Paragon Strength Cycle

Strength Cycles – Summer 2024

Summer is here and it’s time to get STRONG.

At Paragon, we think workouts should fit YOUR life, and not the other way around. But we ALSO think you should be able to “have your cake” AND eat it, too.

So this cycle, you get to “choose your own adventure” based on YOUR goals. Meaning that rather than having to choose between a strength OR hypertrophy cycle, you get to “mix and match” the two as much as you desire!

Everyone will follow the same programming base, but YOU get to choose if repeating movements are Strength or Hypertrophy focused. So you decide WHAT lifts and how many reps.

Hate Squats, but love Deadlifts? Going full send lifting heavy? Want some Hypertrophy AND some Strength? The world is your oyster this cycle!

But no fret: there’ll still be tons of bodybuilding and accessory work, so you can maximize looking great AND getting strong.

And with our free cardio-add on program, you’ll still have the option to complete up to 1-3 cardio sessions each week (if you want to). You can run, bike, swim, or row.


Strength Cycle Intro

Paragon Co-founder Bryan Boorstein here to discuss the Strength Cycle for Spring 2024.

This 7-week cycle strength cycle is part of the larger periodization model we follow at Paragon, where strength cycles precede 18 weeks of Hypertrophy training. 

The main focus of the training periodization is to optimize strength and hypertrophy outcomes across the year, without having to sacrifice conditioning levels.

You can think of these phases on a spectrum, with hypertrophy being in the middle (the most well-rounded stimulus).

Then strength is just slightly lower reps and longer rest periods. Metabolic is going to be slightly lighter weights with shorter rest periods.

This how it will look for the next 13 weeks:

  • Strength Pre-cycle Introducton week
  • 6-week Strength Phase
  • Metabolic Pre-cycle Introduction week
  • 5-week Metabolic Hypertrophy phase

Let’s discuss some of the science that makes this approach so effective and delve into the specific details of this training cycle! 


Rationale for Strength 

1. Strength phases allow you to assess your progress at a much more tangible level. 

Yes, we can get stronger and set a “PR” in the 10-15 rep range but being able to say, “I set a PR in a 1, 2, or 3-rep max” is something we can hold with us as an emblem of our hard work and dedication. 

Not to mention, lifting heavy has a certain grit and determination associated that isn’t quite the same with higher rep ranges.

Ok, now onto some science 🙂

2. Re-sensitization to the “hypertrophy” stimulus.

The research behind this idea is building momentum, though I wouldn’t say it’s fact at this point. 

The idea is that our bodies are extremely resilient, and therefore adapt to a given stimulus, making it more difficult to continue to make progress without altering the stimulus temporarily.

A good analogy here would be what happens with continuous exposure to the sun. When the stimulus is new, we adapt quickly, and we can see skin changing to a darker color. 

As we do this more and more, we have to stay out in the sun longer to elicit an adaptation the next time we go into the sun.

The sun exposure is much like training volume during a hypertrophy phase. Instead of having to do more and more, we can change stimulus temporarily and allow the body to “de-train” that stimulus slightly (avoid sun exposure), and then come back with a renewed ability to manifest these adaptations (be “more sensitive” to the sun).

3. Potential HYPERTROPHY benefit of preceding a hypertrophy phase with a strength phase. 

There is a 2020 study by Carvalho and colleagues (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33241958), which demonstrated exactly this idea.

One group did an 8-week hypertrophy phase while the other group did a 3-week strength phase, then a 5-week hypertrophy phase. The group that did the strength phase first, ended up with more hypertrophy. 

The reasoning for this is still ambiguous, in my opinion, and I may still argue that this is a result of “re-sensitization” more than “priming,” but it was proven effective either way!

4. The final one is simply psychological fatigue. 

The majority of people find it quite difficult to do the same thing all the time. 

Especially when you consider that hypertrophy training mostly trains close to failure in higher rep ranges, many of these sets can be quite painful as the lactic acid and other metabolites flood the body during hard sets. 

When we do strength work in lower rep ranges, the work is still extremely difficult, but it doesn’t have the same burn associated with doing higher reps. It can be a nice reprieve to train in this manner for a few weeks!


Program Delivery

1. Option for Hypertrophy

Due to the feedback from members who prefer not to do strength cycles, we have been offering hypertrophy options for all the repeating movements for the last 3 strength cycles.

Each hypertrophy option will have a different rep scheme (focusing mostly on the 6-12 rep range), and there will be some options for more hypertrophy-focused movement swaps in exercise selection.

We do encourage you to utilize the strength movement, wherever possible. Even if it that means squatting, deadlifting and benching in the 6-12 rep range, we can be pretty confident that there is SOME benefit to changing movements out every now and then.

If all you ever did was RDL variations, you would be missing out on a varied stimulus from the deadlift. Not to mention the psychological monotony of performing the same movement in every cycle.  

Therefore, unless there Is a good reason to swap out the programmed strength movement, you ought to stick with it, even if you opt to train in higher rep ranges.

2. Can we mix and match strength and hypertrophy?

We figure some of you all will want to prioritize strength for some lifts, and maybe prioritize hypertrophy for others (or specific body parts). This “mix and match” approach should be totally fine.

Per the standard protocol for repeating movements, we just want to make sure we stick with the same choices throughout the cycle; meaning whether you take the strength or hypertrophy route on a given movement, then be consistent and progress that exercise for 7 weeks!


Strength Cycle Details

The Rep scheme approach will be a typical Linear Periodization approach.

This is the simplest form of progression to implement and is also “backed by science” as the most effective way to increase strength over a training block.

A 2009 study by Prestes and colleagues on 20 women, found that Linear Periodization provided significantly more strength improvements on Bench Press, Pulldowns, Curls, and Leg Extensions, when compared to the alternative method.

Comparison of Linear and Reverse Linear Periodization Effects on Maximal Strength and Body Composition

This makes intuitive sense, based on everything we know about the development of strength compared to Hypertrophy.

Specifically, strength responds to lower volumes; and guess what happens when you decrease reps each week? You are in effect, DECREASING total volume load.

This means that as weights and effort are INCREASING week to week, the decrease in total reps is helping to facilitate recovery (via reduction in volume) and allowing you to properly MANIFEST your strength potential.

Essentially, this just means that each week, the reps will decrease, and the weights will increase accordingly.

  • Week 1 (intro/deload) = 6 Reps
  • Week 2 = 5 Reps
  • Week 3 = 4 Reps
  • Week 4 = 3 Reps
  • Week 5 = 2 Reps
  • Week 6 = Taper week (see note below)
  • Week 7 = 1 Rep (max testing)

The “Taper week” is a proven concept in Powerlifting, in which the athlete decreases volume by a significant amount (usually over 50%), but still lifts “heavy,” and thus flushes a lot of fatigue to optimize performance on the subsequent “testing” week or the lifting competition for Powerlifters.

It’s also important to note that there are REPEATING movements that are NOT conducive to that same 6-5-4-3-2-1 rep scheme.

For example, rowing variations are not going to be doing a ONE REP MAX. The approach will be to stick with mostly sets of 4-6 reps (still decreasing reps and increasing load progressively across the cycle).

In the summer of 2021, and the winter of 2023, we ran strength cycles in which we implemented Back Squats as a repeating movement TWICE each week.

We will be doing the same this cycle!

With Back squats as a primary movement (up there with deadlifts as the “main” focus of the cycle), and with the knowledge that strength is a skill (meaning the more often we practice it, the faster the adaptation will take place), there is great rationale for including back squats twice across the week.

The first session utilizes the same approach outlined above (linear periodization, decreasing reps each week).

The second session will be lighter with focus on “technical execution and speed” sets, using reduced weight and reps. These sets will be a percentage of the weights used on the first session.

This second session is meant to enhance execution and refine movement patterns with intention that this will carry over to the heavy sets the following week (also the potential benefits of staying further from failure for strength goals, as described below).

The objective on the lighter day is to ACCELERATE each rep as fast as possible on the “UP” portion, even though the weight is light.

This “UP” portion is called the CONCENTRIC, and we have plenty of data to support the idea of “maximal concentric intent” being vital to the development of the neurological side of building strength.

“To increase strength, faster resistance training is thought to provide a better stimulus for neural adaptations, which could lead to greater strength gains (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-021-01465-2, Wilk, 2021)


Strength Work & Proximity to Failure

Many studies are now showing that strength is increased faster, staying further from failure.

The rationale is based on the idea that strength development is a result of total force production.

Force = Mass x Acceleration, so we want to keep the concentric speed faster (avoiding the grinding reps that slow); increasing the force applied.

The other negative ramification of “grinding” reps is the inevitable compensation mechanism that occurs. Our bodies are professional compensators; meaning we will always find the easiest solution to the problem.

If we are completing tough reps where mini compensations occur, we are not allowing the neural (skill) adaptations to take place.

Essentially, we are teaching our bodies how to be better at compensating, as opposed to training the specific skill adaptation that we are after.

We are creating bad habits that become permanent and inhibit our strength adaptations.

There are two studies I’d like to focus on to cement this point.

1. A Meta-Regression (a study of all studies on a topic) from 2023 by Robinson and colleagues found that training closer to failure provided non-linear increases in hypertrophy.

However, in the same review, they found that training closer to failure for strength did not have any increased benefit to increasing strength; only increasing fatigue.

It seems that even sets with as much as 5-8 reps from failure produce similar increases in strength, with exponentially less fatigue (when reps are performed with maximal concentric intent; meaning lifting the weight as fast as possible).

2. In a 2021 study by Karsten and colleagues,  one group trained 4 sets of 10 Reps to failure, while the other group used the same weight (approx. 10-rep max), but completed 8 sets of 5 Reps (leaving 5 reps from failure each set).

The group that left 5 reps from failure had better strength gains! This has been confirmed in practice, among a wealth of top-level coaches, too!

(notably, the group that did 4 sets of 10 to failure achieved better hypertrophy results, which is also in line with the research (that we need be closer to failure to maximize muscle building).

Ultimately, this cycle is about building Neural Efficiency across the musculature while re-sensitizing to some of the hypertrophy stimulus.


Repeating Movements 

Note: the exercises listed are for the 5 Day Physique program. Understand that the 3D and 4D programs may be missing a few of these exercises as a natural compromise of training fewer weekly sessions.

As a reminder, you can mix and match Strength or Hypertrophy this cycle, so you’ll see potential swap options for each.

Monday:

A. Low Bar Back Squat

Alternate Strength Swap: High Bar Back Squat 

Alternate Hypertrophy Swaps: Hack Squat, Leg Press, Heels Elevated Squat with Pause, Foam Roller Hack Squat

B. Conventional Deadlifts

Alternate Strength Swaps: Sumo or Trap Bar Deadlift

Alternate Hypertrophy Swaps: Barbell or Trap Bar RDL

We’ve got some big barbell movements to start the week!

We got some big barbell movements to start the week! Should be fun to move some big weights!

For the back squat, I encourage you to use the LOW BAR position. This will make the movement more glute dominant, and allow you to brace through the midline more effectively with heavier weights.

Descend down under control, in 2-3 seconds. I am a huge fan of a pause at the bottom for standardization purposes; but most important is that you execute the movement the same rep to rep.

Make sure you avoid standing too long with the weight on your back. Hit the top, take one breath, and immediately descend back down. If you rest longer than that, the weight is too heavy for the target reps.

For the deadlifts, you have a choice of conventional, sumo, or trap bar. Any of them are fine! Given that this is not a hypertrophy cycle, I won’t go into detail about which biases which musculature. They’re all good and effective.

Just make sure you are remaining in control. No turning your spine into a question mark. I find it very helpful to remember two specific cues:

1. Push the floor away (instead of lift the bar up)
2. Everything rises together (when the weight is too heavy, the hips rise first).

The deadlift variations are THE MOST fatiguing movement in this entire cycle, which makes it even more important to maintain the “reps from failure” recommendations.

Also remember that the “reps from failure” are assuming TECHNICAL failure (meaning if the back rounds or form deviates, that is already “past failure” so to speak).

For the Hypertrophy swaps, it’s as simple as selecting your preferred RDL variation, or continue to use the more standard deadlift variations for the hypertrophy rep range targets.


Tuesday:

A. Flat Barbell Bench Press

Alternate Strength Swap: Smith Machine Bench Press

Alternate Hypertrophy Swaps: DB Bench Press, Machine Chest Press, Cable Chest Press

B. Strict Pull-ups

Alternate Strength Swaps: Weighted Pull-ups, Pull-up Negatives

Alternate Hypertrophy Swaps: Wide Grip Cable Pulldown, Rack Pull-ups, Foot Assisted Pull-ups, Machine Assisted Pull-Ups

The Flat Barbell Bench Press is the choice of movement here, because we will be working to a 1-rep max at the end.

It would be inappropriate to try and do this with DB or machine chest press. However, given the similar loading mechanism (and safety), you could use the Smith Machine and still follow the “strength focus” rep range targets.

Remember that the path of the barbell (when doing the free weight version) is what’s called an S-curve. So the bar starts at the top with the arms perfectly vertical at support position.

As the bar descends, it will contact the lower chest (below the nipple line/where the underwire of a sports bra would be), then press back up to support (pressing towards the head slightly).

For the DB Delt Press, we will be using one of my favorite rep schemes that seems to have a pretty equal stimulus to strength and hypertrophy pursuits.

The rep scheme is 6 sets of 6 Reps, performed with ~10 rep max weight. We will use week 1 to establish this 10-rep weight, then complete the 6×6 throughout the cycle.

It’s likely we will drop to a 6×4 and increase the weight at some point around the middle of the cycle; but we will def not be testing a 1-RM weight on this movement.

Make sure to check the points of performance on this exercise as it’s meant to be a STEEP incline, not a completely vertical overhead press, as we are performing on the second upper body day.


Wednesday:

A. Weighted Pull-ups w/ Dip Belt

Alternate Strength Swaps: Weighted Pull-ups with band, Strict Pull-ups, Pull-up Negatives

Alternate Hypertrophy Swaps: Wide Grip Cable Pulldown, Rack Pull-ups, Feet Elevated Rack Pull-ups, Machine Assisted Pull-Up



B. Chest Supported Machine Row

Alternate Swaps for Strength or Hypertrophy: Chest Supported T-Bar Row, Chest Supported Cable Row, Chest Supported DB Row, Head Supported DB Row

Many ways to load a pull-up here. The Dip belt is the most loadable. Using the band backpack is fine for hypertrophy cycles, or if you aren’t super strong. But to try loading over 25 lbs in that band backpack won’t be too fun.

It’s important to note that ONLY the weighted pull-ups, negatives and and bodyweight pull-ups are appropriate for the STRENGTH rep range targets.

For the Hypertrophy swaps, we’ll be using higher rep ranges, and so pulldowns and rack pull-up variations will be appropriate.

As with any pull-up in our programs, we expect you to remain strict. Avoid using the hips to “get the last few inches” and avoid rounding the upper back.

We want to remain in “thoracic extension” (slightly arched) the entire time. It helps to think about “leading with the chest” to facilitate this execution.

For the Machine Row, we will be using same rep scheme as described above for the Anterior Delt Press – it is one of my favorite rep schemes that seems to have a pretty equal stimulus to strength and hypertrophy pursuits.

The rep scheme is 6 sets of 6 Reps, performed with ~10 rep max weight. We will use week 1 to establish this 10-rep weight, then complete the 6×6 throughout the cycle.

It’s likely we will drop to a 6×4 and increase the weight at some point around the middle of the cycle; but we will def not be testing a 1-RM weight on this movement.

The chest support is meant to keep form strict to ensure the proper muscles are working; so make sure that you avoid using the torso as a way to “cheat” in a sense (keep the chest on the pad the entire time!)


Friday:


A. Low Bar Back Squat

Alternate Strength Swap: High Bar Back Squat

Alternate Hypertrophy Swaps: Hack Squat, Leg Press, Pendulum Squat, Heels Elevated Back Squat with Pause, Foam Roller Hack Squats


B. Back Rack Reverse Lunges

Alternate Swaps: Barbell Front Rack Reverse Lunge, Smith Machine Alternating Reverse Lunges


This second day of squats was discussed in detail in the bulk of the blog above. Here it is again:

The second session will be lighter with focus on “technical execution and speed” sets, using reduced weight and reps. These sets will be a percentage of the weights used on the first session.

This second session is meant to enhance execution and refine movement patterns with intention that this will carry over to the heavy sets the following week (also the potential benefits of staying further from failure for strength goals, as described below).

The objective on the lighter day is to ACCELERATE each rep as fast as possible on the “UP” portion (even though the weight is light).

This “UP” portion is called the CONCENTRIC, and we have plenty of data to support the idea of “maximal concentric intent” being vital to the development of the neurological side of building strength.

The other nice part about these “lighter” sets, is that they will act as a really good warm-up for the Back Rack Lunges in part B.

For the HYPERTROPHY swaps, there will be a different rep scheme than that used on Monday. You can use the SAME variation as Monday, or swap to a different one (such as Leg press one day and Hack Squat the other).

The Back-Rack Reverse Lunges are a savage single-leg movement. They provide a high level of stability, which is often lacking in most single-leg squat movements, and they are also performed “alternating” legs, which means that you can properly train BOTH LEGS at the same time.

One of my least favorite things about single-leg movements is having to do double the number of sets to achieve the same stimulus; and this variation eliminates that issue completely.

You can opt to use a low bar or high bar position (or a safety squat bar). You can also feel free to execute the movement in whatever way feels most natural, with no concern about whether it’s quad or glute-dominant. In a strength cycle, we just want to move the most load from point A to point B!

As you step back, ensure you are not walking a “tight rope” (meaning we want some width between the feet; likely similar to your squat stance in total width).

Once your knee gently contact the ground, drive the hips forward and stand back to center, using both the quads and glutes (as well as a bit of power from the midline / low back).


Much like the squats, we want to avoid excessive rest at the top of the rep, so look to standardize your “breather” each rep to allow just one quick gulp of air, and then descend the next leg into the reverse lunge.

The rep scheme will begin with sets of 6 reps (3 per leg), and will decrease week to week in the same manner that has been described for the other large compound repeating movements.

The hypertrophy reps will stay in the 10-16 range for most of the cycle (5-8 reps per leg).


Saturday:

A. Strict Pendlay Row

Alternate Hypertrophy Swaps: Chest Supported Machine Row, Chest Supported Cable Row, Chest Supported T-Bar Row, Chest Supported DB Row, Head Supported DB Row

B. Strict Barbell Overhead Press

Alternate Hypertrophy Swaps: Seated Machine Overhead Press, Seated DB Overhead Press, Standing DB Overhead Press

For the Pendlay Row, the best advice here is to find the BOTTOM of your RDL, and then maintain that position as you row. It is super important to have tension through the hamstrings/glutes and lower back, which keep the body rigid and help to avoid using momentum.

This is an extremely SHORT overloaded movement, meaning the last 2-3 inches of the rep are the most difficult (as the hands approach the torso). Make sure you select loading where you don’t cheat by “humping” or adjusting the torso position as it gets difficult rep to rep.

The bar should come to a dead stop on the ground between reps. You can stack plates to create a “riser” for the barbell if you struggle to get the bar to the ground without losing positioning.

For the hypertrophy rep range targets, any of the DB or machine swaps would be suitable!

For the Overhead Press, we want to setup with glutes and midline squeezed, bracing. Elbows directly under or just barely in front of the bar.

As you press, we don’t want to go around the face, so we must move the face slightly back and out of the way.

As soon as the bar clears the head, we can move the head forward, under the bar, to press out and complete the rep from the strongest position.


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LCK and Bryan from Paragon Training Methods

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