The GZCLP Program: Linear Progression For Beginners (INFOGRAPHIC)

What the hell is GZCLP?

GZCLP is the official name for Cody LeFever’s Linear Progression program for beginners. A lot of people are asking what the hell it means: it stands for GZCL (Cody Lefever’s screen name here on Reddit) + LP (linear progression).

The program is relatively simple. Each workout revolves around the big 4 lifts — the squat, the bench press, the deadlift, and the overhead press — and is composed of three types of exercises:

  • A primary heavy compound lift (the Tier 1 lift) done for 5 sets of 3 reps
  • A secondary light compound lift (the Tier 2 lift) done for 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Tertiary accessory exercises like curls, abs, pulls, etc. (the Tier 3) done for 3 sets of 15 reps

See the infographic below for a quick summary of the method, and a detailed explanation afterwards.

What exactly is the Pyramid Principle?

For a more detailed explanation of of the method behind the madness, read this and this. Here’s a quick summary (emphasis mine):

The height of the pyramid is determined by the intensities with which you lift (with respect to percentages of your 1RM) and size of the base of the pyramid is determined by your training volume.

If you want to have a pyramid that is tall you’ve got to make sure it’s also wide. Conversely, a wide yet short pyramid isn’t too impressive.

A necessity to building an impressively tall pyramid is to make it only as wide as required in order to support its ever-growing height.

Too often I see lifters focus solely on the height of their pyramid and leave their foundation to the wayside, resulting in a tall yet easily toppled structure. This can be seen in programs like Smolov or similar peaking programs. Many times a portion of these strength gains are lost after the program has been completed.

Cody LeFever

The Progression Protocol

It works just like every other beginner program does: everytime you perform the lift, you add 5-lbs/2.5kg for upper body lifts (bench press and overhead press) and 10-lbs/5kg for lower body lifts (squats and deadlifts).

Obviously, you can’t keep going like this forever or else we’d all be benching 500 lbs after 100 workouts. The GZCLP protocol for dealing with stalling is to simply change up the number of sets and reps as outlined in the infographic.

For T1 Lifts

Once you can no longer do 5 sets of 3 reps at that particular weight, you then continue with that same weight in the next workout but do it for 6 sets of 2 reps instead. Note that you’ll only switch it up for that particular exercise — leave the other lifts alone if you’re still making progress at 5×3.

/u/YummyDevilsAvocado wrote an excellent example of how the progression works in a comment below, which I’ll just quote here:

Let's look at a T1 lift, benchpress. This is done on workout A2. I'm assuming you do all 4 workouts in a week, so you do workout A2 once a week

For all T1 lifts, in this example benchpress, you start by doing 5x3, adding 5lbs every time until you fail. This is just like Strong lifts or starting strength!

Your schedule would look like:

week 1: 50lb - 5x3 (success)
week 2: 55lb - 5x3 (success)
week 3: 60lb -5x3 (success)

Now lets say on week 4 you fail at 65lb:

week 4: 65lb -5x3 (fail!)

This is where things change. Now you no longer use 5x3 for workout A2 bench press anymore. 5x3 is done. Now you use 6x2. And You keep using 6x2, increasing the weight by 5lbs until you fail again. This is the key part that confuses people.

Now you continue like before, but you use 6x2. For example:

week 5: 65lb - 6x2 (success)
week 6: 70lb - 6x2 (success)
week 7: 75lb - 6x2 (success)

Now lets say you fail on week 8:

week 8: 80lb - 6x2 (Fail!).

So now you no longer use 6x2. Instead you use 10x1, increasing the weight by 5lbs every time still.

week 9: 80lb - 10x1 (success)
week 10: 85lb - 10x1 (success)
week 11: 90lb - 10x1 (success)

Lets say you fail on week 12:

week 12: 95lb - 10x1 (Fail!)

Congrats, you have finished a progression. This is where the progression starts over.


For T2 and T3 Lifts

The same progression protocol applies for T2 lifts, except you go from 3×10 -> 3×8 -> 3×6. At the end of the cycle, just go back to 3×10 with a slightly heavier weight than the last time you did 3×10 (no more than 20-lbs). So if you failed to do 3×10 at 100-lbs, start a new cycle with somewhere between 105-lbs to 120-lbs.

For T3 lifts, you increase the weight by the smallest possible increment once you can do 25 reps during the last set.

For the purpose of simplification, consider T1 and T2 to be two different exercises when selecting your weights. So your T1 squat will use a different weight than your T2 squat even though you’re performing the same lift.

How To Switch from Starting Strength / StrongLifts 5×5 to GZCLP

I’ve had a few comments and PMs from people currently doing SL and asking a.) if they should switch, and b.) how to switch.

My personal answer to A is a deafening, resounding YES. First of all, the GZCLP program isn’t that much different from SL, with a few major improvements:

  • Instead of placing an absurd importance placed on squatting everyday at the expense of the other lifts, you balance out the volume and frequency across the squat, the bench, the deadlift, and the OHP.

  • Instead of using one constant 5×5 scheme (which, despite its simplicity, is actually a very bad idea for beginners), you train each lift using two different rep ranges — high weight + low reps, and low weight + high reps.

  • Instead of deloading by taking 10% off the weight and working your way back up, you simply change the set-and-rep scheme, which is a far more intelligent way to progress.

That’s it in a nutshell.

As for HOW to switch things over, it’s actually pretty simple as well. All you have to do is to use your current 5×5 weights and switch that over to 5×3 — tadaaaah! Just don’t forget that your last set is AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) and as one of the commenters below mentioned, be sure to leave 1-2 reps in the tank.

For your deadlift, I suggest lowering the weight slightly, somewhere around 10-20%. Because if all you’ve been doing are 1×5 this whole time, 5×3 could shock the hell out of you and fry your CNS (lol jk).

Finding out your 3×10 weights is a little bit trickier. Many people won’t have the conditioning to do 10 reps for 3 sets (yet another reason why doing 5×5 for EVERYTHING is a bad idea). I would suggest using anywhere from 50-75% of your current 5×5 weight and progressing from there.

Thought I should add that the Redditor I replied to and inspired me to create this infographic had pretty good things to say on his first day of switching from SL to GZCLP, so that’s that.

Making Tweaks

One of the best things about the GZCL methodology is that you can customize it for yourself IF YOU WANT TO and that nothing is absolutely set in stone. You can run vanilla GZCLP and be completely fine of course, but granted some people will want to make some tweaks to fit their personal preferences better.

So with that said, here’s a few suggestions for the personal tweaks I would make:

  • I would consider making an absolute beginner with who has had little physical activity and zero lifting experience to start out with 3 sets of 5 (last set AMRAP) to ease them into the routine, and progressing to 5 sets of 3 when they stall. Same total volume, but higher reps per set mean lower intensities which could make it easier for them to adapt to a lifting routine for the first few weeks.

  • I would switch OHP and bench around (so the pairings would be squat + OHP, and deadlifts + bench) simply because I would rather do my T1 bench when my upper body is fresh and my shoulders aren’t too beat up from a T1 OHP a few days earlier.

  • I would reduce the weight progression for T2 exercises in half since it calls for higher reps — so 5 lbs/2.5 kg for squats and deadlifts, and 2.5 lbs/1.25 kg for bench and OHP (this would require buying some microplates; I personally have and recommend this set).

  • As the lifter makes progress, I would turn the pulling exercises a T2 movement (3 sets of 10) and superset it with the second. This allows the lifter to build and improve work capacity.

  • Doing the previous point would then leave room for one to two isolation exercises at the end of each workout for 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps each just because getting a pump is awesome and won’t hurt anyone if it’s done in moderation. I personally prefer adding abs on squat day, biceps/triceps on OHP day, lateral raises on bench day, and calf raises on deadlift day. I would do the base workouts for 2-3 weeks when starting out, then gradually add them in 1 set at a time as per Cody’s recommendations.