You're working out for a while. You've made some great progress. And then at some point, the gains stop. Whether that's your weight, time, rest period decreasing, etc. So what do you do? I'll tell you what you don't do and that's to take a day off and then come back for the same exact thing again. In fact, the very definition of insanity is to keep repeating the same thing over and over expecting a different result.
Because of my powerlifting background, I know all about increasing weights, decreasing weights, and plateaus. Back when I was training for powerlfiting, I used to train in cycles. Typically they would be around 12 weeks, but there were times when they were shorter or longer. The goal is to time the end of your cycle with competition day. But keep in mind that this type of cycle training can be done with any sport or activity. It just has to be modified to suit the particular activity. At the end of your cycle, take a week off. Then start a new one. But this time, drop back to around 60 to 70% of your previous best weight (or time or whatever). And build back up so you surpass your previous best. This technique is called Back Cycling.
So how do we go about planning out a cycle? Let's take the deadlift as an example. It was always my best of the three powerlifts so there's a special place in my heart for it. Let's also modify it for more of a fitness/bodybuilding type of structure. Suppose you just finished the last cycle doing 240 lbs for 6 reps. 70% of that is about 170 lbs. Starting the first week, do it for 2 working sets of 10 reps. You will also precede those with 1 or 2 warmups sets which you should always do especially when training with heavier weights. It will be easy and even though you can do more, don't. The whole idea is to allow your body and your mind to recover. Believe me, towards the end of a cycle I used to really dread the workouts. I needed my easy workouts. At first increase the weight by 10 lbs a workout and then later, 5 lbs a workout. By week 3 or 4, drop the reps to 8. By week 7 or 8, drop it to 6 and keep it there for the rest of the cycle. During this time assuming you're increasing the weights regularly as you should be, you'll reach the previous best of 240 lbs for 6 reps sometime around week 8 or maybe 9. After that for the remaining few weeks of the cycle, only do 1 working set of 6 reps (not counting warmups of course). This is where you'll see the "net gains" of your cycle!
So in a nutshell, Back Cycling is the classic "3 steps back to take 1 step forward". It's tough, but it does work. And it's the single best method I know of to break past plateaus!
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