“Where do gains come from?”
Here's my book of gains, the free GZCL Program Template Compendium. Check it out and the video guide for the excel template too. The info in this blog supplements those and they should be edited by you to fit your needs and abilities.
Let’s be honest here- nobody really knows the origin of gains. Specific sets, reps, volume, and even intensity ranges are debatable. Everything studied and “proved” to an extent. But, for every study pointing to one thing being the gains-bringer there’s a plausible “yeah well such-and-such” that can follow up. What the best results come from though, 100% of the time, is effort. That’s right! Simply try harder and you’ll earn more gains. Based upon this understanding, here is my proposed Theory of Effort:
“Trying harder usually works better.”
I know, absolutely revolutionary.
If not already apparent, it needs to be openly stated that this is going to be a much more causal and conversational write up because honestly, much of this is coming from my opinion of strength training fundamentals and the required training stimulus needed to make progress. While I’ve read a lot of books, lifted a lot of weight, competed a few times, and trained a lot of people… I’ve yet to read or hear about anyone using these specific means to progress. And although the concept and progression is simple, the results here can be distinctly different than something like Starting Strength or even my beloved GZCLP. In my biased opinion VDIP is an improvement upon any linear progression model. This could all be labeled as bullshit, as I haven’t got a study to back my claims, but results speak for themselves. From only five weeks into training:
“Frankly, all of my lifts are progressing really well. I am now OHP my 2RM for 3 sets of 4.
I am now squatting 90% of my 1RM 5 times which is a 3-rep improvement.” [Source]
Concept & Origins of VDIP
The fundamental principle that runs VDIP is simply doing a little bit more than was done last time. Just try a lil’ harder…. This is attempted in each individual set by using “Max Rep Sets” (MRS, described later) with the total number of reps done in each movement being the most important factor for intensity progression. To clarify, an example:
Using 85% of your Training Max for 3MRS yields 6 reps on the first set, 5 on the second, and 3 on the third. A total of 14 reps. Weight will then be added to the next training session based on the Total Reps performed. Those 14 reps earned a five-pound addition to next week’s workout.
In this light, it is similar to the Hepburn method of training, a principle that is sound, time tested, and a source of inspiration for many training models. What Doug Hepburn [Source (PDF)] used was much more simple and straight forward: just add a rep to your last sets. Do this until you’ve added enough reps you can up the weight a bit. Likewise, this type of training approach is advocated quite
commonly in lighter weight accessory movements, think rows, curls, and machine work. Paul Carter of Lift-Run-Bang calls this the “3-50” method and the goal is similar:
“Pick a weight that you try to do for 50 total reps over the course of three working sets.
For most people, choosing a weight that allows you to get 18 to 22 reps on the first set is about right.
Once you're able to get a total of 50 reps over 3 sets, add weight.” [Source]
Hepburn’s adding one more rep does this incrementally and so does Carter’s rep goal driven 3-50 method- both examples of putting volume advancement before intensity progression.
Volume-Dependent Intensity Progression opens the door for, and exposes you to, multiple high-effort sets across a range of intensities. Recall the Theory of Effort above and understand that all progress is reliant upon your efforts in the gym. If we were to look at time spent in the gym, and the total number of sets done in a typical workout structure, how many of them are hard sets? In the case of a 5x5 it isn’t until the last one or two sets that “just one-rep left in the tank” might become a reality. Only then has the movement demanded greater effort. In such a workout three or four-fifths of that movement was spent just going through the motions (which is great for practicing the movement and increasing technique and confidence) but that’s not what the VDIP life is about. Here we want each set to be “hard.” More on that later.
The effort-gap is made up in typical training programs through a number of means. Most popularly via drop sets, repeats, or as many reps as possible sets (AMRAPs). This approach has some great positive benefits, like practicing the lift, but also a clearer and more defined structure and progression. When all the sets and reps are spelled out for you that leaves fewer variables, this could be a good thing in the sense of insurance against failure, but what it also does is artificially limit the effort of each set. If left on the table our effort is unrealized gains! So, in order to snatch some crumbs from the plate within a fixed structure training plan, should there be “some left in the tank,” then a rep-out is done, a drop set, etc. because it is known that effort drives progress above all. If those drop sets didn’t substantially drive effort then why are they even included, just to do more reps?
By opening up rep restrictions on a fixed number of sets it is up to you how hard you push each individual set and through these means VDIP asks you not to leave any crumbs on the plate. Take a big bite each set, push the reps as hard as you can (within ranges described later), by doing so the average effort of your training will go up.
That is how gains are made- trying just a little bit harder.
Don't be that 3rd guy back. He's basically smiling.
That's the antithesis of trying harder.
Build Your Bases
In training, there’s a common phrase- your “base.” Cardio enthusiasts, aka psychopaths, may talk about building their “aerobic base”- how long they can maintain an effort. In strength training the similar is said, “base building” meaning your average level of strength. VDIP is essentially a means to improve your average. A helpful analogy to describe this concept and visualize why VDIP is so effective for “off-season” training specifically is to imagine training as climbing a mountain. Let me explain:
When attempting to summit any high peak climbers must stop and acclimate to higher and higher elevations. To do this they set up camps along the route where time is spent resting and adapting to the higher elevation demands. Without this practice the demands of the summit are too difficult. Incremental steps in effort must be made in order to reach the summit.
Very much like:
If your best competition squat is 500 pounds that is your “peak.” Backing down the intensity from 500 pounds you have milestone rep maxes, your 2, 3, and 5 rep maxes, for example. These exist as your “base camps” at lower elevations (intensity) and must be reached before you can summit the “peak” of your strength. Each of these should see improvement to ensure a higher peak to be summited. By working on developing these “base camps” you are training the ability to sustain effort at incrementally heavier weights. If you can turn a 5RM into a 6RM and your 2RM into a 3RM then peak strength has also become predictably higher.
Using VDIP to drive the intensity of your base is straight forward and simple when applied to the GZCL Method structure. This is because each tier has an associated range of intensity and volume; even loose adherence to these guidelines will yield success. By taking a predetermined weight near the base of each tier and progressing it according to your Total Reps Goals what happens is the weight will only go up based off demonstrated ability versus your predicted ability. Using VDIP to progress is dependent entirely upon how well you perform. Therefore, prioritizing the development of your “camps” along the way to the peak instead of hastily climbing towards your own personal summit and potentially reaching a plateau instead.
Literally a map to Gainzistan in a foreign language.
One last bit on the topic of building “bases.” Too often it is simply thought about in terms like rep maxes. But what I encourage everyone to do is start including things like average bar speed, technical consistency, and other qualitative means to also define what is your base ability. (Hard to call it a base if it’s not consistent, right?) When you start to take the quality of your lifts seriously dramatic things start happening. You may find random $20 bills in your pocket and I personally guarantee that you’ll experience Compounding Gainsmanship:
“Compounding Gainsmanship is a concept that emphasizes the qualitative aspects of the lift. Over time each rep gradually improves across a number of means, from average speed to technical consistency and more, with these qualitative gains come increased efficiency and less fatigue accumulated per rep, which then allow you to do more work over time, more safely, and therefore accumulate gains at a faster rate and longer timeline than otherwise possible.”
Review: GZCL Method
Training Max (TM): Used for T1 and T2 Movements. Should be a confident 2RM you can hit at the start of the program. No need to test it, but don’t fool yourself. Each movement should have its own respective TM but close variants can be based of the original. For example, close grip can be based off normal grip bench, but the like can’t be said for incline bench. Equally, using the deadlift TM for stiff leg deadlifts or Romanian deadlifts is fine, but should you want to try sumo deadlifts then it is recommended you have an honest TM assessment of that specific movement.
T1: Main Movements- Squat, Bench, Dead, OHP, Front Squat, Sling Shot, Incline, Push Press, are common options. (Weightlifters proceed with caution; I am no authority there.)
Intensity Range: 85-100% of TM
Volume Range: 10-15 Reps Total
T2: Primary Accessories- More of the main movement or close accessories. Things like close grip bench, front squat, stiff leg deadlifts come to mind. These should always be compound movements (multi-joint) that translates well to your T1. If you know close grip doesn’t help, don’t use it. Replace with an alternative that works for you.
Intensity Range: 65-85% of TM
Volume Range: 20-30 Reps Total
T3: Secondary Accessories- These are your isolation “bodybuilding” type movements like lat pull downs, flyes, curls and extensions. Also in this tier are rehabilitative movements or any other lightly loaded or non-loaded movements that are used for improvement of the physical self. (What the hell does that even mean?!) While ab planks can be both “bodybuilding” and “sports performance” oriented I do think it is important to specifically designate the intent of the movement. Why? Everything you do in the gym should have a reason because when it comes time to execute, your efforts with that movement will be greater due to its purpose. It is the strength of effort that drives progress and simply because this tier is lower doesn’t mean it requires less effort. If anything, it requires more in the 3rd tier since upon it rest the 2nd and 1st tiers. If you cannot perform hard here in the T3, then how can you expect to sustain effort in heavier tiers?
In the T3 choose movements that target lagging body parts that need to grow, movements that help you “feel better” like face pulls at the end of a bench day, and movements you know will help you like single-leg work- which 98% of people reading this currently aren’t doing.
All that being said about the T3, specific intensity and volume ranges are much looser, but generally:
Intensity Range: <65% of TM (If using a movement with a TM)
Volume Range: 30+ reps per movement (Typically 1-2 movements for newer trainees, and 2-5 movements for more experienced lifters.)
Note: “If using a movement with a TM” keep in mind not all things will have a Training Max, like lat pull downs. Nor should they! The T3 is a really great place to develop using VDIP. My opinion is that avoiding fixed reps in this tier is more beneficial than say doing a 3x10. I would rather see effort in the T3 expended as described here in this post, at length.
The TLDR of the GZCL Method is it is a general volume relationship of 1:2:3 across the tiers, each with their own associated movements and intensity percentage ranges of 100-85% T1, 85-65% T2, and <65% in the T3.
Before we go any further, to avoid any confusion, “GZCL” doesn’t actually mean anything.
A very helpful guide to this last section.
Save it to your phone and computer.
Progress for life.
VDIP Adaptation of GZCL Method Principles
The first step in adapting my method into a successful VDIP inspired training plan is to make the execution of its structure more open while aiming to maintain the performance results within the previously mentioned ranges; although a slightly more abstract view of those ranges. This type of view is needed because all the reps are done through Max Rep Sets (MRS). That is, each set is essentially a rep out where you should push to within 1-2 reps of actual failure.
DO NOT PUSH TO PHYSICAL FAILURE!
This means that instead of fixing yourself at 65% for base T2 or 85% for base T1 adjust those percentages determined by your ability with that weight in a single Max Rep Set, then consider and accurately estimate repeated sets with that weight.
For Example: Your T2 movement starts at 65% and your first set results in 18 reps, now you know the remaining two or three MRS will drive your total reps beyond the ideal performance range for the T2. Instead consider starting it at a heavier weight, using that first-set performance as a guidepost for training planning. Generally getting 10-15 reps in that first set is ideal for the T2, but individual differences dictate adjustment based on how well you can repeat that weight for additional MRS in order to reach your Total Reps Goal. Adjust similarly for the T1.
The execution of each set is according to that “leave a few in the tank” rule. From T1 to T3 this should be adhered to. However, pushing a bit harder in the T3, nearer actual failure, might occur… It is not the end of the world if it does. Don’t let it happen in the T1 or T2. The execution of each day’s training will flow from T1 to T2 then through the T3. Do not “save yourself” in the T1 to do better in the T3, push each set along the way. But do not fail!
This is the first thing to keep in mind on VDIP and likely the most important skill to have heading into such a training venture. The demands of the progression are high and as a result the skill of auto-regulation must exist beforehand, it will be honed during, but without it at the start complete training failure is much more likely. Some tips on improving your ability to auto-regulate:
If you’re always leaving 1-2 reps in the tank for each MRS start leaving 2-3 in each set. Leave this extra effort in the T3 first and as needed leave more in higher tiers in workouts later in the week. First the T2 then the T1. An exception being in the case of a near or actual failure in either T1 or T2. In such a case decrease the weight and the effort in that tier.
Monitor your fatigue levels through measuring and recording things like your heart rate upon waking, your resting heart rate, general energy levels, mental fog, sleep quality and amounts, and the lack of desire to train. All of these point to mounting levels of fatigue.
Think of auto-regulation as your means to balance your recovery debt. Sometimes taking a big shift is not necessary and it is recommended you start from the bottom of the training pyramid then work your way up. Regaining a positive recovery balance in most cases does not require sacrificing progression across all tiers. Simply going a bit easier on a few sets while using VDIP will help tip the scales in your favor dramatically.
Auto-regulation keeps forklifting a forklift
to lift something heavy off your list of choices.
To ensure you don’t bite of more than you can chew here are some recommended minimums and maximums to consider when building your VDIP training plan. It is recommended you stick to the minimums for at least two weeks because the demands of this style of training are high and as a result recovery will need to be addressed more closely at first to guarantee a longer-term use of this training approach. These general mins and maxes will become clearer as the post continues.
T1: 1 movement per day, 10-15 total reps, 3MRS, 80% starting intensity
T2: 1 movement per day, 20-30 total reps, 3MRS, 60% starting intensityT3: 2 movements per day, 30-40 total reps per movement, 4MRS, <60% starting intensity (or 10-15RM initial rep performance)
T1: 1 movement per day, 10-15 total reps, 5MRS, 90% starting intensity
T2: 2 movements per day, 20-30 total reps, 5MRS, 70% starting intensityT3: 4-5 movements per day, 40-50 total reps per movement, 4-6MRS, <70% starting intensity (or 8-10RM initial rep performance)
VDIP Rest Plan
Not too much different than the one I typically suggest but the weight of importance on rest needs to be known. Without adequate rest the repeated sets will drop in reps too quickly. With too long of rest the total volumes are way too high and your abilities on paper might look good, but your time in the gym doesn’t. Nor does your recovery. Rest is a way to keep yourself in check so too much work isn’t done, nor too little. Keep these things in mind when running this type of progression plan.
Rest is the lesser known hero of the VDIP. Without it the plan can go sour fast.
General Rest Guide:
T1: 3-5 minutes, nearer 5 minutes when total reps are closer to 10 or 11.
T2: 2-3 minutes, nearer 3 minutes when total reps are closer to 25-27.
T3: 30-90 seconds, nearer 90 seconds for compound T3’s and on that final MRS for a last hard push to finish the workout strong.
VDIP Set Up & Progression Plans
The name makes this simple. Your guidelines are “Volume-Dependent” and they dictate your “Intensity Progression.” The volume-dependent portion is in consideration to the Total Volume amassed across all MRS of each movement. The total volume achieved will then determine how much weight is added to the next training session.
Below are the Tiered Volume Goals:
T1: 15 or more total reps in 3MRS add 10 lb. to next week
10-14 total reps in 3MRS add 5 lb. to next week
T2: More than 30 total reps in 3MRS add 10 lb. to next week
25-30 total reps in 3MRS add 5 lb. to next week
20-24 total reps in 3MRS stay the same weight
Weight Reductions: Less than 10/20 total reps in the T1 and T2 respectively reduce by at least 5-10% the next week. (If it’s WAY less than the bottom ranges then definitely go for a larger weight reduction and a cold bite of humble pie. Nothing wrong with that. That’s the first step to getting strong. Realizing your shit is weak.)
Weight decreases also warranted if reps were of poor quality, so slow grindy reps, inconsistent reps across a set, or not within technical requirements. Remember that you’re working on building your base here and part of that is the qualitative aspects for each lift.
T3: More than 50 total reps in 4MRS add 5 to 10 lb. as available or allowable. This holds true more for some movements more than others. Specifically, in terms of compound movements over isolations as accessories. Playing this a little bit loosely is absolutely fine. For example, I’ll never go above 20 to 25 pounds on rear delt flyes with dumbbells- the payoff just isn’t worth it. I’ll always get a better workout in the intended muscles with that weight range; just the way it is.
Those guidelines for the T1 and T2 will typically hold well for four to six weeks before a deload, training max test, and training plan assessment and adjustment should occur. Starting around 80% to 85% with 3MRS in the first tier gives most lifters 5 to 8 reps on the first set and projected drops of 1-3 reps on the two following MRS. Doing so around 60-65% in the second tier gives most lifters 13-18 reps in the first set. Rep drops are still about 1-3. These rep drops are fine, what matters each set is pushed near failure and the total reps per tier are tracked. Do so intelligently, follow the guidelines, and be honest with your understanding of your own recovery and abilities. Choose at times to be cautious with adding weight. If just barely in that “add 5 lb. range” and you know the lift was questionable, perhaps the better choice is to repeat the weight next week and first focus on the lift quality progression, rather than its intensity. On that same note if a set isn’t up to par in total volume then reduce its intensity, don’t be stubborn.
The intent of VDIP is to build your bases so quality is always of important focus.
Let’s assume you’ve done all that and have been kicking ass and taking names for five weeks, feeling a bit run down now though, and not everything went according to plan, so what do?
First a brief recap of the last five weeks:
The below taken directly from your theoretical last 5 weeks on VDIP.
Starting Intensities & Set Count: T1 85% x 3MRS / T2 65% x 3MRS / T3 <65% x 4MRS
Day 1 – T1: Squat Rep Totals
Weight Adds: Wk1: 10 lb., Wk2: 10 lb., Wk3: 10 lb., Wk4: 5 lb., Wk5: 5 lb.
T2: Front Squat Rep Totals
Weight Adds: Wk1: 5 lb., Wk2: 5 lb., Wk3: 10 lb., Wk4: 5 lb., Wk5: 5 lb.
In the case of the T1 Squat here the starting intensity is fine but perhaps the weight adds should have been more cautious if more weeks of progression were desired. Week six might yield another 10 or 11 rep total, thus earning another 5 pounds, but failure to reach 10 total reps in the T1 is within 1-2 weeks at this point. Truer still if that 11th rep was pushed nearer actual failure. The lesson here is to start strategizing your progression. A slower intensity progression is easily warranted if that lift will be improving dramatically via other qualitative means, like stability or consistency for example. The five weeks of progression is absolutely fine though and in this case well executed, just consider strategic goals for longer progression.
The T2 Front Squat performance is quite normal. The up-tick in week two and three’s total volume is common for accessory movements because the learning curve of mastering the actual movement itself is also improving. The reason for the two different weight adds could be personal in this regard, getting 30 total on Wk2 earned a +10, but maybe a personal goal to have all 3MRS at 10 was made. Or maybe that second week's 30 was kinda sketchy. These kinds of small goals, often made up on the fly, is a form of tactical planning. By doing these types of things occasionally small motivational thresholds can be broken; just another way to PR on VDIP.
This kind of upwards progression in both volume and intensity week after week might be unsettling at first, but trust me… it is totally not black magic.
This kind of upwards progression in both volume and intensity week after week might be unsettling at first, but trust me… it is totally not black magic.
On VDIP seeing gains like this is normal because not only are you working on your strength, but also mastering new movements, improving your muscular endurance, general conditioning, and capping it off with a mental drive not before experienced because each set is an opportunity for you to PR.
The five weeks of progression is absolutely fine though and in this case well executed, simply consider strategizing for longer progression.
“Front squat PR! 245x5,5,5. Adding 10 lbs this week after adding 10 lbs last week. Gains train keeps rolling. Then moved to deficit SLDLs, dropped again to 285 and got 10/10/8. I'll add 10lbs here, need to be cautious. Seems to be a tricky damn lift. Hit pullups, BSS, rows and curls with no issues here.” – Nikhil Thomas, 3 Weeks into VDIP
Summoning the Gainer. Great for personal records.
Risky for your soul and complexion.
Day 2 – T1: Bench Rep Totals
Weight Adds: Wk1: 5 lb., Wk2: 5 lb., Wk3: 5 lb., Wk4: 5 lb., Wk5: 5 lb.
T2: Close Grip Bench Rep Totals
Weight Adds: Wk1: 5 lb., Wk2: 0 lb., Wk3: 5 lb., Wk4: 5 lb., Wk5: 5 lb.
Again, a fairly normal performance across the theoretical five weeks. The thing to note here is the T2 Close Grip Bench has no weight add in Week-2 because the total reps doesn’t match the range required. By foregoing the desire to say “it’s just two reps, I’ll add 5 lb.” you’re giving yourself a gains-insurance policy. Week-3 rolls around and now you’ve got +4 more reps at that same weight. The bigger picture here is do not add weight when you do not earn it. Sticking to the ranges works and should you stall there are other means that could be more effective to getting progress fired up again than adding more weight. A one week delay on adding weight is not, and should not, be looked at negatively on VDIP. Only do so if it is for three back-to-back weeks. Remember, recovery and fatigue play a role. That small reduction early on will happen in some lifts and those two things play a part.
A tactical call that could be made in the work out is looking at the T1 performance and seeing how that can be better utilized to allow for a strong follow-up performance in the T2. Getting six reps on that first set may have been crushing, maybe even nearly failing that last rep. In such a case going 5/4/4 would have been better that 2nd Week. Hindsight is always 20/20 and your friend will be your training data. Review it and make better judgment calls in-training and while training planning so your Average Level of Kickass (ALK) goes up.
Day 3 – T1: Deadlift Rep Totals
Weight Adds: Wk1: 5 lb., Wk2: 5 lb., Wk3: 5 lb., Wk4: 5 lb., Wk5: 0 lb.
T2: Stiff Leg Deadlift Rep Totals
Weight Adds: Wk1: 5 lb., Wk2: 5 lb., Wk3: 5 lb., Wk4: 5 lb., Wk5: 5 lb.
A bit of poor planning here on the deadlift. Like many people exclaim repeated sets of heavy deadlifts (T1 range) drain you. Yet week after week you continued to add 5 pounds because it fit the guidelines. Here’s one of those times where a personal judgement call would be better. The first week was two short of reaching 15 total, the upper volume range for the T1. Ideally the first week has you assuredly hitting 15, maybe even 1-2 more! You however took the 13, added five pounds to the next week and got 12. Added another fiver and then got 11 on week three. The trend is not looking good and looking at the T2 shows a similar performance.
Here’s the deal, downward trending rep totals are going to be normal on VDIP because as weight adds up volume will go down. However, the problem in such a scenario started before you had even lifted a weight. The problem lies again with strategically planning your progression. Build in some room to grow! And going intentionally light at the start is a great means to combat progression failure within a handful of weeks due to an oversight, or lack of personal honestly, regarding your abilities. In the above scenario, the fourth week could have had a zero-weight addition with the personal goal of getting more than 10 reps at that same weight in week five; therefore, netting a PR for total volume at that weight and cementing the +5 pounds of added weight as a good call come week six.
Day 4 - T1: Over Head Press Rep Totals
Weight Adds: Wk1: -10 lb., Wk2: 5 lb., Wk3: 5 lb., Wk4: 5 lb., Wk5: 0 lb.
T2: Incline Bench Rep Totals
Weight Adds: Wk1: 10 lb., Wk2: 5 lb., Wk3: 5 lb., Wk4: 5 lb., Wk5: 5 lb.
Like the deadlift your plans for OHP did not start so well. The first week was absolutely too heavy, just getting the bare minimum of 10 total reps needed in the T1. Learning from the mistakes made regarding the deadlift you make a great call subtracting 10 pounds from the weight called for in Week 2. There you pushed 14 reps total and progressed fairly normally until Week 5, where the smart call to not add weight was made. Yes, a +5 addition was earned but looking back at your performance trends you notice that you’ve already added a rep and five pounds to that failure in Week 1 where you only got 10 total. Progress across the T2 however was spot on! Here’s a great example of how some movements must be addressed specially for some lifters. More on that below.
Your theoretical first five weeks on VDIP are over and there’s some good takeaways:
1. Strategize a long-term plan that puts personal checks and balances on the guidelines. Know that adding weight could be allowed, but not ideal. Sometimes the better call is to repeat the same weight the next week in an attempt to beat yourself.
2. Start the deadlift a bit lighter, or alter the progression to fit current abilities with that specific lift. Specifically, your endurance with the deadlift is trash. Consider alterations for T1 OHP progression as well.
3. Maybe time your rest cause some of those sets were harder than they should have been and a few more reps could have been earned. Keep it 4-5 minutes on that last MRS of T1 and don’t be in a rush through the T2. More +10’s could have been earned there with adequate rest.
Try not to accidentally Madden yourself
as you create a training strategy.
Taking VDIP into the Void
Admittedly there are few who have used this training method exclusively across all tiers. Those who have tend to stall, or edge near it, within the first month or so. This is an eventuality because we want weight to go up weekly, and it very likely will for most of you. But when the time comes that you fail to reach that base volume goal of 10 in the T1, what are you to do? It is simple- add another set! Starting at the suggested 3MRS would put your peak rep average at about five and the base around 3. After adding a 4th MRS the reps-per-set average goes down only a tad at first, which allows you a higher chance of success in accomplishing that 10 reps goal because now you’ve got another set to accumulate two or three more reps. The same practice can be done for a maximum of 5MRS in the T1 and T2.
I would advise against adding sets to the T2, it is however an option. Better in my opinion to maybe consider a slight deload first because it is likely to be need anyways, and the break will help you long term. Sometimes doing less will help you do more. Take a break on the T2 before you add more work here. Another option before adding more work is to change the movement when 3MRS fails to earn 20-24 total reps, doing so every 3-6 weeks is a great alternative.
The critical piece that you should not forget when deciding to add another MRS to your progression is being honest that you have exhausted progression means with fewer sets. It is much safer and smarter strategically to push your reps-per-set before adding a whole new set to your recovery demands. These are all highly fatiguing sets due to the high effort nature of them and for this reason adding extra sets should be done cautiously and intelligently.
An example extended VDIP progression:
Your theoretical five weeks are up and you are now looking at pushing to maybe eight or ten weeks on VDIP... maybe longer if you can Summon the Gainer. Here’s a viable plan to adjust T1 VDIP progression.
Week 6 - Add a 4th MRS but keep the same weight from Week 5, even if you achieved the 10 reps goal in 3MRS, maybe netting just 10 or 11 total. This is a protective measure against failure due to adding two unknowns, intensity and extra volume. Accomplishing the workout with both added weight and sets could very easily result in hampered recovery later in the week. Maintain weight from Week 5, add your 4th MRS.
Week 7 – Add weight based off last week and repeat for 4MRS.
Week 8 – Add weight based off last week and repeat for 4MRS.
Now up to this point the Total Reps Goal has been 10-15, you’ve been adding 10 pounds only if you get 15 or more reps, and adding just 5 pounds if you get 10-14 total reps in the T1. However, after eight weeks (maybe a few more) achieving 10 reps in 4MRS has become difficult. The final set very likely ending in just one rep, hopefully it’s not a grinder. Let’s assume the performance went 4/3/2/1 or even 3/3/2/1 (just 9, gasp!) across your 4 Max Rep Sets. A choice arises, add a 5th MRS or lower the Total Reps Goal?
After experiencing failure to achieve 10 total reps in the T1 with 4MRS this option is a personal one, but I would personally venture towards dropping that range to 5-10 reps total in 4MRS with the intensity progression being: 5-7 total stay the same weight, 8-10 total add five pounds, if greater than 10 reps in 4MRS add 10 pounds. The low-end goal is to earn the same weight, but give yourself the opportunity to hit a volume PR the next week and hopefully a small intensity increase. Above that slightly, and now more realistically, is continuing that +5-pound weight addition. Should a stellar day come so far into VDIP, earn that +10-pound add when you get more than 10 reps in 4MRS. This first option has the shorter progression timeline and results in heavier weights lifted sooner, choose this route if you’d like to test a 1RM within 3-4 weeks. If this route is chosen, I’d suggest you keep the same weight from the last workout and see how you do with the new lowered Total Reps Goals.
But maybe you want to continue the voyage on VDIP for much longer…
Should this be the case, maintain that 10-15 reps goal and add a 5th MRS in the T1 and take a little intensity deload. By doing so you’ll increase the timeline of your success in achieving the Total Reps Goals and as a result continue building your “base.”
Week 9 – Reduce the weight to the last used successfully with 3MRS. Perform this now lowered weight for 5MRS using the +5-10 lb. add if 10-15 Total Reps Goal.
Week 10 and on – Use 5MRS and maintain the original adds and rep goals.
When the time comes that VDIP progression is dying, it is eventual, then it is suggested that a week of rest is taken, just doing T2’s or only T3’s. After a minimum of five days’ rest retest your Training Max or set a new 1RM. With so much time spent developing your abilities, whether stopping at 3-5 weeks and 3MRS, pushing through to 4MRS, or even going the distance with 5MRS for months on end it is nearly guaranteed that limit strength has improved. Likely, dramatically so.
“In my VDIP writeup, Cody mentioned (somewhere) he chose my accessories with the hope of getting my squat closer to 400. Well, this was 391. Really happy with a 7.5kg PR over 13 week.” (Source)
Lighter Lifts and Deadlift Progression Alternatives
The lessons learned from the last five weeks leads right to two things that are important to consider for long term training planning using VDIP. The first being that lighter movements will inherently end their progression sooner if adding five or ten pounds each week. This is the case for OHP. A smart way to adjust the progression for these kinds of movements is to simply open the range of T1 Goal Volumes from 5-20 for the 3MRS. This means the first set should yield about 10 to 12 reps that first week. By opening up the range you’ll be accumulating more volume with that lift, therefore getting more practice with it, but also extending your weight addition each week as you’re permitted to drift below 10 reps total.
From my experience the OHP is helped especially well with higher volumes anyways, so beginning at higher reps per set pays off huge at the start. Since the lower threshold is decreased to five reps that means it can end on a heavier per set average as well. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the means for OHP only, but any movement where you feel an imminent stall is likely on VDIP; just open the range a bit.
The deadlift brings another challenge. Many cannot sustain multiple reps sets at heavier weights. The T1 could be murder come the 3rd MRS and the T2 leaves you just barely crawling out of the gym. Not a good scenario for progress or safety. An alternative progression plan using VDIP for deadlifts puts single rep sets before one MRS. For example:
T1 – Deadlift x 1 rep x 7 sets, last set for max reps. (Six singles and a rep out.)
Last set yields 6 reps which puts the total at 13 reps. Add 5 lb.
The idea here is the singles rack up reps that fatigue less because they are not accumulated in a Max Rep Set. While still fatiguing, the singles use in the deadlift is especially helpful because it is highly specific to a competition setting and allows for very close attention to be paid to the set up and execution of the lift. In fact, singles are my favorite means to improve a lifters technical max. By altering the VDIP deadlift specific portion of the plan to reflect the intent of the above example you might be forfeiting any +10 pound additions week to week, but you gain a steady rate of +5 while also making gains in the qualitative aspects of your performance.
Over time this builds your ability to sustain deadlift effort in the T1. Soon enough handling multiple MRS with the deadlift (or any lift that suffers in such a way) will become easier, more manageable in terms of recovery debt, and fatigue management.
An optional VDIP plan tailored to the deadlift in such a way would resemble:
Starting at 80-85% intensity might not be ideal. Start at a weight that guarantees 6 to 7 reps on that ending Max Rep Set. Better for you to do one higher rep set than three, at least for now.
Needing three extra reps minimum to hit the 10 total needed for a 5 lb. weight addition. Attempt the same in the following weeks.
Week 2- 1 rep x 6 sets, last set for max reps (Five singles and a rep out.)
Week 3- 1 rep x 5 sets, last set for max res (Four singles and a rep out.)
Week 4- 1 rep x 4 sets, last set for max res (Three singles and a rep out.)
Ideally, each subtracted single week-to-week results in a +1-rep addition to your rep out at the end; at the very least making it easier to do so. This is the recommended deadlift adjustment for those struggling to pull well while using a VDIP inspired training plan. After three to four weeks of this singles led progression your efficiency, endurance, technical ability, and strength has gone up and the second block of VDIP training could perhaps be ran with only max rep sets for the deadlift. This is a call you will have to make, but it is not required. I am fairly biased in believing that singles are the bees knees, so give it a shot, just don’t what I say as gospel please.
"Singles are fucking amazing and VDIP is the work of the Devil."
- The Pope
Data: BFF or Sworn Enemy?
Track at the bare minimum your total reps per movement. Without this determining how much weight to add to the next training session is a guessing game come week’s end. Below are other data sets that can be helpful, but also harmful. The saying “paralysis by analysis” exists for a reason- Not everything is helpful and some information may exist entirely to confuse or mystify you. Such is the problem in modern lifting today; track all the things! (And go absolutely nowhere in your training.)
Your fitbit may predict gains. But it will not create them. Only your effort will.
Data Sets and Uses
Total Reps and Reps Per Set – At the end of the work out this tells you how much weight to add to the next week. At the end of the week it can begin pointing to potential problems in the training plan, too many here, too few there, etc. At the end of the month it will paint a clearer picture of how each movement is ideally performed across the MRS. Remember that strategy is key, by the end of the month you might find that leaving two reps in the tank on the first two sets, then going all out on the last set is the best bet for your deadlift. But all out first, second, and third could be much more manageable for your bench press. Other ways to look at your reps that can be enlightening is your minimum and maximums per set across the weeks, how these progress in each lift, and versus other lifts.
These kinds of insights are very helpful in steering your weekly progress, but also your long-term progress on a VDIP inspired plan, and the strategy learning will be a lifetime benefit to your training.
Tonnage – This is how much weight you’ve lifted. Your weight x reps x sets, some call it by other terms, I like tonnage. Besides being a cool way to think about how much weight you lifted at the end of the week this metric can be helpful for particular movements. Notably the deadlift. The number here will skyrocket if you aren’t careful about your reps and as such tonnage can be a helpful indicator of oncoming fatigue problems. Most of you reading this will consider the deadlift the hardest lift to recover from, by monitoring tonnage on a daily/weekly basis with your pulls it can help you better plan your efforts with deadlift MRS. Across a number of weeks you might find that keeping individual sets below four to five thousand pounds allows you to have more success on repeated MRS.
This metric has been helpful in regards to the deadlift specifically, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be used to monitor other lifts equally well. I would suggest not letting it out-weigh other factors; allow it to paint a clearer picture of your efforts.
Pounds Earned – This is your Rate of Gains (ROG) and is a great motivational metric. The thing about VDIP is you may not add weight one week to an entire tier, say the T2, but chances are you’ll be adding a bit of weight to the T1 and perhaps some to the T3. This is the end of day record of what intensity specific progress you’ve earned and the end of week snapshot across all tiers. This type of training being more “off-season” leaning doesn’t necessarily require adding weight each session, it is however a huge motivational factor to consider and therefore track.
Everyone reading this post right now.
Including VDIP in Your Current Plan
(or not starting full-fledged like an idiot)
If you’re reading this the hope is you’ve already got a mostly personalized plan. Maybe the structure is off the shelf, but you’ve added a few spices to fit it to your tastes. That extra set of curls you don’t tell anyone about cause brophobia… yeah, that’s where we’ll start introducing your body to the high effort demands of VDIP.
It cannot be said with more emphasis that if you’re heading into this be cautious! Don’t add two or three more T2’s and a dozen T3’s. No need to butcher yourself in the machines section of 24-hour Fitness chasing Pump the Magic Dragon. For this reason, I highly suggest an introductory period of 2-3 weeks using the VDIP principles only with isolation movements.
A potential “Getting the Feet Wet” plan is pretty straight forward, add to your workout an isolation movement if you’re not already doing one. And if you are, simply change how you do it to VDIP.
T1 – Squat
T2 – Front Squat
T3a – Lat Pull Down
T3b – Bicep Curls
Assuming the T1, T2, and T3a movements are all ran with traditional sets x reps progressions the T3b Biceps Curls can be swapped to using only MRS for its progression. Do not be overzealous in the number of sets performed, what matters is each set is performed to the highest effort before failure.
Week 1 & 2: 1-2MRS, Total Reps Goal of 25-35.
Week 3: 3-4MRS, Total Reps Goal of 40-50.
Strategy here would be to use a weight on Week-1 that yields about 12-17 reps on the first set. If only doing one set, find the heaviest weight you can do 25 reps with. (Although to be honest, most people will be able to recover just fine from 2MRS of curls at this intensity range.) Then use that same weight by Week-3 to push above 40 reps, with a goal of 50 reps in 3-4MRS. From about 6,000 words ago:
“It is the strength of effort that drives progress and simply because this tier is lower doesn’t mean it requires less effort. If anything, it requires more in the 3rd tier since upon it rest the 2nd and 1st tiers. If you cannot perform hard here in the T3, then how can you expect to sustain effort in heavier tiers?”
Only isolation movements are suggested at first because they are safer to actually fail on and for that reason they allow you to find out what really pushing reps feels like. Not all movements respond the same way and by introducing this style of training in limited quantities, with relatively safe movements, the threat of actual physical failure is reduced; but the lessons learned and experience gained remain.
You must know what failure looks like so you know how to stay a safe distance while training.
Knowing how hard to push and when to stop is critical on VDIP. Going easier in the T1 one week by leaving 2-3 reps in the tank instead of always pushing to barely one left helps greatly. Instead a redirection of effort to the T2 could be all the rest you need; no major deload required, and the Gains Train goes on its merry way. This however wouldn’t happen if you couldn’t auto-regulate appropriately. “Getting your feet wet” in the above way means you’re practicing the skill of auto-regulation, which is important because it must be fairly sharp to successfully and sustainably train using Volume-Dependent Intensity Progression.
Sometimes jumping in the water shows you how poorly you can swim.
Overconfidence is a bitch.
Don't be that guy raising your hand after I ask "who didn't listen?"
Build Work Capacity and Bridge the Gap with VDIP
When transitioning from one training program or methodology into another there are two periods that lifters typically experience. The first being training too hard. This is commonly as a result of lifters phasing themselves through different and increasingly difficult training demands, as progress would require. Lifts are expected to get harder, so you train on! The first week is crushing, but training continues- motivated for the challenge. The second week starts well but after two or three training days you may miss a rep, racking the set early, or even the first physical failure. A small adjustment may be made, perhaps a movement dropped from the T2 or a few sets in reduction. The second week finishes with both wins and failures, but it is rationalized that because there were more wins than failures it was a good week. You enter the third week fatigued and with noticeable mental fog during training.
A better step would have been to end the second week with introspection and plan for a better third week. Here's why:
The failures are disregarded and not appropriately analyzed- it's not the number of failures that matters, it's what they tell you that does. Racking a set early is the initial signs of fatigue and a few days later the likelihood of actual failure is much higher. Pay attention to these failures because more than anything they help guide your progress.
To resolve this the answer is simple and most easily applied- reduce either intensity or volume. If you're waking up groggier than usual near the end of the 2nd week during a transition period in your training then general over-fatigue could be the culprit. Requiring more warm up sets, feeling "rusty," or like you're mis-grooving sets during training would confirm this. Should fatigue be the case then a reduction in volume by removing a set or two from a T1 and T2 movement can be made, this is a large adjustment. But the first action should always be a small adjustment! Why make drastic calls when an over-correction can be as erroneous as staying course? To reduce fatigue by reducing volume simply leave more in your tank while performing your max rep sets. In fact, should your training plan include effort-driving protocols like MRS, drop sets, super sets, etc. and you're feeling overly fatigued then it is suggested you skip the push and do the bare minimums. Save that effort and don't rack up more recovery debt. This should always be your first course of action in such a scenario.
If you physically failed a lift, then of course intensity should be decreased. The best bet is to identify the technical limit- the point where your form held best at the highest weight for one to two reps. (Two to be sure) The general, and most often action taken by lifters, is to take off 5% to 10% from the respective lift’s intensity.
All that being said, what is a lifter to do if they transition from one training plan into the next and they become weaker?
You’re training hard, but still not making gains. Effort is obviously not translating into physical progress, which is disheartening for you, but very profitable for Ben & Jerry's. The problem here is the same as the problem with not analyzing failures above, but in regards to effort. The training effort might be high, you could be leaving the gym crushed, but the problem is effort was expended in the wrong direction; resulting in progress going nowhere or backwards. This is the second kind type of period in that interim training phase.
Using VDIP as a supplement to an already existing training plan may be the answer for this type of lifter. For example, if you were to be running a training plan that already had established T1 and T2 sets for squats, but were experiencing a detraining or stagnation in your squat, then additional sets using VDIP should be used for the squat. The reason for this is the high ability to auto-regulate these sets which add to your overall training volume. The auto-regulation aspect is critical! Simply adding 5x3 more could be too drastic. But adding 3 Max Rep Sets (3MRS) at a given intensity and progressing that weekly based upon total volume performance will help add the needed training volume with reasonable intensity in the right direction. By making them MRS and not fixed sets the lifter can stop when desired and therefore keep themselves from hindering training performance later in the week(s) due to this new training demand.
The key take away when adding VDIP an existing training plan is to avoid hindering performance in the higher tiers. The added volume should build the support needed to make that higher level T1 progress. Starting with 1-2 MRS with a goal of 15-20 reps total is a decent stepping stone as that places your intensity and volume within a moderate T2 range. Peak Reps could be 10-12 with one left in the tank on the first set, with 6-8 on the next set with one or two reps left in the tank there. Doing so helps add the needed training stimulus to the movement because it is specific, it is repetition practice, and it is highly physically demanding at minimum total volumes because each set is pushed for very high efforts. Progression here should be first dictated by how well the more important T1 work is doing and also what the total volume results are from the added MRS.
This approach to adding high-effort training volume is also a great means to develop muscular endurance and start building work capacity. For many lifters that’s all we do- lift. As a result of our poor life choices we get out of breath shaking our pre-workout between sets. Using VDIP to build a base of work capacity in those lower tiered movements is a great first step into developing a strong work capacity all around. The low sets, high effort, limited rest approach inherently drives up workout density. Doing more work per unit of time is exactly what work capacity is and at its core that’s what VDIP does.
I'd rather lift to get in shape than do a 1980's headspin on a treadmill.
But that's just me.
But that's just me.
VDIP and Peaking
The difficult thing about using VDIP to plan a training peak, say for a competition, is that its open-structure leaves more room for error. This could be things like adding weight too quickly near a meet and topping out early. Not tapering volume appropriately. And not being more specific in your training, just to name a few. Because of this using VDIP protocols to “peak” might not be ideal and I would first suggest switching to a more classically-styled plan to prepare for that task. Use VDIP the first go-round as your “off-season” training approach. After some success in that endeavor maybe consider using an adjusted VDIP protocol in preparation of an in-gym Training Max test. (I’d hate to see VDIP lead anyone astray heading into a meet. While I know it’s great for base building and general lifting, it does have some difficulties in other regards.)
If you were running three or more weeks of 100% VDIP training, then decided to do a meet it is suggested that you give yourself four to five weeks between the VDIP training and the actual competition day. This would allow enough time for a Training Max test, a slight deload, and a peaking phase to effectively lead you into competition. Shorter periods, say 1-2 weeks, would be far below what is needed in a transition phase. But let’s say you’re a wild person… You’ve been running VDIP across all tiers for well over a month now, you got a handle on it, and your ROG is off the charts. So why not change a few things about VDIP, require little to no transition phase, and maybe crush some huge personal records at a competition (or in the gym.) Below are some ideas for how to make this happen with a higher chance of success:
VDIP Peaking Option 1: Use the “Deadlift Progression Alternative” approach, or at least something inspired by that. The singles are specific and you can scale their intensity based on your training timeline and ability in a fairly straight forward approach. Use more singles at the start of the plan and end with just 2-3 singles before a final MRS the week before your meet. This should ideally get a total of 4-5 reps and establish your minimum opener and project a tested opening attempt the next week a bit heavier.
VDIP Peaking Option 2: Your peaking plan can have the T1 broken into three to five sets, each having its own Rep Goal. Across the majority of the training plan your T1 Total Reps Goal will go down to accommodate for added intensity. Starting at 15 total reps in 3MRS then eventually nearing 10 total reps. At this point adding additional MRS, stopping at 4-5MRS total in the T1, will allow for greater intensities as you get more opportunities to hit that 10-rep goal (or slightly less). While not a bad approach, fixed intensity across all your MRS might not be ideal. So instead of only looking at Total Reps in this training period breaking it into those individual Rep Goals per-set is the better choice because a range of intensities, with a higher average peak intensity, can be used for longer.
An example VDIP Peaking Phase structured with rep ladders in the T1:
Week 1: T1 Squat – MRS1 Rep Goal = 3 to 4 reps
MRS2 Rep Goal = 4 to 6 reps *slightly lighter*
MRS3 Rep Goal = 5 to 7 reps *slightly lighter*
Minimum Total Reps: 12
Maximum Total Reps: 17
Note: The rep ranges here are a bit wider to allow for the next week to get more accurate in weight attempts.
Week 2: T1 Squat – MRS1 Rep Goal = 2 to 3 reps
MRS2 Rep Goal = 3 to 4 reps *slightly lighter*
MRS3 Rep Goal = 4 to 6 reps *slightly lighter*
Minimum Total Reps: 9
Maximum Total Reps: 13
Week 3: T1 Squat – MRS1 Rep Goal = 2 to 3 reps *save the heavy single for when it matters*
MRS2 Rep Goal = 2 to 3 reps *slightly lighter*
MRS3 Rep Goal = 3 to 4 reps *slightly lighter*
Minimum Total Reps: 7
Maximum Total Reps: 10
Week 4: A rest period of 3-5 days minimum before a max test in the gym. If competing for a meet that’s taking place on the weekend of Week-4 then test your openers (Singles you could double/triple) the Monday & Tuesday before the weekend, then maybe a light workout that Wednesday/Thursday to keep the groove greased. Destroy the competition that weekend.
The general model of VDIP uses 3MRS for the T1 and T2 and that’s what I recommend because going beyond that for max reps is very demanding. That’s why I will always advocate for scaling the T1 intensity in 3MRS before adding another T1 set for peaking. The added volume and increased intensity needed in the peaking phase can be also developed in the T2. Here I would suggest more so that added 4th or 5th MRS. The Total Rep Goal should drop from that 25-30 range to 18-25 in order to earn those 5 or 10 pounds the following week. By adding an extra set and reducing the Total Reps Goal in the T2 the average intensity will go higher and you can push deeper into the T2 with harder effort to help support the 1st tier. After three to four weeks of driving the T2 with 4MRS, Total Reps Goal of 18-25, it is very likely your actual intensity will be near that T1 range.
It nearly goes without saying that a VDIP inspired peaking plan requires the T2 be specific. At least the T2a if you’re mad enough to have multiple T2’s in this training phase of yours.
Summit Mount Murderhorn and you'll be a legend.
Feedback, Personal Experience, Words of Advice,
& A Warning
To conclude this lengthy mess, just a few things to remember. First, get your feet wet with just one isolation movement using VDIP principles in your current training plan. Do this for 2-3 weeks and then venture into the deep water of this style training more confidently. Be hesitant to go beyond 3MRS in the T1 and T2, and do not be overzealous with the number of movements you do across the tiers; 2-3 tops in the T2 and 3-5 in the T3 for experienced lifters is fine. The T1 should always be just one movement. Add reasonable weight week to week based on both rep quality and total reps, within the guidelines. And always leave one or two reps in the tank on all Max Rep Sets.
Reports from those who are currently running VDIP and my clients who have much experience with this sort of thing are positive. The harshest feedback from them is usually self-inflicted, “I knew to stop but really wanted to hit another 10 reps” sort of thing. This is not bad though! It builds character and provides great lifting experiences, and in my opinion it serves that training week as a reminder of how hard you can push. A net positive. I’m willing to accept a slight performance decrease occasionally at the cost of that lesson.
Many love the challenge of beating themselves each week across the tiers and when the days come where they have added both weight and reps to a movement their response is 99% of the time referencing magic, voodoo, or other related supernatural causes for their gains. But all this linear training approach has done is open the door to higher average levels of effort in their training. The open structure of Volume-Dependent Intensity progression provides more ways to PR and when your training plan does that for you, it’s more likely to be successful.
I developed this training approach from the bottom up in the same way I suggest to you. First in my own training, solely in the T3 then gradually into the T1. Later introducing this training approach to clients of mine in similar fashion. Both causal lifters and competitive athletes alike benefitted. From day one this effort driving approach led to success in the T3, especially for bodybuilding goals. Initial efforts in the T2 with VDIP were hard, but not unsuccessful. Both myself and my lifters seeing success with T2 range VDIP derived training plans, but to varying degrees of course. The distinctive characteristic of this training style is that every set is an opportunity to maximize your efforts, and most of the time that will require pushing yourself hard to make progress. At other times the better execution of effort could be to take it a little easier, knowing this enables each rep to be an opportunity to win.
This is in the simplest terms a linear progression plan. The most straight forward training concept out there. However, it is the nuanced execution of my Theory of Effort that allows Volume-Dependent Intensity Progression to be useful for a broad range of lifters with differing training purposes. VDIP’s open structure and general intent allow for reasonable personalized changes to be made, then improved further because each set is dependent on the lifter’s daily ability. Through honed auto-regulation skills and strategic thinking anyone can be successful using this training approach.
Ultimately how successful depends on your efforts.
Swole Yoda ran VDIP and discovered the Force is really just gains.