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barbells

Before we get to today's post on microcycling, I have to start by giving you listeners some credit. The fact that some of you work out consistently 3 times per week is pretty amazing!

It’s not easy maintaining such a consistent schedule and so I commend you for this.

Even though the same routine may be performed each time, the fact that you are so consistent is so great to hear.

But if you're ready to mix things up a bit, I do have some recommendations for how to go about that. As it is, I just so happen to be preparing a lecture for my students on this very topic where I discuss macro- and microcycling.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

How Do I Change Up My Workout Routine?

Let's say you perform the same routine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Then, once or twice per month you perform a Body Pump workout. Body Pump training is basically a high intensity workout. The focus is on moves using a barbell with high reps and light weight. You perform moves like bench presses, squats, cleans and presses, etc. These workouts last anywhere from 30 to 55 minutes.

So the fact that you incorporate these types of workouts every so often is great.

But, as mentioned, there is still some room to add variety into your weekly routine.


Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 720 of the podcast  Optimal Health Daily.


One of the things you can do is to keep the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday schedule, but change the types of workouts you do those days.

One of the easiest things you can do is to switch the order of your exercises: for example, whatever muscles you typically workout on Friday, shift to Monday. The moves you normally perform on Monday then get moved to Wednesday, and so on. You can also modify the number of repetitions you perform for each set.

Some days, you can increase the weight you're using, and as a result, decrease the number of repetitions. For example, let’s say that you normally perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions of biceps curls. To mix it up, do 5 sets but only 5 repetitions each set. By only performing 5 repetitions instead of the 8 you would normally perform, you will be able to lift heavier. If we do the math, you will actually execute 1 extra rep by doing 5 sets of 5 instead of 3 sets of 8!

microcycling

Pyramids and Ladders

You can also incorporate some of my favorite tricks: pyramids and ladders. A pyramid of biceps curls would be you performing 10 reps, then 9 reps, then 8 and so on… increase the weight by a little bit as you decrease the number of reps.

Rest only 30 seconds between sets.

If you perform these correctly, you would have completed 55 repetitions total of just biceps curls (10+9+8… you get the idea). Then you can go back down the pyramid by performing 1 rep, then 2, then 3, decreasing the weight as the repetitions increase. A ladder uses the same idea, but you don’t change the weight. You can perform 1 rep, then 2 reps, then 3, and so on, but you keep the weight you lift the same.

Another way to mix things up is to alter your rest periods. If you normally rest 2-3 minutes between each set, rest for just 1 minute–or maybe 30 seconds like I recommended when performing pyramids.

You can also change the types of exercises you perform. I’ve been using biceps curls as an example. Biceps curls can be performed a number of different ways. You can do them standing, seated with your back upright, or you can perform them at a slight angle where you’re seated but leaning back slightly.

You can also perform concentrated curls using a preacher bench. You can use an EZ-curl bar instead of dumbbells or a barbell instead of dumbbells.

What is Microcycling?

The American College of Sports Medicine often recommends microcyling to mix things up.

I’ll explain: microcycles are basically 2 to 4 week periods of similar workouts where the intensity increases from one workout to the next.

Here’s an example of a microcycling program that would last 4 weeks:

  • Microcycle 1: For 4 weeks and for all of your major muscle groups, perform 3 to 5 sets of each exercise with the goal of performing 12 to 15 repetitions. After you do this for 4 weeks, you move on to…
  • Microcycle 2: Over the next 4 weeks and for all of your major muscle groups, perform 4 to 5 sets of each exercise with the goal of performing 8 to 10 repetitions. Here, the goal is to use a heavier weight than the previous 4 weeks when you were performing 12 to 15 repetitions. Again, follow this program for 4 weeks, then move on to…
  • Microcycle 3: Perform 3 to 4 sets of each exercise with the goal of performing only 4 to 6 repetitions. Note: the goals is only 4 to 6 reps, so you need to use a heavier weight here. Do this for 4 weeks, then move on to the last microcycle…
  • Microcycle 4: Perform 3 to 5 sets of 1 to 3 reps. So, here again, we’re increasing the weight so that you can only perform 3 reps max.

Once you’ve completed these microcycles, you can go back to your regular routine and see how much you’ve improved!

As you've probably figured, the possibilities are endless. Try out one of these suggestions, but not all of them at once. See what suits you best. After a while, try one of my other suggestions and see how that goes.

I wish you the best as you begin this microcycling journey!

mm

Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik leads the Master of Science in Nutrition for Wellness program and teaches core courses at Bastyr University California. He has a Doctorate in Public Health from Loma Linda University and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist from the American College of Sports Medicine. Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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