November 10, 2020

Triple Progression for Strength/Power, Strength/Power Endurance and Endurance

Are you losing muscular endurance when you are getting stronger? Or, while developing strength, do you feel your muscular, hack, even general endurance is going down? Do you feel your technique is breaking down when you try to squeeze more reps with loads heavier than 85% of your max? Do you feel you are losing energy and focus if you have to do 5 sets of 5 reps at 85%?

It doesn't have to be that way. There is a different approach, which I use for my athletes throughout the season. And these are volleyball, handball and basketball Players.With triple progression, you will need maximum 5 minutes (after warm-up) of one exercise. And if it is going to be a complex exercise, it might be your only strength/power exercise in that workout!

You see, I was an elite Kettlebell Lifter and Master Coach of the RussianKettlebell Lifting Association. OK, but what does Kettlebell Lifting (highly endurance sport) and strength have in common?

First of all, Kettlebell Lifting is endurance, cyclic endurance sport, but pro athletes are lifting 64kg (32kg in each hand) overhead for 10 minutes without putting them down. By the way, my best result is 120 reps on the official competition.But still, it is only 64kg, and Kettlebells are jerked overhead. Don't worry, you will not need to go for 10 minutes or at 10 or more reps per minute. We are talking about strength in this article. But, there is one thing I took fromKettlebell Lifting. It's the training principle named triple progression. Let's come back to that later.


Endurance is the ability to keep doing something difficult, unpleasant, or painful for an extended time. In training, we are familiar with three types of endurance, all correlated with energy systems:

·     CrP up to20s

·     Short duration and high intensity (anaerobic alactit), up to 20 - 40 seconds

·     Middle duration and middle intensity (anaerobic lactic), from 40 – 90 seconds

·     Long duration and low intensity (anaerobic endurance) everything above 2 minutes.

Things, of course, aren't that simple, since we can't say that 2 minutes and 60 minutes both fall in the same energy system. In cycling, they use the term MAP (Maximum aerobic power) which is maximum average power you can sustain for 5 minutes andFTP (Functional threshold power), or average power you can sustain for 20minutes (initially it was tested for 60 minutes, but it was mentally harder, and the difference between 20 and 60 minutes was only about 3-5%).

Let's focus now on MAP, maximum aerobic power. The training we will do will be in the5-minute zone. So, the goal will be to obey the laws of clusters and trying to improve average power among 5 minutes interval.



You recruit and fatigue fast-twitch muscle fibres. Recruitment is maximized when the load on the bar is at least 80-82% of your max strength. In a cluster set, all of your reps fall into that zone. Meaning every rep is maximally active at stimulating hypertrophy and increasing strength. You're also able to do this with no "garbage volume" since all reps are maximally effective at recruiting the fast-twitch fibres.

With this approach you will develop the capacity to make the fast-twitch fibres"twitch" as fast as possible. This is called a "high-firing rate", and it's the real key to strength. The quicker your fibres can fire(fire more frequently in a given unit of time), the more force you produce.This firing rate increases exponentially when the load is more than 85% of your max.

With clusters, every rep is in that zone too. So the more of these reps you have relative to your total number of reps, the better you are at programming your nervous system to make your fibres fire at a high rate. As a result, you get stronger. You build muscle mass.

Stimulating growth is, in large part, a matter of putting mechanical stress on the highest number of muscle fibres possible. First, you must recruit these fibres, then every time you lengthen those fibres while they're under load(eccentric/negative portion of the rep) you trigger the mechanisms that lead to growth. The heavier the weight, the higher the mechanical load on the fibres.

With maximal loading comes a lower number of reps per set, which means fewer occasions to impose the mechanical stress while the fibres are lengthening. But with a cluster set (we are talking about one 5 minute set/interval), you get more reps in a set while also maximizing load. That makes cluster training a powerful hypertrophy method. You desensitize the Golgi tendon organs (GTOs).

TheGTOs are sensors in your tendons. They inhibit further force production when they sense that you're already producing too much for your own structural integrity. They limit how much of your force potential you can create. Heavy lifting can, over time, desensitize the GTOs. This will allow you to use a more significant percentage of your potential. Using a reasonably high amount of heavy work – as you would during clusters – is a useful tool for desensitizing those sensors. You become more comfortable with the lift.

Clusters are great at getting you used to manage heavyweights. Now here is this more noticeable as with the walk-out in a squat or the unracking on the bench press.These actions are frequently done poorly with a heavyweight. As a result, a lot of heavy lifts are missed before you even attempt them. With a cluster set, you"practice" those actions up to seven times per set with a near maximal weight. In practically no time, you can become a lot more solid with the first stage of the lift, so you get a high quality of heavy work. Because of the intra-set recovery period, your capacity to produce force is better maintained from rep to rep. This leads to better technique maintenance.


When to use clusters?

Clusters are best used with compound barbell exercises. You could do it with dumbbells, but having to pick the weights up and get ready before each cluster set eats into your time and is a bother. Ideally, use exercises where you can rack the weight quickly (bench, squat) or exercises where you can rest the bar on the floor after each rep (Olympic lifts, deadlifts). Cluster training is pretty demanding and should only be used with advanced trainers. I prefer to use them if a tough week is planned where I know there is a subsequent deload intended.Cluster training is a high intensity and high volume technique, so program it accordingly.

Cluster training is a novel method that can be used for strength, power, and hypertrophy.It can be an exciting new stimulus for athletes, and it works. Olympic lifters have been using this technique without even intending to, and it certainly hasn't hurt them! Give some of these techniques a try, and I'm confident that you'll be one step closer to your goals.

The late Charles Poliquin used Clusters way before science supported it. He built quite a few Olympic Champions, using that training system.



What is progression? Let's take a close look at the story (or a myth) of Milo ofCroton.

»One day, a newborn calf was born near Milo's home. The wrestler decided to lift the small animal up and carry it on his shoulders. The next day, he returned and did the same. Milo continued this strategy for the next four years, hoisting the calf onto his shoulders each day as it grew until he was no longer lifting a calf, but a four-year-old bull.«

The whole idea is to overload the body. Skeleton, muscles, tendons, nervous system, everything will adapt to the imposed demands. It's just that when our body adopts something, it stops growing. There are many ways to trick the body; oneway is to add more reps per set than add more sets per exercise, change the angle, shorten the ROM, add weight to the bar.

So, single progression is when you are increasing one component, let's say weight.Double progression is when you first increase the number of reps, and once you reach the desired number, you increase the weight by about 5% and start over until you reach the desired number of reps again.

For relative strength, it's from 3 – 5 reps, for functional hypertrophy it 6 – 8reps, and for structural hypertrophy it 9 – 12 reps.


Power/EnduranceClusters (Cluster at 85% of 1RM)

InKettlebell Lifting triple progression is one of the ways to get to the Elite level. And, it's safe, efficient and even interesting. Well somewhat. Goal ofKettlebell Lifting is to go for 10 minutes, first increasing time (athlete start with a shorter set of course), than pace (there is an optimum pace foreach lift, for instance, in Long Cycle it's between 8 and 10 reps per minute,Jerk 12 – 15 reps in a minute and Snatch 18 to 20 rep in a minute). Once we can go for the given time (we usually don't go full 10 minutes in training, we train between 6 and 8 minutes), and with maximum optimum pace, only then we increase the weight of the kettlebells.

With power/endurance clusters, where we don't use kettlebells but instead a barbell, we will focus on a shorter time interval, so between 3 and 5 minutes. Pace of lifting will be between 3 and 4 reps in a minute. That gives enough time between reps to replenish some of the ATP in muscles between reps).

How to start?

Go for 3 minutes with one rep every 20 seconds. Once you can reach 3 minutes(total 9 reps), add one rep per workout at the same pace until you reach 5minutes (total 15 reps). Once you can reach 15 reps in 5 minutes, you increase the PACE of lifting. So you start with 3 minutes again, but you lift every 15seconds. In three minutes, that is 12 reps. You add one rep per workout until you reach 5 minutes, a total of 20 reps. Once you reach 20 reps in 5 minutes, you increase weight by 5% and start over, with one rep every 20 seconds and go for 3 minutes.

After every »endurance cluster« you finish with an all-out set at a given weight and one all-out set with 10% lighter load to make sure you fatigued all the muscle fibres. This way, you will stay at the same weight longer, which makes it safer on muscles and tendons, and, since the pace is increasing, you will also build power/strength endurance, depending on which exercise you will do.

For relative strength, you can use bodyweight exercises, but you will have to add weight once you will be able to do all the reps with bodyweight only. For strength, use compound movements, such as the deadlift, full squat, bench pressor military press. For power, go with power movements, such as the power clean, snatch or jerk.

Some Basic Math

Let's say your max bench press is 100kg.


If you have to do some prep work like external rotation or middle back activation, do 2 sets of 15 reps per arm, just to get some blood flowing. Then bench press warm-up sets:

·     20kg x 10reps

·     50kg x 6reps

·     70kg x 4reps

Now you are ready to go!

OK, this is your first time, so you start with 85kg and pressing every 20 seconds, getting 3 reps per minute in. Now think of it this way. This is 255kg per minute. Don't think about reps now too much, think about intensity per minute.Once you can do 5 minutes, you will lift 1275 kg in total!

Then, you will increase the lifting pace. So instead of lifting weight every 20seconds, you lift it every 15 seconds. Remember, you are still lifting the same weight, but rest between reps is shorter. AND, you are lifting 340kg in a minute.

It looks like a significant increase, BUT, you will start with 3 minutes or a total of 12 lifts in a cluster. Meaning, you will »only« lift just over 1000kg,1020 to be precise. So that training is already a deload according to the previous workout. And, once you will be able to go with that pace for 5minutes, you will lift 85kg 20 times, which equals 1700kg. In a single cluster.You already used two progressions: the »length« of the sets (more reps) and frequency (the intensity of the set).

Now it's time to do a step back. Two steps to be honest. You will lower the intensity (back to 3 lifts in a minute) and length of the set (3-minute set).BUT; you will increase the weight (finally!!) by 5%. You will be lifting roughly 90kg. Wanna do some more math? I will leave that to you!

Bodyweight Alternative

You can do pull-ups, handstand push up, pistol squats, but you will also have to start adding weight to your body. One approach is also to do the long jumps.That was my favourite when my back was injured, and I couldn't lift, but I felt no pain when jumping. I measured the length of my jump (it was 265cm at that time), and I took 15% away. I took chalk, marked 225cm (that about 85% of max),and I started to jump. Once I was able to do all the reps in 5 minutes over225cm, I increased the distance by 5cm.

In three rounds like that, my back got better, so I tested again, and I could immediately jump 275, but the truth is, I lost some weight during my »jumping career. «

Give that type of workout a chance, but make sure you take 2 days off after it since it can be very demanding on CNS.

As mentioned above, this method doesn't have to be only for 5 minutes, you can ad just it according to your needs. Meaning, you can go for a longer set, but you will, of course, have to reduce the intensity (the weight) at first. Heck, why not go for 10 minutes at 4 lifts in a minute with 75% of your max? That will be one cluster at 75% of your max, so 40 lifts. Give it a try and let me know how it went!


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Gregor Sobočan

Gregor Sobočan

Gregor is a former professional handball player and Girevoy sport athlete. During his Girevoy sports career, Gregor achieved Master of Sports International Class at the world championship in 2015 and is Master Trainer in Kettlebell Lifting since 2015 (Russian rank). In 2013 he received a Degree from Endurance Specialization from OMSK University in Russia. Currently, Gregor is head strength & conditioning coach for Slovenian Handball National Team and Pro Volleyball National Champions Club. Since 2009 he is also a gym owner and is specialized in helping individuals, and professional athletes perform at the highest level possible.

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