Long Cycle Beginner Muscle And Strength Building Workout

The Long Cycle program uses auto-regulation, allowing a lifter to progress on each exercise at a natural rate, while also maximizing muscle mass and strength gains.

Workout Summary

Build Muscle
Full Body
Beginner
3
Barbell, Bodyweight, Dumbbells, EZ Bar, Machines
Male & Female

Workout Description

This is a beginner muscle and strength building workout system. It is called a “long cycle” because it is meant to be run from start to finish, without exceptions.

This workout routine is designed to help beginning lifters add as much muscle and strength as possible, moving them to the intermediate stages of lifting as quickly as possible. Here’s how it works.

Trainees will start with 12 rep sets for each exercise. They will continue adding weight each week to these exercises until they are no longer able to reach 12 reps per set. At that point they will decrease the weight by 10% and drop to 11 rep sets.

Now using 11 reps per set, lifters will begin the process of adding weight to the bar each week on exercises until they are unable to perform 11 reps per set. When this occurs they will drop the weight by 10% and start over the following week performing 10 rep sets.

Lifters will continue to use this pattern, working up in weight over time, and down to 5 reps per set. When a lifter is unable to reach 5 reps per set on a given exercise, they will drop the weight by 10% and begin the HLM (Heavy, Light, Medium) protocol detailed in the second half of this article.

So, the pattern is:

  • 12 Rep Sets – Work until you can no longer perform 12 reps for each of the 3 sets of a given exercise. At that point, drop the weight by 10% and start over with 11 rep sets.
  • 11 Rep Sets - Work until you can no longer perform 11 reps for each of the 3 sets of a given exercise. At that point, drop the weight by 10% and start over with 10 rep sets.
  • 10 Rep Sets - Work until you can no longer perform 10 reps for each of the 3 sets of a given exercise. At that point, drop the weight by 10% and start over with 9 rep sets.
  • 9 Rep Sets - Work until you can no longer perform 9 reps for each of the 3 sets of a given exercise. At that point, drop the weight by 10% and start over with 8 rep sets.
  • 8 Rep Sets - Work until you can no longer perform 8 reps for each of the 3 sets of a given exercise. At that point, drop the weight by 10% and start over with 7 rep sets.
  • 7 Rep Sets - Work until you can no longer perform 7 reps for each of the 3 sets of a given exercise. At that point, drop the weight by 10% and start over with 6 rep sets.
  • 6 Rep Sets - Work until you can no longer perform 6 reps for each of the 3 sets of a given exercise. At that point, drop the weight by 10% and start over with 5 rep sets.
  • 5 Rep Sets - Work until you can no longer perform 5 reps for each of the 3 sets of a given exercise. At that point, drop the weight by 10% and start over with a 5 rep HLM approach (see below).

Dumbbell Curls

Long Cycle Muscle and Strength Building Workout Routine

You will be working out 3 days per week, with at least one day of rest in between each training day. The following is merely a sample schedule:

  • Monday – Workout #1
  • Wednesday – Workout #2
  • Friday – Workout #3
Monday
Workout #1
Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 3 Long Cycle
Bench Press 3 Long Cycle
Barbell Row 3 Long Cycle
Lying Tricep Extension 3 Long Cycle
Leg Curl 3 Long Cycle
Dumbbell Curl 3 Long Cycle
Weighted Sit Up 3 10-25
Wednesday
Workout #2
Exercise Sets Reps
Deadlift 3 Long Cycle
Overhead Press 3 Long Cycle
Pull Ups 3 Long Cycle
Dips or Cable Extension 3 Long Cycle
Seated Calf Raise 3 Long Cycle
Power Barbell Shrug 3 Long Cycle
Plank or Ab Wheel Rollout 3 10-25
Friday
Workout #3
Exercise Sets Reps
Squat 3 Long Cycle
Bench Press 3 Long Cycle
Barbell Row 3 Long Cycle
Lying Tricep Extension 3 Long Cycle
Leg Curl 3 Long Cycle
Dumbbell Curl 3 Long Cycle
Cable Crunch 3 10-25

As you can see, each exercise will track in its own, unique way. You might be performing 9 rep sets on squats while using 7 rep sets for bench press. This is normal.

Once your major lifts (squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press and rows) are down to 5 reps per set, you may want to move on to a more intermediate-style program.

Starting Weight, and Weight Additions

If you are a rank beginner, and are completely new to resistance training, I recommend starting with the following weight for each lift:

  • Bench Press – 45 pounds (The bar)
  • Barbell Rows - 45 pounds (The bar)
  • Overhead Press – 45 pounds (The bar)
  • Squats – 95 pounds (Bar + 25 pound plates)
  • Deadlifts - 95 pounds (Bar + 25 pound plates)

For the smaller lifts, like lying tricep extensions and curls, you’ll simply need to start with a very easy weight that allows for 12 reps per set. If you make a mistake, and start to heavy, simply drop the weight the next time you perform this lift and start the process over.

Add the following weight each week to these lifts:

  • Bench Press - 5 pounds
  • Barbell Rows - 5 pounds
  • Overhead Press - 5 pounds
  • Squats - 10 pounds
  • Deadlifts - 10 pounds

For the rest of the exercises, add the bare minimum amount of weight possible each week. These assistance exercises do not generally allow for a huge amount of weight, so you want to progress slowly, but consistently.

Here is some more information on assistance exercises:

Dips and Pull Ups. If you utilize dips and pull ups you may not be able to perform 12 reps per set. That is perfectly fine. Focus on working up to 12 reps per set, and once you reach this level start to add weight (very slowly) via a dipping belt.

If you are unable to perform dips, use tricep extensions. If you struggle with pull ups, use lat pull downs or rack chins.

Do not go under 8 reps for tricep extensions or lat pull downs. Once you reach this level, continue adding weight when you are able to perform 8 reps per set.

Lying Tricep Extensions. These are not skullcrushers. Check out the video below by Mark Rippetoe on how to perform this movement.

Leg Curls. Don’t go below 8 reps per set. When you are able to perform 8 reps per set, add weight.

Dumbbell Curls. Don’t go below 8 reps per set. When you are able to perform 8 reps per set, add weight.

Weighted Sit Ups. You don’t need to go crazy with weight on this exercise. Slowly add resistance over time to challenge the abs. You do NOT need to use the long cycle protocol for this lift.

Calf Raises. Don’t go below 8 reps per set. When you are able to perform 8 reps per set, add weight.

Power Shrugs. Don’t go below 5 reps per set. When you are able to perform 5 reps per set, add weight. These are explosive shrugs. Check out the following video for more information on how to perform them correctly.

Planks. Aim for 60 second holds.

Ab Wheel Roll Outs. Try for 25 reps per set.

Cable Crunches. You don’t need to go crazy with weight on this exercise. Slowly add resistance over time to challenge the abs. You do NOT need to use the long cycle protocol for this lift.

Starting Weights for Non-Beginners

If you are a non-beginner, start with a weight that easily – EASILY – allows you to perform 12 reps per set. Don’t let your ego prevent you from getting a decent start with this program. The weight will get heavy rather quickly.

Long Cycle FAQ

How many calories should I eat per day?

You want to gain 2-3 pounds per month while running the Long Cycle. Keep in mind that weight gain during your first several weeks might be unusually high. This is not fat gain, so don’t panic.

When you increase food, carbohydrate and sodium intake, which will happen during a bulk, your body will hold more water. Again, this is not fat gain.

After the first 2 weeks you want to adjust your calories appropriately so you are gaining about 2-3 pounds per month.

If you are worried about losing your abs, or simply don’t want to do what it takes to gain weight and maximize muscle and strength gains, then the program won’t work as well. Food is anabolic. If you undereat, progress can’t be guaranteed.

How much protein should I eat per day?

At least 180-220 grams of protein. While some studies indicate that you may “only” need 150 grams per day to maximize muscle growth, this completely ignores the issue of “balanced eating.”

You are going to be eating a lot of food during this program. Eating some extra protein in the name of balance isn’t going to kill anyone. It might not be needed for muscle growth, but it will help you achieve a more balanced eating plan. And meat tastes good, so enjoy.

How much fat and carbs should I eat per day?

There is no need to count these macronutrients. As long you are taking in a reasonable amount of healthy fats per day, then fat and carb levels should even out naturally.

It might be worth your time to spend a week analyzing your macronutrient intake to see if you are eating enough fats. If your fat intake level is below 20%, I recommend bumping it just a bit.

When I reach 5 rep sets for the major lifts can I continue on with the HLM program?

Yes, but once you reach this level there is a more optimal way of training. Look for an intermediate version of this workout soon.

When should I deload?

If you feel beat up and need to take a week off once every 8 to 12 weeks that’s certainly fine.

Does this program provide fast progression?

A rank beginner has the potential to move up to a 175 pound x 3 sets x 12 rep bench press during their first 6 months of training. This would be equivalent to having a max bench press of 250 pounds or more. Obviously, this is unlikely to happen, but the point  is this: yes, this program provides rapid progression opportunities.

On the sang note, a rank beginner has the potential to move up to a 400+ pound squat and deadlift max after only 6 months. Again, highly unlikely this will happen.

The Long Cycle program starts easy, but becomes challenging very rapidly.

Long Cycle HLM

When you can no longer perform 5 reps per set on one of the following exercises, it is time to start an HLM protocol:

  • Squat
  • Deadlift
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Barbell Row

Rotate between heavy, light and moderate days for the given exercise.

For example, because you work squats only twice a week, your set up would look something like this:

  • Week 1 – Heavy squats on Monday, light squats on Friday.
  • Week 2 – Medium squats on Monday, heavy squats on Friday.
  • Week 3 – Light squats on Monday, medium squats on Friday.

Heavy Days – On heavy days you attempt to perform 5 reps per set.

Medium Days – On medium days you drop the weight 10% and perform as many reps as possible for each set, stopping short of failure.

Light Days – On light days you drop the weight an additional 10% and perform  as many reps as possible for each set, stopping short of failure.

Possible Program Variations

Rotating Exercises

It is wise to keep training as balanced as possible. For this reason you may want to consider alternating between bench presses and overhead presses, instead or working bench press twice a week.

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42 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Mon, 08/03/2015 - 21:15
David

Been doing this workout for about a month now and been blown away by the increase in strength had a question about when to add the weight though, is it once a week or the next time you do the exersize?

MikeWines's picture
Posted Tue, 08/04/2015 - 10:01
MikeWines

David,
From the looks of things it sounds like each workout.

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Posted Tue, 08/04/2015 - 10:48
Preciso

Every week. Which works out to be every 2-3 exercises.
I got big 1.5 years ago from this
Wo but it beat me up a bit being a worn out 42 year old. If I were to use this again, I'd spread out the 2-3 workouts over 10-12 days, not a week. In other words, look at days between workouts, not "mon, wed, fri" are lift days that way the weight increases can be do able

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Posted Fri, 02/27/2015 - 22:49
tyler

I did see anything on warming up. Do I just into each workout as written or do I need to do warm up sets similar to starting strength?

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Posted Wed, 10/01/2014 - 16:58
Dane

Steve,
I have a medical issue which prevents me from doing range of motion exercises with my knees. I will need to replace squats, dead lifts and leg curls with something else. Any recommendations?

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Posted Sat, 08/09/2014 - 18:01
tim

Steve,
Could I use your simple a/b split with this rep/Set scheme? I would be doing it ABA BAB.

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Posted Fri, 08/01/2014 - 03:29
Ogi

Im kind of confused. For exercise that it says dont go below 8 (5) reps, does it mean that i should start with 12 and then decrease as time goes by but not under 8, or it means that i should stick to 8 reps and dont perform decrease of reps but increase weight?

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Posted Tue, 06/03/2014 - 15:42
Dave

Hi thanks for the workout plan. I have one question if I am unable to perform 3 full sets of an exercise on session 1, should I decrease the weight and numbers of reps in session 3 or keep it the same in session 3 and drop the weight & reps for the following weeks sessions?

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Posted Tue, 02/18/2014 - 02:08
Preciso

I just finished my 6th week on this program.
I added 1.5" to my chest, and 3" to my thighs. I'm adding 10 pounds a week to my big lifts and each week feels like the previous week. My log is on muscle and brawn forums if you want to follow along. Steve's got a winner here!

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Posted Tue, 01/21/2014 - 02:55
Joe Grinstead

Hey there I think this work out looks great I've been working out for a couple of months but with no direction so this will give me a chance to track actual progress.
Question is should i be using a 2 1 2 control or different? This will give me a real chance to learn technique

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Posted Wed, 01/15/2014 - 15:54
Marco

Great Workout!
About planks, should I do 3x10-25 60 sec holds? It seems to much, more than 30 mins or did I understand wrong?

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Posted Sun, 12/29/2013 - 20:00
mike

this is the good stuff!

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Posted Wed, 12/25/2013 - 08:46
Marc

This or ICF 5x5?

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Posted Wed, 12/25/2013 - 08:45
Marc

This or ICF 5x5 by Jason Blaha?

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Posted Sun, 11/24/2013 - 16:51
jblbli

Hi, I was using doug's mass building routine for ectomorphs. A few days ago, I switched the the PHUL program because people were saying that, as basically a beginner, I should benching/squatting more than once per week. Now I'm reading this!! Should I take this up or stick with PHUL? Is there any definitive programs for me? BTW I'm 6'2" 165 lbs.; I can bench 170 once, and squat 200 once. I only started working out about 2 months ago.

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Posted Thu, 10/17/2013 - 13:52
alan

Just so i can make sure I am doing this right ( because I am very new to this) what you're saying is that if i get to the point where say im benching 145 pounds and I can no longer make it to 12 reps, I should then decrease the 145 by 10% making it 130.5 pounds. From there do 130.5 pounds for 11 reps and continue to add 5 pounds to it until I can no longer do that? then take the 10% off of what ever that new pound weight will be? and keep going like that? I just want to make sure i do it right! thanks guys!

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Posted Tue, 10/01/2013 - 14:27
Adam

Will there be an intermediate follow on workout coming soon? Cheers

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Posted Sat, 09/28/2013 - 19:05
k96192012@gmail.com

Hey there I've been looking for a strong beginners workout but the thing is I'm a begginer I understand sets and reps. but this seems to be a little hard to figure out.how do I do that? Do you know of any other workout with easy to understand

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Posted Tue, 09/24/2013 - 10:57
Adam

Hi Steve,
will there be a follow on intermediate workout coming soon? As I am interested as to what that would look like.
Cheers

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Posted Wed, 09/18/2013 - 08:45
Tiahnna

Hi,
I am looking to gain weight & muscle. I used to be very athletic but once I left college all of my activities stopped. I am 5'6 125 lbs.
I am competing in the Tough Mudder race and would like to be physically prepared.
What protein supplements will be good to start?

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Posted Thu, 09/12/2013 - 03:54
Christian

Hi im a beginner with what weight can i start with the dumbells and sit ups and if pull ups are too hard what can i replace them with? A d what is hlm? Thanks

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Posted Sun, 09/08/2013 - 18:56
Sam

Hi, I'm hoping to start this workout but I can't do fridays due to other work. Is it possible to do Monday, Wednesday and Thursday?

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Posted Sat, 09/07/2013 - 14:59
Roger

If I am already high BF (20%), can I use bulk/cut mini-cycling with this program? Like 1-2 weeks calorie deficit when I drop weight/reps on squat or deadlift?

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Posted Thu, 09/05/2013 - 15:19
Roger

Hi Sreve, I just started this program. But my BF% is already high enough (approx. 20%) that I shouldn't do that long of a bulk. My question is: what is your opinion of pairing this with bulk/cut mini-cycling? I am thinking, when I drop the weight and rep target on a big lift (say squat or deadlift), switch my eating to 1-2 weeks of calorie deficit, and switch back to surplus as the weight starts getting heavier again.

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Posted Sat, 08/31/2013 - 01:22
jon

for the HML protocol,

are you taking your heaviest weights for each exercise and then subtracting 10% for the various routines?

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Posted Sat, 08/24/2013 - 00:08
Brandon

Hi Steve,

I am currently doing Strong lifts 5x5 program with a goal of hitting above 225lbs on all of my lifts by the end of October. However, your program makes me want to drop 5x5 and start this on monday. What is your recommendation?

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Posted Tue, 08/20/2013 - 21:49
Brian

Anything i can substitute for cable crunch, seated calf raise, and leg curl? Have no machine to work with just bench press with barbell, ez bar and pull up bar

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Posted Mon, 08/19/2013 - 12:49
EdH

You may have missed it mate, (quoted from the article):

"Add the following weight each week to these lifts:
Bench Press - 5 pounds
Barbell Rows - 5 pounds
Overhead Press - 5 pounds
Squats - 10 pounds
Deadlifts - 10 pounds
For the rest of the exercises, add the bare minimum amount of weight possible each week. These assistance exercises do not generally allow for a huge amount of weight, so you want to progress slowly, but consistently."

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Posted Tue, 08/13/2013 - 14:37
mike

so do u increase weight after every set or after every workout once you completed said reps

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Posted Mon, 08/19/2013 - 12:48
EdH

You may have missed it mate: (quoted from the article).

Add the following weight each week to these lifts:
Bench Press - 5 pounds
Barbell Rows - 5 pounds
Overhead Press - 5 pounds
Squats - 10 pounds
Deadlifts - 10 pounds
For the rest of the exercises, add the bare minimum amount of weight possible each week. These assistance exercises do not generally allow for a huge amount of weight, so you want to progress slowly, but consistently.

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Posted Tue, 08/13/2013 - 11:55
sid

Hi Steve,

I'm a total beginner. This exercise plan sounds amazing, but I also want to know what Protein Supplement I should go for as I want to Gain Mass. I looked up a product called "GNC Pro Performance Amplified Mass XXX". There is another one called "Re-Build Mass Gainer". Can you give me any siggestions. I actually wanna see results.

Thanks.

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Posted Sun, 08/25/2013 - 22:45
Mike

I wouldn't suggest taking any pre-workout supplements at this stage if you're a complete beginner. I would suggest working out consistently for a month or two taking some high quality whey protein more than 25-30 minutes afterwards. Don't push yourself too hard too fast.

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Posted Tue, 08/13/2013 - 01:21
Mursleen

Hi, Steve, Can I work my shoulder and chest equal by alternating between bench press & Military Press.

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Posted Mon, 08/12/2013 - 13:44
Jamie

Hey Steve,

Would you recommend adding weight to the exercises in Workout 1, on Workout 3? Or do you suggest using the same weight in workout 1 and 3, and upping the weight to these exercises on the week. For example:

Workout 1 Squats - 12 reps @ 95
Workout 3 Squats - 12 reps @ 105

Also, would you recommend doing workout #1, rest, workout #2, rest, workout #3, rest, workout #2, rest, workout #1 rest, workout #2, rest, workout #3 etc so as to avoid imbalances in body parts trained (Workout 1 and 3 which are essentially the same workout are done twice as much as workout 2).
I'm not a beginner (however I am young) and am accustomed to training 5+ times a week. I'm merely looking for a steady way to bring up my big lifts and pack on solid muscle.

Thanks in advance!

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Posted Sun, 08/11/2013 - 13:53
David

Hello,

How many seconds of rest between sets? Even though I am not total beginner, but I have a hard time catching my breath after each set. So sometimes I rest for over 2 min (up to 3 min sometimes) even though I know that will affect muscle gain. Any advise would be awesome.

Steven's picture
Posted Mon, 08/12/2013 - 10:26
Steven

Hi David,

2 to 3 minutes of rest between sets is fairly normal. You want to rest long enough so that you feel ready to go on the next set. No need to rush. Take whatever amount of time is needed.

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Posted Sun, 08/11/2013 - 11:07
jackson helton

sounds like a good workout plan. I just finished the 10X3 workout plan so I'll start this monday

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Posted Fri, 08/09/2013 - 17:41
Taylor Slaughter

Workout #1 and #3 are almost the exact same thing, is it supposed to be like that? And why does it say to do workout #1 on Monday and workout #2 on Wednesday and Friday without any workout #3 where it says sample schedule?

Steven's picture
Posted Fri, 08/09/2013 - 17:47
Steven

Yes, Monday and Friday are nearly the same. One of the main reasons fro frequency on the big lifts is to get in rep/form practice.

To your second question, it was a typo. Friday is Workout #3.

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Posted Tue, 08/13/2013 - 02:22
Taylor Slaughter

Thanks Steve!

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Posted Fri, 08/09/2013 - 14:48
Sudipro Ghosh

First of all , thanks for this great routine.I will start this routine soon but as I workout in my home gym I only have access to a Power Rack , a barbell and sufficient weight plates.So I dont have access to Leg Curl and/or other machines what can be some suitable replacements for those machine dependant exercises?

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Posted Wed, 08/28/2013 - 23:18
Matt

Here are some:
Leg curl - instead do glute ham raises or Romanian deadliest.
Seated Calf Raises - instead do single or both leg calf raises with either the barbell, dumbbells or bodyweight
Cable Crunch - instead do weighted sit ups, or weighted crunched, or hanging leg raises