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My Volume-Based Progression Experiment


Right now, I'm using a simple volume-based progression for my bench and deadlift. Basically, I gradually increase the number of sets every session, working fairly heavy and low-rep.

As an example, this is how I've been training my deadlift on its main day:

Start with 3x3 at RPE 8, add one set every day that I'm training that lift as a main lift. Last set I might throw in an extra rep or 2 if I feel good. After I hit 7x3, I drop back down to 3x3 at a slightly higher working weight.

I'm quite satisfied with the results I've gotten in bench and dead this summer and am still progressing steadily in these lifts, but I'm curious as to what some of the advanced guys would say about it and whether they would suggest any tweaks.


Nowhere near advanced, but for what its worth I'd say if it keeps working, keep doing it. Worry about what to change when it stops working.

Out of interest, what are you pulling? I ask because for myself I found a big difference in how much heavy pulling I could tolerate when I was maxing out around 400 to when I started maxing out around 450-475 lbs (so from 2x to 2.5x bodyweight). I guess with using RPE you cover that quite well though.


You've got a great physique Apoklyps man, one of the best on the site.


Do people still say that word?


It sounds reasonable and it seems to work. Also, you easily outlift me, so who am I to nitpick?


I like it.
I like to train in cycles as well and have used this type of training in the past. I ramped to a triple then added a set every session until I hit 5 sets then went back to 1 set at a new increased weight.
I never did it for conventional deadlifts though. I used a Trap Bar instead as less wear on lower back.
It also works great with Squats, Bench Press, Barbell Row, High Pulls and Pullups (higher reps though) .


Thanks man! There are some pretty sick physiques on here, so that made my day!

And as for what my pull is, I hit 225kg for 2 sets of 4 last sesh.


Yeah its a good approach, if patient can make consistent progress for a long, long time. Doug Hepburn's training was very similar


This looks like a solid approach. I suggested something similar to a friend doing the Starting Strength progression. As the weights slowed down to a grinder on 3x5, they instead added one set each session going up to 4x5 and 5x5 before going back to 3x5 and adding weight. It has been working so far.

I haven't seen an entire program based on this method so it's good to know it works. We may just follow this progression like you and go up to 6x5 or 7x5 if necessary. Thanks for posting your work.

Edit: This does work extremely well for body weight exercises too. For pullups I've used it doing sets of 2 and adding sets over time, then doing sets of 3 and adding sets over time, etc. Using tally marks in a note book (and noting the number of reps that the tally represents) helps to keep track of total reps.


Try it out and see how it works!

Just one thing, though: if you're finding that you're already grinding by the time you hit 3x5, unless you're still well into the newb gains phase of magic progress, you may find that adding sets up to 7x5 could demolish you (and not in a good way).

I've learned that regulating intensity carefully is a must with this type of programming, even if you aren't training a body part with high frequency. I like to start at an RPE of 7-7.5 and slowly work my way up (RPE8 seems to be the sweet spot). My thought process is that you're getting a fair bit of stimulus through working with relatively heavy weights for moderate volume, so don't go too crazy. At RPE8, the set should be comfortably challenging (i.e. even on a bad day, you shouldn't ever have to worry about if you can complete all your prescribed reps), the idea being that you are practicing a fairly large number of high-quality reps at a heavy weight in order to really hammer in good form. Obviously, on the less good days, the last rep of the last 1-2 sets might be a bit sketchier than what you are used to.

I find 3 rep sets are a bit of a sweet spot with this system, but I think 5 rep sets would work reasonably well as long as you regulate the intensity carefully (start light!) and don't go too crazy about adding sets.


Yeah, I totally agree with you. I didn't mean as in true failure but a significant drop in bar speed where she had about two reps in the tank. I've had her using this approach for goblet squats awhile ago, working with body weight to progress up to 7x10 with good technique (set progression: 3,4,5,4,5,6,5,6,7) before using the 3x5 scheme with weighted goblet squats and now front squats. She's making great progress and I'm just making judgement calls whether to add reps, sets or weight. Adding sets seem to be a better approach for this situation since it doesn't add as much overall intensity and the volume is tolerable. The main focus so far has been technique and bar speed.

I like how you've implemented it. Eventually I will have her switch to 3x3 but wasn't thinking about taking it as high as 7x3 so we'll probably work with a similar scheme in the future when strength progression really slows down.


Just wondering - how would you reset if you ever stalled on this?


For resets I've tried
-Switching lifts to focus on a weakness or lagging muscle or whatever. So after benching and Deadlifting for awhile you could switch to close grip bench, or stiff leg dead. Or military press and power clean. Or even incline dumbbell bench and t-bar rows if the competition lifts aren't a primary concern. This worked great for me to build some muscles when I was "slender." I even used partial lifts in the power rack to focus on super lagging areas. All the moderately heavy sets are good for growth, in my experience.

-Using a "Ladder" Approach with slightly heavier weights. Doing sets like 1, 2, 1, 2 for 6 total reps. Then next session 1, 2, 3, 1 for seven total reps. Lots of practice with like 85%. This is a great way to build strength, IMO.

-Same total reps, but fewer sets week to week. Week 1, twelve sets of 2. Week 2, eight sets of 3. Week 3, six sets of 4. Week 4, five sets of five. Week 5, five sets of five with shorter rests. Slow, easy progress on the main lifts. I use this style of progression when I'm doing lots of cool assistance exercises in the routine.

-Switching to a different set/ rep scheme or program all together. Something where the sets are ramped to a top set. If the volume routine was like a 4 way split, I'd go Bill Star, full body, 3 times per week, ramped sets style. Like super basic periodization. Build muscle and skill with the volume block, then use the full body routine to get good at moving around and "expressing" strength. This approach worked great for me when I competed in Strongman.


I'd start with a deload week. From there, I have a few options (Flats has a pretty similar mindset on what I'd do):

1) Roll back a few cycles. I'd only do this if I thought that there was still value I could tap from it. This would also go hand-in-hand with modifying assistance work as appropriate.

2) Switch the lift to a variant. Reprogram that to the proper RPE for starting a new training cycle. I don't think I'd try to program low rep heavier work with dumbbells though.

3) Move into an intense phase.

4) Target training. Focus on increasing 2 big lifts at a time using this system, and put stalled lifts on the backburner temporarily and just maintain. Sub in/out lifts as your focus. Training this way has led to my S/B/D all going up at the same time for the first time in over a year, but realistically that's not a precedent that can continue indefinitely.

I'm thinking of doing a mix of 2 and 4. My deadlift will probably stall out first (it's starting to slow down). I think I'll change it to deficit deads and change the set/rep scheme to do higher rep lower intensity sets, while hammering away at my squat and bench. When my next big lift starts to plateau, I'll reprogram deficits to start a new cycle of volume-based progression, and put the newly-stalled lift on the backburner.

I'd definitely consider implementing option 3 at some point in the future too. I'd program in an intense phase before I hit a plateau though (but at the point where I can start to see it coming). After the intense phase, I'd deload and move to a light, high rep, higher volume phase, before moving back into strength-building.

Also worth trying something totally different. What's the point of lifting if you don't experiment once in awhile?


Thank you for your replies, dudes.


Just thought I'd throw in an update as to how things are going if anyone's curious:

Things have been going amazingly well. This is the first time in 2 years that I've been making not just progress, but quick, consistent progress on all 3 big lifts at the same time. I thought my DL was slowing down. It's not. I skipped a whole training cycle and upped the weight a little faster. I hit 495lbs for a fairly easy 5 yesterday after several working sets of HB squats and deads.

It's a very humbling experience to learn just how much of a difference good programming can make and how I've only really started to figure out what my body responds responds well to after so much time. It's taken a few years of experimenting to reach this point. At the same time, it's also exciting realizing how far I still have to go.


I have started using your progression theme myself; I'm cycling through four training days on a three-per-week basis, with one main lift each day (squat-bench-front squat-overhead press). It's too soon to say anything but the multiple heavy but doable sets seem to be great for keeping technique sharp.


That's very similar to how I run it (4 workouts, 3 days/wk). It is very nice for getting in lots of reps and a reasonably heavy weight with good form. I have a tendency to like grinding reps out too much, so keeping a strict RPE system with a lot of good reps seems to really make a difference in both form and recovery.

I'm very excited about the progress I've been making on this system, and I'm really curious about how well it will translate to someone else. Would love to hear back from you down the road about how it went, what you liked/disliked, etc.


Well, it'll probably take me a few cycles to really tell. But sure, I'll let you know :slightly_smiling:


I've run a similar program for push presses in an effort to build some shoulders (check my log if you need the details, it's too late to go into them). After about 6 weeks, my OHP has seen a pretty decent improvement and technique on push presses is much crisper.


I will definitely take a look. I haven't figured out a good scheme for OHP yet on account of my bum shoulder. Instead, I've been using my second upper day as bench assistance/hypertropthy. Bench progress has been stellar though, with my paused bench going from 230lbs x 5 to 235lbs x 6 in under 3 weeks.