BENCH PRESS GAINS THROUGH MINI-CYCLES
Mike Simpson (1981)
[Note: I'm sure you could apply this layout to other lifts quite easily.]
I have been bench pressing off and on since I was in the sixth grade, some 23 years ago, so I have experimented with about every routine imaginable. I have always felt that reps are very important and that going max should be restricted for meets or no more frequently than every month or so, but I also feel that doing heavy singles with about 90-95% of max about every three weeks is very valuable.
I did a 410 bench at 198 in March of 1979, which is currently the Nebraska State Record, but because of being in constant pain from a lower back injury, suffered ten years ago, I had back surgery in February of 1981.
During my convalescence, I had a lot of time to think about getting back to the iron. My bodyweight dripped from 198 to 165 in about three weeks. Consequently, when I did get back on my feet, I was very weak. The first time I benched was about six weeks after surgery, and I could barely do 225 pounds.
I decided to try something new, so I concocted what I term "three week mini-cycles." The results have been astounding. Currently at a bodyweight of 180, I am capable of a bench in the 415-425 range.
Most benchers seem to favor a two-a-week workout with a light day and a heavy day, such as 4x8 or 5x5 followed by 6x2 or 6x1. I feel that this is a great workout, but I've come up with something that has worked well for me and may work well for most others.
The three week mini cycle begins with a very light 4x8 workout with about 65-70% of your max, then going to a 5x5 for the next (second of the week) workout with about 75-80% of your max.
The following workout (first workout, second week) is still a 5x5 but adding 5 pounds if you can. This brings you to a 6x3 (second workout, second week).
On the first day of week three do 6x3, adding 5 pounds, then for your final workout of the mini-cycle, 6-8 singles with 90-95% of your max.
Throughout the three weeks you are building the foundation for a good singles session. Then you start over and add 5 pounds to your 8's, 5's, 3's, and 1's as long as you have completed at least four successful sets on the previous three week cycle. If you feel that the starting poundages are too light (they probably are) and there is a reason for this.
There are two reasons for starting light. First, by starting light this routine lends itself to working through sticking points, as opposed to meeting and being stopped by them every few weeks. Second, and probably most important, if the weight is too easy, make it harder by employing many reps with pauses on the chest, ranging anywhere from a competition pause to a 10-second pause. This is important regardless of which routine you currently have been using.
After each bench session, a strenuous triceps workout is in order. I think I have come up with one of the best movements for the triceps. I like to do strict EZ-Bar triceps extensions on an incline bench with my head forward so that I get full range of motion from behind the neck to a full extension over the head. I like to do about 6-8 sets of 8-12 reps, and then follow this with some triceps pushdowns for 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
I really feel that the concept of getting a lot of rep work leading up to your singles is important, and working the triceps is important too. I also believe that if enough benching is done, incline presses are not needed; they really seem to wreak havoc on your benching groove.
Using this routine I've gone from 245 for sets of 8 to 315; from 265 of sets of 5 to 340; and from 315 singles to a recent 8 singles with 390. That may not sound astounding, but at a bodyweight of 180 and no drugs or supportive gear it's a pretty good set of gains for a five month period after major surgery.
A simplified look at the routine follows below:
Monday - 4x8 (65-70%)
Thursday - 5x5 (75-80%)
Monday - 5x5 (plus 5 pounds)
Thursday - 6x3
6x3 (plus 5 pounds)
Triceps Extensions (as described above) - 6-8 x 8-12
Triceps Pushdowns - 3-4 x 8-12
-- Repeat cycle, but add 5 pounds to each workout if previous cycle was successful for at least 4 of your singles sets.