|This is the cycle I'm currently following. I've
tried other longer cycles, but found that I either got injured, or burnt
out on them.
I work out 4 days/week: Squat on Sunday, Bench on Tuesday, Dead on Thursday, and bench assistance on Friday. For the major exercise (squat, bench, dead) I'm doing the following (2 weeks of 2 sets of 8, 2 weeks of 2 sets of 5, 2 weeks of 3 sets of 3)
Assistance exercises are done with 2 sets of 12, 2 sets of 8, and 2 sets of 5. I also drop assistance exercises as the cycle progresses (usually drop 1 exercise for the sets of 5 (although not this cycle) and another for the sets of 3).
For my upcoming contest (10 more days!) I chained 2 cycles together, with a week off in between.
Exercises I'm currently using are:
Sunday: Squat, front squat, pause squat, calf raises (dropped for 3s), abs
Tuesday: Bench, incline bench, millitary press, side laterals (dropped at 3s), french press, grip work, rotator cuff exercises
Thursday: Deads, dumbell row, good morning, manual ham curls (dropped at 5s), abs, grip work
Friday: Close grip bench, pause bench, front plate raise, DB hammer curls, pause french press, bar curls, rotator cuff, grip work.
I change assistance exercises every cycle (some new exercises, different order, etc). For grip work I do different exercises on the days that I do them (one pinching, one supporting, one gripping).
This has worked well for me, as over 3 cycles, I've put on ~ 25 lbs of mass (both fat and muscle) as well as exceeded my PBs in every lift. Can't wait for my contest to see what my new 1RMs are.
And now: Darcy's advice for ab work!!!
One interesting discovery I've made over the past year is just how important ab strength is in working out. If you want a good squat and dead, you gotta have super strong abs.
When I was squatting my 5RM or heavier, my hips would rise up faster than my shoulders (I would tip forward). I'd then have to use a lot of lower back to finish the lift. According to everyone I talked to, I had a weak lower back, and had to strengthen it. When doing deads (conventional), my lower back got very sore. "Work your lower back directly" was the answer I was given.
So I diligently did my good mornings, weighted hypers, round back deads, etc. My back got stronger, but the problem didn't go away (it just occurred at a higher weight). then about 6 months ago, I started really working abs hard. Well, guess what, the problems have gone away. It wasn't that I had a weak lower back, it was that my abs were weak, and that allowed my upper body to cave in when I lifted near max weights. Now, the only time this happens is when I omit to really clench my abs on a squat or dead.
However, the key is specificity. I though my abs were in fine shape. I could do the Legendary Abs workout at level 6 or 7 (I lost my book when I moved). I could do tons of crunches (50-100) without a problem. This was all fine and dandy, but didn't help when it counted...near max lifts. What I did was heavy weighted crunches with a pause. Use a weight heavy enough so you can only get 5-10 reps, and pause each rep at the top for 5 seconds. The pause mimics the isometric contraction you need when squatting and deadlifting. Try putting a pad under your hips when you do weighted crunches to give yourself a larger range of motion and make the exercise even harder! I also do heavy side bends (with a barbell). Again, use a weight heavy enough to limit yourself to 5-10 reps. (A side bonus is that you get to work your grip here as well.) I do crunches off of a hyper-extension machine. Sure, the hip-flexors do some of the work, but who cares!
Work your abs heavy and hard, twice a week, and you'll see the results. Don't think that just doing lots of reps will help. Would you try to increase your 1RM in bench by doing sets of 50-100? Not if you are sensible. The same applies to abs. Heavy weights, low reps are the way to go. Don't think that your abs are getting enough work just from the other exercises you're doing. They may need direct work (as do other parts such as tris and delts) to get stronger
And remember to clench those abs when you squat
and dead. It'll help keep you upright and make the lift that much easier