T Nation

THIB'S TIP: The 3 Key Intensity Zones


When it comes to building the type of physique I like -- powerful looking, lean, muscular and hard like a brick wall -- the three most important training zones to spend a lot of time in are:

1RM/95-100%: This builds limit strength and increases muscle hardness via an increase in myogenic tone and specific hypertrophy of the fast-twitch (more superficial) fibers. Also increases your capacity to recruit the growth-prone fast-twitch fibers.

3RM/90-95%: This is the zone where you can do a lot of mechanical work without killing the nervous system and while still getting the strength-building effect of maximal lifting. There is a HUGE difference on the nervous system between 90-95% and 100%. So that zone allows you to take advantage of the performance improvement from the 1RM zone while getting a lot of mechanical loading.

6RM/80-85%: This is the high load zone where you create more hypertrophy via a high metabolic demand. The longer time under heavy tension (vs. the 1 and 3RM zones) activate different growth processes/pathways than the heavier loading zones do. It's a training zone that allows you to stimulate muscle growth at little nervous system expenses, a way to continue building muscle while allowing the nervous system to recover.

The original layer workouts used all three zones in the same workout. But recently I've been playing with a microcycle layering instead of a intra-session layering, rotating through the intensity zones in various workouts BUT also using different methods for the same training zone within one session. So you have a layer effect during the session and also during the training cycle itself.


interesting. i have recently found in my current cycle, that each movement responds differently to the type of layer being used, and is somehow relational to the particular layer i am using for a different movement. i am finding, for myself, that, i must use a different version of the layer for the movements, and, if i change up the version on the pulls for exmple, then i may also have to change up on the dead squats. its kinda weird. some combos work better than others.


I think that the key is the intensity zones not so much the actual technique being used. As long as you stay in the proper intensity zone you can play with the techniques as long as you perform enough total mechanical work.


not sure i understand. but lets take a stab at it. i think i understand that each zone meets a specific purpose, and that the longer u stay in that zone, the more u would accomplish in that purpose. i think i also understand, that u have been playing with using the zones intra session, basically like the original layer, And, also using microcycles. lets say a micro is a week.

so, day1, slight decline using the 1 rm etc, pulls using the 3 rm, ds using 2 rm etc etc
then week 2 rotates slt dec using 3rm, pulls using 2 rm, ds using 1 rm?
also, for exaample, ds from deficit using 3 rm, cluster, ds from floor using 2rm, cluster, from rack using 1 rm or vice versa
vice versa sounds interesting. you could possibly end up with the same max for all 3 portions


CT - this resurfaces an old theme of yours that I love (keep nervous system fresh). In your net cycle approach are you training movements/muscles more or less frequently? Is there a tipping point ("site specific" fatigue) where mechanical work starts doing damage even though nervous system is not exhausted?

I sometimes feel this way on my high pull days where I feel like I could train for hours, snapping 1-3 reps and waving poundages....THanks


Do reps per set matter or is it the total volume of high performance repetitions within the intensity zones that matters the most? Thank you, CT.


No because nervous fatigue is both site specific amd systemic... so you can't do one 1RM lift per day. By the same token, if you change the intensity zone every week you have too much time between intense CNS stimulation that puts you in a do or die situation and forces maximal adaptation.


hey CT would you class the layer system as cns based so it could be used as a am workout protocol with hypertrophy pm ??


Hey CT. I have been out of the T-Nation loop for a while (don't flog me). But I'm back. I have been reading about a new system you're testing called the Layer System. Where can I find the background info on this, in the Livespills or on past forum posts? Thanks, bro.


"No because nervous fatigue is both site specific amd systemic."
--- that is SO true! (i love when u put into words what i have felt, but cannot describe)

"so you can't do one 1RM lift per day."
--- meaning 7 days a week? or what?-- see also comments below

"By the same token, if you change the intensity zone every week you have too much time between intense CNS stimulation that puts you in a do or die situation and forces maximal adaptation. "
--- i can appreciate that. changing up too soon, or often, can short circuit the cns?

so far for myself.back in december when i first started the original layer(1rm, clusters@90%, 5,4,3,2,1 HDL @70-80%), i had the best overall gains ive ever had in such a short period of time. also, i was in "training shape" to be able to handle it.and i really did have to eat a lot. food seems to help the CNS ALOT! Yet, after about 4 weeks, it got stagnant. at the time, i believe you noticed that also, and "adjusted" the hdl portion some. unfortunately for me, thats when my season came and i wasnt training at all. it made lots of sense because by the time i was getting to the hdl, i was half-shot. that being said, and considering your current statement "so you can't do one 1RM lift per day", maybe it would be "better"(dont really like that word here, but i think you understand), to adjust the ramp and cluster portion, and leave the hdl portion alone.

-that could-- "It's a training zone that allows you to stimulate muscle growth at little nervous system expenses, a way to continue building muscle while allowing the nervous system to recover."
- another thing i noticed is that when using the 1rm, i would need to be careful not to shoot my whole load on that portion alone. hence, the 2rm. well, the idea of the 2rm is to not overdo the 2rm,but, the 2rm can be in some circumstances more demanding than the 1rm. so, the 3rm seems to fit the bill for most of the movements. even the clusters are less taxing. yet you cant stay there forever.
- in the end, are we looking for a happy medium?
or a conglomerate of cycles in a specific order,over certain time frames, to achieve our goals?


many have taken notes and put them in their logs or forums that they started. i suggest posting the question on the live spill, or creating a new one in CT's forum.
im sure you will get many responses


I was under the impression that it would be released as an actual program in February but it's now May and still no program so not sure what's happening with it.


it's going to be very interesting to see where this goes.



What are some example rep ranges you'd use for these intensity zones?

what are some example rep ranges for these intensity zones?

95-100% of 1rm: 3-9 singles, 90-95% of 3rm: 8x3, 80-85% of 6rm: 4x6?

do as many of the prescribed sets as possible until form breaks down?


You should not do any extra workouts when using the layer approach


I define the RM zones as the base level of intensity. For example, working up to a 3RM (to establish your capacities on that day) then doing 8 sets of 3 reps with 90% of the 3RM would be an example.


Thanks domcib and Angus1.


thanks CT legend !!


That sounds like a cool way to train. I found a daily max for the prescribed reps and then did 90% of that for the remaining sets when I did The Maximum Strength Program. It's the strongest I've ever been. I like training like that. I've got to get some things in order before I can use this approach. edit: I'm not a power lifter or a bodybuilder. I want to have muscle like a NFL safety or corner back and run and jump like one too.


This is a body building forum, right? Does that mean you intend for this approach to be used on a 5 or 6 day split?

These rep ranges sound like they would mostly be in the functional strength range? What if I want to do a 4 day/week upper/lower split because I'm an athlete, but I still want to look jacked. Would that be overkill? Because there are 3 intensity zones and I'd only be training 2 upper and 2 lower days a week does that mean I would have to periodize my training approach or is it acceptable to train more than 1 intensity zone in a day?