How to get Lean with VI Phase 3: Training Strategy

You wanna know how to get lean?

Or how to build ridiculous strength?

Here’s a little hint: you can do both at the same time.

But, if you’re like 95% of the population, you’re trying to achieve these goals using a completely flawed and ineffective approach.

No worries. I’m here to lay down some hard cold truth.

So recently I put up a post introducing the beginnings of Phase 3 for Visual Impact Muscle Building. As I mentioned, the objective of this phase is two fold: build strength and lose fat.


Today, I want to take you guys behind the scenes of the Phase 3 training strategy. I’m going to show you exactly how I’m training to simultaneously cut excess fat and build incredible strength.

Let’s get into the details.

What am I doing differently?

Fat loss can be a very confusing thing. When we think of traditional fat loss strategies, we often think of training in high volumes (high reps), low weights and tons of cardio.

Only part of that is true.

Thousands have tried this strategy with very little success. I know because I’ve talked to a lot of them.

I’m going to be doing something a little bit different. I am going to be focusing on a combination of low volume, heavy weight training with strategic cardio.

It all starts with…

Myofibrillar Hypertrophy

I touched a bit on this in an old post, but it’s worth repeating again. There are two types of muscular hypertrophy (muscular growth): sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (SH) and myofibrillar hypertrophy (MH). Back when I was in Phase 1, I focused on sarcoplasmic hypertrophy to help me put on 19lbs of muscle in 8 short weeks.

For Phase 3, I’m going to be shifting focus to myofibrillar hypertrophy.

While SH increases the muscle cell fluid, or sarcoplasm, within the muscle cell (thus making it bigger), MH actually makes the muscle fiber itself grow (but very slightly). Since muscle fibers have the ability to contract, growth of muscle fibers results in dramatic improvements in strength. There is also a big neuromuscular factor here, but we’ll get into that later. Note that MH does not result in sizable muscle gains.

So how do we specifically focus on MH?

It comes down to rep ranges.

To initiate MH, we focus on very low volume (low reps). We’re talking about 1-4 repetitions max. The weights we use are also going to increase dramatically because we’re going to be working in such short rep ranges.

A combination of low volume and heavy weights will create a hard and dense muscle. Heavy weights also increases what we call “true” muscle tone. Rusty Moore, creator of the program, explains:

“In science, the term “muscle tone” actually refers to the electrophysiological phenomenon – of ionic flow across muscle cell membranes. The more toned a muscle is, the greater the electrophysiological activity it displays when it is in a rested state. So a muscle with great tone is hard and partially contracted in a rested state. A really toned muscle is hard to the touch. It takes hard and strong contractions to create this residual tone…and strength training for low reps is the way to do this.”

This is exactly what we want.

Extend your Rest Periods, Never Fail

During Phase 1, we shortened down our rest periods to 45 seconds to initiate the cumulative fatigue effect. Phase 3 is different. Here we are looking to build strength and this requires a whole new mentality of training.

And a lot of people have this concept completely backwards.

When you are training for strength gains, you are really training your neuromuscular system. As much as you are training for growth of individual muscle fibers, you are really training to teach your neuromuscular system to create stronger contractions. Stronger contractions lead to dramatic strength gains.

How do we do this?

Never fail. Never perform a repetition to failure. This is part of the reason we work with such low volumes. At the end of each and every set (no matter what exercise), you should always have one or two reps left in the tank. Never teach your muscles to fail if gaining strength is your desired outcome.

Extend your rest periods. Extending your rest periods to 75-90 seconds between sets allows your muscles and neuromuscular system to come back to equilibrium and be able to lift the same weight. This not only allows you to train harder, but longer as well.

Training in this fashion takes some getting used to and you’ll notice this yourself as you go through Phase 3 of the program. We are so used to working to failure that it seems unnatural to consistently lift without failing. It takes a bit of time to make that adjustment. It took me about two weeks.

Let’s move on…

Having dense, toned, hard-to-the-touch muscle is pointless if it’s all covered by excess fat. This is why we combine MH training with strategic cardio.

Strategic Cardio for Fat Loss

There isn’t much to be said here. Each weight training workout will be followed by a 20-45 minute cardio session.

The cardio session is composed of two parts: Intense HIIT and Prolonged LIT.

HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training – should last anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. There are numerous pieces of equipment you can use here, but I’ll use the treadmill as an example. On the treadmill, you will alternate between 30 second sprints and 60 second jogs. You are to continue alternating between these two intensity levels for the total 10-15 minutes. If you want to adjust the intensity, simply adjust the time you spend in the high or low intensity intervals.

LIT – Low Intensity Training – also known as steady state cardio. This is just a slow jog or a fast walk at a consistent pace. You only need to do this for 15 minutes max.

Always do HIIT first, then move to LIT.

As you progress through Phase 3, the duration of HIIT and LIT will change. There comes a point where HIIT stops being effective (you’re either burnt out or at really low levels of bf) and you have to switch over to prolonged LIT to burn off that last little bit of fat. This all comes down to which energy systems you use but I’ll touch on this in more detail in another post.

The Workout

Like I mentioned in the past, the Visual Impact Program is very customizable. You can make all kinds of tweaks and modifications to suit your needs and desires. This is what I love about it. So what I outline here may not be exactly what’s prescribed in the default program, but it’s close.

Note: We are eliminating leg days because we’re going to need them for all the cardio that we’ll be doing (trust me). Some of you might love this, others might not.

We are also moving to a 2 day split for Phase 3 and we’ll be doing 2 days on, 1 day off. Aim for 4-5 training sessions per week. Remember, since we are not fatiguing our muscles – we don’t train to failure – there won’t be any muscle tears so we can work out more throughout the week than we could in a muscle building phase.

Here’s the workout:

Day 1 – Chest, Back, Abs

  • Bench Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Press
  • One Arm Dumbbell Row
  • Chin ups/Pull ups
  • Planks
  • Renegade Rows

Day 2 – Shoulders, Biceps, Triceps

  • Military Press
  • Seated Dumbbell Presses
  • Alternate Dumbbell Curls
  • Close Grip Bench Press
  • Dips

Note: I did one less Biceps exercise because of an injury induced to my forearm. I would typically do two bicep exercises (barbell curl is a good addition).

Remember that we’re working in low rep ranges. For each exercise, I aim for 2-4 repetitions and 5-6 sets. (My repetitions decrease as I increase weight – first set 4 reps, last set 2 reps).

If you’re unsure of any of the exercises above, either Google them or grab a copy of Rusty’s program because the program comes with a cool bonus: a full exercise guide that shows you exactly how each exercise is done. Definitely a useful resource to have.

So that’s the training in a (large) nutshell. I know I threw a lot of information at you here so if you’re interested in losing fat and building incredible strength, I suggest you read through the post a few more times until it sinks in. If you want a step by step guide, you can get it here.

I hope this guide on the training aspect of how to get lean has been somewhat useful. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please leave them in the comment section below. Also, if you enjoyed the post take a second to Like or Tweet the page (see the buttons to the left). It’ll help me out a lot. Thanks!

28 thoughts on “How to get Lean with VI Phase 3: Training Strategy”

  1. Srdjan,
    Another great post it is interesting to see how reps, sets, and rest affect muscle growth. When did you start Phaes 3?

  2. That’s a really great post on training for strength. Personally I’d recommend 1 – 5 reps, as I believe 5’s are really good for strength, and I’d probably only do one exercise per body part. Although I’d do two for back to address back width (chins) and back thickness (rows).

    The mistake I made for years was going to failure (or very close) with low reps. I got nowhere because my CNS was over-taxed. So yes, always ensure you could do a rep or two more when you finish the set. Really good summary.

    1. Thanks for the comment David. I actually used the 5X5 training regimen for Phase 2 of the program but I haven’t talked about it much on the blog yet. I found that my strength gains were much greater when working with 2-4 reps than when I was working with 5 reps. But results really depend on the person.

      And yea that was the biggest eye opener for me. I used to train to failure all the time hoping to gain strength, but I never did. Now I know why!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

        1. That’s a good question David and one I’ve thought about myself after going through the program. I’ve come to the conclusion that the value Phase 2 brings is that it effectively transitions you from Phase 1 to Phase 3. At least it was a great transition for me.

          Having said this, it really depends on what your training goals are. If you’re an athlete, you’d want to utilize Phase 2 style training for prolonged periods. However, if you’re just a regular gym-goer and care about building or cutting, maybe you don’t need to be in this Phase for an extended period of time. Four weeks was perfect for me.

  3. Srdjan,

    That was a really powerful post. It’s great to see guys actually using Rusty’s program and sharing their results. I’m more of a body weight exercise guy, but Rusty’s stuff is probably the best in the world on getting that lean look.


    Where do you get the images for your blog posts? They’re just as cool as the ones Rusty uses on his blog. (and can you add a “subscribe to comments” feature on your site so we can see when someone else comments?)

    1. Hey Raza! Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      I’m a big believer in testing and experimenting things before recommending them. That’s why I spend so much time putting together these detailed posts so people know exactly what I did to get the results that I show.

      I’ll have to check out your blog because I’m a huge fan of bodyweight training.

      As for the images, I just spend a lot of time searching. I think the image you use for each post is extremely important for capturing the reader’s attention. There’s no secret really. You just have to keep searching. There are so many good ones out there!

      And I added the “subscribe to comments” feature. Thanks for that tip!

  4. I never really experimented with cumulative fatigue style training because I have gotten really good results with 4 – 6 rep, low volume training. Training heavy within that rep range (along with a strict diet) really helped me put on a lot of dense muscle mass (as well as some crazy strength gains!). Right now, I am doing cumulative fatigue workouts to see what difference it makes.

    1. Tim, cumulative fatigue is a term that I use to explain the concept of one set building upon the next. The effect of cumulative fatigue plays its part when you’re training for size, not strength. By lowering your rest periods, upping your volume and dropping the weight, you initiate cumulative fatigue and build muscle mass (not necessarily strength).

      When you’re training for strength, you want to avoid cumulative fatigue all together. You want to avoid fatigue in general. It’s all about teaching your NMS to create stronger contractions and you do this by upping your weights, dropping your volumes and extending your rest periods.

      These principles have worked for ages.

      1. Thanks for the explanation Srdjan!

        I’m definitely seeing some results with cumulative fatigue already. I also greatly enjoy the “cardio” aspect of cumulative fatigue because of the short rest period.

        I just wanted to point out that training heavy with low reps can also build some serious muscle size. In fact, Arnold Schwarzenegger started training by doing some sort of 5×5 training with heavy weights before moving on to volume-type training to “sculpt” his body. Obviously, this will work better for some people and not as well for others.

        1. You definitely get a sweat going with shortened rest periods. It’s an amazing feeling!

          5X5 training has potential for putting on size and strength simultaneously. And Phase 2 of Visual Impact does a great job of covering this. But you’re right, different things work for different people.

  5. Great post. I love rusty’s book. It takes hardcore knowledge and put it through in a very smooth and easy to understand way. I actually followed the program myself, seen results and learned a lot in the process from external sources to compliment the book.

  6. Hi Srdjan:

    Can I do pilates the resting days? They keep my abs, lower back and gluts strength. What do you recommend me? And how many days should I rest (do absolutely nothing) during the week?

    1. Hey Manuel. I’ve never personally tried pilates but I’ve heard good things. So definitely incorporate it into your routine if it works and you enjoy it. I would recommend at least one day a week to completely rest from everything (although walking would be fine).

  7. I already emailed you this, but I don’t get how technology works, so I’ll comment too just in case.

    First of all Srdjan, thank you so much for everything you do- I’ll spare you the details why, but you’ve really become a beacon of light for a kid with some shotty genetics and huge dedication to take his body to the next level when the basic plans couldn’t.

    Now to the point…
    I’m a busy kid (I’m 18 for the record), but in the morning I take a class that allows me to get in a decent swim for about 20minutes, a class that allows me 30min to workout however I please in the afternoon, and Cross Country running afterschool. Here I run into an issue with the transition from HIITs to low intensity cardo… on days that I rest from full-body lifts(Tues & Thurs), I do jump rope HIITs in the 30mins I’m given, and then about 2-3hours later run low-intensity distance(usually) for Cross Country. Does that time in between ruin the fat-burn effect of the transition?

    Also, although I appreciate strength gains(I could use some), I only have that 30minutes to do either HIITs and ab work, or lift. Obviously, I’m far more dedicated to getting ripped, especially while I’m on Cross Country, and the simple fact that no matter how much cardio or how long I stayed with my cal cut 20%, it’s always been out of my grasp. This in mind, should I just skip the lift for the HIIT-low intensity cardio everyday, or will doing it twice a week and running Cross Country and lifting the other days suffice. Again, these next 5 weeks (I’m also following your Get Lean emails) I have dedicated to fat loss (I’ve been trying since June & look nearly the same), so if you think it’d hinder my results in anyway, do tell. Still, I am scared that if I cut out lifting entirely I could burn muscle. My only other option for getting in a lift is some bodyweight stuff I could do at home or the park, but I’m dead tired after practice (I get home around 6,) and have other work to tend to. If the bodyweight work is necessary to avoid muscle loss, then I suppose I could find a way to make it strength-oriented with a heavy backpack or something.

    Also for the record, I’m following Tim Ferris’s Slow-Card diet from your Get Lean emails, which I’m assuming is ok.

    THANK YOU SO MUCH- everytime you lead to a wealth of knowledge, from Rusty Moore, to Tim Ferris, to Eugene Sandow, and more.
    Thank you Srdjan

  8. Hello Srdjan,
    Not sure if you are still checking these posts, but I thought I would post anyway. I just want to see what you think. So I did P90X and I bulked up quite a bit (more than I probably should have). I’m now (male) 5’7″ and 174lbs, and mostly (from what I have now learned from you SH) pretty much, I just look fat now or like a powerlifter is how I describe it. (double chin and all)
    I really want to try this MH now as it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of it. I’m afraid though that in doing the low reps and high weight, that I do it incorrectly. Like, what if I pick the wrong weight and instead of working MH I start working SH and just keeping getting size instead of density. For example, last night I decided to just try one set. Picked up some 40lb dumbells and did curls. I barely made the 4 reps, so I figured that was too high of weight, but normally I would do 30’s at reps of 10. I guess I’m just nervous that if I do this whole process wrong what might happen. I’m also using Insanity for the HIIT training, does that seem ok?
    I’m also working to cut the calories (I already eat low carb as only veg’s make up my carbs) to about 1200. But after using your calculations it looks like I was actually doubling my protein intake so I am working on stopping that.

    Thank you in advance for any advice. Great site btw.

    1. Hey Joe,

      Here are some things to consider:

      1-Transitioning from training for SH to MH takes time. It isn’t necessarily a light switch. It takes a bit of time to get used to that change. The idea with MH is very simple – never fail. Always stop 2 reps short of failure, no matter what weight you are using. At first, there is no wrong weight. Choose one to start with and see how you do. If you can do more than 5-6 reps without failing, it’s too light. Go heavier until you get to a weight that makes you fail by the 5th or 6th rep. When you find that weight, only do 3-4 reps per set and extend your rest periods between sets. So going up to 40lb dumbbells for curls makes sense, but don’t do that 4th rep if it’s a failure rep. Do only 2 or 3. Hope that makes sense.

      2-Don’t be nervous. Even when you train for MH, there will be days when you fatigue the muscles. It’s a transitional process and as long as you are not repeatedly fatiguing your muscles you should be fine.

      3-Insanity style training is good as long as, again, you’re not fatiguing the muscles (I’ve never done Insanity so I don’t know too much about it). Also, don’t forget to perform LIT after your HIIT.

      4-Cutting carbs is the most important thing. Don’t worry so much about the numbers. Focus on the quality of foods. High fat, moderate protein, low carbs.

      Hope that helps buddy. Let me know if you have any follow up q’s.

  9. Hey Srdjan! I’ve been following your website for a while, keep up the great work! I’ve been doing VIMB for the past 1.5 years and have loved the results. About to go thru my second run of Phase 3 and wanted to ask you about the weight ranges. About how much weight would you increase from 4 reps x1 to 3 reps x2 to 2 reps x2. During my first run, I started the 4×1 at a pretty heavy weight and only increased 5-10 pounds total over the remaining sets. Did you do something similar, or start much lighter and increase a large amount of weight over the 5-6 sets? Thanks!!

    1. Hey Zach, I did something similar to you. I started heavy from the start and made small incremental weight increases (5-10lbs sounds about right). I did, however, do 1-2 warm up sets prior to my work sets with much lighter weights just to get the muscles loosened up though.

  10. I usually hold planks for a specific length of time. I’ve been told that 30secs is good or is that too long for the MH style training and should it be cut down to 15secs, if I want to build strength?

    1. Nicola, planks are considered a stabilization (isometric) exercise (there is no concentric or eccentric movement). Therefore, it doesn’t follow the same rules as your typical exercises. My recommendation is to continue holding planks for as long as you can. Work your way up to 2-3 minutes at a time because this signifies very good core strength.

  11. Hi Srdjan,
    Thanks for sharing your journey! I’m hoping to get some clarification. In your strategic cardio section, you stated that it should be 20-45 minutes, but you say HIIT should be 10-15min, and LIT should not be more than 15 min. If you wanted to do that 45 minute cardio, would you add that 15 min to the HIIT?

    Also, you say you’ll elaborate more about the different energy systems between HIIT and LIT when HIIT stops being effective. If you have done a post for that, what’s the link?

    Thanks again! Looking forward to your reply.

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