Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hypertrophy Preceding Strength Cycles

So I was chatting with a friend other day who was supposed to do that USPF Nationals with me but he had sustained an injury (see?  I'm not the only one!) in preparation for it.

"How'd that happen?" I asked.

"I neglected my hypertrophy work before I started my meet prep." he said.

A light bulb in my head went off.  Everyone who pops in here and reads my training log knows I spent several months doing nothing but "bodybuilding" style work again, before I started doing my weeks of singles.  It was the healthiest I had been, not to mention the biggest and leanest I had been, going into a meet.

When you look at the old timers periodizations cycles they almost always do something like the following...

week 1 - sets of 10
week 2 - sets of 10
week 3 - sets of 8
week 4 - sets of 5
week 5 - sets of 5
week 6 - sets of 5
week 7 - sets of 3
week 8 - sets of 2
week 9 - up to a % single
week off

The first three or four weeks of these kinds of cycles are almost always known as "hypertrophy weeks".  Yet a lot of guys these days spend every workout doing singles, doubles, and triples.  They say "oh I use my assistance as the hypertrophy work".  And yes, this can be a solid plan, however not week in and week out, month in and out.  The body will revolt eventually, you will get injured and you will have to start over.

When I ran the big-15 program it felt so refreshing to lower the weights for those months and concentrate on getting reps in and building a new size ceiling.  I had not concentrated on that in years.  For the last many years I had done nothing but the singles, doubles, and triples with the occasional set of 8-12 thrown in.  But not enough to really increase my overall size, even when I was eating more.

It really does come back to the reps, something I have said all along, if you want to increase your size.  I sit typing this, still weighing 252 pounds and I feel very good at this weight.  By the time I get back to 240 or so, I will be the "bigger 242" that I had been wanting to be.  But it took me going back to what I had done for years to gain size, in order to make it happen.  I was still trying to serve the "strength master" to gain size.  It just doesn't work that way.

Sometimes the hardest advice to take is your own.  A lesson I seem to have to teach myself over and over again.

So what to get from this?

Hypertrophy training, bodybuilding style work, will probably make up the majority of my training style 90% of the year from now on.  Easier on the joints, sets you up for good peaking cycles, and keeps you injury free for the most part.

Obviously this is exactly how I laid things out in the 2 programs I provide, but in hindsight I realize just how valuable they are stacked together.  From here on when I compete, I will set aside at least 6 weeks for hypertrophy training, then the scheduled 10 weeks for meet prep.  I believe like peanut butter and chocolate or heroin and cocaine, it's two great tastes that go great together.


  1. Hi Paul. Great post as always. Would you start these hypertrophy cycles at 100% effort on the higher rep sets? Or are the early weeks less intensive all together? Thx.

  2. awesome. thanks for the write up. i usually train for hypertrophy but wanted to get stronger on the big 3, thats why i was trying to peek for a "mock meet" so i could get used to it. i smoked 315 for a triple below parallel yesterday so it must be working. one more week and i'll go back to more of a "bodybuilding" type routine for a while. just got wendlers 5/3/1 ebook, looks awesome. i think it's good that you continue to post up this info, because even though i've only been lifting for 8 yrs i have made a lot of mistakes in my training. but the biggest one i made was trying to train balls out all the time in quest for strength and all i got was hurt or went backwards. you cant get stronger all the time, but you can get big! i have Ed Coans dvds and this is one thing he repeats all the time. it's a sprint, not a marathon. i'll have 405 below parallel in no time.

  3. Paul - If you're not prepping for a meet just run the big-15 over and over again using a true max, because on the down sets they are very low percentages. You should be hitting really high reps anyway.

    Bruiser - Good luck on the 405!

  4. Paul,

    I just recently started your Big-15 program and too me it seems like the best of both. You still get to work up to a decent weight for a single and have your reps also. Every seventh week I am going to test my max also. I think I am going to really like this program.

    have one question for you though. I am not a strong presser so my down set on Military and bench isnt too heavy. Would there be any merit to doing 2 down sets until my max goes up some? My bench is around 250 and Military 135 or so.


  5. hi paul, a friend and i had been discussing this.

    when do you think it's appropriate to lay off the strength work and run one of these cycles for someone like myself who isn't competing? hitting a juncture when some slight joint pain is creeping in.

  6. Ryan - If your first down set isn't enough, just rest/pause that weight. So do it, then 15 deep breaths, then go again. Add another one if you want. Just make sure you keep track of total reps including the rest/pause. Try to beat that each week.

    Anonymous - Prolly a good time then. Take a week off and run it.

  7. Would you still recommend this approach to someone lacking a good strength base; i.e., would a hypertrophy approach for the majority of the time only be warranted after a good run at singles/doubles/etc. work?

  8. That's always the hardest question to answer.

    So long as your eating is big, you'll be fine with the hypertrophy training. Remember eating is the cornerstone along with the high reps.

    Go for it.

  9. I suppose you are going to like this article:

    And maybe find my own interesting:

    Thank you for sharing training info!

  10. Paul
    Where do you think 531 falls? Strength or hypertrophy?

  11. Dan - I think that all depends on how you program it and how you approach it. But so long as you are breaking rep PR's you are getting stronger. If those rep PR's are in the medium-high range, you'll get bigger so long as the food is there.

    Mladen - That is a beautiful fucking article on GPP and exactly how I am going to do my training for the next many months.

    You did a fine job as well. Thanks a ton of the links. These flow exactly where my thinking has been headed about training for a while now.

  12. hey paul i usually focus on hypertrophy training but want to develop my strength more this year as well. i was wondering how often you do strength specific training each year?? how long do each of your strength phases last??? before you move back to hypertrophy training

    thanks for your help man

    1. Generally it all depends on if I have a meet planned or whatnot.

      So I have my schedule for the rest of this year pretty much set. After the meet I will sit down and figure out what I want to do next.

      Generally I do say, try to think about getting in shape for summer. Not just because of vanity, but because it's far more difficult to eat more in the hot, and getting outside and doing conditioning seems to be easier/more fun. In the winter, if you are like me, you can't get out as much. So it makes it easier to eat big, put the conditioning on the back burner for a while, and focus on more mass.

  13. Mr.Carter

    How should i work my way up to the working sets listed her above?

    Thanks in advance

    1. Just add some weight to the bar and do warm ups man.