Simple Training Has Stood the Test of Time

TAGS: cluster wave loading protocol, step load cluster, intensity based training program, gain size, training intensity, Ashley Jones

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I grew up with Peary Rader’s Iron Man magazine as my weight training compass. The authors who wrote for that magazine guided my development, and every month I would pester the local newsagent for the arrival date so I could unearth new ideas to trial upon my body. What always came through during those early days of my weight training education was that less is often more, which developed into my own philosophy of "heavy and basic." To this day I still believe that most people rush away from the basics before they have exhausted the possibilities.

I was amazed by the size and strength of Anthony Ditillo, and reading about what he did in the gym you find that he did only two or three sessions each week of full-body basics, which always included, squat, deadlift, bench press, bent-over row, and shoulder press. Just these five exercises will change your life if you stay with them over time, and they're perfect for the garage gym of today, just as they were 50 years ago. Just look at the success of Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program using the basics with a great structure and a sensible loading approach over time.


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Even Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, extols the virtue of simplicity as a path to greatness. But it also takes discipline to achieve greatness. As Collins himself says, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is a matter of conscious choice and discipline.” So with these thoughts in mind, I want to introduce some new training ideas to accelerate you from good to great by revisiting the past and adding a twist to several favorites.

bench press ashley

I like time efficiency. Concentrating all my efforts into just one or two exercises per training session allows me the focus to train as hard as I can and then recover for the next day or two. Whether it be a big three session of powerlifting movements three days per week (which my former assistant Marc Keys utilizes to great effect), or a combination of two of the three, everyone can benefit from time management. Here is a link to some of Ditillo’s training programs. My current program is Monday and Thursday, broken down as pull and push, with trap bar deadlift and bench press.

My sets and reps are somewhat different than the one’s prescribed by Ditillo, but I do not in anyway disagree with what he has written at all. I have my favorites that work for me. While setting out my plan, I decided to combine a couple of my personal favorite set and rep plans and methods.

If you have read any of my articles over the last 12 months then you will know that I prefer an intensity-based training program with the philosophy that size is a byproduct of strength; if you train for strength, size will follow. So with this in mind, my two most productive methods have been wave loading with a three-week plan and a fourth week deload, and cluster sets loaded over a three-week plan with a fourth week deload.


What I have planned is a combination of the two, with a break in the program using a step-load cluster to pave the way. The step-load cluster looks like this:

Week 1

4 x 3/3 with 20 to 30 seconds intra-set rest and three minutes between sets. Progress as:

  • Set 1 — 85%
  • Set 2 — 86%
  • Set 3 — 87.5%
  • Set 4 — 90%

Week 2

4 x 2/2/2 with 20 to 30 seconds intra-set rest and three minutes between sets. Progress as:

  • Set 1 — 90%
  • Set 2 — 91.5%
  • Set 3 — 92.5%
  • Set 4 — 94%

Week 3

4 x 1/1/1/1/1/1 with 30 seconds intra-set rest and three minutes between sets. Progress as:

  • Set 1 — 95%
  • Set 2 — 95%+
  • Set 3 — 95%++
  • Set 4 — 95%+++

Note: The (+) symbol refers to adding a small weight plate. The use of fractional plates is widely underrated, but when you are pushing towards max, in my book they are a necessity to guarantee success and to not miss reps.


This block will be followed by a standard deload of four sets of six reps with 60% before embarking on the next adventure into intensity. After this, the cluster wave loading protocol is used, utilizing my standard three-week loading:

Week 1

The original wave of 2 x 6/5/4 with 75%, 80%, and 85% now becomes:

Wave 1

  • 3/3 with 85%
  • 3/2 with 87.5%
  • 2/2 with 90%

Wave 2

  • 3/3 with 85% plus fractional plates
  • 3/2 with 87.5% plus fractional plates
  • 2/2 with 90% plus fractional plates

Week 2

The original wave of 2 x 5/4/3 with 80%, 85%, and 90% now becomes:

Wave 1

  • 3/3 with 87.5%
  • 2/2 with 90%
  • 2/1 with 92.5%

Wave 2

  • 3/3 with 87.5% plus fractional plates
  • 2/2 with 90% plus fractional plates
  • 2/1 with 92.5% plus fractional plates

Week 3

The original wave of 2 x 4/3/2 with 85%, 90%, and 95% now becomes:

Wave 1

  • 2/2 with 90%
  • 2/1 with 92.5%
  • 1/1 with 95%

Wave 2

  • 2/2 with 90% plus fractional plates
  • 2/1 with 92.5% plus fractional plates
  • 1/1 with 95% plus fractional plates

By utilizing this combination you can ensure greater intensity than just the straight sets at a given percentage. It is also very important to note that, due to varying fiber types in each individual, you may have to adjust your percentages in line with your own percentage of your one-rep max; some lifters can get 12 repetitions with 75%, while others may only be able to get seven reps. So, with this type of training, it is important to find the intensity-to-rep relationship that is right for you.

Intensity rules. Get in the gym, train big, and then recover big — including food, hydration, and sleep. Have great discipline and stick to the program for at least two or three cycles, make sure you do the down-load week (it is an important element that should not be skipped over), and you will reap the benefits of increased size and strength.

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