The Best 12 Week Program for Maximal Strength

winning Training (Strength) Leave a Comment

Snapshot of Takeaway Points

  • Use this 12 week model if you want to increase your maximal strength in any lift
  • 6 x Protocols placed into the perfect sequence for maximal results
  • 5 x 12 week example programs (Military Press, Front Squat, Back Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press)

Introduction

I’ve tried every program and protocol out there on myself and then my clients. When it comes to maximal strength and peaking, an undulating periodisation model reaps huge returns. The below model is one of my favourite twelve programs to peak a specific lift. It’s tried and tested and always returns new 1RM’s!

The problem with linear models is it not how the body naturally reacts. It reminds me of the mythical story of Milo and the bull whereby he carried the bull up a hill on his shoulders every day until the bull was at full adult weight of 1,000kg. It sounds nice, and is the first example of progressive overload, but it’s mythical. It didn’t happen. If it was a case of adding 2.5kg to the bar every week we’d all be lifting houses.

An undulating model allows the body to dip in and out of certain repetition ranges or times under tension. Different times under tension can affect the strength quality recruited and therefore maximised and improved. The undulating model allows alternation of phases that work more on volume (Accumulation) where the muscular system is emphasised. The alternative phases work more on intensity (Intensification) which means a higher percentage of maximum effort, and therefore the nervous system is more emphasised.

This is a more natural ebb and flow for your body to adapt to. What many forget is that certain models of periodisation like 12-16 week linear models are used more concurrently with anabolics. As one goes through the 12-16 weeks, levels of anabolics are increased in the same linear fashion, allowing the program to look scientifically sound. So not only do your testosterone levels peak, it is likely your body weight, or at least your muscle mass, is at an all-time high which are both factors for increasing maximal strength.

The argument can be made that it worked but when I’ve taken enhanced lifters who have used this way of thinking and switched to an undulating model, they have made significant jumps in progress. For example Darryn Wright who came to me as a World Record deadlifter at u90kg at 323.5kg. We extended this record to 340kg in a matter of months and then 350kg thereafter, using this training system. It works for advanced and experienced lifters as well as novices.

The Program

Accumulation 1 (Week 1 & 2): 10 sets method

The 10 sets method is great as you receive an increased exposure to the stimulus. Ten total sets allows you to work on and significantly improve your technique. It is also submaximal which further allows technical perfection. Submaximal also translates to a lower cortisol/adrenaline output. This is important as, again, you can’t be getting overhyped with every session you complete. That would lead to burn out and a lower chance of progression week to week and phase to phase. You don’t need to be set personal bests in week 1!

Intensification 1 (Week 3 & 4): Patient lifters method

If performed exactly then the patient lifters method can actually go on for anything up to six weeks. You start the first week with a weight that allows you to achieve 6 sets of 2 reps only. The goal thereafter is to recover week to week and add reps until you can do 6 sets of 4 reps. Often, the only form of progressive overload considered is more weight on the bar. Here you search to complete more repetitions whilst keeping the weight constant as the overload.

Accumulation 2 (Week 5 & 6): 10 sets method

Here you return to the ten sets method as in accumulation 1 but at different (lower) repetition changes thus allowing a higher intensity alongside of all the aforementioned benefits.

Intensification 2 (Week 7 & 8): Cluster Training

Popularised by the late Charles Poliquin, cluster training is a rest pause method that can allow for a higher workload at a higher percentage of maximum. Rest pause means you take a rest between repetitions and it is this that allows for a greater weight utilised. 10-15 seconds is the optimal rest period used that will allow you to tap into those high threshold motor units for repeated bouts.

Accumulation 3 (Week 9 & 10): X-Reps

I wrote about X-Reps here in more depth. It is included as my preferred functional hypertrophy protocol before the final peaking phase. X stands for extend as in extend the time under tension of the set. You go to concentric failure within the desired repetition range and then perform pulses at a tempo of 2020 at a specific range in the following eccentric.

Whether you’re in agreement about functional hypertrophy even being a thing, this protocol will ensure you maintain and even build more muscle mass before attempting to peak your desired lift in the next phase. Remember, a higher cross section of muscle fibres often equates to improved maximum force.

Intensification 3 (Week 11 & 12): Wave Loading

Wave loading is a form of post activation potentiation and I wrote about it in more depth here. Taking advantage of the nervous system is key if you want to actualise more strength gains. This is the protocol that will best allow it.

Program Overview

Phase Week Protocol Sets Repetitions
Accumulation 1 1 Ten Sets Method 10 6
Accumulation 1 2 Ten Sets Method 10 5
Intensification 1 3 Patient Lifters Method 6 2-4
Intensification 1 4 Patient Lifters Method 4 3-4
Accumulation 2 5 Ten Sets Method 10 5
Accumulation 2 6 Ten Sets Method 10 4
Intensification 2 7 Cluster Training 5 5 (1-1-1-1-1)
Intensification 2 8 Cluster Training 3 5 (1-1-1-1-1)
Accumulation 3 9 X-Reps 5 4-6
Accumulation 3 10 X-Reps 4 4-6
Intensification 3 11 Wave Loading 6 3,2,1,3,2,1
Intensification 3 12 Wave Loading 6 3,2,1,2,2,1

 

Program Execution

Accumulation 1: 10 sets method

For week 1 start off with a weight that would allow you to get 12 repetitions. The first three to four sets will feel pointless but the workout will catch up with you. I always prefer to keep the first six sets at a set weight. The last four sets though you can ramp up a little if your body allows for it. If you’re going to miss repetitions or start grinding repetitions out then don’t. Remember it’s a submaximal protocol. The following week due to the drop from six to five repetitions, add 2.5-5% to the bar.

Intensification 1: Patient lifters method

We’ll be performing this method slightly differently to the original protocol, thus it could simply be called 6 x 2-4 if you’re a purist. My recommendation is to start out with something around a 6-8RM (repetition maximum) and perform as many repetitions within the 2-4 bracket for the 6 sets. You’ll use the same weight for each set.

If you managed to achieve at least the first 4 sets completing 4 repetitions then the following week you’ll need to increase the weight 2-3%. If you didn’t manage this, then you’ll notice a reduction in sets but the repetition bracket increases to 3-4. Therefore you’ll keep the weight the same and your recovery will allow you to improve performance this week with an increase in total repetitions.

Accumulation 2: 10 sets method

You’ll notice that this links back with the first phase. Take the weight you used in the second week and add 2-3%. For week 6 add 2.5-5% on top of what you used in week 5.

Intensification 2: Cluster Training

Generally this is thought of as 90% of 1RM or a three repetition maximum for all sets. In practice, I don’t find that this works as well as what I’m going to recommend. Ramp up through the five sets and on week 7 ramp up no more than 20%. This means that if set 1 was 100kg, set 5 would be not more than 120kg.

For week 8 though I’ll allow a 30% spread through just the 3 sets indicated. The key with week 8 is a higher peak set. As long you’re having an aneurism on the last set of each week then you know that weight selection was spot on!

Accumulation 3: X-Reps

X-Reps are performed on each set after the final repetition is achieved. You want to start with a weight close to a 6RM on this as you are allowed a drop in performance. This means you can drop anything up to 20% of the total weight by the time you reach the last set. My preference though is to keep the weight as high as possible and if you can, the same for each set.

If you can reach 6 reps and perform some extra time under tension for the x-reps then you should certainly be able to keep the weight the same for the next set and still achieve the desired 4-6 reps. It’s when you drop to the lower end of the bracket, four reps, that you need to consider reducing the weight. The key is to know whether on the next set you can achieve the minimum (four) repetitions required.

The amount of x-reps is irrelevant and the key is performing them in a controlled manner, hence my recommendation of 2020 tempo for them, until failure. I find there is big learning curve week to week with them. The first week of performing x-reps you may get a couple of seconds extra time under tension and the next week you’ll be using more weight and also getting an extra ten seconds.

Intensification 3: Wave Loading

This is the last and therefore, obviously, the heaviest phase you’re going to perform. Ensure sleep and nutrition is on point as much as possible as you want to take advantage of all the work you’ve put in leading up until now.

You’ll notice in week 12 that second wave decreases (2,2,1) but it should still be performed, regarding weight selection as if it were 3,2,1. The second 2 should be heavier than the first 2. This is included to help ensure that week 12 ends up with a bit more in the tank to hit that all important new one repetition maximum.

Five Example Programs

Military Press
Phase Week Exercise Variation Sets Repetitions Tempo
Accumulation 1 1 80° Incline Dumbbell Press (Neutral) 10 6 5010
Accumulation 1 2 80° Incline Dumbbell Press (Neutral) 10 5 5010
Intensification 1 3 Seated Unsupported Barbell Press 6 2-4 4210
Intensification 1 4 Seated Unsupported Barbell Press 4 3-4 4210
Accumulation 2 5 70° Incline Dumbbell Press (Neutral) 10 5 4010
Accumulation 2 6 70° Incline Dumbbell Press (Neutral) 10 4 4010
Intensification 2 7 Seated Behind the Neck Press 5 5 (1-1-1-1-1) 3110
Intensification 2 8 Seated Behind the Neck Press 3 5 (1-1-1-1-1) 3110
Accumulation 3 9 60° Incline Barbell Press (Clean Grip) 5 4-6 40X0
Accumulation 3 10 60° Incline Barbell Press (Clean Grip) 4 4-6 40X0
Intensification 3 11 Standing Barbell Press (Clean Grip) 6 3,2,1,3,2,1 21X0
Intensification 3 12 Standing Barbell Press (Clean Grip) 6 3,2,1,2,2,1 21X0
Deadlift
Phase Week Exercise Variation Sets Repetitions Tempo
Accumulation 1 1 Barbell Deadlift (Snatch Grip, Floor) 10 6 5110
Accumulation 1 2 Barbell Deadlift (Snatch Grip, Floor) 10 5 5110
Intensification 1 3 Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip, 1” Raise) 6 2-4 3110
Intensification 1 4 Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip, 1” Raise) 4 3-4 X2X1
Accumulation 2 5 Barbell Deadlift (Mid Grip, Floor) 10 5 4110
Accumulation 2 6 Barbell Deadlift (Mid Grip, Floor) 10 4 4110
Intensification 2 7 Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip, Floor) 5 5 (1-1-1-1-1) 3110
Intensification 2 8 Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip, Floor) 3 5 (1-1-1-1-1) X2X1
Accumulation 3 9 Barbell Deadlift (Cln. Grip, 1” Deficit) 5 4-6 41X0
Accumulation 3 10 Barbell Deadlift (Cln. Grip, 1” Deficit) 4 4-6 41X0
Intensification 3 11 Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip, Floor) 6 3,2,1,3,2,1 3110
Intensification 3 12 Barbell Deadlift (Clean Grip, Floor) 6 3,2,1,2,2,1 X2X1
Front Squat
Phase Week Exercise Variation Sets Repetitions Tempo
Accumulation 1 1 Narrow Stance, Cyclist, Hold Straps 10 6 5010
Accumulation 1 2 Narrow Stance, Cyclist, Hold Straps 10 5 5010
Intensification 1 3 Raise Heels on 2.5kg Plates 6 2-4 40X0
Intensification 1 4 Raise Heels on 2.5kg Plates 4 3-4 40X0
Accumulation 2 5 Sh. Width Stance, Cyclist, Hold Straps 10 5 4010
Accumulation 2 6 Sh. Width Stance, Cyclist, Hold Straps 10 4 4010
Intensification 2 7 Normal Front Squat Set Up 5 5 (1-1-1-1-1) 30X0
Intensification 2 8 Normal Front Squat Set Up 3 5 (1-1-1-1-1) 30X0
Accumulation 3 9 Sh. Width Stance, Hold Straps 5 4-6 40X0
Accumulation 3 10 Sh. Width Stance, Hold Straps 4 4-6 40X0
Intensification 3 11 Normal Front Squat Set Up 6 3,2,1,3,2,1 20X0
Intensification 3 12 Normal Front Squat Set Up 6 3,2,1,2,2,1 20X0
Back Squat (Olympic Style)
Phase Week Exercise Variation Sets Repetitions Tempo
Accumulation 1 1 Cambered Bar, Heels on 2.5kg Plates 10 6 4020
Accumulation 1 2 Cambered Bar, Heels on 2.5kg Plates 10 5 4020
Intensification 1 3 Safety Squat Bar 6 2-4 31X0
Intensification 1 4 Safety Squat Bar 4 3-4 31X0
Accumulation 2 5 Cambered Bar 10 5 4010
Accumulation 2 6 Cambered Bar 10 4 4010
Intensification 2 7 Barbell, High Bar 5 5 (1-1-1-1-1) 30X0
Intensification 2 8 Barbell, High Bar 3 5 (1-1-1-1-1) 30X0
Accumulation 3 9 Barbell, High Bar, Heels on 2.5kg Plate 5 4-6 40X0
Accumulation 3 10 Barbell, High Bar, Heels on 2.5kg Plate 4 4-6 40X0
Intensification 3 11 Barbell, High Bar 6 3,2,1,3,2,1 20X0
Intensification 3 12 Barbell, High Bar 6 3,2,1,2,2,1 20X0
Bench Press
Phase Week Exercise Variation Sets Repetitions Tempo
Accumulation 1 1 Flat Dumbbell Press (Neutral) 10 6 4110
Accumulation 1 2 Flat Dumbbell Press (Neutral) 10 5 4110
Intensification 1 3 Flat Barbell Press (Biacromial) 6 2-4 32X1
Intensification 1 4 Flat Barbell Press (Biacromial) 4 3-4 32X1
Accumulation 2 5 Flat Dumbbell Press (Neutral) 10 5 4010
Accumulation 2 6 Flat Dumbbell Press (Neutral) 10 4 4010
Intensification 2 7 Flat Barbell Press 5 5 (1-1-1-1-1) 31X1
Intensification 2 8 Flat Barbell Press 3 5 (1-1-1-1-1) 31X1
Accumulation 3 9 Flat Barbell Press (Biacromial) 5 4-6 40X0
Accumulation 3 10 Flat Barbell Press (Biacromial) 4 4-6 40X0
Intensification 3 11 Flat Barbell Press 6 3,2,1,3,2,1 21X1
Intensification 3 12 Flat Barbell Press 6 3,2,1,2,2,1 21X1

The astute will may have noticed in my writings I don’t like using percentages of maximum for weight selection. With specific exercise variations in addition to using tempo, it creates too many variables to use percentages. I often like to use slight changes in exercises as you flow through the programs. Further, technique, speed of the bar and amortization phase total time could all influence my recommendation for weight selection.

With that being said though, here you’ll find the average percentages used for each phase simply to show how the program undulates/waves towards a new one repetition maximum for you.

Conclusion

Utilise the ready-made programs in this article, or discover countless examples in my Program Design Templates, on your maximal effort days. If you’re a novice then you can get away with using it for 3-4 different days within a week. The more advanced lifter and therefore the more neurologically efficient, will need to opt for 2 days only, otherwise you’ll experience too much fatigue and a lack of progress.

The outline is for the main exercise you want to improve. Assistance work can be done and should be individualised to your structural balance weaknesses and increasing muscle mass. Ensure your workout doesn’t go over an hour after warm up though.

For optimal results you must optimise recovery by maximising sleep habits. It is something that simply can’t be outrun. Check out this article on sleep to help you get to the next level.

Article written by: Tom Hibbert

Published on: 11/8/2019

Facebook Profile

Instagram Profile

Leave a Reply