There are many ways to build muscle but they tend to rely on one specific function such as strength, size or endurance at a time, which can have the result of losses in areas not covered. A typical example would be a pro body-builder who has a workout concentrating on strength training for a few weeks (known as a mesocycle), followed by a mesocycle of building size, and then finishes by cutting with endurance training in the lead up to a competition. This is fine if you have the time and resources required to workout twice a day and take a cocktail of supplements, but for the rest of us the last thing we want is to see losses after weeks or even months of hard work and sacrifice.
And that’s assuming you’ve made any gains in the first place.
If you’re what’s known as a hard gainer, like me, it takes a lot to get muscles to grow and very little for them to stubbornly return to their previous state. That’s were a micro-cycle workout can help. Instead of concentrating on size, strength or endurance for a few weeks, every area is included in every exercise of every workout.
How Does It Work?
The workout involves 4 sets for each exercise, each one targeting a different area of muscle growth and arranged so that, where practical, they are worked in their longest and shortest (and therefore most difficult) positions first. This encourages greater gains and ensures the muscles are getting worked in their whole range of movement.
Set 1 – 4 reps: The focus here is on strength which involves low repetitions with large weights to increase the neural connections within the muscle.
Set 2 – 8 reps: This is the lower end of the hypertrophy (size) range which will cause the amount of muscle fibre to increase.
Set 3 – 12 reps: Still affecting the amount of muscle this also involves sarcoplasm, which is the surrounding fluid that contains energy in the form of ATP and glycogen.
Set 4 – 16 reps: Here there may be some increase in muscle fibre but mostly this is about endurance and exhausting the sarcoplasm which the body will then overcompensate for during recovery.
Each set should be done to failure, meaning the first set is the maximum weight you can lift for 4 reps, the second set the maximum you can lift for 8 reps and so on. Because the goal is hypertrophy, the rest period between sets, which also includes the time between each exercise, is 60 – 90 seconds. The first time you try the workout take 90 seconds but aim to get this down as you progress. Also, the speed of each rep is important. The concentric (effort) phase, such as the upward movement during a squat or bench press, should be explosive to maximise fast-twitch muscle fibre recruitment and force production, while the eccentric (downward) phase should be done under control over 2 or 3 seconds. This will work the muscle further and help to maintain good form and technique, which is especially important for injury prevention during sets 1 and 2.
A detailed explanation for these exercises can be found elsewhere on the site but I have provided some notes below. As the workout begins each day with a strength set, be sure to warm up thoroughly before you begin to avoid injury.
Day 1: Triceps
Triceps Kickback (cable)
Overhead Triceps Extension (cable)
Reverse Straight Bar Extension (cable)
Front Straight Bar Extension (cable)
V Bar Extension (cable)
Notes: The triceps kickback works the muscle at its shortest, the overhead triceps extension at its longest. These can also be done with dumbbells (DB) but is less effective.
Day 1: Shoulders
Rear DB Fly
Lateral DB Raise
Front DB Raise
Notes: Here the exercises are done with what is generally the hardest (and therefore lightest weight) first, working posterior, then lateral, then anterior deltoids. The vertical row and db shrugs are shorter range therefore allowing heavier weights.
Day 2: Biceps
Double Cable Curl
Lying Cable Curl
Hammer DB Curl
Z Bar Curl
Reverse Barbell Curl
Notes: The double cable curl works the biceps in a fully lengthened position they’re probably not used to so start light and work your way up. The lying cable curl is the fully shortened position.
Day 2: Abs
Hanging Leg Raise
Swiss Ball Crunch (with weight)
Notes: If you’re a true hard gainer your abs are probably quite small, so the following exercises will increase the size and strength. If this isn’t the case for you stick to what already works. I’ll be looking exclusively at a six pack workout in a future article.
Day 3: Legs
Walking DB Lunge
Notes: The leg press or front squat can be substituted with squats. The deadlift can be substituted with back extension.
Day 4: Chest
Upper DB Fly
Flat Fly (Machine or Cable)
Upper DB Press
Flat Bench Press
Low Cable Press
Notes: The db fly works the chest well at the lower end of the movement range but not when contracted, while a fly machine tends to work it when fully contracted but not as well in the lower phase.
Day 4: Calves
Seated Calve Machine
Calve Press (Leg Press Machine)
Calve Machine (or standing)
Notes: Seated the calves are getting worked in their shortest position, the calve press or calve machine are the longest (longer) position.
Day 5: Back
Wide Lat Pulldown
Narrow Lat Pulldown
Single DB Row
Notes: You might find that your barbell row is stronger than your lat pulldowns, in which case you can do these first.
Day 5: Abs
Kneeling Oblique Twist (cable)
Notes: It’s difficult to increase the length of time you do a plank or number of V crunches because they can only be made easier to a point, so instead start with 16 reps for the first set, 12 for the second and so on.
Give this workout 6 – 8 weeks and you will see the difference, plus it will work on areas you might normally neglect whether this is strength or endurance. Then take a few days off and return to do the workout in reverse, with your heaviest exercises first and your lightest (which will almost certainly be where the muscle is at its shortest and longest positions) last. This will also help to avoid any symptoms of over training.
As always, any questions or feedback leave a comment below.