Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Powerlifter's Guide to VBT Pt 4: How the Sausage Gets Made

TL;DR: Download the template sheets. Watch this video. Read the article if you're still confused.


Please read the previous articles or this will be completely useless and jargon-ridden. The downfall of VBT, much like that of RPE, is that it's not something necessarily ready to go out the box. You need tables that guide your experience with auto-regulation, or you need significant time investment to make the metrics meaningful. Think of your VBT device as the engine to your car. Developing a system around it gives you gauges that tell you all the necessaries: how far you can go, how fast you're going, and if there's something wrong. 

I have two spreadsheet's I'll be using. They were programs I followed at some point, but now they've been updated with features I started implementing throughout. My original templates are pretty ugly looking and only I would know what's going on there. My current template has also strayed from this. I also have future plans as to how to develop it. Special shout out to Bryce Lewis for making some vids on excel sorcery 101.

This one supports cluster sets and up to 10 movements with one primary lift per day and one assistance lift.

This one doesn't support cluster sets and has up to 15 movements with one primary and two assistance lifts.

Ideally, the easiest place to start would be with the first sheet. I would use your competition squat, bench, and deadlift as T1's, and possibly repeat your competition squat and bench in the T2's (copy and paste the data). I would add only a few variants besides that. This makes initial setup less daunting. Once you have that initial amount of data, you can run a follow on cycle with the same data or update as you go. 


This is how the sausage gets made. If you think this is too involved to get started with a simple workout plan, that's perfectly fine. Again, I'm not attempting to convert anyone. At the same time, if you think setup is a pain, imagine trying to come up with this from scratch. Spoiler alert: it was tedious af. If you're effort adverse, then this is not for you. 

The basic template design was a take on Cody Lefever's GZCL programs. Although that was the original idea, I bastardized his original idea and there's close to nothing left of the original GZCL method other than terms. I like Cody's GZCL method because he has very sound reasoning and follows very simple principles for his programming. In his notation, T1=primary movements, T2=assistance movements, and T3=accessories. A primary would be main competition movements, but I tend to include assistance exercises that are kinematically very similar (like a pause squat or something). Assistance movements emphasize a particular part of the movement to help develop the main lifts. If you want to develop speed off the chest, you could do a pin press. If you struggle to break the floor on a deadlift, you can do pause DL's an inch off the floor. Accessories target muscles. This can be muscles that are holding back your primary lifts, like the quads in your squat or triceps in your bench press. I also throw in a bunch of things I don't want to neglect, like rows and pullups. If there's a move that you do to prevent injury, this is the right place to put it. Some of my common ones are shoulder external rotations and supine grip front raises. This is also the default category for abs and calves. How many of each you put is up to you. At a minimum, I suggest one T1 (primary/competition), one T2 (assistance), and two T3 (accessories). If you want to increase the workload, my preferred method is to increase the number of T2's, then the T1's, then the accessories. 



You are under no obligation to limit the appearance of any exercise to only once in a week. You are under no obligation to use a 4 or 5-day routine or make any block of training only 4 weeks long. Everything here is the framework any way you want to program this. In fact, it would be really discouraging if you implemented VBT only in the ways I have. The programming strategy is not presented as the only way to implement VBT - just one way. You can complain more, but I'm not aware of any comprehensive, free VBT templates. Tell me more of your first world problems.
The Routine Planning tab. This is where you should start.

This page is also where you want to start from. If you're maintaining fidelity to the GZCL distribution of things, list all your T1-3 movements. Anything T1 and T2 is VBT capable. You can designate the type of movement, as a S/B/D or accessory movement with the drop down menu options in the second column - but this is not necessary. Every column where you see a movement listed in the day/week plan is a drop down menu that lets you select movements you listed in the first column according to the tier. Intensities are manually typed in, but only increments of 2.5% are supported from 50 to 100%. For example, 88% or 102.5% will generate an error on follow on screens. T3 movements aren't auto-regulated by VBT or INOL. These are fixed volume. Type in the set rep scheme manually.

CLU refers to cluster sets. For example, a 6/2 means 6 total reps within a set with 2 repetitions performed per cluster. There's nothing fancy with this part, it is just repeated in the daily program view. If you don't want to use clusters, you can delete the values listed. More on this later.

You can fill in as many days as you want up to 5 days. If you want a 6th day, you'll need to do some excel wizardry. It shouldn't be that hard.

You could absolutely forego using the routine planning and actual program. In order to use the load-velocity or %1RM-velocity profiles you would need to reference them in a new sheet or extract the sheet as is.


The main feature of this template is integrating load-velocity profiles into a structured plan. I tried to run regular plan with a standalone load-velocity profile open in the background and got annoyed by having to switch between the files. Here's what it looks like in it's current form:

You only need to fill in the blue table using the protocol described in previous posts. Once you do that, you need to fill in the MVT cell on the orange table. To make sure you're using acceptably recent profiles, fill in the dates of the L-V mapping session and the RtF/MVT set.

This is set up in a 5x3 fashion, where velocities are averaged. You might want to use max mean velocity. All you have to do is change the formula or only input the highest velocity in the blue table. It doesn't matter if you use kilos or pounds, but be consistent.

The peach table is automatic calculations. The orange table shows you your MVT and SEE. MVT is obtained by doing a set to failure, usually at 70-85%. You can also update your MVT throughout your training if you ever establish a new one.

The graph shows you the regression line between %1RM and velocity. You want the R2 value to be high, preferably over 0.95.

The yellow box if administrative. Don't mess with it. The red box is the date you completed the load-velocity profile and the date you updated your MVT. It's conditionally formatted to display green or red depending on how long ago you conducted either. If you ever update your MVT or L-V profile, make sure to update this box. The way this is designed is so you can save past cycles to reuse the data if it's still pertinent. 

How the sausage gets made. These are all the formulas. It's a combination of Mladen/Flannigan's article
and some excel wizardry.

Exercise Prescription

A typical day
The intensity here is just repeated from the routine planning sheet. The velocity is your target. There is some leeway, so you can be within 5% of this. Don't try to be exact. My preference is to conduct build up sets of 3 reps until I get near target velocity. Once I hit that target velocity, I keep load the same until opening velocity drops drastically, at which point I use back off sets.

The T3 part just lets you track load and reps by exercise. I just use a flat amount of volume. It's important enough, but not super important. If you use less than 3 accessories in routine planning, some of these might show up as zeros.

Velocity Loss?

Velocity loss calculation in red for delayed feedback.
Stop velocity in blue for real-time feedback.
Using velocity loss isn't entirely necessary, and truth be told it is very much a training obstacle if you're only trying to pick things up and put them down many times. However, I think ignoring velocity loss, the best way to prevent failure is by integrating an RPE feature or by utilizing Mladen Jovanovic's velocity-exertion tables. I have included none of these so far, but I'll try one out in the future. Until then, utilize Mladen Jovanovic's website.

Many of the features are entirely optional. Velocity loss is calculated automatically for people that don't have real-time systems or systems that can't calculate velocity loss for them. This box is conditionally formatted to change from green to red according to your velocity loss threshold. It should be 20-30% for T1's and 40-55% for T2's. If it turns red, you've crossed the V-Loss threshold. Yes, you can change those thresholds (in conditional formatting), but I would suggest taking it for a test run for an extend period before going crazy with it. If you can't figure out how to change the conditional formatting, just remember what your target thresholds are and remember that number. There is some danger in using stop velocity and velocity thresholds at higher percentages, where 20% or 40% loss could be a velocity well below your 1RM/MVT - thereby impossible to obtain. It's a guide, not gospel. Use safety straps/arms/pins if you want to be hard headed about it.

For those with real-time systems, stop velocities are provided. All this does is takes the prescribed velocity and multiplies it by 0.8 or 0.6 to give you a gauge of when you terminate/auto-regulate the end of a set. If you want a different threshold than 20% or 40%, then just change the formula (hint: 0.8 is 20% loss and 0.6 is 40% loss). Don't expect to end on the same rep for every set, as performance can and does rebound across a workout. Again, at higher intensities (like 95%), this stop velocity can be below your 1RM/MVT. Know your MVT and don't staple yourself to the bench.


Credit goes to Reddit user u/n-Suns. Here's a link to another spreadsheet, but the INOL formula is integrated into the working sheets as is.

Intensity and number of lifts or INOL is a metric to evaluate training stress. It's basis is in Prilepin's table (a weightlifting volume and intensity guideline), which I tend to disagree with in terms of application to other strength sports. This attempts to resolve adequate training stimulus by accounting for both the number of lifts and the intensity of the lifts. The formula is fairly simple and is shown above.

Cumulative INOL. This is all based on a reverse lookup
of your %1RM to your opening velocity. Be caustious with this number.
You can designate the intensity by unhiding rows between "value"
and "load." If your opening velocity is slower than your
MVT (like a typo), you INOL will be inflated, by A LOT. 

While there is some data to back up Prilepin's table, there isn't anything tied directly to this formula in the research I'm aware of. This formula is based on Prilepin's table, with some fancy math-fu, but most of the validation comes from anecdotal evidence. Keep that in mind. It's useful to use INOL values as a reference point, probably not as gospel. INOL is useful for tracking training stress/stimulus across a single exercise, possibly two closely related exercises. It can be used to determine sufficient training stimulus across a session or across a week. What's important here is you can use VBT and velocity loss to up or downregulate intensity and volume, but that only takes you most the way there. INOL makes sure you can maintain a baseline training stimulus. The point is not to avoid fatigue, but manage it. INOL mostly helps in obligating you to a necessary amount of volume and intensity. Here's a table of values from Hristov's paper with my spin on it:

Single Workout INOL of an exercise
Weekly INOL of a single exercise
0.4 – 1
Basic dose with limited fatigue accumulation
2 – 3
Tough but doable
1 – 2
Challenging, loading phase
3 – 4
Fatigue accumulating, functional overreaching
Imminent destruction
End is nigh

Intensity and number of lifts (INOL) scores are provided in case you want an established minimum amount of work accomplished regardless of the quality of performance. These are reference points though. I try to maintain an INOL of 2 to 2.5 per movement. Yours could be more or less. Find your individual tolerance. If your rest days are necessary, then it's appropriate. If your rest days aren't adequate, then it's probably not. Load-velocity and %1RM-velocity tables will prescribe you a velocity to aim for as well as an estimate of what your load should be. I tried to hide most of the cells that the normal user doesn't need to see in order to work the sheet. Find what works for you, and go with that.

These INOL values should be used as a reference though, and I do suggest keeping it by movement and not just grouping all squat/bench/deadlift variations into the same classification. There is some danger in taking INOL on face value. Let's take a prescribed velocity of 0.41 m/s which is supposed to be 85%. You first set is on the mark at 0.41 m/s for an opening velocity, the second and third are 0.4 m/s, but your fourth set craps out at 0.33 m/s. The way I've set up the INOL calculations, it's basically interprets this same load as a higher intensity. This then overestimate's that set's INOL, taking it as an intensity over 85%. Is this appropriate? I would guess not. My current practice is to unhide the INOL row and manually change the intensity.


Recycling the same picture. The top left box includes clusters
Having cluster sets isn't completely necessary. What they are is a whole different story. The simple answer is you take a 6 rep max, you knock out two reps (a cluster or CLU), then rest for a short period of 20-40 seconds (the inter-repetition rest or IRR), then knock out another CLU, take another IRR, repeat until you hit your target rep max (maybe even over), and then take a full rest of 2-5 minutes. The notation would look like this 5x6/2@0.43 m/s VL<20%. That would mean 5 sets with a target rep count of 6 reps per set, doing 2 reps per cluster, with a load that gives you an initial velocity of 0.43 m/s, completing reps until you reach a threshold of 20% velocity loss. Here's what the set/rep scheme looks like:
From Dr. Haff's "Cluster Sets - Current Methods for Introducing Variations to Training Sets" at the 2016 NSCA
National Convention. Here's a link to the lecture, free of charge.

I experimented with cluster sets as a peaking strategy. My original idea was that constantly racking and unracking the bar made you practice your set up more frequently and made it more consistent - and therefore transfer of training was high. Cluster sets are similar to myo-reps, but possibly more helpful for higher intensity lifts. Myo-reps help you get volume, but cluster sets help you preserve movement proficiency, bar speed, and power output (this last one I don't care about). Intuitively speaking, since lower velocity loss=more strength gains, then cluster sets should get you the most bang for your buck in terms of peaking. I'm not sure if this is the case. It does help you pack in a lot more of high-intensity volume in a short period of time. I agree: this makes no sense. It's also quite weird to hit 5RM's for 6 or 8 reps with incomplete rests. There is an ancillary metabolic stimulus, but it's main selling point is it allows you to increase volume density at higher intensities. 

In theory, if you were to do cluster sets for T1's, and myo-reps for T2's, then you could have the start of a great volume accumulation phase. I agree. That does sound like too many gimmicks in a single program: VBT, cluster sets, and myo-reps? You could even make all your T3's blood flow restricted movements, and add a fourth niche element. I don't really recommend that much gimmicky stuff in one cycle. I would start small, and add elements as you see fit. I would not recommend you add too much complexity beyond what's already here. The minors do not carry more importance than the majors.


I used to have a tab that tracked stats like volume, number of lifts, and INOL across different movements. I've removed it because my main suggestion is you utilize MyStrengthBook. MSB doesn't track INOL, but I don't think that's an issue. One of the issues with these kinds of stats internal to the sheet is it isn't very flexible to people that add rows or columns. I don't want the stats to be such a focus that it discourages from people developing their own programs.


This is more a technical note than anything else. If you want to re-order the tables, I suggest using drag and drop since that should retain some of the features. The peach and yellow tables contain absolute references. Changing those references are pretty easy if you understand some basic excel editing. 

One thing I encourage you to do is play around with average sets and max mean velocity for mapping sessions. I also encourage you to map with more than 5 sets. If you want to use something other than 5 sets, you'd have to change the blue and peach table. The blue table averages each set of three, regardless of what you put in there. If you're mapping with a 7x2 protocol, it's going to average across sets and give you funny results. If you do 5 sets with a rep scheme of 3, 3, 2, 2, 1 then you will need to have some blank spots so you're not combining sets.

MAKING CHANGES - Routine Planning

I use drop down menus because it makes it less likely to generate errors later in the sheet. There's a series of table references that initiate other references. If there's a disconnect in any of those pieces, the sheet breaks at every point downstream. If you want more variety in your tiered exercises, you can add it, but make sure to unhide rows to see what else needs editing. If you want a T2 that repeats a T1 (Ex: you want to do one high intensity and one moderate intensity day for bench), the easiest way to accommodate this is to copy and paste the L-V data and MVT. If you ever remap the L-V or establish a new MVT, make sure to update both.

If you want to add more weeks and want the same setup process, it's going to be a more involved. Rather than tell you what to do in painstaking detail, I'll tell you to copy and paste the range you want to add in both the routine planning and routine sheet, then modify the cell references in the routine sheet. 


I tried to make adding rows and columns painless. There are minimal absolute references. If you're just after adding rows, I would suggest copying rows and insert pasting them. This will minimize the amount of work you have to do on repeating the formulas in the visible and hidden rows. 

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