What is a strength cycle?

Strength cycles come in many shapes and sizes depending on several factors; individual, group, absolute strength, speed strength, strength speed (yes there's a difference, not a typo), from 4 weeks to 12 weeks and on, specific lifts, specific percentages, specific goals, time of the training season.........the list could go on.

Let's look at the strength training 101 guideline that states; "reps are the king of all"........meaning that the more repetitions I can execute at heavy loads, in a good position, the stronger I will become.

With that being said, let's look at a scenario; 

Over a 6 week period, CrossFit Five Cities has chosen to help everyone get stronger in their back squat. So over these 6 weeks, we program some sessions like this;

  • backsquat 6x5 = 30 backsquats
  • backsquat 5x5 = 25 backsquats
  • backsquat 6x4 = 24 backsquats
  • backsquat 5x4 = 20 backsquats
  • backsquat 4x4 = 16 backsquats
  • backsquat 4x3 = 12 backsquats
  • backsquat 5x2 = 10 backsquats
  • backsquat 4x2 = 8 backsquats

Notice that the overall volume (repetitions) decreases each session anticipating the ability to increase the load on the bar each session. Over those 6 weeks, if you're a consistent athlete who comes to the gym 4-5x per week, you have the potential to get in 145 backquats at heavy, sub maximal loads. Based on the aforementioned;  "reps are the king of all", wouldn't it make sense to make ALL of these lifts using heavy, sub maximal loads that you WON'T FAIL with??

If you try to max out every session, and fail on 5/20 lifts, you're only hurting yourself in achieving the quality reps over time which is where the REAL STRENGTH will come from. Make sense? Failing any lift takes its toll on your body and your CNS. That is now adding another level of stress to your body in which it will need to recover from. (Keep in mind, there are also several factors that would determine when/who/why an athlete should be pushing to failure).

Because you choose to try to put a bigger number up on the whiteboard and fail at lifts, you only get in 130 reps over the 6 week period vs. someone choosing heavy loads that can execute the prescribed reps and gets their full 145 reps in. I can guarantee you the person who chooses the sub maximal loads and gets in more reps, will end up MUCH stronger in the long run.

Understand the way our program design is written; "5x3 back squats" means that we want you getting 15 solid back squats in that day. On the flip side, something written like "build to a 3 rep max (3rm) back squat" would mean we expect you to build to failure as we want you to test yourself and obtain a max lift. Hopefully you can see the difference there.

This falls into the category of "TRAINING" vs. "TESTING" which we wrote a blog post on back in September of 2014. You can find it by clicking here if you missed it.

Please don't get the term; "Sub maximal" confused with "easy". We still want you pushing yourself. However, understand the difference between pushing hard with a heavy load, and failing at reps because it's currently too heavy for you to execute the prescribed amount of work.

In conclusion; don't treat everyday like a max effort day. The more consistent we train at sub maximal efforts (loading and energy efforts), the more often we can train, the better our bodies can recover so we can do it again, sooner, and in turn, become more AWESOME!!

Make it a great Friday friends!!