What Is Back Cycling?

Dan Cavallari

Back cycling refers to a practice of backing off one's regular weights during a weight lifting exercise in order to work back up to a maximum weight and beyond. In other words, if a person is lifting weights at 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms) for 10 repetitions, and that person is stuck at that weight and cannot train the muscles to lift more weight for more repetitions, he or she may do back cycling and lift 180 pounds (81.7 kilograms) for a set period of time, then work back up to the previous maximum weight in an attempt to gain a higher maximum weight.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

Many weightlifters participate in varying degrees of back cycling to allow the muscles in the body to recover. Weight lifting both builds muscles and fatigues them. Generally speaking, fatigue will wear off much faster than fitness will, so back cycling allows the muscles to recover to a certain extent without the weight lifter losing any fitness or too much muscle mass. Once the muscles have recovered, they will be better prepared to lift heavier weights, which means the lifter is more likely to attain higher maximum weights. While this is no guarantee of a higher maximum weight, it is a good way to increase the likelihood of higher performance levels.

The period of time during which a lifter will need to back cycle will vary according to that person's weight training schedule as well as his current conditioning. People who are on shorter workout schedules will generally need to do back cycling for shorter periods of time, while people who are on longer workout cycles will need back cycling for longer periods of time. A period of back cycling can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the lifter's workout schedule and fitness level.

There are many methods by which one can back cycle, though one of the most common methods involves cutting one's weights lifted by about 10-20%, and then working up incrementally. For example, someone used to maxing out at 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms) for ten repetitions in a barbell curl may back cycle the weight to 160 pounds (72.5 kilograms) at eight or ten repetitions. He or she may then increase the weight after a few days to 170 pounds (77.1 kilograms) at ten repetitions, and so on until he has reached 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms) again, and beyond until he has surpassed this old maximum weight.

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