VCS 3 Stage Back Workout - Volume, Cluster & Strength Training

Steve Shaw
Written By: Steve Shaw
February 3rd, 2014
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Workouts Back Workouts
65.7K Reads
Build a beefy back using 3 distinct and powerful cycles. Lift rotation focuses on heavy strength building exercises, muscle building volume work and pump-inducing cluster sets.
Workout Summary
  • Main Goal
    Build Muscle
  • Workout Type
    Single Muscle Group
  • Training Level
  • Program Duration3 weeks
  • Days Per Week
  • Time Per Workout60-90 minutes
  • Equipment Required
    Barbell, Bodyweight, Dumbbells, Machines
  • Target Gender Male & Female
  • Recommended Supps
  • Workout PDF Download Workout

Workout Description

The volume, cluster and strength system is structured in 9 week cycles. There are 3 separate blocks of training, with each block lasting 3 weeks in duration.

Each VCS block (volume, cluster, strength block) for major body parts is comprised of 3 different exercises. During a given block you will be performing volume work for one exercise, cluster sets for a second exercise, and strength work for a third movement.

The strength movement leads off each training session, followed by volume work and finally cluster sets. Here is the structure of each 3 week back training block:

Weeks 1-3
  • Strength - Deadlifts
  • Volume - Dumbbell Rows
  • Cluster - Pull Ups
Weeks 4-6
  • Strength - Barbell Rows
  • Volume - Lat Pull Downs
  • Cluster - Deadlifts
Weeks 7-9
  • Strength - Inverted Rows
  • Volume - Low Rack Pull & Power Shrug Combo
  • Cluster - Seated Cable Rows

Rest. Rest 3 minutes between strength sets, 2 minutes between volume sets and one minute between cluster sets. Understand that these rest times are merely guidelines, and not rules. Try to stick close close to these guidelines when possible.

Seated Cable Rows

VCS 3 Stage Back Workout

Weeks 1-3
Back Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Deadlifts 4 3
Dumbbell Rows 5 10
Pull Ups 8 6
Weeks 4-6
Back Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Rows 4 5
Lat Pull Downs 5 10
Deadlifts 8 4
Weeks 7-9
Back Workout
Exercise Sets Reps
Inverted Rows 4 5
Low Rack Pull and Power Shrug Combo 5 10
Seated Cable Rows 8 6

Workout Notes

Strength Deadlifts. Use a weight that you could normally perform 5 reps with.

Pull Up Clusters. If pull ups are easy for you, add some weight via a vest or pull up/dip belt. If you struggle with pull ups, use inverted rows instead for these cluster sets.

Strength Barbell Rows. Use a weight that you could normally perform 8 reps with.

Cluster Deadlifts. These can be brutal. Use a weight that you could normally perform 9-10 reps with.

Strength Inverted Rows. Be careful with this exercise. You will need to place a dumbbell or a 25-45 pound plate in the crook of your waist or on your thighs. Your hips need to remain below your feet as you pull up, so elevate them properly.

Low Rack Pull & Power Shrug Combo. Place a barbell in a power/squat rack about 2-3 inches below the bottom of your knee cap. Using straps, grab the bar with a double overhand grip. Lift the barbell up, starting with a powerful deadlift and finishing with an explosive power shrug. Set the weight back on the catch pins in between each rep for a split second.

Seated Cable Rows. If you do not have access to this machine, you can swap in barbell rows, T-Bar rows or Hammer Strength rows.

Posted on: Fri, 01/24/2020 - 18:47

How would I modify the reps and sets to focus on strength instead of volume and cluster?

Posted on: Sat, 02/21/2015 - 14:26

Can we do this type of workout for all the muscle groups?

Posted on: Mon, 02/03/2014 - 22:19

They're just naming rep/set/rest schemes. Strength = heavy weight, lower reps, longer rest (like powerlifting). Volume = lots of reps at weight. Cluster = shorter rest for exhaustion.

Viggy N
Posted on: Mon, 02/03/2014 - 21:34

Is this an ONLY back exercise a day or can I incorporate it into my normal workout routine (e.g. Back + Tricep Day)?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 02/04/2014 - 10:00

You can add this workout to most split training programs.

Posted on: Tue, 02/04/2014 - 12:23

I guess I meant that if I wanted to use this type of program for my chest, shoulders, and legs, what excersizes should I pick for volume, cluster, and strength each week if I only have a rack and barbell?

Posted on: Mon, 02/03/2014 - 20:43

How many times each week do you perform a cluster?

Posted on: Tue, 02/04/2014 - 10:09

Disregard my question, saw the frequency while reading the program in my normal browser (smart phones can really be a PITA).

Posted on: Mon, 02/03/2014 - 20:23

What about the rest of the body? What would you suggest for chest, legs, and shoulders if only rack and barbell?


Posted on: Mon, 02/03/2014 - 17:31

Can you elaborate on the cluster sets?