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Contrast Microcycles

FunkpunkOn the "sets and reps" level, when you're actually in there doing the work, you might notice that there's a lot of contrast between work and rest intervals. You perform a set (hard work) and then rest (complete rest). See? Lots of contrast. Because as I've said ad nauseum, contrast promotes recovery. Large contrast promotes large recovery, medium contrast promotes medium recovery, and small contrast promotes small recovery.

That being the case, why aren't we applying the same principle to our training on the microcyclic level? In other words, why aren't more of us implementing contrast microcycles? In my mind, it's a superior way to pack in maximum work and maximum recovery in the smallest possible space. This might be a worthy goal, don't you think?

In practice, contrast microcycles work like this:

Week one might be very light in terms of overall training load. Now there are different philosophies about manipulating volume VS intensity and vice versa, but for the sake of simplicity, let's focus on total load, because if intensity drops much below 85% of current 1RM's you'll suffer a detraining effect.

So week one might add up to 25,000 pounds of total load (Again, don't get tripped up about how to measure this...whatever way you do it is fine, as long as you measure it the same way each week).

On week two, it's time to load up. Plan for something in the neighborhood of 50,000 pounds- double the load used in the previous week. We'll assume that this is heavy for you, but not the most you can possibly do— we need to maintain a margin for additional progression in the comng weeks.

Week three is a deloading week, but it'll still be a bit more taxing than week one. So maybe 30,000 pounds, or 10% more than week one. Week four, 60,000 pounds— again, a 10% increase

That's one mesoocycle with two loading cycles and two contrastive unloading cycles. For the purposes of longer-term planning, repeat the same pattern for future mesocycles, but continuously seek ever higher "peaks" on your heaviest weeks whenever possible.

PS: The fractal image above wasn't by accident...


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  1. Combato on May 21, 2007 6:29:12 AM:

    I can't wait to see what you post in this blog. I own your DVD and Muscle Logic and have used EDT off and on now for nearly a year.

  1. Don Powers on May 21, 2007 9:39:53 AM:

    Early in the article you state that intensity should not drop much below 85%. In his book V Zatsiorsky ( sp) states that Yuri Vlasov's average training weight was 75%. This was during his prime. Why should old guys train heavier? Or do we have a problem here with what is being calculated?

  1. Charles on May 21, 2007 1:18:20 PM:

    Hey Don, there's a lot to your question, but I'll give you my best assessment:

    1) Average intensity by deninition includes warmup sets, and the Soviets tend to notate everything between 50% and 100%. So I'm not surprised that Vlasov averaged 75%.

    2) Generally, you'll always use higher intensities on Olympic lifts when compared to slower lifts like squats and presses. Why? because of the accelerative component, O lifts aren't as taxing as slow lifts, assuming you're comparing the same % of 1RM on each.

    3) As we age we preferentially lose FT fibers, so in my mind, your training must be designed to forestall this inevitability as much as possible. That said, high intensities have the potiential to cauge/aggravate orthopedic symptoms as well as overtraining. So a careful balance between stimulation and degradation must be sought

    Hope this helps to provide clarity, and your question is worthy of continued discussion!

  1. jacksaller on May 22, 2007 9:21:24 AM:

    interesting thought about losing FT fibers as I age.
    so, it seems like a never ending balancing act-- training as often as possible while maintaining CAT and being posturally tight in form, resting as soundly as possible at night, minimizing mental stress, using different exercises, grips, etc... to avoid repetitive movement patterns and icing my darn shoulders, knees and elbows....
    oh, HIT training alleviates all the minor aches and pains, but i don't grow and my CNS gets exhausted.
    EDT, kicks my a_ _, while body composition changes are profound, even at age 51, but the traps, delts and elbows take a pounding...
    but, i've got plenty of energy, so the cup is half full, right?
    pretty amazing what we can accomplish w/ EDT, once we dial in on the weights.
    last friday,for instance, squats and low cable rows for 15 min. PR, followed by calf raises and inclines.
    234 reps for 4 exercises in 30 minutes.
    today: pulldowns and chest for 116 reps and alternating 1 arm cable lateral raise-- 138 reps per delt in that 2nd PR block...
    and that was using just sets of 2's and 3's and singles!!
    BTW, the EDT video is awesome!
    best wishes,

  1. Charles on May 22, 2007 9:40:26 AM:

    Thanks for your post Jack and thanks for your nice words about the DVD.

    Yes, it IS a never-ending balancing act, but again, the strategies that optimize masters' athletic performance are the same strategies that younger folks should employ in the interests of being proactive, as opposed to Reactive.

  1. Simon Thomas on May 23, 2007 6:01:49 PM:

    I have instinctively been doing something like this, using your 21-day itch program.
    powerlifting & Oly-lift days I do:
    Week 1: 9min PR
    Week 2: 12min PR
    Week 3: 15min PR
    My plan was that if I hit all 15 lifts on Week 3, I increase for the next microcycle. I have been doing this for a year (with a break of 2months when I was barless). I've added 17.5kg to my C&J and 15kg to my snatch. While I am pretty new to the O-lifts, that's pretty motivating progress!

  1. Charles on May 23, 2007 6:14:37 PM:

    Nice work Simon. I should mention that it's important not to expect a linear pattern of progress however. More often than not, progress is a three steps up, one step down type of experience. But I applaud your use of performance-based progrerssion cues...

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