T Nation

The Volkov Progression


This is not new -- Pavel Tsatsouline described it in detail in an article at Dragon Door which is where I learned of it -- but it's interesting and hopefully my description is briefer and more easily understood.

Volkov has won IPF Masters, Moscow, and Russian championships in the bench press, with a raw bench of over 550 lb and 639 equipped. This apparently is the only way that he trains, so it cannot be too shabby a training protocol, as unusual as it is.

I find differing interests in it of being an interesting change-up workout, and also being a safe albeit unusual way to get an idea of 1RM in an exercise while also getting a good workout and not generally interfering with regular training. Very often a lifter puts off or just flat doesn't get a 1RM or a close estimate of one because of not wanting to "waste" a workout or because it might interfere with other training days, or being concerned for straining or even perhaps injuring himself. Not the case here in any of these regards, I think.

Or as for pure workout value, it allows fairly high number of sets while not being overtaxing on the CNS, yet still with, if desired, very-near-maximal effort at the end.

The method is simple.

Let's say that you don't have an exact target top work weight in mind, for example because you've never done this before.

If you don't, start with about 55% of what you guess for your 1RM. The exact value is not important. Either for your estimate being exact, or the figure having to be exactly 55%. But shoot for about that.

Decide how many reps you want to be doing per set. I recommend 2 or 3, though Volkov did anywhere from 1 to 5, though most commonly 2 or 3.

All sets are the same number of reps, unless unintentionally unable to do that many in the last set.

Then add some modest amount of weight per set, the same amount each set. The interval Volkov uses is about 4% his 1RM but again this need not be exactly followed. For example, if that would calculate to say 16 lb, don't worry, 15 lb would be fine.

End the sets when judging it unlikely that an additional increment can be handled.

Volkov does not do it, but if I think I probably can't get another set with the full increment but could do so with a little less, I'll make the last increment smaller.

So, example workout for estimated 500 lb 1RM. I pick this value for the sake of round figures. Let's say you plan to do doubles.

0) Very light warmup if desired.

1) 275 for 2

2) 295 for 2

3) 315 for 2

4) 335 for 2

5) 355 for 2

6) 375 for 2

7) 395 for 2

8) 415 for 2

9) 435 for 2

10) perhaps 455 for 2.

The article says nothing of Volkov's rest times and I have no other information on it. I take about an hour for this, allowing 1 minute rest at the very beginning, then fairly soon 2 minutes rest, and pretty soon getting into 3 and 4 minutes rest. By the last couple of sets, 6 minutes rest.

If doing it for the sake of an estimated 1RM for planning purposes, I'd say that a 1RM probably ought to be at least 5% higher than the highest double, more likely 10% or could even be a touch more; or if inadvertently dropping to a single on the last set, at least 5% more than that. And if you are quite sure that you could have gotten the inadvertent single (you'd planned a double) with say another 10 lb, for the sake of a good estimated you could add that 10 lb on, then add another 5% I believe. (We are not determining a factual 1RM, but a good estimate suitable for planning purposes or having a general idea.)

It's a nice workout and quite different from the usual.


Could you explain this a bit more, I'm listening attentively.


I'd accidentally hit the Submit button before finishing writing. Hopefully the current version of the above post now covers enough, but if anything is lacking please let me know.

Also, Pavel T's article is at www.dragondoor.com/articler/mode3/353/ , for a fuller picture.

To interpret it properly -- at first it had me confused -- it's necessary to realize that the calculations he shows for percent 1RM are based on equipped 1RM, whereas Volkov trains raw. Particularly if a lifter doesn't have an equipped value, as I do not, I thought it useful to see how it would work out based on raw 1RM.

I found a figure for Volkov's raw performance in a meet -- about 250 kg, by now I don't recall exactly -- during this time period, or at least I think it was this time period, and so refigured percentages off of the raw value, since the training is raw. That is why the starting weight is 55% in my post (55% of raw 1RM) whereas in Pavel T's article it is 50% (50% of equipped 1RM.) They are actually the same thing, or virtually so.

Fortunately the method is not dependent on exact values.

Oh, one thing I left out in the above post:

Suppose that it is NOT your first time, and you have a definite goal for the top set.

Then you might work backwards in figuring it. Or just add the same amount to every set. Let's say last time you did the progression described above. And this time you want to top out at 460 for 2.

So you'd start with 280 this time (no matter that that is not exactly 55%) and still add 20 lb per set.

Lastly, this method is a good situation for employing the small-plate trick. If you keep adding small plates -- maybe occasionally changing out two 10's and a 5 for a 25, but in general having a lot of small plates on there -- and NOT keeping track really of the set number you are at and avoiding trying to calculate or think about what the weight is, this may help break mental barriers. Who knows you might get an entire extra interval!


More wisdom from Roberto.


Why do people keep making threads about Pavel in the bodybuilding section?


I put it in the bb'ing section because I am interested in the bb'ing aspects of it.

The uses I explained for it are valid to bodybuilding as well.

Furthermore, in Strength Sports this would more likely already be known. Secondly, it would be fairly asked, well how has it improved my totals in powerlifting or for Strongman competition and so forth?

I have not even used it that way, either as long-term program (and the post above is NOT putting it in the context of using as a program) nor do I compete in a strength sport. I would really have no standing to say one way or the other how good this is for strength sports, relative to other routines and programs, other than saying Well this other person said so. Other than having tried it 4 days a week for 2 weeks with ATG squats and the cumulative effect, not any one workout or set, straining my left adductor in the process. Which was already tweaked going into it. I could testify to that. :wink:

But using it as an ongoing program is not the subject of this post at all, is it? I am talking about something different: uses of doing it occasionally or even just every now and then.

Furthermore, in Strength Sports the aspect of getting a good idea of one's 1RM without having to "waste" a workout or be concerned about injury or interfering with other workouts would not be very meaningful because for example a powerlifter EXPECTS to go for actual 1RM's from time to time. They have little use for a non-max-single estimate of 1RM, at least in the big three.

Does that satisfy your question?


WHy would a big bench press not be applicable to bodybuilding ?


PEon, you dare question the wisdom of Go Heavy Fool?

I remind you that BBing has nothing to do with gaining strength. It has everything to do with vomiting "Shut up and lift" every third post, and taking pot shots at Waterbury when you have nothing else to contribute.