Training Log – Cycling for Mr. Olympia

by Lee Labrada

One of the topics that invariably arises in each of my seminars is cycling. People are constantly asking how they can employ this training technique. Cycling can be as simple as dividing your training year into phases such as mass-building, refinement and pre-contest craning. Or it can be the planned variation of workout intensity exercises, sets and reps on a week-to-week basis. You must also allow time for recovery which is just as important as the other elements of bodybuilding.

The process all begins with setting a goal. The subject of setting goals get a lot of flip service these days from the self-help people. Why?

1. If it helps you get a clear picture of what it is that you want to obtain through your training regimen.
2. It sets a time frame within which to do it

This keeps you motivated. Some people are afraid to set a goal for fear of failing to reach it. Just remember that goals are not written in stone. They are there to guide you, much like the beacon in a lighthouse. Along the way you may have to make adjustments in your goals, but that’s okay. The key is to have them.


At this stage of my career, my goal is win the Mr. Olympia. Starting 10-12 months before the show, I’ll enter my mass cycle. During this phase, I’ll concentrate on putting on muscle where I feel I need it. I’ll take stock of my physique, writing down things I need to improve. I’ll let my bodyweight go 10 pounds over my contest weight as I find this helpful in handling heavier poundages while staying injury free. This is not to be confused with bulking up, which should be called “porking up” for all the good it does you. Don’t let your body weight go up more than 10% over your best contest condition, since you’ll pay the price when it comes time to diet for a show.

Since I want to increase muscle mass, I know I have to increase the intensity and consequently overload my muscles during the workout, while maximizing my recuperation through sleep, relaxation and eating nutritionally dense foods. I rely on lots of basic movements such as squats, bench presses, deadlifts, bent-over rows, shoulder presses and the like. Typically I’ll use 2-3 exercises per bodypart, doing in the range of eight sets on arms to 15 sets on back.

I keep the intensity high by:

1. striving to increase the weights progressively
2. pushing the muscle to failure and past using forced repetitions
3. resting only long enough to catch my breath plus 30 seconds total rest between sets. Repetitions will typically be kept in the range of 6-10 varied from time to time. After three heavy workouts for a bodypart, I’ll do one lighter workout, employing lighter weights (50-60% maximum) for higher repetition, usually 15-20. This helps to engorge the muscles with blood, building cardiovascular support for the heavy workouts, not to mention the often neglected slow-twitch muscle fibers.

That’s an example of “a cycle within a cycle.” My mass phase program follows a two-on, one-off pattern with three different workouts rotated throughout. For example, day one will be chest, shoulders and triceps; day two back and biceps; day three rest; day four legs. Day five brings us back to chest, shoulders and triceps, followed by another day off. Get the picture? This system allows me to train each muscle group two times one week and once the following week, for a total of three times every 14 days. Lots of recovery time is essential for maximum gains, I follow this system for six months before I enter the next cycle of my training.


During the refinement cycle, which starts approximately four months before the contest. I expand the workout to include a wider variety of exercises that will hit the muscles from different angles. The heavy basic exercises are still there, but I’ll add auxiliary exercises to shape muscle and increase muscularity and quality. This phase is important because it makes it possible for me to later show greater muscle maturity at competitions. Typically I’ll use 4-5 exercises per bodypart, 2-3 sets per exercise. as you can see, the volume of the workout doesn’t increase appreciably, just the variety of the exercises.

I’m a big believer in the 30-minute rule. That is, training each bodypart no longer than 30 minutes, doing as much as you can in that time. Here are some points to keep in mind:

1. Continue to work each set to failure, and beyond.
2. Rest only long enough to catch your breath between sets, and no more. (You can see we’re cutting down, on rest between sets during the refinement phase.)
3. Repetitions should range from a low of eight to a high of 12.
4. Focus on moving exercise weight by force of muscular contraction — feel it!
5. Each time you work out, do two basic exercises, followed by two different auxiliary exercises. For example, on a thigh workout, your basic exercises might include squats and leg presses. Leg extensions, lunges, hack squats, or sissy squats would be some of the choices for your two auxiliary exercises. The auxiliary exercises change constantly and serve to bring out different facets of each muscle group. If you are pressed for ideas on exercises change constantly and serve to bring out different facets of each muscle group. If you are pressed for ideas on exercises refer to some to the routines that appear in the various bodybuilding articles on this website.

During the refinement style, I go to a three-on, one-off, three-on, two-off program. the three workouts are grouped according to complementary muscle groups, as in the mass phase. Day one, chest, shoulders and triceps; day tow back and biceps, day three, legs. In case you’re wondering about calves and abs by now, I work these two or three times per week year round, at the beginning of whichever workout they fall on. Don’t neglect them.


The cuts cycle starts three months before the show and continues up until one week out. In past years, every time I prepared for a show, it seemed that I fell into a state of over-training during the last few weeks. I’m convinced that this was a result of wanting to do more sets, reps, and workouts while decreasing my caloric intake. This is how I learned the hard way just how crucial recovery is for bodybuilding success.

Traditionally, bodybuilders have increased their workout volume, sets and reps and workout frequency before their shows. Many believe that you must do higher sets and reps to increase mobilization of fat for workout energy. However, studies prove that bodybuilding is of a largely anaerobic nature,ant muscle glycogen provides the fuel for muscular contraction. In light of this, I approach the pre contest phase on my training with two things in mind. First, whatever put the muscle there in the first place is going to keep it there. Second, aerobic work and reduced caloric intake are going to strip my body fat off.

In other words, during the pre contest phase, my goal is to preserve and refine existing muscle mass while lowering my body fat. This is not the same to add mass to my physique. To me it does not make sense to train harder and longer while eating less. This year in my preparation for the 1990 Mr. Olympia. I found a system that did the balancing trick of peaking my body and avoiding overtraining at the same time. It consisted, of a three-on/one-off, two-on/one-off regimen, rotating three different workouts. For example:

Monday: chest, shoulders, triceps
Tuesday: back, biceps
Wednesday: legs
Thursday: off
Friday: chest, shoulders, triceps
Saturday: back, biceps
Sunday: off
Monday: legs
Tuesday: chest, shoulders, triceps
Wednesday: back, biceps
Thursday: off

On the three-day cycle at the beginning of the week, I hit each muscle group as hard and as heavy as possible, in the style we covered for the refinement phase. The emphasis here is on generating plenty of intensity, systematically overloading the muscle.

After taking a day off, the two-day cycle at week’s end is performed using an entirely different approach emphasizing high repetitions During these last two days, I shoot for 15-20 reps per set, still going to failure.

This approach allows me to maximize overload on both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers, maintaining and refining mass. Since the nature of the regimen cycles weekly in exposes the muscles to different stresses all the time. With this system, you emphasize one aspect of the muscle more while the other recovers. And that spells better recovery and better results.

Recovery you’ll note, is built in three ways in the two days off, in the scheduling of bodyparts, and in the alternation between hard, heavy workouts and high-rep workouts.


To rid myself of unwanted body fat, I do aerobics at least four times per week for 30 minutes at a time. I do this after the weight session, since the body slowly switches over to burning a greater percentage of fatty acids for fuel over the duration of the workout. You should elevate your heart rate to 80% of maximum (your max is about 220 minus your age) during the aerobic session and keep it there at least 20 minutes. I feel that doing too much aerobics can cannibalize precious muscle mass, so I never do more than 30 minutes daily.

I won’t go into diet here as this is a topic to which I’ll devote another article. Suffice it to say not that I follow a year-round diet high in protein and complex carbs, and low in fat. In the off-season, I try to increase the amount of food I am ingesting slowly over a period of weeks, while keeping a watchful eye on my body fat levels. I try to build metabolism the same time I am building muscle, and this is accomplished by speeding up my basal metabolic rate through:

1. eating unprocessed complex carbohydrates with low glycenic index ratings and high fiber content
2. eating frequently
3. using aerobics to boost metabolic rate and control body fat
4. keeping a log of daily food intake so that I can adjust my food consumption upwards in 100-200 calorie increments

During the refinement cycle I’ll maintain my caloric intake or even reduce it is slightly to begin hardening up. This will take care of itself if you’re careful to trim excess fat from the daily diet while increasing training tempo and intensity as we outlined earlier.

The protein/carb/fat calorie ratio for me is 30:60:10 at this stage. I recommend that you resist the temptation to deviate from your diet strategy. Something I have found to be extremely helpful is to eat at the same times each day, with each meal the same approximate protein/carb/fat ratio. I believe it beneficial to space the calories out evenly throughout the day. For example, a 3,600 calorie per day diet may consist of six 600 calorie meals.


During the last 12 weeks before the Mr. Olympia, when I enter the cuts cycle, I make a plan to drop about 1 pound per week, leaving me ripped to the bone two weeks before the contest. I systematically reduce my caloric intake about 5% each week. It’s important to do this slowly to preserve muscle mass. I’ll figure out the number of calories I want to average per day per week and then vary the daily caloric intake up and down so that it averages out at week’s end. Say the first week I want to average 2,000 calories per day. Then I may vary my daily calories like this: Monday 2,000, Tuesday 2,500, Wednesday 3,000. thursday 2,000, Friday 2,500, Saturday 3,000.

See how that works? It keeps the body from interpreting a starvation state and delays the slowdown of the basal metabolic rate. During this cycle, my only protein sources are egg whites, fish and chicken or turkey breast I eat only complex carbohydrates like yams, potatoes, rice and beans. I eat no simple sugars or added fats. Protein/carb/fat ratio is usually 35:60:5. It is important to drink lots of fluids, 3-4 quarts or more of water per day. Remember that fat loss is more successful when diet is coupled with aerobics, so be sure to get your aerobic work in!

Two weeks out from a show, I’ll increase my caloric intake in the same proportion to allow my muscles to fill out with glycogen and let my body rebound from the dieting, I keep an eye on the mirror to gauge myself and make dietary manipulations if necessary to ensure that I reach peak condition on contest day. I feel like a king, knowing I’m improved from the year before. And I can attribute it all to careful planning along with cycling my training, recovery and diet.

Cycling is all about getting in touch with your body and your physique/goals. Remember, if you want to be the best, train like the best – you’ll always reap what you sow!

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