The strategy is simple – no tricks, no gimmicks, and no subtle ways to appear that you're making progress when you're really not.
This training cycle will not only reward you with renewed muscle growth and strength, but also increased work capacity and mental toughness.
I call it Stack-10. I'll start by outlining its unique benefits and then follow with some tips to help you get the most from this brutal 6-week cycle.
First, choose a lift or major muscle group that you want to blow up over the course of 6 workouts.
Although this progression strategy works best with multi-joint barbell lifts such as squats, bench presses, and overhead presses, it can also be applied to dumbbells, kettlebells, or other types of equipment.
Essentially, what we're using here is a "column" as opposed to a pyramid. Rather than reducing your reps with each new set, you'll instead use 10 reps for every single set you perform, save for the heaviest set, which will be too heavy to allow for 10 reps.
In the example below, I'll apply it to the barbell back squat for a lifter who has a current 1RM of about 405 pounds.
Here's how it works: Start with the empty bar for 10 reps, then 95 pounds for 10. Then 135 for 10, 185 for 10, 225 for 10, and so on, until you reach a weight that won't allow 10 reps. So for a 405 squatter, the opening workout might look like this:
- Set 1: 45 x 10
- Set 2: 95 x 10
- Set 3: 135 x 10
- Set 4: 185 x 10
- Set 5: 225 x 10
- Set 6: 275 x 10
- Set 7: 315 x 6
Seven days later, your only goal is to run through those 7 sets again and get more reps than last time with the final 315 pound set. For example, 315 x 8.
Once you manage 315 for 10, your next workout will contain an eighth set with 365 pounds. The first time you add a new weight, don't expect to get more than a few reps with it.
Here's an example.
|Set||Week 1||Week 2||Week 3||Week 4||Week 5||Week 6|
|1||45 x 10||45 x 10||45 x 10||45 x 10||45 x 10||45 x 10|
|2||95 x 10||95 x 10||95 x 10||95 x 10||95 x 10||95 x 10|
|3||135 x 10||135 x 10||135 x 10||135 x 10||135 x 10||135 x 10|
|4||185 x 10||185 x 10||185 x 10||185 x 10||185 x 10||185 x 10|
|5||225 x 10||225 x 10||225 x 10||225 x 10||225 x 10||225 x 10|
|6||275 x 10||275 x 10||275 x 10||275 x 10||275 x 10||275 x 10|
|7||315 x 6||315 x 8||315 x 10||315 x 10||315 x 10||315 x 10|
|8||365 x 3||365 x 5||365 x 6|
In this example, the lifter achieved 10 reps on week 3. So in his next workout, a week later, he added an 8th set. Then his goal was to add reps to that 8th set in the following two weeks.
Note: Use the rest-pause method on the final set to hit more reps. In the squat, you'd "rest" after a rep while still holding the bar, crank out another rep, pause again for a few breaths, get another rep, etc.
Stack-10 does what any effective cycle does – it gets you bigger and stronger. It does, however, feature a few additional benefits:
- Ensures a Thorough Warm-up Warming up is under-appreciated and (usually) poorly executed. It's important not only for safety reasons, but for optimal performance as well. While I generally roll my eyes at extended pre-workout cardiovascular/stretching/activation sessions, I do think most lifters would be well served by performing more total repetitions in their specific warm-ups, mostly because it allows for more rehearsal and motor patterning.
- Promotes Special Work Capacity "Work capacity" simply means the ability to tolerate more work without a significant drop in performance quality.
- Builds Mental Toughness Mental toughness isn't a genetic character trait. It's something that can be developed. Grinding away at progressively heavier sets of 10, with the determination to do better over the course of six successive workouts, is a great way to develop this very important quality.
- Increases Training Volume Intensity is important but so is volume. Fact is, both play an important role in the development of maximal strength and hypertrophy. If you're the type of lifter who tends to skimp on volume in the pursuit of big singles, this cycle will do a lot to increase muscular cross-section area, which of course, contributes to strength development.
- Stability and Consistency Whatever RM number you hit on your top set (let's say it's 365 for 3 from the above example) is a number you can hit on your worst day, not your best day. After all, it's not like you "saved" yourself for that set – you earned it after first completing several progressively heavier sets of 10 reps! Knowing this makes the result of every top set especially relevant and meaningful.
Before you embark upon Stack-10, please read the following suggestions. They'll spell the difference between success and failure.
- If your 1RM is much less (or more) than the example cited, use smaller (or larger) weight jumps. As a rule, each jump should correspond to about 10% of your current 1RM for the lift you're using. The jumps I used in the earlier example are chosen based on 25 and 45-pound plates for simplicity's sake.
- You should ideally perform a second workout 3-4 days later in the week using maximum strength loading parameters (3-6 sets of 1-3 reps per set, using ample rest intervals). Doing so ensures regular stimulus for both hypertrophy and maximum strength. These two qualities are synergistic to one another and should both be trained regularly, regardless of the goal.
- You will eventually hit a wall on this or any other type of aggressive progression strategy. That's why it only lasts 6 weeks. If you get stuck before you complete 6 weeks – if you find yourself unable to improve on your last set from the previous week – take it as a sign that you haven't fully recovered from the previous session. So, when you consider your first workout, err toward being too conservative. There's no need to be aggressive right out of the gate.
- Only do this cycle for one exercise, at least initially. Use it as a "plateau buster" for your most stubborn lift. After the 6 weeks are up, try it on a second lift, and so on.
- Resist the urge to continue this cycle indefinitely because I assure you, at some point, it will submit you in agonizing fashion. Instead, after the 6 weeks are up, switch to a more intensity-focused approach for the exercise in question.
If you've got a stubborn lift that seems to defy your best efforts to improve it, use the Stack-10 method. If you work, so will the plan.