Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saving Your Bench with the Sling Shot

In my first foray into shilling the Sling Shot I discussed how my bench was stagnant for a very long time. I tried many things, none of which really broke me through that plateau. I bought a Sling Shot but didn’t give it time in my training; viewing it just as a novelty. Then in an act of desperation I applied it more seriously to my training, then completely left that plateau behind.

Call it shilling if you want. But this is one of the very few things I’ve purchased that has had a near immediate positive and quantifiable impact on my lifting performance. I love my Sling Shot and I want to yell it from the top of a mountain.

Unlike milk, the Sling Shot is a good choice.

Many readers had questions about why I thought it was better than other training tools? Boards, bands, and chains. Why it is better than using other accessory movements? Close grip bench, incline bench, overhead pressing.  How strong should a lifter be before using a Sling Shot? And how exactly should the Sling Shot be properly implemented into a lifter’s training.

Boards

These require you to have a training partner who knows what the hell they are doing. Then, since you’re doing overload work chances are you’ll also need a hand off. That’s two more people needed to overload your bench training. You know how many people the Sling Shot needs? One. You.  For me, this is a big one as I don’t have a crew to train with and am not exactly the kind of lifter who wants one anyways. I enjoy my “alone time” in the gym.

Can you press off boards by yourself? Yeah. But I don’t want to strap a 2x4 to my chest with a knee wrap, nor do I want to shove it down my t-shirt. Screw that.

Another aspect of using boards to overload your bench is that it reduces the range of motion and thereby changes the way in which you bench. This is compounded with each additional board you press off of. Not too noticeable off of a one or two board but as you stack those Lincoln Logs up your bench groove is affected more and more.

Go ahead and bring some shit like that into a commercial gym.
You'll be nicknamed "Bob the Builder with the pathetic bench."

Bands and Chains

First these tend to cost much more than a Sling Shot. Sure, if you want to buy one set of bands that might be $20 and maybe you can go to a junkyard and find some chains. Yeah… you bring those rusty sons-a-bitches into your gym and get tetanus. I don’t think those are the kinds of muscle contractions you’re wanting there bro. Go ahead and be a cheapskate. Spend $20 on one set of bands and get a deadly medical condition from your rusty chains because you don’t want to support the corporate machine.

The more important aspect, even more important than not catching tetanus, is that when using bands and chains the weight changes as it moves through the range of motion. This is called “accommodating resistance” and many of you already know how this works. The gist is as you get near the end of the movement the weight on the bar becomes heavier. This isn’t true with the Sling Shot.

When using the Sling Shot 405 always feels like 405 in your hands, no matter where the bar is in the range of motion. The weight on the bar never changes. This is important because much of your nervous system feedback originates in your hands. That’s one of the reasons why grip strength is used as a measure of vitality and general health. (.pdf warning) By using the Sling Shot instead of traditional accommodating resistance tools like bands or chains your body feels the weight on the bar, and whether it’s at lockout or on your chest, 405 will always feel like 405 in your hands.

Banded, chained, deficit deadlifts. Hell, lets just 
see how many training variables we can throw into
our gym time!

Why not use other accessory movements?

Well from my perspective an athlete should spend a significant portion of their training practicing the movements judged within their sport. This is of course up for debate. With the Sling Shot you can practice your actual competition movement as a powerlifter, through its full range of motion, at overloaded intensities. Does it change your groove? Yes, but at a far less degree than something like a close grip, incline, or decline bench.

Why not use other accessory movements? Close grip bench? Overhead press? Bottoms-up pressing?  Dumbbell benching? Again, it goes back to spending time practicing your competition movement. If your time in the gym is limited then the Sling Shot is your best friend because you accumulate the necessary volume with your competition movement without having to spend excessive time in the gym training a variety of other lifts, which may or may not be of benefit to your bench.

"Bro, it's not gay if it's functional."

The more time you spend doing other movements the less time you have to spend refining your competition technique. Additionally the carryover to your competition movement is fairly unknowable. Maybe it’s not your triceps holding back your bench. Maybe your technique just sucks and you need more practice.

How bummed would you be if you spent a few months training a close grip bench only to see a five pound improvement on your competition bench? Speaking from experience, seriously bummed.

When people ask how to get their bench one rep max to increase the answer is most often, “bench more.” Well, this allows a lifter to both get more practice benching, and overload that movement to illicit a different stress adaptation. This will undoubtedly be of benefit to your bench.

I equate the difference of the Sling Shot to regular bench as being similar to training the high-bar squat to increase your low bar squat. They're both very, very similar to each other. But altered just enough to generate a positive stress adaptation. And thus more likely to have a good carryover. 

How Strong Should You Be Before Using the Sling Shot?

Before a lifter purchases a one of these they need to take an honest look at their training. Because maybe it’s not your strength that should determine whether or not you purchase a Sling Shot, perhaps it is something else. Are you getting enough reps per week on the bench? Have you filmed yourself benching to examine your technique? What about having a qualified lifter or coach teach you some tricks of the trade, or so to speak? 

Essentially, what else have you done in an attempt to get through that bench press plateau?

I'm saying the Sling Shot should not be the first course of action against a bench press stall. Don’t spend your money if you don’t have to! But, if you’ve tried many, many things, and none of them gave you the desired results, then maybe the Sling Shot is a good option.

I do however think that a mid to upper 200 pound bench press is a reasonable range of performance to consider incorporating this tool into your training. This is because I believe that most lifters can get to this level without spending extra money on their training. Hell, I was stuck in the 275 to 295 pound range for at least a year before I bought one, and longer still until I incorporated it into my training. 

You should go mildly insane trying different 
means of progress before jumping on the 
Sling Shot gain train.

But then again, a 200-pound bench is pretty damn impressive for a 123-pound female powerlifter. So in her case a Sling Shot may be a good option. Not so for a male 198 lifter. Perhaps a better determining marker for Sling Shot use would be using bodyweight multipliers- if so then I would say somewhere around 1.5 times bodyweight. Of course heavier lifters will have a problem with this bodyweight multiplier performance marker. I’m sure you’re seeing the confounding factors of determining when to implement the Sling Shot in your training.

What it boils down to is this: What else have you tried? And for how long have you tried it?

How to Effectively Implement the Sling Shot into Your Training

As I said in my first post I generally followed two routes when I more seriously implemented the Sling Shot in my training. At the time I was already benching twice per week, so what I did initially was simply do some overload sets with the Sling Shot after my regular bench work on one of the days. After eight weeks or so I switched to having one day’s workout dedicated to the Sling Shot and the other dedicated to raw benching. Below I’ll go over, more or less, how I went about effectively incorporating this training tool into my long-term programming.

I do recommend lifters generally follow the same route I did. Use it a little, learn how it works, get comfortable handling 100%+ intensities. Then as your understanding of how the Sling Shot works grows, and as you get stronger with it, then look to moving its use to a separate day.

(Keep in mind I program off of a Goal Weight, which is around a 2-3RM, and all percentages are based off of your raw bench Goal Weight.)


In this first example you’re undulating weekly your intensity and reps per set. Decreasing the volume as the 4-week training cycle progresses. Notice that both bench press and Sling Shot intensity and volume closely align with my First Tier (T1) guidelines for weeks one through three. Week four is when the total workout volume for each combined drops within the T1 guidelines. This is because the intensities are so high on both it warrants half as much training stress. 

This is a nice introductory option because it is simple and leaves the total Sling Shot work up to the lifter. They have a maximum and minimum number of sets to complete with the Sling Shot. So if they’re feeling great that day then push it. The benefit of this is that due to the decreasing volume the intensities can be slightly higher. This is at the sacrifice of developing more practice with the Sling Shot via greater repetition.


This second example has less raw volume as a sacrifice to incorporate more Sling Shot work afterwards. This is a good option for a lifter who has their technique dialed in. This is a simple linear progression of intensities across the four weeks. The raw work reps and sets stay consistent for simplicity’s sake. The Sling Shot overload work alternates weekly between five reps and three reps, with the last set of the Sling Shot work being as many reps as possible (AMRAP). So just like the first example, if you’re feeling great that day, push your Sling Shot work. If not, do the bare minimum. The benefit of this over the first option is more practice (volume) with the Sling Shot work versus lifting heavier with the Sling Shot. 

It should be noted that weeks three and four will be very stressful so make sure your recovery is on point. But I wouldn't be surprised if lifters were getting eight to ten reps on week three AMRAP and six to eight reps on week four AMRAP.

At the end of one to three of these types of training cycles with the Sling Shot I suggest you move on to one of these second two. This is of course dependent upon whether or not you can manage a 2nd bench day in your week. If not, consider taking a concept from one of these second two examples and implementing it after your raw work in order to continually progress your Sling Shot bench.


This third option is a good one for more experienced lifters. You’ll work up to either a five or a three rep max, depending on the week, then drop 20 to 30 pounds and complete the reps and sets as written. Very much along the lines of the format of option one. This option carries a lot of total volume with the Sling Shot, and that of course means practice! Another great thing about this is that since it is removed from percentages it allows the lifter to potentially lift intensities greater than 110% of their max, or more, with the top set if they’re having a great day. This means practice at super high intensities. This option can be repeated until your Sling Shot bench stalls. At that point in time consider another protocol in order to continue improving your Sling Shot bench. This has the benefit of an auto regulation set up at the expense of handling a variety of intensities depending on how the lifter is performing that day. There's no clear progression map so the lifter needs to know themselves and their training well enough to identify if they're making progress or not.


The fourth and final option I’ve created is simple linear progression with the Sling Shot. This is for the lifter who is thinking long term. Doing six reps at 65% of your Goal Weight is very, very easy with the Sling Shot. But keep in mind that you’ll be working up to six reps at 95% that same day. This allows you to practice the technique with the Sling Shot, and learn its groove, with sub-maximal weights for a longer term.  

By the fourth week the lifter has already completed 48 total reps with the Sling Shot at very manageable weights. When beginning their second cycle they can restart the first set at 75% instead of 65% and continue the same percentage increases as before so that by the end of their second cycle they’re now doing singles at 120% of their max. An option for this is to make the last set of each training day an AMRAP set like how it is set up in option two. I enjoy AMRAPS with my bench, so maybe give that a go if you've got a similar mindset. 

The benefit of this is that because it is for the long term the progress is likely to continue for longer before a stall. Also beneficial is the ability to practice singles with supra-maximal intensities. This may be of importance for a lifter who is aiming to compete at the end of a training cycle. In that scenario I would absolutely incorporate paused work with the Sling Shot at 100%+ of your Goal Weight. 

There are near endless possibilities with how a lifter can incorporate the use of a Sling Shot into their bench training. I’ve laid out only four simple progressions that demonstrate how a person could do so. My first priority in training the Sling Shot is volume, not intensity; this is because a lifter needs to practice using the tool they’ve purchased. I don’t think Bob Vila built a house the day he bought his first hammer. Likewise it isn’t smart to base your first experiences with the Sling Shot on your dumbass testing max singles with it- like I did. And that’s how it ended up in my gym bag for nearly a year because I thought it was useless.

It wasn’t that the tool was useless; I just didn’t know how to use it. And that made me the tool.

Don't be a dumbass with your Sling Shot.
Other Advice

Personally speaking I know that if I can get four to five reps of a weight with my red Sling Shot I can probably make a single with it raw. If I can do a single with my Sling Shot I can probably do 40-60 pounds less without it.

Like I said above when explaining the example templates, focus on volume rather than intensity- especially at first. It’s important you learn how to use it, otherwise you’ll throw it in a dark corner of your gym bag and hate me for writing these posts. I know it’ll seem exciting to throw on an extra plate over your raw max and try and hit it for a single. Sure it’s fun. But that wont build your raw bench like repetitive overload will. Volume with the Sling Shot will build your bench. I promise.

It will be scary once you start getting into the 110%, 120%, and 130% or more of your raw max intensities when using the Sling Shot. You’ll never have gripped a bar harder or wrapped your wrists tighter. This is a good thing. Harness that fear and use it to get stronger.

Think of the Sling Shot as your spotter bro that helps out just a bit off your chest then lessens the help as you near lockout. The difference is that with your spotter bro you never really know how much assistance he gives you. With the Sling Shot the assistance is consistent, and that’s very important. You know how much help you’re getting and you know your progress is real and not your bro saying, “It’s all you!” When in reality, he’s damn near deadlifting the bar off your chest and you’ve made absolutely no progress whatsoever.

"All you bro! Army Strong! Hooah!"

Don’t Buy it if You Don’t Need it

Seriously… take an honest look at your training history. How long has your bench progress stalled? What else have you tried? There’s no need to add another variable into your training if you don’t have to. Training should be as simple as possible, especially for novice and intermediate lifters. Try a few things to fix your bench before dropping the cash on one of these. Because if it is your technique that is holding you back adding overload work won’t help you at all. In fact, it will be more likely to injure you. Then the only progress you’ll be making is burying your face deeper and deeper into bags of potato chips and pints of Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked.

But, if you have $50 to throw around, buy one. Because I don’t see how it will have a negative impact on your training if all your other ducks are in a row. If you choose to follow one of the protocols I’ve lined out above, I’m confident you’ll make progress on your bench.  

"I'm your one way ticket to PR City." 
- Ulysses S. Grant, November 10, 1865

Too Long. Didn’t Read.

- The Sling Shot is better than boards, bands, or chains, because it doesn’t limit the range of motion and the weight felt in your hands doesn’t change during any point in the lift.

- The Sling Shot may be a better option than using a different accessory lift because that accessory may have little to no carry over to your raw bench. By using the Sling Shot you’re still benching and practicing that movement.  If anything the increased frequency and volume alone will be of benefit. The overload work will certainly help too.

- When should a lifter start using the Sling Shot? It’s hard to pinpoint a specific weight, or bodyweight multiplier, but if a lifter has diligently tried other means to attempt progress then the Sling Shot is a good option. Suggested weight ranges would be mid to upper 200’s or somewhere around 1.5x bodyweight.

- When programming Sling Shot work first focus on volume over intensity. This is so that a lifter can practice with the tool their using and learn how to use it properly. I am of the opinion that supra-maximal singles with the Sling Shot are near useless and overloaded volume is the key to progress when using the Sling Shot.

- Don’t chicken out when un-racking 110% of your max. That’ll turn the bench into a guillotine. Have confidence under the bar. That alone will benefit your raw bench greatly.

- There are many strong lifters who got there without a Sling Shot. It's not a magic pill.

- Don’t buy it if you don’t need it! If your bench sucks because you don’t know how to train then adding this variable to your training is not going to fix it! Get your shit in order first, and then add the Sling Shot. Bake your cake then put frosting on it, because the people who eat frosting by itself are fat. 

And nobody likes fat people. 

"Hi, I'm Bob Vila and welcome to 'This Old Bench.' 
Today we're going to carve a wooden spoon to 
shovel ice cream into your face as you cry about
the sorry state of your bench press."

Monday, July 21, 2014

How the Sling Shot Saved My Bench Press

In this post I am going to try and convince even the most natty, so RAW you capitalize it, so raw you’ve got salmonella poisoning, lifters that they should spend the $50 or whatever it costs for one of Mark Bell’s Sling Shot's.

Calling themselves raw like it's a fashion statement.

Before we get to all that, no, Mark isn’t paying me to write this. No I haven’t been sent any free shit from HowMuchYaBench.Net. Hell, the closest interaction I’ve had to the man himself is following him on twitter.

I’m also not one to shill products. Especially those I don’t believe in.

Now on to the testimonial.

Like many lifters I experienced a plateau on my bench. And it stayed there. For a long, long time. My plateau was at 275 pounds. And for three years or so it would hover around the 275 to 290 pound range. Some months it would be 290, the next month 275. “What the hell am I doing wrong?” I thought to myself.

After growing frustrated I tried many things. Benching from pins (bottom up press), bands, reverse bands, close grip only cycles, more overhead and incline work… damn near everything. And none of it really broke me through that plateau. Again and again my bench would get stuck in that shit-tier range.


295 on the bench will barely turn heads in a YMCA. I can’t be having that.

Biker bro can definitely rep 315. 

Then I bought myself a Sling Shot. I played with it a bit. But never took it seriously. I bought it cause I had the extra money and I figured, why not give it a shot? Well, after a few training sessions I put it away in my bag and reverted back to my retarded super natty, raw RAW, zealot status.

That was one of the stupidest mistakes I’ve ever made in my lifting career. For little did I know the one thing that would save my bench was collecting chalk dust in my gym bag.

Stupid.

Then in the fall of 2013 I was sick of my plateau. Granted, my bench had now at least reached the consistent level of 285 or so, but 300 was only happening on a day when all the planets were aligned, I had eaten my Wheaties, and found $20 on the gym floor. So out of frustration I started using my Sling Shot. I pulled it out of early retirement, because I was sick and tired of having my bench press be on vacation in Florida. 

My bench had moved so far south it was getting
weak & tan on Daytona Beach.

I trained it weekly. Mandatory one day per week Sling Shot work. At first it was just some overload sets after my raw bench work. That then turned into its own day- A day dedicated to training overload work with the Sling Shot.

And my bench began to move.


Then about a month later I got 295x2, paused

And the progress just kept coming. Along with using my Sling Shot every week I also moved to flat footed benching which greatly improved my ability to recruit leg drive. My Sling Shot mirrored exactly my raw bench programming, only differing in one way- the intensities were about 20-30 pounds greater.

Soon after incorporating it on a once per week basis my raw bench climbed to 300 with a clean pause. Then 305. Then that coveted 315 goal was achieved. Mission accomplished. Go home people. Show’s over.

Then I came out to Afghanistan. Training got harder. More focused. The Sling Shot was getting used like a Greek slave circa 480 BC. I’d train with it on Tuesdays and then raw bench on Saturdays.

Greek BDSM.
Much like powerlifting.

And my bench began to move so fast it was like I had morphed into Goro from Mortal Kombat. Throwing that bar with my four arms like I was a damn Italian pizza man.

305, 315, 325 for reps… raw, without the Sling Shot.

Meanwhile my Sling Shot bench was climbing just as fast. Hitting into the mid 300’s for reps. Nothing felt better, or built more confidence under the barbell, as holding 365 in my hands and repping it with my Sling Shot.

An actual photo of me after using the Sling Shot
consistently for a few months.

After months and months of avoiding testing my true bench max and just building it through repetition, both raw and with my Sling Shot, I decided it was time to test my max.

And just like that, I had benched 365 pounds. Just three or so pounds away from a two times bodyweight bench press. 

Plateau destroyed.

Mind you, I compete raw. I typically had trained raw. And like many raw lifters I saw using gear outside of the usual knee sleeves, wrist wraps, and belt, as abhorrent. I once was a raw dogmatist. Then I pulled my head out of my ass and realized that with the proper use and implementation, something like the Sling Shot can be a raw powerlifter’s secret weapon. It is my opinion that for the money, there’s no better piece of equipment a raw lifter can purchase.

I don't know who this guy is, but he's got a Sling Shot.
So he can probably bench more than you.


Thank you Sling Shot. You’re my best friend.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The GZCL Method, Simplified.

When I began competing in powerlifting I decided to train like a powerlifter, an obvious choice to make at the time. However, none of the preexisting programs felt right. They would leave me crushed under too much volume at too great intensities, or walking out of the gym feeling like I hardly accomplished anything, sometimes worse- bored! As it turns out, many others have had the same experience with popular powerlifting centric programs.

I needed to find a sweet spot to train, somewhere between the heavy weights of a powerlifter and the higher volumes of a bodybuilder. In so doing I developed, almost unknowingly, my own training methodology.

After putting nearly 100 pounds on my total over the course of 10 months I looked back through my training logs and found patterns, which then developed into the GZCL Method. Two years after its conception my total has again gone up by nearly 100 pounds more.

This article describes the perimeters and guidelines for my method. It is not a program, but more of a set of recommendations for lifters to follow in their pursuit of greater strength, and with the right diet, size!

Building Your Pyramid

The first step in building your own program based on the GZCL Method is to envision yourself as if you were a pyramid. The weight you can lift is its height and your work capacity its base. Are you currently more like a tower, lacking capacity, in other words volume? Or are you flat and broad like a mesa, lacking maximal strength?

The goal is to refine your training into a balanced approach and build your abilities like a pyramid- because after all, a pyramid can only be as tall as its base. In this approach you can become stronger and build muscle in similar relations.

Beginning with a Goal Weight

Some call this a “Training Max.” But I find common ways of defining a training max are lacking. With the GZCL Method your training max is a weight somewhere in the 2-3 rep max range. This is a weight you can already do! The purpose of your Goal Weight is to move that weight faster, with higher quality, and greater repetitions.

You progress by increasing your goal weight after each training cycle by an amount you feel is reasonable after analyzing your performance at the end of that cycle. I personally like to work in four-week blocks. In this way your progress is multifaceted. Rather than chase a new one rep max you are instead improving your speed, rep quality, and capacity. The results of this approach are new one rep maxes as a welcome consequence.

If it sounds confusing, don’t worry; it will make perfect sense after the read through and checking out my sample program at the end.

Starting at the Top (T1)

The peak of your pyramid represents your Goal Weight. The heavier the weight the fewer amount of reps you can perform with it. And like with all things there is an ideal range of performance within what I call the First Tier, or T1. The identifying characteristics of your T1 are:

1.     Your Main Movement for the day: Squat, bench, deadlift, overhead press, or any other compound barbell or dumbbell movement. This us usually a competition or high-skill movement. You will perform this movement first before the movements in your other tiers.
2.     The Intensity Range for Your Main Movement: 85 to 100% of your Goal Weight.
3.     The Volume Range for Your Main Movement: 10-15 total repetitions, broken into your desired set/rep structure. Typically these are one to three reps per set. Very rarely should it be programmed above that.


Example 1
Example 2
Example 3
Example 4
Squat:
5 sets, 3 reps
Bench Press:
4 sets, 3 reps
Deadlift:
5 sets, 2 reps
Overhead Press:
3 sets, 3+ reps   *
                   *(+) Signifies as many reps as possible (AMRAP) on last set


Work in the T1 should be completed with little to no grind. Should you find yourself grinding the weight, decrease it, and complete your total volume for the day. 

The First Tier is about refining your technique and building confidence with significant intensities and manageable volumes. All too often lifters infrequently handle intimidating loads and by doing so they lose psychologically to the iron before they’ve even lifted it! By working within the T1 frequently and practicing its movement you are developing your abilities to handle greater weights, both physically and psychologically.

Building Strength in the Middle (T2)

This middle section of your pyramid is what supports your maximal strength and holds it together with your base, the foundation of it all. You will find in this Second Tier, or T2, that it closely resembles the structure of common strength building routines. And like the T1 your T2 can and should be built around your abilities.  The identifying characteristics are:

1.     Your Primary Accessory for Your Main Movement: This is a lift that builds the Main Movement of your T1. You do this after you have completed your T1 sets and reps.
2.     The Intensity Range for Your Primary Accessory: 65-85% of your Goal Weight.
3.     The Volume Range for Your Primary Accessory: 20-30 total repetitions, broken into your desired set/rep structure. These typically fall into the 5-8 reps per set range. These should rarely be programmed above 10 reps at a time.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
T1: Squat:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Bench Press:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Deadlift:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Overhead Press:
5 sets, 2 reps
T2: Front Squat:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Decline Bench:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Good Morning:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Incline Bench:
4 sets, 5 reps

You should always be able to complete Second Tier work. If you cannot you either programmed too heavy (if you fail reps) or too much volume (overwhelming fatigue.) It should be rare that the T2 movement is not performed each day. This is where your general all around strength is built. An example of this would be that the front squat is a great accessory for both the squat and deadlift; therefore it has a general application to a powerlifter. Likewise for incline bench to bench press and overhead press. 

Another great thing about the T2 is that if you need or want extra practice with your T1 movement you can certainly program more of the same in those blocks. Say you have modified your squat stance, or possibly switched from conventional to sumo deadlifts, and you need more practice. This is where you can build the movement pattern through repetition and build the strength of that movement through progressive overload. In this way it can be very similar to Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 “Boring But Big” template.

The Second Tier is where capacities at middle to upper range intensities are built.

The Foundation of it All (T3)

This is where the fun is. And it just so happens that fun also builds muscle, which then helps generate greater amounts of strength! Here in your Third Tier, or T3, you become a bodybuilder. The T3 contains movements that train body parts which you have identified as lagging. These movements should train the muscle groups which have been the primary or secondary movers responsible for completing the work in your T1 and T2.

What I mean by this is that lets say you feel your shoulders are lagging in development. To combat this, at the end of your overhead press day you can perform various other deltoid focused movements. Perhaps lateral raises or lighter dumbbell shoulder press variations. If on your bench day you feel your chest is lacking then perform cable flys. Traps looking scarce on deadlift day? Do your shrugs.

The purpose of the Third Tier is to build your body so that when it comes time to move heavier weights you have the muscle mass required to do so. In this tier choose one to two movements, sometimes three if time and energy permits, and complete the work as arranged. The identifying characteristics of your T3 are:

1.     Your Secondary Accessories for your Main Movement: These are movements that build the muscles involved with completing your T1 movements. These are done at the very end of your workout. Choose 1-3 movements in this tier for each workout.
2.     The Intensity Range for Your Secondary Accessory: 65% or less of your Goal Weight (if using a major movement in this range), or a weight that can be completed for 8-12, sometimes more, reps at a time.
3.     The Volume Range for Your Secondary Accessory: 30 or more total repetitions for each movement performed in your Third Tier. Set up in whatever set/rep structure you prefer.
4.     Common choices are: 3x10, 2x15, 4x8, and 3x12. These should be rarely programmed below eight above 15 reps at a time.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
T1: Squat:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Bench Press:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Deadlift:
5 sets, 2 reps
T1: Overhead Press:
5 sets, 2 reps
T2: Front Squat:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Decline Bench:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Good Morning:
4 sets, 5 reps
T2: Incline Bench:
4 sets, 5 reps
T3: Leg Curl:
3 sets, 12 reps
Leg Extension:
3 sets, 12 reps
T3: Dips:
3 sets, 12 reps
Triceps Extension:
3 sets, 12 reps
T3: Shrugs:
3 sets, 12 reps
Upright Row:
3 sets, 12 reps
T3: Arnold Press:
3 sets, 12 reps
Lateral Raise:
3 sets, 12 reps

The Third Tier work is where you chase the pump! Remember, the goal is to build the muscle so in the Third Tier you should not be reaching a failed rep earlier than about eight to ten. This is all about fatiguing the muscle through adequate repetition. Failed reps here should be less an issue because ideally these are isolation movements, or at most, compound movements at lighter weights.

These are done at the end of your workout. So by the time you get here expect to be fatigued. Do not be surprised when you find yourself handling less weight than what you use normally. This is not about moving the weight, but working the muscle. That means you need to complete sufficient repetitions rather than overload the intensities.

But where is the Back Work? (And Biceps Too!)

This is a common question when people ask about my GZCL Method. And the answer is simple: Super-sets. I prefer to train the muscles of the back multiple times per week. This is done by super-setting T2 pressing movements with similar sets/reps with a pulling movement, usually in the same planes of movement. A T2 horizontal push, close grip bench press, would be super-set with a row and a T2 vertical push, maybe an overhead press, would be super-set with pull ups or lat pull downs. A pulling movement’s one rep max is rarely known, or performed, so it is best to load these according to the sets/reps required. Biceps isolation exercises are also treated in this same fashion.

I do not recommend that lifters attempt to super-set their T1 movements. Save your energy in that moment for your primary movement. Perform your super-sets in your T2 and T3 range. Super-sets are also a great way to increase work capacity via increasing workout density- the amount of work done in a specific time limit.

An example Bench Press workout:

(T1) Bench Press
@85%
3 reps
5 sets
(T2) Decline Bench
Super-Set with:
Barbell Rows
@65%

135 lb.
5 reps

5 reps
6 sets

6 sets
(T3) Dips
Super-set with:
Upright Rows
Triceps Extension
Super-set with:
Biceps Curl
Body
Weight
100 lb.
45 lb.

45 lb.
12 reps

12 reps
12 reps

12 reps
3 sets

3 sets
3 sets

3 sets

Putting it All Together!

You now have an overview of your pyramid, how it’s structured, and the important details that make up each major component of that structure- the First, Second, and Third Tiers. Here’s the gist of it:

1.     T1: Main Movement, 85-100% of Goal Weight, 10-15 total reps, this is a single exercise.
2.     T2: Primary Assistance, 65-85% of Goal Weight, 20-30 total reps. One to two different exercises.
3.     T3: Secondary Assistance, 65% or less of Goal Weight, 30+ total reps. One to three different exercises.

I’m sure you have already noticed a volume relationship inherent in my method. This is the 1:2:3 Rule for Volume: For every one rep you do in the First Tier do two with your Second Tier Primary Accessory, and then three reps with each of your Third Tier Accessories. This is how you maintain the relationship of volume to intensity that builds a more balanced pyramid. Remember, there are no “hard” rules in the GZCL Method, more so guidelines or gradients; but “rule” just sounds better. When writing your own program using this method, do not stress if you are a few reps above or below that 1:2:3 ratio. The goal is to give balance to your structure; it doesn’t have to be mathematically perfect.

One great thing about this methodology is that it is very flexible. I have had people train with great success full-body three times per week mixing a T1 and T3 lower with a T2 upper, and vice versa.

At the end of this article is an example month of training for the squat and bench press using my method. However you lay it out is entirely up to you. Once more, it is a method not a program! Though if you want to retest your Goal Weight I do recommend the last week of your training cycle (no less than three weeks!) that you work up to a single set of max reps of 100% of your Goal Weight. This is also known as an AMRAP, or, As Many Reps As Possible. This is denoted as a simple “+” sign.

By working up to that 100% Goal Weight AMRAP set you can gauge your progress and get a good idea of what the next Goal Weight will be for the following training cycle.

Simple guidelines for Goal Weight progression:

            - Two reps on 1+AMRAP @100% add five pounds
            - Three reps on 1+AMRAP @100% add ten pounds
            - Four or more reps on 1+AMRAP @100% add 15 pounds.

It is a simple method to follow once you have a firm understanding of the parameters that set the recommendations of volume and intensity. Using those guidelines and an understanding of your own abilities you can choose what weights to use, for how many reps, across your choice of sets, with the exercises you want, and exactly how you will progressively overload and thus make strength and hypertrophy progress!

The best programs are ones customized to the individual athlete. By using the GZCL Method you can intelligently draft your own program, custom fit to your goals.

Example Programs

Squat

Week One
Week Two
Week 3
Week 4 (retesting)
Monday
T1: Squat
85% 5 Reps x 3 Sets



T2: Front Squat
65% 8 Reps x 4 Sets

T3: Superset
Leg Curl/Extension
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Calf Raises
15 Reps x 3 Sets
Monday
T1: Squat
90% 3 Reps x 4 Sets



T2: Front Squat
70% 6 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset
Leg Curl/Extension
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Calf Raises
15 Reps x 3 Sets
Monday
T1: Squat
87.5% 3 Reps x 1 Set
92.5% 2 Reps x 2 Sets
97.5% 1 Rep x 3 Sets

T2: Front Squat
75% 5 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset
Leg Curl/Extension
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Calf Raises
15 Reps x 3 Sets
Monday
T1: Squat
90% 3 Reps x 1 Set
95% 2 Reps x 1 Set
100% 1+ x 1 set

T2: Front Squat
80% 4 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset
Leg Curl/Extension
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Calf Raises
15 Reps x 3 Sets


Bench Press

Week One
Week Two
Week 3
Week 4 (retesting)
Tuesday
T1: Bench Press
85% 3 Reps x 5 Sets



T2: Super Set #1
Decline Bench Press
65% 6 Reps x 5 Sets
Barbell Rows
135 x 6 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset #2
Bodyweight Dips
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Cable Rows
100 x 15 Reps x 3 Sets
Superset #3
Triceps Extension
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Biceps Curl
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Tuesday
T1: Bench Press
90% 2 Reps x 5 Sets



T2: Super Set #1
Decline Bench Press
75% 5 Reps x 4 Sets
Barbell Rows
145 x 5 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset #2
Bodyweight Dips
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Cable Rows
100 x 15 Reps x 3 Sets

Superset #3
Triceps Extension
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Biceps Curl
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Tuesday
T1: Bench Press
87.5% 3 Reps x 5 Sets



T2: Super Set #1
Decline Bench Press
70% 6 Reps x 5 Sets
Barbell Rows
140 x 6 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset #2
Bodyweight Dips
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Cable Rows
100 x 15 Reps x 3 Sets

Superset #3
Triceps Extension
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Biceps Curl
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Tuesday
T1: Bench Press
90% 3 Reps x 1 Set
95% 2 Reps x 1 Set
100% 1+ x 1 set

T2: Super Set #1
Decline Bench Press
80% 5 Reps x 4 Sets
Barbell Rows
150 x 5 Reps x 5 Sets

T3: Superset #2
Bodyweight Dips
12 Reps x 3 Sets
Cable Rows
100 x 15 Reps x 3 Sets

Superset #3
Triceps Extension
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets
Biceps Curl
45 x 12 Reps x 3 Sets