Strength Building 3×3: Self-Regulating Training System

This strength building 3×3 is a simple but highly effective method of training that will add numbers to your big lifts. Depending on the assistance work you choose, it can be used as a straight powerlifting or strength building workout, or as a method of building both muscle and strength in a consistent manner.

I will first detail how the 3×3 protocol works, then provide several template examples.

Strength Building 3×3 Basics

Here’s how the 3×3 system works.

Starting Weight. Start with about 80 to 82.5% of your current one rep max for a specific lift. If you do not know your one rep max, pick a weight that is challenging, but allows you to perform a rather easy single rep.

Progression Plan. You initially start with one single. Over time you attempt to build into a 3×3 using your starting weight. Once this occurs, you add an additional 5% to the bar and start the cycle over.

Progression goes like this…with your starting weight, perform a single. If this single rep felt good, and you feel that you are easily capable of performing another rep, do so. If after your second rep you again feel like you could easily perform a third rep, go for it.

This would end your first workout.

If at any point you feel like a single was challenging, and you are not sure you could hit the next rep, stop. This will end your heavy work on this lift for the day.

Once you are able to complete 3 singles during a given workout, it’s time to move on and try doubles. I am repeating this so there is no mistake…you will attempt doubles during your NEXT workout. Once you reach 3 singles, your heavy work ends and you attempt doubles the following week.

When attempting doubles, if you feel like you are unable to perform another double on the next set, you finish out that workout with single reps. So during a doubles week if the first double was challenging, you would still do 3 total sets:

  • Weight by 2, 1, 1 reps

After you can perform 2 doubles during a workout, you now move on to triples. The goal is to progress up to 3 sets of 3 reps.

So, to recap:

  • Start with 80 to 82.5% of your one rep max.
  • During the weeks to come, try to work up to 3 total singles. When you do, attempt doubles the following week.
  • Try to work up to 3 doubles. When you do, attempt triples the following week.
  • After you are able to perform 3 triples during a given workout, add 5% to the bar and start over with singles.

3×3 Example

Say you squat 300 pounds and decide to use the 3×3 protocol. You decide to use 80% of this as your starting weight, or 240 pounds.

Your first workout goes great. 240 pounds feels light and you are able to nail an easy 3 singles. The workout ends here. You move on and try doubles the following week.

  • Workout 1 – 240 pounds x 1, 1, 1 reps

During week 2 you squeeze out a double, but aren’t feeling 100% physically. You then finish out your workout with 2 tough singles.

  • Workout 2 – 240 pounds x 2, 1, 1 reps

Training on week 3 goes better. The first double feels manageable, and you feel confident trying another. After the second double you feel fatigued and decide not to push things. You finish out with a single and move on to your assistance work.

  • Workout 3 – 240 pounds x 2, 2, 1 reps

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Steve Shaw

Steve Shaw | Writer

Steve Shaw is the original founder of Muscle and Brawn, an experienced powerlifter with over 31 years experience pumping iron. During competition he’s recorded a 602.5lb squat, 672.5lb deadlift and a 382.5lb bench press.

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2 years ago

I just came across this article while looking for a 3×3 program and I really like the simple layout. My question is, could you just do the main lifts to gain strength with no assistance work? I’m 50 and feeling a little beat up, have time constraints with work etc. But don’t want to stop training, so I want a minimalist basic program to run for month or two. Thanks for any info you can provide.

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