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

34 comments:

  1. This looks intriguing. I think I've been fumbling towards something like this for a while, though in my case it was more just a case of doing some reverse pyramid training combined with a compound first / isolation after approach. I'm more of a general strength trainer than a powerlifter, but this looks quite applicable for that too. I may try out this methodology for a few exercises. Thanks for the writeup! Interesting blog, by the way.

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  2. I love this. Currently recovering from a car-crash. As soon docs allow me to exercise , I will train according to this.

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    Replies
    1. Dude kickass! Thanks for even considering it! Heal up.

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  3. Man, this concept has really cemented lifting as my favorite activity. I've been lifting off and on for 15 years, (with til now, 3 years of continuous serious building). I've been following one of Bill Pearl's Olympia routines religiously for about 18 months, with progressively more adaptation and improvisation. The grind was really starting to get to me.
    After finishing up a 3 month, 20lb cut, I was exhausted and losing motivation (also feeling a little bit depressed about losing 100lb off my squat post hernia repair). I started looking for a power-building program, but was really struggling to find one that fit my style. I considered sheiko, bulgarian, smolov, and other methods of building my big lifts back up, but they just didn't appeal to me as particularly interesting or safe.
    I stumbled upon this post last night via an obnoxious series of fitness blogs extolling their own rehashed versions of classic lifting styles. After reading this, it felt like a bomb had gone off in my brain, "I am an expert at lifting. I use advanced methods. I should be able to just improvise my entire workout. These guidelines are PERFECT."
    I did my first squat day today, and it was the best workout of my life. The ability to just pick and choose accessory lifts that felt right in-the-moment was truly revolutionary for me. I could target the strands of muscle that needed that last little bit. I have never been this muscle exhausted while amazingly, the least sore i have ever been post-workout in my life.
    I really don't know how to express how much this simple concept means to me. This little seed has turned the gym from something I do dutifully, to a place of magic and wonder. I know this is absurdly gushy, but I really thank you.
    I do have to caution other lifters considering this kind of regimen. Lifting in this fashion requires a fairly advanced mind/body connection, and a certain minimum intelligence about over training. Also I think I may have a new addiction...

    To my favorite gymbro (even though I don't know you and haven't read the rest of your blog (I am sure we would fist bump daily if we were gymquaintances)) GZCL, thank you thank you thank you,
    -Aaron

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    Replies
    1. Damn man! I'm really glad this resonates with you so well! I really hope it impacts your training positively forever, because damn... I'd be bummed if it turned out to be a let down!

      Seriously though, thanks man!

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  4. Could you make it like à linear progression t1 at 80-85% 5*2 or 5*3 or 3*5 and t2 4*5. Bumping weight every week? And if it is possible where can we email/PM you?

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  5. I actually managed to grow 3.2 inches taller within 8 weeks. My friends couldn’t believe how different I looked, and some of them were jealous. With this the nutritional food, regular exercise, physician consultancy is also required. I used the following link to get info.

    For more info please click on the following link: How To Program Increase Height

    Talk soon.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. Hey, this is a great program. I was wondering if you could add a example program based around OHP?

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    1. I'm not GZCL but here's my take based on the last bench template listed.

      Day 1:
      T1: OHP - 85% 3 Reps x 5 Sets



      T2: Super Set #1
      Incline Bench Press - 65% 6 Reps x 5 Sets
      Pullups/Chinups (Assisted if needed) - 6 Reps x 5 Sets

      T3: Superset #2
      Seated DB Shoulder Press - 12 Reps x 3 Sets
      Lat Pulldown - 15 Reps x 3 Sets

      Superset #3
      Triceps Extension - 12 Reps x 3 Sets
      Face Pulls or Rear Delt Flyes - 12 Reps x 3 Sets

      Follow the week to week progressions in a similar fashion to the bench template at the end.

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  8. Programming is very interesting and creative thing if you do it with love. Your blog code helps a lot to beginners to learn programming from basic to advance level. I really love this blog because I learn a lot from here and this process is still continuing.
    Love from Pro Programmer

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  9. well then... currently giving westside an Honest try, but I do believe this is next... the issue for Me is ALWAYS patience, but there's enough 'growth' programmed in here for Me to feel like I'm getting somewhere I think... and I've certainly got three-six months to give what someone else thinks a try...
    is there an email address somewhere for specific questions, or do you want them here?

    Coach Bear
    temji@yahoo.com

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  10. hope there's an email... verification process is waaaaaaaaaay too complicated for a simple Fella

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    Replies
    1. Hey man! Just got the email, will be on it soon.

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  11. Do you base the goal weight for accessories on the missing movement, or on each specific accessory?

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    Replies
    1. On the specific accessories ideally. But in some circumstances using a main movement's goal weight is fine, all you'd have to do is adjust the intensity down to where you could manage the specific tier's rep range. An example of this would be high bar squat if you were to use is as an accessory to a low bar squat. Just use a lower percentage than you would normally with your low bar squat.

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  12. Any input re: nutrition? I'm just starting a cut and wonder if this is good for that? thanks

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    Replies
    1. You can cut on my method, just be sure to not lose more than .5-1 lb. a week. otherwise training will be sacrificed.

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  13. How would you recommend setting up deadlift T1 for weeks 2, 3, and 4?

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    Replies
    1. Honestly man that depends a lot on how much you're wanting to deadlift and whether or not that's a priority lift over others. You could set it up with a heavy DL and light DL session. The heavy one using ascending sets of 3/2/1 last set AMRAP and the light session could just be straight sets and go up on that by 5% week to week.

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  14. For the example programming, it says for squats 85% 5 reps for 3 sets, but on bench it says 85% 3 reps for 5 sets (for week 1). Did you mean for squats to be 85% for 5 sets of 3 reps as well, (I assume?)

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    Replies
    1. Nope. Weight x Reps x Sets always with GZCL. Think of it like this. What weight you're doing for how many times, repeated how many times. That's why a lot of non-American based programs are written. Everyone usually says "Sets and Reps" but forget that at the end of that comes weight. Therefore, weight is always next to reps.

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  15. the gzcl method is simple and easy to customize to ones own needs. Should I be using it gzcl for a powerbuilding approach or a powerlifting approach? and how to program more hypertrophy work into the routine?

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    Replies
    1. Really great questions and the post Applications & Adaptations in this blog from earlier this year is very helpful in explaining the ways you can tailor your program to fit your needs.

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  16. so is it possible to hit a movement twice a week using the GZCL method? In the examples it seems like your only hitting it once a week. Will the muscles recover enough to hit it twice a week?

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    1. Absolutley. Look at the Applications & Adaptations post and check the UHF model, bench type movements up to 5x a week. Think of this as the skeleton you build your program on, this skeleton's general structure should be reflective of your recovery ability.

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  17. So this is my first method/program that I'm doing. I usually just go to the gym without a plan and try to push myself as hard as I can. Although, it's hard to get my numbers up on the big lifts. Anyway, I used this method for 2 days so far and I tried out my squat and bench day already and I feel as if I have not worked hard enough. And my workouts usually last for about an hour to 1.5 hours, but this method took me like 30-45 mins to complete. For example on my first day of squats, I did this for my T1, 85% 1x 3, then 87.5% 2x2, then 90% 3x1. The workout was too easy. I based my percentages off of my training goal, which is 10% off my actual 1RM. Or am I supposed to use my 1RM as my training goal? And is it supposed to feel this easy? I did my T2 and T3 and none of them were really a challenge. I also don't have 1lb plates at my gym, so I'm stuck to using the 2.5lb plates which kinda throws off some of my numbers, since I did a couple sets of the same weight. Other than that, I love the concepts of this method and I want to know if I am doing it right.

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    Replies
    1. You need to work with a program for a couple of months at least to see how it works. Start light and allow yourself time to adjust to the movements and the routine. The weight will get heavy as you move up. Your body will respond when the weight gets heavy. Two workouts won't get you anywhere.

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  18. Hi, I like this method because it's so simple and flexible, but I keep wondering where warmup sets fall. To get to 85% I'd want to do some warmup (I'm 35 and just starting to lift seriously this year). Do they not make it to the chart? Do they count as T2? How do you handle warmup sets for main movements? Thanks for the knowledge man!

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  19. I dont understand how igual set "sets x reps" i mean 10-15reps in T1 but what %, how many sets, what reps. And whats the method of progression week by week, i mean how i change reps and sets, only do the amrap set in the 4week?
    And the same for T2, i am a bit confused with that.

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  20. I have started applying this to my workout's and I have seen great progress personally, so thank you very much!

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  21. Hey! I love what this method sounds like. I only have doubts as to how to know what percentages to use and rep scheme every time?

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  22. Thanks for these outstanding images . These are really beautiful.best recovery supplement

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