Periodization, which is also commonly known as cycling, is one of the best ways to regularly ensure that you are increasing not only your strength but also muscle size in the bench press. The idea is endorsed and utilized by powerlifters as well as strength coaches in most sports for the simple fact that it consistently works. I am a big advocate of using periodization on all three major lifts: bench press, deadlift, and squats.
Basics of Periodization
Then general idea for cycling is that you go through specific phases of training that stress the muscles in a different manner over the course of the program. Due to the variety in effort and intensity you are able to build up a higher threshold of not only muscle endurance but also greater muscle strength. Many athletes utilize a 3 cycle approach while some, such as powerlifters include a 4th peak cycle.
Endurance Phase – This is also known as conditioning. You use high volume and low intensity to build up muscle endurance for a few weeks (3-4). This gives the muscles a good break from going heavy and hard while you utilize higher reps and lighter weight.
Strength Phase – This phase lasts three to four weeks. Weight will increase and the reps will drop down to a more standard 5-6 per set.
Power Phase – This phase is shorter and typically only two to three weeks as you are utilizing maximum intensity over a lower volume as you push towards 80 to 100% of your maximum.
Peak Phase – Unless you need to see what your maximum power is (such as a power lifter) you can skip this phase. For people who compete in an event this phase is often target for the competition period.
Now things can and will vary for doing cycles as you get more experienced, but here is a basic example. The term “intensity” is in relation to the amount of weight you are lifting. At the beginning of each cycle you need to pick your target weight and then increase it for each cycle based on the percentages. For example if right now your 1-rep maximum on bench press is 300 then you might set your new goal at 320. That would mean during week 1 you would be using 160 pounds for 5 sets at 15 reps.
- Week 1 – 5 sets at 15 reps at 50% intensity resting 3 minutes between sets.
- Week 2 – 4 sets at 12 reps at 55% intensity resting 3 minutes between sets.
- Week 3 – 3 sets at 10 reps at 60% intensity resting 3 minutes between sets.
- Week 4 – 3 sets at 8 reps at 65% intensity resting 3 minutes between sets.
- Week 1 – 5 sets at 6 reps at 70% intensity resting 3 minutes between sets.
- Week 2 – 5 sets at 6 reps at 75% intensity resting 3 minutes between sets.
- Week 3 – 4 sets at 5 reps at 80% intensity resting 3 minutes between sets.
- Week 4 – 4 sets at 5 reps at 85% intensity resting 3 minutes between sets.
- Week 1 – 3 sets at 4 reps at 88% intensity resting 3 minutes between sets.
- Week 2 – 3 sets at 3 reps at 91% intensity resting 4 minutes between sets.
- Week 3 – 3 sets at 3 reps at 94% intensity resting 5 minutes between sets.
- Week 1 – 2 sets at 2 reps at 97% intensity resting 6 minutes between sets.
- Week 2 – 2 sets at 1 reps at 100% intensity resting 7 minutes between sets.
Then you simply make a new goal, take a week off from lifting, and start the cycle back over again. 10-12 weeks later you will have seen a solid increase in size and strength as well as a higher bench total. It might not seem like much, but if you have been stuck at the same weight for quite some time the prospect of increasing your bench 10-20 pounds a few times a year ends up being a whole heck of a lot.