Cycle, Peak, Taper, Dominate

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  • Cycle, Peak, Taper, Dominate

    by Jack Reape

    Two of the hardest things about competing are sending in the

    entry fee for a competition and then not pulling out the last

    few weeks. Some of you don't compete and are just training

    for self-actualization, self-esteem, and to be healthier and

    more whole in your daily interactions in the journey we call

    a life experience.

    That is really wonderful, and makes superb small talk over a

    nice Pinot Noir, but the cold reality is unless you train for

    and compete in a powerlifting meet, an Olympic lifting meet,

    a bodybuilding competition, a strongman event, or just

    schedule a photo shoot with your thong on, you're not going

    to reap the maximum benefits of your training.

    You're not going to fully learn about how your body works,

    and you're not going to get the maximum carryover into your

    "life experience" from training that simply performing on

    somebody else's time schedule brings. Building a training

    plan that produces maximum results requires a cyclic

    approach to a peak, using a taper, and then a mental and

    physical plan to enter the arena and to dominate both

    yourself and your competition.

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  • Make no mistake, we're all our own worst enemies when it

    comes to a stressful situation, and competition is stressful.

    Stress, however, is far superior to wondering about what

    could've been with a Pinot hangover. You can minimize and

    harness stress with the knowledge that you're bringing your

    best to the arena of competition, and you're going to deliver

    your best due to your mental and physical preparation.

    The discipline and confidence you gain from this experience

    will make the next cycle more refined and your ability to

    handle stress and other problems will skyrocket. While the

    principles and ideas I'll share are going to be mainly applied

    to powerlifting in this article, these principles are universal

    across all sports, allowing for more focus on skill, speed

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  • strength, strength endurance, VO2 max, etc., depending on

    the event and what it requires.

    Training 302

    How we train boils down to either doing the most we can and

    still recover, or the least we can and still progress. The five

    variables we can manipulate to accomplish this are:

    1. volume

    2. intensity

    3. sequence

    4. rest between sets

    5. recuperative methods (1)

    Let's take a look at each.


    Volume can be described as either the total number of barbell

    lifts (NBL) you do in a workout per exercise, or with this

    formula: reps x weight = total poundage. The total poundage

    method is misleading as it only tells poundage and has no

    indication of the intensity of the load. I like NBL for its

    simplicity. It's what I'll use as it saves a lot of number


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  • Intensity

    Intensity is the percentage of our 1RM (rep max) and is the

    average of all your work sets. So as an example, if your

    workout is:

    50% x 3, 60% x 3, 70% x 3, and 80% x 3 x 5

    Then your average intensity is (50 x 3) + (60 x 3) + (70 x 3)

    + (80 x 15) = 1740/24 =72.5%

    It's easier if you just do the same warm-ups to your work sets

    every workout and not worry about averaging them in. If you

    do a fixed weight workout it's a simple computation, and by

    just changing your reps each set (a la Poliquin) you have a

    very effective approach.

    If you're doing rack pulls, shirt benches with boards, or high

    box squats, compare them to your meet lift in full

    competition gear, not your PR for that pin, board or box to

    get a percent. This is pure overload training and you need to

    be aware of that. Not much more than 10-15% over your

    meet max is a good tradeoff between the benefits of overload

    and injury risk.

    These lifts dramatically raise the intensity of your workout

    and must be limited and managed carefully. The key idea to

    apply to your planning is that you use percents as guidelines,

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  • but in the gym you're going to use bar weight rounded off to

    easily loadable weights. There are no weights in any gym I

    know that say "45%."


    Sequence is the order in which we do exercises within a

    workout, week, or training block. You can use sequences of

    bench-squat-bench or squat-bench-squat to jack up your

    volume and intensity in a workout. The lift in the middle can

    be a hard workout or just an extra workout. I'll discuss that

    more in depth later.

    Rest Between Sets

    Rest between sets isn't just the rest between each set in a

    workout, but days off between workouts. In general, never

    sacrifice a good set to maintain a given rest period. When

    you're in top training shape you can do 8 sets of 2 with 56%

    and choked blue bands with 60 seconds rest in the box squat.

    Otherwise, lengthen your rest periods and work on GPP

    (general physical preparedness) afterward.

    Recuperative Methods

    Recuperative methods include all manner of enhancing

    recovery. For the most part, almost all weight training falls

    under doing the most we can do and still recover. The

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  • technical name for this is "concentrated loading." It requires

    a back-off week after every 3-4 weeks training period. (2)

    The other approach uses much less volume but still requires

    a back-off after every 5-8 week training block. (3) The

    technical name for this approach is "distributed loading". It

    can yield some results, but its effectiveness quickly ends

    because of the rapid ability of the body to compensate to

    training. (4)

    Trained, high level athletes can handle three of these training

    blocks in a row, separated by a back-off period of 7-10 days.

    (5) Our back-off weeks will consist of either following the

    60% rule and doing about 60% of the volume we did in the

    previous week at about 60% intensity, or doing some higher

    rep dumbbell, barbell, band, sled pulling, or bodyweight


    You can also just take the week off like the Metal Militia

    does. Do no assistance work on your back-off weeks, but

    some easy GPP work can be done. The point of the back-off

    weeks is to let the body catch up a bit, but it may test your

    stay-out-of-the-gym willpower. Do you want to be a gym rat

    or do you want to be the one to dominate? Think about it!

    In my example we'll be using three training blocks and a

    taper block, but you can taper after only 1-2 training blocks

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  • if time requires it. This can be endlessly studied and

    examined in chapters 5 and 6 of Supertraining.

    Picking and Applying a Training Template

    I'm not going to lay out a sequence of particular workouts for

    peaking, because this isn't a specific workout article. You can

    select from many superb approaches including:

    Dave Tate's The Art of Program Design

    Chad Waterbury's Science of 10 x 3

    Ian King's Wave Loading Manifesto

    Charles Poliquin's Manipulating Reps for Gains in Size and


    Westside Barbell's "Don't Chase Your Tail" or "Importance

    of Volume" by Louie Simmons

    The set, rep, rest and sequence template you choose or blend

    is up to you, but there are some important things to consider

    with respect to your workout time constraints, areas of

    weakness, level of (or lack of) overall fitness, and technique

    issues. You must pick a template that fits your life and

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  • training facility.

    If you're woefully out of shape, your GPP needs to be

    considered and addressed in picking a template. You don't

    need to be able to run a 10k to train for powerlifting, but you

    do need to be able to make it through your workout and

    recover in time for the next one. If your technique is lacking

    or you're just starting out in the sport of powerlifting, you

    probably want to pick a template where you practice the

    main lifts a great deal.

    When you look at these templates, you need to evaluate them

    objectively in terms of number of barbell lifts, intensity,

    technique building, and rest periods required in the pursuit of

    big lifts on a certain day. If you were more bodybuilding

    focused, you'd focus more subjectively on how your program

    addresses your preferences and weak body parts. In both

    sports, as competition day approaches, the variables and how

    we manipulate them begins to change.

    Planning Guidelines

    Now that you've picked a template, let's lay out some basic

    guidelines to consider when planning a training cycle.

    1) The volume and intensity aren't going to increase together.

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  • In fact, they should be independently waving over the

    training blocks before the peaking and tapering phase.

    However, the intensity and volume will rise overall. Once we

    move into the peaking phase, the volume will drop 15-30%,

    but the intensity will ramp up a bit more.

    2) Keep in mind that volume builds muscle mass and

    connective tissues in the joints, and that change in intensity

    has a much higher effect on training than change in volume.

    (7, 8)

    3) Use the Bill Murray Ghostbusters rule when it comes to

    planning volume, intensity, and training guidelines: "It's

    more of a guideline than a rule."

    In your planning, say you decide to do 8 sets of 2, or 10 sets