T Nation

Layer System Write-up?


Hi CT,

I realize you work hard to answer all the questions here, and have provided valuable info for free. So it seems rather asinine to ask this, but I'll ask anyway: regarding the layer system, though there are many "pockets" of information available all over the training logs (particularly dave-g's) and by you here in the forums, it might be useful to have a single article outlining the entire methodology to help people to learn they system and also serve as a quick reference to those practicing it. So I was wondering if you have plans to write up the entire system of training?

Thanks again!


Hope this is helpful in the interim. All of the info presented here is from Christian Thibaudeaus Livespill Posts.


This first layer is all about activating the nervous system, increasing fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment and building the capacity to showcase strength. You basically ramp up gradually toward your max for the day.

Start at about 40-50% and add 10-20lbs per set until you hit your max. Perform sets of 3 for the first 2-3 sets then switch to singles to reduce fatigue.
We want about 6-9 ramping sets including 3-4 heavy ones (above 90%).


Clusters develop the capacity to recruit AND stimulate more FT fibers. It is a very powerful method to increase size, strength and density (giving the muscles a harder look).
You use 90% of the weight you reached in your ramp.

One set has several reps (3-7) performed 10 seconds of rest between them.
You rest the bar on every rep, which is why it's best to start from pins or a deadstart. You stop the cluster set when you cannot perform more reps. You do 3 sets.


This is the most effective way to stimulate as many fibers to grow as possible, especially now that the nervous system is "on".

Each set is as follow:
5 reps/rest 10-15 sec/4 reps/rest 10-15 sec/3 reps/rest 10-15 sec/2 reps/rest 10-15 sec/1 rep

If you were able to get more than 17 total cluster reps over 3 sets, instead of 5-4-3-2-1 for HDL you do 4-4-3-3-2-2-1-1... you start with 65-70% and ideally would eventually be able to use 80%. Do 3 sets.



For this layer we use 80-85% of the max ramp. Each set has two bouts of reps separated by 15 seconds of rest. You start the first bout by doing as many reps you can with 80% without major form breakdown. When you reach a point where you know that you will not be able to complete one more clean rep, you replace the bar on the supports and rest for 15 seconds. After those 15 seconds, you unrack the bar and try to do as many reps as you can again. Then the set is over.

Extended Sets is a layer that can be used instead of the HDL. Both work great and using both (either back and forth during a training cycle) or doing one method for one training cycle and the other for the next works great


This is an optional layer. The layer system is perfectly effective with just the first 3. But if you are using a powerful recovery agent like PLAZMA and want to take the pump to another level (driving more nutrients to the muscles) you can add the pump layer:
One set is: hold the weight in mid range (peak for pulls) 5 sec./do 5 reps/hold 4 sec/do 4 reps/hold 3 sec./do 3 reps/hold 2 sec/do 2 reps/hold 1 sec/do 1 rep...

There is no pause during a max pump set (the "pause" is during the isometric hold... which is actually the hardest part!). Use 40-50% of the ramped max and perform 2-3 sets.


For maximum strength I recommend:
(layer 1) Ramp to max
(layer 2) clusters
(layer 3) extended sets
(layer 4) speed HDL... speed HDL is 8 sets of 3 explosive reps (50% of ramp) with 30 sec. of rest between sets.


The system is One and ONLY one lift a day.

CT is now experimenting with 3 sets of simply rowing as a finisher for the high pull/back days, but ABSOLUTELY NO second exercise after legs or pressing movements!

Answer to a question about pre pump work: I often do a low stress traps/rear delts move right before high pulls (kinda like a superset).

The only style of squatting CT allows is from the safety pins up--set the safety pins at the bottom of the squat, get under the weight, and squat it up, then set it back on the pins for rest between clusters or between each individual rep of the HDL sets.

This system is meant to be either 5 or 6 days a week.

Exercises for the Layer System: front squat, bench LOW incline tilt, high pull, overhead press, deadlift, bench decline tilt. All from pins except high pulls which are from blocks.
The snatch grip high pull, if properly done will do more than any other exercise (or even exercise combos) to give you the power look. It is amazing to build the delts, traps and mid back.

Its fine to do full ROM on the layer system... BUT extend the rest between reps for the cluster to 15 sec.

But many people I (CT) work with are actually doing only 5 weekly training sessions:

Bench incline tilt
High pull
Bench decline tilt
Front squat or TBDL
High pull

In fact the guy with the greatest gains overall so far is doing it like that.

Before doing the next split please read the note about it from CT.

(For a football player doing sprints, the best option for layers might be:)

DAY 1. Bench incline tilt layer
DAY 2. Power cleans or high pull from blocks layer
DAY 4. OH press from pins layer
DAY 6. Squat or TBDL layer
DAY 7. free day... that's the only split I can recommend when doing sprint work.

CT has stated the following regarding this split: ''I don't like it... I made the football recommendation in a moment of weakness. The system is so powerful that I want everybody to use it! BUT I now realize that there is a very fine balance that you should not mess up with. When it comes down to it, you can do what you want. But I'll be less lenient in the future... you do the system the way I do it, or do something else :)''

For maximum strength I recommend:

(layer 1) Ramp to max
(layer 2) clusters
(layer 3) extended sets
(layer 4) speed HDL... speed HDL is 8 sets of 3 explosive reps (50% of ramp) with 30 sec. of rest between sets.

I personally like doing 2 workouts in a row with the regular HDL, then 2 workouts in a row with extended sets.

I'm talking about 2 workouts in a row of the same movement.


On the ''off days'' is where you can do some lats and biceps work. These are the only two muscle groups that might need some additional work.

Note on Lats and Biceps work:
(1) I don't like having lats 2 days in a row (wed/thu)
(2) I don't like having lats work the day before high pulls (the lats are involved somewhat if you do the movement right)
(3) I don't like biceps the day before high pulls (for the same reason)
(4) I don't like 2 biceps workouts a week.

I find that I get all the lats development I want by working them once a week as ''free'' more ''pump style'' work.

And with only a small amount of biceps work thrown in there, my arms are bigger than ever.
If your recovery capacity isn't great it's probably better to do the biceps and back work at the tail end of an existing workout.

I DO NOT like chin-ups as a whole and much less as a layer movement. The reason I don't like chin-ups is that it is VERY easy to get "false improvement" by slightly changing body angle, swinging or using most other muscles groups... and this often happens even in those with good form; it happens subconsciously. Chin-ups work OK if you are strong and do not go super heavy, focusing on the perfect contraction. Since the layer system is based on going heavy AND to your limit, it is a poor choice.


The max ramp and cluster are very high intensity, especially for someone who has little training experience. While a scaled down version will not be as effective for an intermediate or advanced lifter, it might be for a beginner.

In that case I recommend ramping to a 5RM for the first 3 weeks and to a 3RM for weeks 4-6 (instead of ramping to a 1RM), then using 90% of that to do the clusters (you will obviously do more than 3-7 reps per cluster, maybe 7-12)

I also recommend 4 cluster sets and 4 HDL sets instead of 3

So you can use either a 3RM or a 5 RM, but not a 1 RM for your ramp.
Cluster sets are still single reps but you can expect to get more than 5 singles per cluster because your top weight is lower. You must still use between 6-9 total sets to reach your max 5RM or 3RM when ramping.

For example: If your max is going to be 200, then you need to reach your top weight on set 6-8 ish. Might look like 80x5, 100x5, 120x5, 140x5, 160x5, 180x5, 200x5 . If it ended up being too light you can take one more set (to be #9) and set a PR. Small jumps of 10-20 ish pounds.


This is a pretty thorough write up, can a Mod sticky this at the top? I'm sure it would help a lot of people out with getting started!


Thanks for posting that DAVE101! Very useful indeed.


Link below to Strength Layer setup:



The above posted summary from Dave101, posted as his own, was originally collected, ordered and written up by me and posted here:


Please credit where credit is due.


Chill... actually credit is ultimately and totally due to Christian Thibaudeau... How about them apples?!


I remember seeing that when I was first learning about the layers.

Thanks for pulling all of that together; it helped me quite a bit since I missed the original LiveSpills.


I did not post it as my own, I gave credit to CT. Thanks to Pat from BS for copy & pasting from the livespills so I could copy & paste here.