week 3 – 245 pounds for 3 sets of 3 reps
Week 4 – 235 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps
Week 5 – 245 pounds for 3 sets of 4 reps
Week 6 – 255 pounds for 3 sets of 3 reps
The Power Cycle will last a total of six weeks. The six weeks is actually two 3 week cycles in which the resistance is gradually increased over the length of the cycle. This gradual progression will allow the body to slowly increase strength without getting stuck by trying to lift too heavy of a resistance too fast. It’s important to coax the body to get stronger on it’s own by using a program that will accomplish the goal of increasing power.
The amount of repetitions to be used for the Power Cycle is approximately 3-5 reps. This selection of reps is slightly below what is normally used to build muscle mass. Again, the goal is power and strength first and muscle size second. However, prepare to be surprised on how much size you will develop in addition to more strength when using the Power Cycle.
Doing the right amount of weight for the required amount of repetitions and doing three sets of each exercise is one of the primary factors for the success of this program. By doing multiple sets with the same weight instead of doing just one or two sets and pushing that set to complete failure, you will be using a technique that many powerlifters use to build strength. It’s that practice of doing set after set after set that conditions the body to build the strength in response to the stress imposed on the muscles. That’s why doing three working sets for each exercise is vitally important.
After the Power Cycle is completed, it’s time to change gears and employ the Mass Cycle. The amount of reps used in the Mass Cycle will be higher (5-7 reps) than what was used in the Power Cycle. The increased reps will bring in more blood flow and lactic acid build-up in the muscles. The muscles will get more sore in this cycle than the Power Cycle because the muscle tissues will be damaged more from the greater volume (more on that later).
When structuring the Mass Cycle for your workouts, a good rule to follow is to take the weight that was used on the FIRST Week of the Power Cycle and use that same weight for the SECOND Week of the Mass Cycle. For example, let’s again use the Barbell Bench Press as an example to illustrate the change from the Power Cycle to the Mass Cycle for the full six weeks for each phase:
Week 1 – 215 pounds for 3 sets of 7 reps
Week 2 – 225 pounds for 3 sets of 6 reps
Week 3 – 235 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps
Week 4 – 225 pounds for 3 sets of 7 reps
Week 5 – 235 pounds for 3 sets of 6 reps
Week 6 – 245 pounds for 3 sets of 5 reps
Looking at the difference between the Power Cycle and Mass Cycle above may not seem like a giant improvement. After all, you are only doing ONE MORE repetition on the Mass Cycle than you were using during the Power Cycle on some of the weeks. It may almost seem like a lot of work and dedication for only a little reward.
However, the difference in the two different training cycles is very apparent when looking at the TOTAL VOLUME for both the Power Cycle and the Mass Cycle. The total volume is computed by multiplying the weight used each set by the sets and the reps. For example, on week 1 of the Power Cycle for the Barbell Bench Press –
225 pounds x 5 reps x 3 sets = 3375
Let’s take the same volume approach with the Mass Cycle on week 2 –
225 pounds x 6 reps x 3 sets = 4050
Only one more repetition has increased the total volume of that one exercise by 675 pounds! That’s a 17% increase with only the addition of one more rep using the same weight and the same amount of sets.
When you see the difference in Total Volume for the Power Cycle vs the Mass Cycle, the difference is even more dramatic. Using the Barbell Bench Press example illustrated above, lets look at the totals in volume for both cycles:
Barbell Bench Press
Week 1 225x5x3 = 3375
Week 2 235x4x3 = 2820
Week 3 245x3x3 = 2205
Week 4 235x5x3 = 3525
Week 5 245x4x3 = 2940
Week 6 255x3x3 = 2295
Week 1 215x7x3 = 4515
Week 2 225x6x3 = 4050
Week 3 235x5x3 = 3525
Week 4 225x7x3 = 4725
Week 5 235x6x3 = 4230
Week 6 245x5x3 = 3675
If you are ready to start making some serious gains in both muscle mass and strength again, then begin cycling your workouts for both Power and Mass. No matter how long you have been training or how complacent your muscles may seem to be, they won’t have any other option but to grow when you start subjecting them to progressively more resistance. Get ready to start growing again!
Note: Once you follow a few weeks of this type of training, then you can switch back to a higher volume program like this one: More Volume For More Gains
About the Author
John Hansen, creator of the MP6 Natural Bodybuilding Program, is a competitive natural bodybuilder who has won the first Natural Mr. Olympia title and is a three time Natural Mr. Universe winner. John has appeared in various magazine covers and contributes material to various online and traditional magazines, including IRONMAN Magazine, where he has a monthly column.
It should be mentioned that at 49 years old, John Hansen also won the 2012 Natural Mr. Universe in the Professional Masters division; 20 years after winning his first Natural Mr. Universe title in 1992! You can follow John through his several websites including:
- And his YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/naturalolympia.
To contact John, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org