Thursday, November 22, 2012

The GZCL Method for Powerlifting


The GZCL Method for Powerlifting

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Many of you know me from my recent meet report on the IPL World Championship. In that thread there were some that expressed interest in my training methodologies. This post is to cover some of the finer details of how and why I train the way I train. 

First a brief overview of who I am and what I’ve done. I’m a 26 year old man, standing a whopping 5’5” or so, and compete in the 148 lb weight class. I’ve only been lifting for four years, with about two years training specifically for powerlifting, and nearly a full year of that doing some variation of my own programming and generally following my own path; trying out shit for myself from things I’ve seen or read about. My first powerlifting competition was on January 14th of 2012 and I totaled 1,113 lb. Just recently at IPL Worlds I totaled 1,196 (or 1,211 if you count my 4th attempt deadlift) only 10 months later on November 9th. I broke two California state records (deadlift and total) and broke the IPL deadlift record with a 529 lb pull.  That’s a gain of about 83-98 lbs. to my total (while staying within my weight class) while following my own programming.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of stronger guys out there in my weight class; guys that literally total 200 lb or more than me. So why should you listen to what I have to say? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’ve totaled elite  master (USPA's updated classification chart) in less than two years of training for powerlifting. Maybe it’s because I look at training more like being an architect, engineer, and a mason, than your average strength enthusiast. I’m not here to bullshit you about how to be a tough guy or a badass. I’m not here to share life lessons that can be learned in the weight room. Badass, tough guy, hardcore; those are all subjective to personal opinions. What isn’t subjective is strength. In this I will discuss how I’ve become stronger. 


So how did I get to the level I am at with my own training philosophy? Simply put, I envision a pyramid as a metaphor of strength and training.  The height of the pyramid is determined by the intensities with which you lift (with respect to percentages of your 1RM) and size of the base of the pyramid is determined by your training volume.  If you want to have a pyramid that is tall you’ve got to make sure it’s also wide.   Conversely, a wide yet short pyramid isn’t too impressive. A necessity to building an impressively tall pyramid is to make it only as wide as required in order to support its ever-growing height. 

Too often I see lifters focus solely on the height of their pyramid and leave their foundation to the wayside, resulting in a tall yet easily toppled structure.  This can be seen in programs like Smolov or similar peaking programs. Many times a portion of these strength gains are lost after the program has been completed. These kinds of programs are great and have their place in strength training, especially for competitions. To me their results are too impermanent and therefore not optimal for me to build lasting strength; if I’m going to sweat I want to keep what I’ve sweat for. Not only that, you cannot train with these programs year round which is possible with my methodology. Don’t for a second believe that I’m saying Smolov is lacking in volume, because it isn’t. It’ll break your ass clean off if you’re just going to throw yourself into it. But what it is lacking is a supporting amount of volume in the main lifts and accessory lifts in percentage ranges below and above the training thresholds I’ll discuss in this post.  And if you think you can just tack on more work to Smolov to “even it out” or to make it more “rounded” you’re retarded. Not to sound terribly harsh, but that’s the truth. If you disagree be my guest- give it your best shot; which I’m confident will fall short. 

Smolov is just one example where people can become strong but often leave the gym without having done supportive work simply because they’re too drained or broken to continue. This isn’t how I like to train. Training that way is akin to building a tower- capable of extreme heights but easily toppled (injuries, diminishing returns, overtraining). Even the tallest and sturdiest of towers can be toppled more easily than the Great Pyramids of Egypt. 

Building Your Pyramid

Take a pyramid and split it vertically into three layers. The top portion is the 1st Tier, the middle is the 2nd Tier, and the base is the 3rd Tier.  The tiers each have their own ideal training percentages, set and rep schemes, overall volume, and training movements.  There are some gray areas and crossovers between each tier so instead of having clear defining lines separating the levels imagine that it is more like a gradient between the tiers. 

Since my training is powerlifting centric, the squat, bench, and deadlift are present in all three tiers in some form or another. You could also include the snatch, clean and jerk, or overhead press if your training requires it. These are the main movements your training is focused around. At least three of these, regardless of your training focus need to be the primary movements that are the cornerstones of your pyramid. The only major difference between the three tiers between the primary movements will be your set/reps and percentages. I’ve once left out the deadlift in order to apply another day for squatting; making it 3x per week. This worked well at the time and definitely increased my squat, but six weeks out from the IPL Worlds I introduced the deadlift back into my training. If you’re looking to focus on increasing a specific lift that would be permitted but it’s not something I would do year round. Again, think about building a lasting pyramid). 

With regards to volume, I aim to follow my 1:2:3 rule: For every 1 rep you do in the 1st tier, do 2 in the 2nd tier, and 3 in 3rd tier. Therefore if you do 10 total reps in the 1st tier, do at least 20 in the 2nd, and at least 30 in the 3rd .

Before you start  to construct your pyramid, you first have to know how high you want it to be. This is what I call choosing your “Goal Weight.” This concept is similar to how Wendler uses “training maxes”- 10% off your actual or estimated maxes. If you are used to using that method then continue using it as it ensures training longevity. Personally, when prepping for the IPL Worlds I chose a weight that I could hit with a slight struggle. Something that at best I could get 2-3 reps with on a great day or just a single on a bad day. My plan was to train so I would be able to hit these weights easily, any day of the week, under the shittiest conditions. Conditions similar as to what I might expect after a cut and being nervous as hell on the platform. When choosing your goal weight you can take 10% off your actual or estimated maxes or just use the weight of something you can hit for a double or a grinder of a triple. The idea is that at the end of a training cycle that goal weight can be moved easily on your worst day. 

1st Tier- The top level of your pyramid. These are mandatory reps. They are reps that you cannot miss in training. The only movements within this tier are your main movements. The percentages for your lifts in this tier are always >85% of your Goal Weight (The weight you want to move, within reason, at the end of your training cycle that you have chosen based off  of something you could hit for a single on your worst day or 2-3 on your best day). The training volume for this tier is 10-15 reps per workout. Sometimes I’ve gone as far as 20 reps but that would be infrequent and closer to the 85% marker. Truly I considered making this 87.5% or greater, but that’s being a little too nit-picky. The only way you can build your pyramid tall is if you spend enough time within in this tier.

Example set/rep schemes for this tier would be:

5x2@90%

3x3@85%, 2x2@87.5%, 1x1@90% 

3x1@90%, 3x1@92.5%, 3x1+@95% (that “+” represents AMRAP)

You can keep all the reps in the tier at the same percentage or you can increase them incrementally. Personally I like to increase them using 2.5% (always rounded to the nearest possible weight), peaking at a few singles. 

Why are gains so slow to come with programs like 5/3/1? Well, one specific reason is I believe it to be because out of the entire four week training cycle you get at a minimum 12 reps within the 85% or more range of whatever “training max” you’re using. If you’re doing the AMRAP sets and doubling the called for rep quantities (so 10 reps instead of five on week 1, or six reps instead of three on week 2, ect.) each and every week then you’re only around 24-30 reps (being gracious here) within the 1st tier. Of that total volume within the 1st tier, half of it is at the 85% marker; that’s well below what I’m an advocate of, which I will detail below. Ideally every workout should have you approach or surpass the 90% marker for at least one rep. 

2nd Tier- These are also mandatory, unless you’re dying. I’ve only on one occasion skipped these sets/reps and that was because my knees were obliterated from pause squats two days prior. Personally, my 2nd tier is primarily structured around more of my main movements in their unadulterated form; more squats, OHP, or bench presses. Deadlifts may be the only exception if you’re prone to excessive DOMS or simply cannot handle this kind of volume with deadlifts. Another option for movements in this tier would be a variation of one form or another of your main movement. Examples of these would be rack pulls, deficit deadlifts, high box squats, partial squats, push presses, or pin presses. 

The percentages making up this tier are anywhere between 65-85% of your goal weight. When you’re warming up you’ll work through this tier as you approach your main movements in the 1st tier of your pyramid. These “warm up” reps count, as they build motor patterns and general familiarity with the movements while using manageable weight.  Don’t be careless in this tier as it is primarily where you perfect your form and build confidence under the bar. The time spent in this section of your pyramid is necessary in order for you to build a more stable and permanent 1st tier. 

Within this 2nd tier will also come your pulling variations. Barbell and dumbbell rows, pull-ups, chin ups, shrugs, and cable row or lat pull-down variations. Think of your back as the support structure that ties everything all together - because it does. You cannot press with a weak back, you cannot squat with a weak back, and you certainly cannot deadlift with a weak back. Can you make a row variant a movement in your 1st tier? Sure, but I think that deadlifting alone trains the back enough in those kinds of percentages (>85%). 

Overall, the 2nd tier the goal volume is 20-30+ total reps. I usually accomplish this by doing something like 3x8, 5x5, 3x10, 10x3 or something like that. Again, remember the sets/reps you do while warming up to your 1st tier work count towards this volume. After your 1st tier work is done, come back down to this level and do some more within this range. The more the merrier and more resilient your body and strength will be. I tend to error on the side of caution and end up getting 30+ on average. 

3rd Tier- The movements and sets/reps that make up this tier, the foundation of your pyramid, are the most important part. These are your warm up sets with percentages <65% of your goal weight when performing your main movement. If you were doing 5/3/1 “Boring But Big” this would be it. Certainly not warm ups but that kind of volume builds excellent motor patters, muscular endurance, and training resiliency. Other movements that make up this tier are things like triceps extensions, curls, face pulls, glute-ham raises, and reverse-hypers. The total number of reps performed in this tier is 30 or more and can be accomplished anyway you like. For example, at the end of my pressing workouts I’ll do 3-5 sets of 15-25 reps of face pulls. At the end of my squat or deadlift workouts I’ll do 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps of glute ham raises. A general rule is that if it is an isolation exercise it belongs here. Is a GHR an isolation exercise? No, but if you’re doing it right the hamstrings and glutes are doing most of the work and the lower back and abs are simply in a static hold. 

It is my opinion that higher rep work using compound movements (like rows, good mornings, GHRs) in this method yields better results than higher intensity work with the same movements. Wendler has said similar things about good mornings and I completely agree. Why max out on barbell rows when your lower back is more likely to fatigue before your upper back? If you’re going to intentionally train your lower back you might as well be doing deadlifts of some sort or another. 

Recapping the pyramid symbolism I would like to remind you that there are grey areas and overlaps between each of the three tiers. You can certainly max out on shrugs sometimes, but should it be a staple of your programming? Try for a new shrug 1RM every pressing workout? No, it would probably be better served to alternate between max attempts and gratuitous volume. 

-The 1st Tier consists of only your main movements in percentages greater than 85% of your goal weight for 10-15 total reps. All of those programmed reps are mandatory. 

-The 2nd Tier are percentages between 65-85% of your goal weight, for 20-30 reps. The movements in this tier should primarily be your main movements or variants of as well as supporting pull movements for back development. Those programmed reps are also mandatory unless you’re dying. 

-The 3rd Tier is the most important and the foundation for your entire pyramid. Percentages for your main movements are less than 65% of your goal weight for 30 or more reps; including warm ups or back off sets. Other movements in this tier are isolation exercises or supportive exercises like face pulls or GHRs. I urge you to do additional work here but if you’re stretched for time, leave the gym and do some band pull-aparts when you get home. 

De-loads

De-loading is an important factor when it comes to strength training. The thing about de-loads is that if you don’t know when to do them then they can easily become a hindrance to your progress. I’ve personally realized that de-loading every fourth week (as in 5/3/1) is unnecessary for myself. If you’re an older lifter you might have a different opinion.  Paul Carter of Lift-Run-Bang, programs that lifter de-load in their sixth week. My opinion is that you should train until you have to de-load. But how will you know when this is?

You’ll know a de-load is coming when you miss a rep on a mandatory lift from being exhausted or broken. If you’re squatting and happen to hit your 95% single and it is an inch high- that’s not a missed rep which requires a deload. That’s a rep you should make another attempt at. What I’m talking about is when you’re benching and 250 lb staples you on a single when in your last training session a few days ago you nailed 245x2 no problem- in that case you might consider deloading. Or when you skip out on 2nd tier work altogether.  

But how long should you de-load for? This is a huge confusion for newer lifters, and sometimes experienced lifters too. De-loading isn’t just a factor of how long. There are a number of factors a lifter can manipulate in their training in order to achieve a proper de-load. Here are ways you can de-load:

- Decrease volume: Total reps completed per workout. If you find you’re having a hard time recovering this might be the reason. Try taking 10% off the volume. It might seem like a little, but your body will thank you, and you can continue to train.  When I’m talking about decreasing volume I’m directing this action towards your main lift volume, not your support work in the 2nd or 3rd tier. 

- Decrease intensity: Take 10% off the lift that you could not complete mandatory reps on. If you miss the first rep of the working sets, take 10% off that number and complete the required volume. If you missed a rep at the end of the workout chalk it up as a loss and see how it goes the next workout. It is not necessary to decrease the intensity on all your lifts if you’re only having trouble with one. 

- Decrease density: A factor many people forget. If you’re doing a lot of supersets or not resting adequately between sets you could try giving this a shot. Cut back your supersets, or number of different exercises you’re doing per workout. This will have a direct impact on the total number of reps you’re doing per workout so your volume is affected. But when you’re planning on decreasing workout density the first things to go should be supersets. After that consider keeping all the reps and exercises you’re doing but simply extending the amount of rest you get. Instead of resting one minute between sets try extending that to 1:30. It’s amazing what a little more rest between sets can do for your lifts. 

- Decrease frequency: This is the number of times you train per week. In my case, as of late I train squats on Mondays and Fridays. If I’m having trouble completing my required reps for squats I might consider cutting out a day. This is the last option for me to consider but it is sure to work as it adds in an extra 24 hours of absolute rest between workouts. 

- Or any combination of the four: This should be your last resort. Try one method doesn’t work add in another, if that doesn’t work you might be dead already. Seriously though, combining all of them shouldn’t be necessary. I’ve never had to resort to this final measure. But maybe that’s because I’ve never trained hard enough…

Something to remember is that maybe you don’t need to de-load. Maybe you have forgotten to reload.

Reloading

If deloading is removing work in the gym, reloading is adding supportive non-work outside the gym - this is simply eating and sleeping enough. I say simply because it’s easy to remember. Unfortunately it is also easy to forget. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our lives that we gradually start sleeping a little less, or maybe we’ve skipped a meal here or there. Add that missed hour from Friday and Saturday night to poor eating on each of those days, maybe a missed lunch on Wednesday at work, and by the time your next squat session rolls around on the following Friday you’re feeling like Mike Tyson’s sparring partner. 

That’s how people forget to reload and then start worrying that they’re in need of a de-load or worse yet…  have a case of the dreaded “overtraining.” 

So before you start planning your next de-load think about how you can first increase the amount that you’re reloading. I have strict bedtimes that I adhere to 95% of the time. My wife knows that when I’m getting ready for bed- that’s it. I’m going the fuck to sleep. There is no stopping me. And unless I’m cutting down for a meet there is never a moment in the day where I think, “Damn I’m hungry as hell.” Does that mean I’m constantly stuffing my face? No. It means I have food around so that when I feel slightly hungry I can snack on something or drink a protein shake. 

Remember to reload before you de-load.  Your time outside the gym dwarfs your training time (assuming you train 10 hours per week, that’s only 6% of your total week), maximize that before worrying about how to change the 6% of time that is spent in the gym.

An Example of My Training Program

The following is an example of one of my training programs. Specifically, it’s very similar to the one leading up to my IPL World Championship meet. Does it adhere to my 1:2:3 rule? Not exactly. But closely. (Remember how I said there was grey areas and overlap?). Did I only do what was in this table? No. There was plenty of other 2nd and 3rd tier work thrown into my workouts- curls, face pulls, triceps extensions, pull ups, and row variations aplenty.

The programmed weights are calculated from my Goal Weight. The weight I chose was what I would like to lift on my 1st attempts at the IPL Worlds. This was a 375 squat, a 265 bench, and a 475 deadlift- roughly my 3rd attempts at my last meet. Was this my actual max? No. For example, my actual max for squat was around 405-415 on a great training day. But using this method I trained in a sustainable manner that allowed me to hit that 407 squat in competition with relative ease. I believe I had another 10-15 pounds in me. The judges and spotters said I could have easily done 20 more. Watch the video and make your own determinations. 

The percentages are as follows:

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

85%
1x3
87.5%
1x3
90%
1x3
92.5%
1x3
87.5%
2x2
90%
2x2
92.5%
2x2
95%
2x2
90%
3x1
92.5%
3x1
95%
3x1
97.5%
3x1
80%
7x5
82.5%
7x3
85%
5x3
87.5%
10x3


The top three rows are making up your 1st tier. The bottom row is your primary assistance work that builds the majority of the 2nd tier. See how I was talking about that grey area? On week three and four the primary assistance work is within that 85%+ range. Why is that? Because that is controlled over-reaching and it is very helpful for strengthening your 2nd tier performance and capacity. I’ll touch more on that in a moment.

If you look closely you can see that I programmed that 2nd tier accessory work to decrease gradually in volume as the intensity of the 1st tier work increased; that is until week four where it jumps back up to 30 total reps in conjunction with a peaked amount of intensity. That week sucks, but it’s only 25% of the month, and you can handle it. Believe me. 

Below is what that above table would look like with calculated reps using 375, 265, and 475 for squat, bench, and deadlift. 


Week 1
Mon
Tues
Wed
Thurs
Fri
Squat
Bench
Deadlift
Bench
Squat
318.75
1x3
225.25
1x3
403.75
1x3
225.25
1x3
318.75
1x3
328.125
2x2
231.875
2x2
415.625
2x2
231.875
2x2
328.125
2x2
337.5
3x1
238.5
3x1
427.5
3x1
238.5
3x1+
337.5
3x1+
300
7x5
212
7x5
380
5x5
212
7x5
300
7x5
Week 2
Mon
Tues
Wed
Thurs
Fri
Squat
Bench
Deadlift
Bench
Squat
328.125
1x3
231.875
1x3
415.625
1x3
231.875
1x3
328.125
1x3
337.5
2x2
238.5
2x2
427.5
2x2
238.5
2x2
337.5
2x2
346.875
3x1
245.125
3x1
439.375
3x1
245.125
3x1+
346.875
3x1+
309.375
7x3
218.625
7x3
391.875
7x3
218.625
7x3
309.375
7x3


Week 3
Mon
Tues
Wed
Thurs
Fri
Squat
Bench
Deadlift
Bench
Squat
337.5
1x3
238.5
1x3
427.5
1x3
238.5
1x3
337.5
1x3
346.875
2x2
245.125
2x2
439.375
2x2
245.125
2x2
346.875
2x2
356.25
3x1
251.75
3x1
451.25
3x1
251.75
3x1+
356.25
3x1+
318.75
5x3
225.25
5x3
403.75
5x3
225.25
5x3
318.75
5x3
Week 4
Mon
Tues
Wed
Thurs
Fri
Squat
Bench
Deadlift
Bench
Squat
346.875
1x3
245.125
1x3
439.375
1x3
245.125
1x3
346.875
1x3
356.25
2x2
251.75
2x2
451.25
2x2
251.75
2x2
356.25
2x2
365.625
3x1
258.375
3x1
463.125
3x1
258.375
3x1+
365.625
3x1+
328.125
10x3
231.875
10x3
415.625
10x1
231.875
10x3
328.125
10x3


*The only change I made was to the set/rep scheme for programmed 2nd Tier deadlifts; because I'm not awesome enough to handle 7x5 deadlifts. 

This is damn near what I did leading up to IPL Worlds- squatted and benched 2x per week and deadlifted in the middle of it all. It might look like a lot to some to others it might not. That table excludes most of my 2nd and 3rd tier work. On deadlift days for example I would do 5x5@275 lbs of 3” deficit deads pulled conventionally (I pull sumo in competition if you haven’t noticed). I would also do chin ups or pull ups, usually for five or more sets of eight to ten reps. Shrugs or rack pulls would be added in also at the end of it all. One week I would work up to a max single or a max triple on shrugs then the following Wednesday I would do 5x5 or just do sets of 5 increasing weight until I couldn’t. 

A brief explanation to the 2nd bench and 2nd squat day- notice the “+” on the days later in the week. Those are the days where I would rep out that last set. Also during that workout my primary assistance work, the first and only programmed work listed in the table above making up my 2nd Tier, would have a greater emphasis on the pause on the chest for bench or in the hole for squat. That should clear up some slight differences on my programmed second days. Another thing to consider is my non-programmed assistance work- which would also be different on the second training day that week than it was on the first day. On Tuesday I might have done close grip but on Thursday I might have done weighted dips. On Monday I may have done jump squat but on Friday maybe I did box squats.    

Pressing days would have close grip, OHP, incline, or dips as 2nd tier work. Pull ups or chin ups supersetted throughout. (FYI, behind the neck presses super-setted with Pendlay rows is fun as hell.) If not those it would be band pull aparts or barbell rows for 30+ total reps, rarely using a weight more than 135 lbs. At the end of my pressing workouts I would do cable triceps extensions for 3-5 sets of 15+ reps supersetted with curls for the same set/rep scheme. If not curls face pulls. If not face pulls light cable rows. 

I don’t like to program the finer details of what I’m going to do in my 2nd and 3rd tiers. I’ll put down one or two exercises that I’ll hit for sure- deficit deads being one of them- and then play the rest by ear as I’m in the gym day by day. But what do I mean by “play it by ear?” Well, I would consider what I did last session or last week on that same day. If I did strict press last Thursday and now it’s Thursday the following week, I might  do push press instead. If I did jump squats on Monday and box squat the Friday prior to that, well this Friday I might do front squats. The idea is that you switch things up- keep your training interesting, well rounded, and fun. 

Maybe you’re not like me. Maybe you like to program all the details. That’s great. Do your thing but make sure you’re building a pyramid that’s only as wide as it needs to be. If you’re spending a ton of time in the 3rd tier chances are you’re not working hard enough at the top of your pyramid. I can easily bang out  25 lb cable triceps extensions supersetted with face pulls for 100 total reps each in about five minutes. That’s not a lot of actual time spent in the 3rd tier but it is more than sufficient volume to fill it and support your 1st and 2nd tiers. 

Over-reaching and Supra-maximal Loading

Both of these techniques are great tools to have at your disposal. Like all tools they’re only useful if you know when and how to use them. 

Over-reaching: The idea of pushing your intensities with extra volume. This is often seen in AMRAP sets or like in my example table above. Use this for no more than a week at a time; otherwise you’re not really over-reaching your abilities are you? The goal of over-reaching is to approach, as closely and as controlled as possible, that ever feared and most reviled nemesis- over-training. Doing AMRAP every day on all your main lifts is damn stupid and looks a whole lot like Crossfit. Don’t do that. It’s uncontrolled, haphazard, and fails to properly utilize the concept of over-reaching to your best interests. Instead, plan one or two sets per week for AMRAP (optional) and then program a brief period of increased intensities and volume as done in the table above. 

Supra-maximal Loading: This is the idea of overloading one of your main lifts in a variation of it’s true self. Examples of this would be rack pulls for deadlifts or deadlifts with chains or bands.  Using those methods you’re moving supra-maximal loads in the lockout portion of the lift. Similar in nature to what Louie Simmons calls “dynamic effort.” Using submaximal loads for supra-maximal speeds- taking a light weight and moving it as fast as you possibly can. I believe dynamic effort is a variation of supra maximal loading except you’re not loading the bar with a weight heavier than what you could do in normal ROM- you’re deloading the bar to a weight you can move faster than you could normally in full ROM (when lifting in your 1st tier that is), therefore supra-maximally loading your speed. You don’t need chains or bands to train supra-maximal loading. You need a little creativity and the desire to move light weights fast as hell (as traditionally done in the Westside method) or a whole lot more than your 1RM in a limited ROM or a whole lot less than your 1RM in an increased ROM. Doing deficit deadlifts supra-maximally loads the bottom portion of the lift by making you work harder in that portion of the ROM. Examples of supra-maximal loading for squats would be walkouts using 125% of your max or Anderson half squats or squats to a high box for the top portion of the lift. Push presses for shoulder presses, ect. You get the idea I’m sure. Making the true lift harder in one form or another is supra-maximal loading. Should this be in every workout? No, not necessarily. But it helps to include it at least every other week in one form or another.  In the table above I would do jump squats on Mondays and then squats to a high box or lockouts on Fridays. That way I was supra-maximally loading my squat every workout, just in opposite ways.  

Supra-maximal loading is always considered 2nd tier work. Over-reaching is when you’re intentionally pushing your 2nd tier into your 1st

Conclusion

This isn’t a “program” like 5/3/1 or Starting Strength, it is my training philosophy. What I wrote out in the tables above are merely examples of what rep/set schemes I like to train with. Sets and reps I can manage, and enjoy training with, to accomplish moving the weight I need to move while also adhering as closely to my 1:2:3 rule and pyramid symbolism.   I’m not going to outline precise sets or reps for you, only you know what you like to do in the gym.  The examples I provided are what I found work for me within my training philosophy. And what you like doing is something you’re more likely to continue doing. That’s the key to building strength. That’s the true foundation of your pyramid- each tier must first be supported by training consistently and frequently.  Even if you had the perfect program, with each set and rep for specific exercises planned out for weeks on end it is all useless if you do not stick to it. Similarly, if you’re not in the gym training with focus, effort, and desire then you will build no pyramid at all. 

All you’ll have is a neat piece of paper. Some numbers and units… a pretty piece of paper and the abstract concept of a “plan.” 

Using this method you can be the architect, the engineer, and the mason that builds your entire pyramid of strength. That way it will be pretty, strong, and gradually rise to greater heights.  

20 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. Great article

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  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this matter. You make some interesting points.

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  3. great read, thanks for writing this up! good luck to you in the future

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  4. I was very pleased to find this site. I definitely enjoyed reading every little bit of it and I have it bookmarked to check out new stuff posted regularly….platform lift,

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the bookmark man! And thank you for the read!

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  5. This parallels my own training routine quite closely (although I attempt to hit slightly more volume north of 90% in my "top tier"). Glad to see others that share a similar philosophy regarding program structure and volume.

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    Replies
    1. Hell yeah man, sounds like you're already on the right track.

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  6. Excellent article! Thanks for sharing.

    I am a weightlifter, and my e-coach (www.lifthard.com) basically has a similar philosophy. For example, let's say it's clean and jerk day..

    My '1st tier', to borrow your term as my analogy, would be to max out on the clean and jerk as long as form allows it. It may or may not be a PR, but the goal in this tier is to reach my 1RM for that day..

    During the 1st tier, I am responsible for pin-pointing my weaknesses in the C&J. So,

    2nd tier would be to do volume accessory lifts to strengthen the weaknesses in 1st tier. It could be back squats, front squats, clean pulls, etc...

    3rd tier could also be another accessory lift to strengthen the weakness.

    And the 'last tiers' basically 4th - 6th tiers, are more or less isolation exercises to strengthen the weakness in 2nd or 3rd tier. These could be GHR, hanging leg raise, tricep extension, etc..

    It's great to see that our sports have a lot more in common than the purists would like to admit..

    Bravo!

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    Replies
    1. Sounds like you've got a solid coach man! Thank you for reading my blog, I appreciate your time!

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  7. Do you have an email address at which I could contact you? I really enjoyed your article, and put together a multi-month Excel template that you might be interested in.

    Also wanted to ask you an opinion question - I'm on my second decently long run of 5/3/1 (6+ cycles in with a few left before I'll need to reset), and am looking to incorporate more of this philosophy into my training. I love 5/3/1 and have improved a lot from it, but I am looking for effective ways to incorporate higher intensity volume (the 2nd tier movements). I know Wendler goes through a number of variations in Beyond 5/3/1, but the layout here looks relevant and applicable as well.

    My question for you is how do you best think that someone can transition from a 5/3/1 style training (working up to 1 top set, followed by assistance movements that fall in the 50-75% range) to this style of training? From behind my keyboard, 10x3 at 87.5% looks awfully daunting on week 4!! Haha.

    Yours in strength,
    Ryan

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  16. Hey man good stuff love your programming and it's very organic and easy to work and progress with.

    Anyways I'm in the military too, and I've been out in the field for the past 2months. I've been able to work out but no back squats, bench or deadlift. Still have some strength but mobility and movements are outta wack. Would you suggest just lowering my TM and continuing with the program or doing a complete new program to build a new base before hitting up dat high volume lovin? Looking to see what you found best way to get back at it while being MIA from the gym for a while..

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