10 Reasons To Start The 3x3 Program!

The 3x3 program allows you to focus on heavy weights and low reps. If you would like to learn more see the benefits below and try the sample routines included.
I am a big fan of programs that focus on doing a few things very well. Complicated programs are rarely built to last, and few trainees benefit from them. One of my favorite workout programs is the 3x3 program. Why 3x3?

The 3x3 program allows you to focus on heavy weights and low reps. You do three sets of three reps at each session with varying intensities. The volume is fairly low so high frequency is a viable option. The 3x3 program is also great for size and strength goals or just sheer strength goals.

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It all depends on what exercises you pick and how the workout weeks are structured. The 3x3 protocol is also a great prelude to the 5x5 program. Why? The 3x3 program will get you very strong and the stronger you are the more effective the 5x5 program will be.

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10 Benefits Of The 3x3 Protocol

  1. Calls for heavy loads which leads to serious increases in strength.

  2. Low volume and low reps allow greater focus.

  3. Central Nervous System will be stimulated and you will feel strong and powerful after each workout.

The Central Nervous System.
The human central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. These lie in the midline of the body and are protected by the skull and vertebrae respectively.

This collection of billions of neurons is arguably the most complex object known.

The central nervous system along with the peripheral nervous system comprise a primary division of controls that command all physical activities of a human.

Neurons of the central nervous system affect consciousness and mental activity while spinal extensions of central nervous system neuron pathways affect skeletal muscles and organs in the body.

  1. Can be used for pure strength or strength and size.

  2. Can be done frequently (3-5 times per week).

  3. Does not take long if you focus on compound exercises.

  4. Easier to execute perfect form on low rep and low set workouts.

  5. Can be used to increase speed and explosive power as well.

  6. Is safe as the more reps you do, the more likely you are to do one rep wrong.

  7. Great for building dense, hard muscles that are as strong as they look.

Let's talk about how to use the 3x3 program for strength and size (or just strength alone). If you want to pack on some size with the 3x3 program, jack up the calories and focus on exercises that provide the most return for your efforts. The usual suspects include:

Work out four times per week. Two upper body days and two lower body days. For a strength focus, apply a higher frequency and focus on deadlifts, military presses, and weighted pull-ups. Do three to five workouts per week. If three workouts, do one heavy workout, one medium workout and one light workout.

If five workouts per week, do one heavy workout, two medium workouts and two light workouts. For example, 90% of your 3 RM (three rep max) on one day, 80% of your three rep max on two days, and 70% of your three rep max on two days.

What Does "3 RM" Mean?
Three Rep Max. An "RM" specifies the maximum number of times (reps) you can lift a weight before hitting muscular failure. Click here for more information.

3 RM CALCULATOR

Enter the amount of weight you can lift (in pounds) and the number of reps you can lift it for.


Sample 3x3 Programs

Here are two sample 3x3 programs. The strength focus workout will build hard, dense muscles without adding bulk and the strength and size workout will get you bigger and stronger rather than just bigger. Do three sets of three reps (3x3) for all exercises.

3x3 For Strength Only

3x3 Strength Only Program.
Day Workout Intensity Exercises Weight
Monday Heavy Day Barbell Clean & Military Press;
Dumbbell Renegade Row (L, R);
Barbell Deadlift
90% of 3 RM
Wednesday Medium Day One-Arm Dumbbell Clean & Military Press (L, R);
Weighted Pull-Up;
Barbell Deadlift
80% of 3 RM
Friday Light Day Double Dumbbell Clean & Press;
Barbell Bent-Over Row;
Barbell Deadift
70% of 3 RM

    Rotate the exercises every week. For example in week two, the Barbell Clean And Press is moved to the medium day and the Double Dumbbell Clean and Press is moved to the heavy day. This way every exercise gets to have a day in the spotlight.

    Can you do the same exercises every time? You could, but doing different but similar exercises will be more effective and decrease the likelihood of overuse injuries.

    Why is the heavy day on Monday? Generally you will be stronger at the beginning of the week and your strength will taper off as the week goes on. Thus, it makes sense for the workouts to become easier as the week progresses. Take 3-minute breaks in between each set.

3x3 For Size And Strength

    Monday: Upper Body (90% Of 3 Rep Max)

      A-1: Incline Barbell Press
      A-2: Weighted Pull-Up

      Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, rest for 90 seconds and then do a set of A-2 and rest for 90 seconds. Continue until all three sets have been completed.

    Tuesday: Lower Body (90% Of 3 Rep Max)

      B-1: Barbell Squat
      B-2: Stiff-Legged Deadlift

      Do B-1 and B-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of B-1, rest for 90 seconds and then do a set of B-2 and rest for 90 seconds. Continue until all three sets have been completed.

    Thursday: Upper Body (80% Of 3 Rep Max)

      A-1: Weighted Dip
      A-2: Weighted Pull-Up

      Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, rest for 90 seconds and then do a set of A-2 and rest for 90 seconds. Continue until all three sets have been completed.

    Friday: Lower Body (80% Of 3 Rep Max)

      B-1: Barbell Front Squat
      B-2: Glute-Ham Raise Or One-Arm Dumbbell Swing (L, R)

      Do B-1 and B-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of B-1, rest for 90 seconds and then do a set of B-2 and rest for 90 seconds. Continue until all three sets have been completed.

    Again, rotate the exercises each week. When you can do five reps on the last set for each exercise on the heavy day, add five pounds. Adjust the lighter days as your strength increases.

    What about cardio? On the strength-focus workouts, do some moderate cardio sessions on Tuesday and Thursday. For example, do five rounds of 25 pushups, 35 bodyweight squats, 25 sit-ups, and 35 jumping jacks.

    Do each exercise in circuit fashion and take a one-minute break at the end of each round. Repeat 4-5 times per workout.

    For the size focus workout, do 2-3 rounds on two off days. These muscular endurance workouts are also great for active recovery so get them in.


3x3 For Kettlebells?

Can the 3x3 program be applied to kettlebell training? Sure, just focus on challenging exercises that make low reps difficult.

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Here are two sample programs using the example of a trainee that can do five Side Presses with an 88-pound bell and five Double Swings with 88-pound bells. (Adjust the weights accordingly to your current strength levels.)

3x3 Kettlebell Program For Strength Only

Kettlebell Strength Only Program.
Day Workout Intensity Exercises Weight
Monday Heavy Day Kettlebell Side Press (L, R);
Double Swing (Chest Level)
88 lbs. Bells
Wednesday Medium Day Double Kettlebell Clean & Press;
Weighted Pull-Up;
Double Snatch
70 lbs. Bells
Friday Light Day One-Arm Seated Military Press (L, R);
Renegade Row;
Double Hang Snatch
53 lbs. Bells

    Rotate the exercises every week. For example in week two, the Side Press is moved to the medium day and the One-Arm Seated Military Press is moved to the heavy day.

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3x3 Kettlebell Program For Size And Strength

    Here is a sample program using the example of a trainee that can clean & press two 88-pound bells five times and double-front squat two 105-pound bells five times. Again adjust the program to your strength levels.

    Monday: Upper Body (Heavy Day)

      A-1: Double Kettlebell Clean & Press, 88-pound bell
      A-2: Weighted pull-up, 88-pound bell

      Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, rest for 90 seconds and then do a set of A-2 and rest for 90 seconds. Continue until all three sets have been completed.

    Tuesday: Lower Body (Heavy Day)

      B-1: Double Front Squat, 105-pound bell
      B-2: Double Swing, 88-pound bell

      Do B-1 and B-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of B-1, rest for 90 seconds and then do a set of B-2 and rest for 90 seconds. Continue until all three sets have been completed.

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    Thursday: Upper Body (Heavy Day)

      A-1: Double Floor Press, 105 Lb. Bell
      A-2: Renegade Row, 105 Lb. Bell (L, R)

      Do A-1 and A-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of A-1, rest for 90 seconds and then do a set of A-2 and rest for 90 seconds. Continue until all three sets have been completed.

    Friday: Lower Body (Heavy Day)

      B-1: Double Front Squat, 105 Lb. Bell (L, R)
      B-2: One-Arm Snatch, 105 Lb. Bell (L, R)

      Do B-1 and B-2 back to back. In other words, do a set of B-1, rest for 90 seconds and then do a set of B-2 and rest for 90 seconds. Continue until all three sets have been completed.

    Again, rotate the exercises each week. For cardio with kettlebells, do 3-5 sets of one-arm swings (10-15 reps per arm) with a moderate kettlebell on two off days.

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      To View Our Kettlebell Exercise Database, Click Here.


Kettlebell Exercise Demonstrations

Alternating Renegade Row

    Get into the top position of the pushup holding on to two kettlebells that are less than shoulder width apart. Push one kettlebell into the floor and pull the other kettlebell. Hold the kettlebell in the working arm in the top position.

    Alternating Renegade Row Alternating Renegade Row
    Alternating Renegade Row.

    Lower it to the floor and push it into the floor. At the same time pull the kettlebell in the opposite hand. Repeat for several reps on each side.

One-Arm Kettlebell Snatch

    Place a kettlebell between your feet. Bend your knees and push your butt back to get in the proper starting position. Look straight ahead and swing the kettlebell back between your legs.

    One-Arm Kettlebell Snatch One-Arm Kettlebell Snatch
    Click Image To Enlarge.
    One-Arm Kettlebell Snatch.

    Immediately reverse the direction and drive through with your hips. Pull the kettlebell toward your body as if you are starting a lawn mower. As the kettlebell rises to your shoulder open your hand and punch through straight overhead.

One-Arm Seated Kettlebell Military Press

    One-Arm Seated Kettlebell Military Press One-Arm Seated Kettlebell Military Press
    One-Arm Seated Kettlebell Military Press.

    Sit on the floor and spread your legs out comfortably. Place a kettlebell in one arm in the clean position. Press the kettlebell up and out until it is locked out overhead. One of the major benefits of this exercise is that you cannot lean back and bring your pecs into the movement.

Double Kettlebell Swings

    Place two kettlebells between your feet. Push back with your butt and bend your knees to get into the starting position. Make sure that your back is flat and look straight ahead. Swing the kettlebells between your legs forcefully.

    Double Kettlebell Swings Double Kettlebell Swings
    Click Image To Enlarge.
    Double Kettlebell Swings.

    Quickly reverse the direction and drive though with your hips taking the kettlebells straight out to chest level. Let the kettlebells swing back between your legs and repeat.

Double Kettlebell Snatch

    Double Kettlebell Snatch Double Kettlebell Snatch
    Double Kettlebell Snatch.

    Place two kettlebells behind your feet. Bend your knees and sit back to pick up the kettlebells. Swing the kettlebells between your legs forcefully and reverse the direction. Drive through with your hips and lock the ketttlebells overhead in one uninterrupted motion.

One-Arm Kettlebell Military Side Press

    One-Arm Kettlebell Military Side Press One-Arm Kettlebell Military Side Press
    One-Arm Kettlebell Military Side Press.

    Clean a kettlebell to your shoulder. Look at the kettlebell and press it up and out until it is locked out overhead. Lower the kettlebell back to your shoulder under control and repeat. Make sure to contract your lat, butt and stomach forcefully for added stability and strength.

Double Front Squats

    Double Front Squats Double Front Squats
    Double Front Squats.

    Clean two kettlebells to your shoulders and take a stance that you find comfortable for your body type. As you squat down, push your butt out. Looking straight ahead at all times, squat as low as you can and pause at the bottom. Rise back up and repeat.

About The Author

Mike Mahler is a strength coach and kettlebell instructor based in Los Angeles. For a personalized program to target your goals, click here: mikemahler.com/services.html.