The biggest goal for beginners and advanced athletes is achieving the so-desired big muscle size, combined, of course, with flawless muscle separation and aesthetics.
But is it possible to achieve all of this at once, without a certain yearly training cycle?
The answer is yes, if you have superior genetics and follow the given body building methods and principles.
However, for the bigger part of the population, it is not possible to build muscle and get leaner at the same time. This is mainly because the muscle building and fat burning mechanisms deny it.
We have to eat at a caloric surplus to build mass, and at a caloric deficit to get leaner, in order to have a more pronounced muscle separation and detail.
Another thing we need to do in order to “get shredded”, is change our training approach, specifically for this goal, meaning, we will be far from a hypertrophy-focused approach.
In other words- if you want to achieve a big, lean and harmonically developed musculature, you need to put yourself on a certain “Yearly training cycle” (hence, the name of this principle- Cyclicality).
This is the founding principle for athletes, who look to compete.
After years and years spent at the gym, you can say that you have built a solid base. However, if you want to have consistent results, even after years of training, it is recommended, or should we say NEEDED, to implement this principle.
How to apply this principle
We can split our yearly cycle into a couple of points.
- Off season– This is the muscle building period, which lasts for 8-9 months and is characterized with the higher levels of intensity, but a relatively low volume of the training load. Another note here is the increased food intake. During this period, we consume calories at a surplus of ~500. (Meaning, we consume 500 calories more than our body requires to maintain it’s bodyweight. However, 500 calories should be considered the upper limit, so we can avoid unnecessary fat gains, that will complicate the next point of our cycle.)
- On-season (Competition, fat loss period) – This is the fat loss period, during which we achieve the so desired muscle separation and detail, as well as the dry, vascular look of the musculature. This period is defined by the decrease in training weight, rest time between sets and increase in repetitions.In other words, we increase the VOLUME and DENSITY of the workout. The main goal of this period, as we said, is getting leaner, as well as maintaining the muscle we gained during the off-season period.
- Transition period – This, in our humble opinion, is the most important part of the yearly cycle. This is the period, during which we get our body’s endocrine system, as well as the metabolism to normal rates, so we can successfully start a new off-season without gaining all the fat back in one week.While we diet down to single digit body fat percentages, our metabolism slows down. This is the main reason the “yo-yo effect” occurs. If you suddenly start giving your body a huge number of calories, after a 6-8 week “cutting period”, you will gain a lot of the weight you lost, in no time.This is because your body gets used to the caloric deficit, by, as we said, slowing down the metabolism, in order to keep every single bit of caloric surplus, as fat, in case it gets the chance. So, what’s the approach to a successful transition period? A slow, steady increase in caloric intake and training intensity, over the period of 4~6 weeks.
Unfortunately, we can often see gym goers, or even competitors, that have a bloated, mildly shaped body musculature, with little to none muscle detail and separation.
The main reason is that during their years-long training experience, they have only done (and are probably still doing) high intensity, hypertrophy focused workouts. So, after years and years of heavy training, they achieve the desired muscle size, and only then, they start implementing training principles, aimed at getting leaner and more separated.
Sadly, the contrast between the time spent building, and time spent shaping is too big, hence, the change in training approach gives no result. So, what’s the mistake here? Where does this negative adaptation, that leads to a plateau come from?
A good answer would be- Disobeying nature’s laws of seasonal change. A simpler definition of this answer would be the fact that our ancestors were lacking modern day technology like air conditioners, hence, their bodies had to ADAPT to the harsh seasonal conditions and changes, by, for example, the evolutionary-instinctive strive for building fat and muscle tissue during the autumn-winter period, and respectively reducing it during the summer.
From this, we can conclude the reason as to why it’s not recommended, to have the summer as your muscle building period, and the winter as your fat loss period. Logically, a year-round hypertrophy based workout cycle would not be effective, from a body building perspective.
All of this leads us to the conclusion, that we should include a fat loss period, in our yearly cycle, preferably during the summer.
A few words to summarize each part of the cycle
Off season- Takes place during the Autumn and Winter period.
Duration- 8-9 months
Training– As we mentioned, our main goal here is using optimal intensity with a fairly lower volume, compared to the cutting period.
Optimal intensity is 70~85% for the upper body and ~75% with higher reps for the lower body.
Another important thing to note here, is achieving complete contraction and stretch of the musculature, through full range of motion.
Diet– This period requires a positive caloric intake (Called surplus), rich in proteins and carbohydrates, this is because we need to have sufficient amounts of muscle energetic substances, that come from carbohydrates, and protein that will optimally recover our necrotic muscle tissue after every workout.
Fat loss period- Takes place during the Summer period.
Duration- Anywhere from 8 to 20 weeks, depending on the amount of fat that needs to be shed.
Training- The main goal for our training here, is reducing the intensity and rest times between sets, as well as increasing the repetitions completed per set, in order to achieve higher training volume and density, that will help us shape and maintain the muscle we’ve built up until this point.
Diet- This period requires a negative caloric intake (Called deficit), that has the same amount of proteins as the diet we keep during the off-season, but a fairly lower amount of carbohydrates and fats. An important thing to note here, is the fact that during the fat loss period, our body burns not only fat tissue, but muscle tissue as well. Therefore, the upper limit of our caloric deficit is about 400-500 calories, to avoid unnecessary muscle loss, that would make us look flat and exhausted.
Transition period- Takes place after the fat loss period
Duration- lasts for 4-8 weeks, depending on the time you took during the cutting phase.
Training – The goal with your training here is slowly reaching higher intensity levels, up until the point of 70~85% optimal intensity.
Diet- The fact that your body’s functions are slowed down, requires you to have a progressively increasing week-to-week caloric intake, in order to avoid instant fat gains. So, for example, after you’re done with the cutting phase, you increase your caloric intake with 40 calories during the first week, 60 during the second week, and 80-90 for every week after that, mainly aiming to increase the amount of carbohydrates and fats.
As we already mentioned, bodybuilding competitions and the strive for a harmonically developed musculature and a healthy body, impose the use of every body building method there is, with no exceptions. The accent here, is pointed at the constantly changing training parameters, during the separate parts of the training cycle, as well as the selective use of the specialized training principles and methods and the volume and quality of our food intake.
All of this refers to the de-adaptation principle. The intelligently structured yearly cycles solve the problems we encounter during a plateau in our physical development.