Simply stated, most guys overtrain. To the hilt. Unless you’re on steroids and/or you’re a genetic freak, your body just doesn’t need 15 sets per body part or a two-hour workout to make impressive muscle and strength gains. In fact, the longer you’ve been training, the less volume your body actually needs to continue making progress-provided, that is, you keep your intensity high. And this month, we’re here to prove the point with our 3-by-3 workout (henceforth referred to as “3×3”).
It doesn’t get any simpler than this: You’ve got only two exercises to perform each workout session, and all you have to do is three sets of three reps for each one. That’s it. However, over the course of the month, we guarantee this program will have you splitting the seams of your clothes just like the Hulk after watching his favorite team lose in the playoffs. Read on, and we’ll reveal why less is more when it comes to faster gains.
Three sets of 10 is an OK protocol for building size, but it doesn’t allow you to lift really heavy-a must for stimulating your biggest, strongest muscle fibers to grow. Doing sets of very few reps allows you to pile on the poundage, engaging the most muscle possible and increasing raw strength gains as well. Usually, when trying to build size while lifting heavy, you compensate for fewer reps by performing more sets, but that tends to compromise your overall intensity. Performing six sets of four reps on the deadlift, say, may find you going strong for the first four sets but burning out on the last two, compromising your form and, as a result, your safety. Heavy deadlifts are also stressful on your grip and lower back, and no matter how much rest you get between sets, you rarely finish that many sets with the same quality of effort as you began with. Cutting your volume back to three sets, as you’ll do here, will prevent fatigue and enhance your focus, allowing you to hit each heavy set with optimum strength and readiness.
Three sets will also save you time. Though there are only two exercises per workout, both are compound movements, which involve multiple muscles and do the work of many lesser exercises all at once. Since the exercises are paired as alternating sets that work opposing muscle groups (such as chest and back), you won’t need as much time to rest between lifts because one muscle group can work while another one is recovering. So, in addition to doing fewer sets, you’ll move faster between each set, which will get you out of the gym in roughly 15 minutes (warm-up time included).
By now, you’re either fully convinced or moments away from dismissing the whole 3×3 concept as garbage and placing this article in the appropriate receptacle. If you’re in the latter group, hold on for just a minute longer. Granted, high-volume workouts are usually the best prescription for muscle gains, but another is a high training frequency (which you can’t take advantage of if you’re performing a large number of sets for numerous exercises, threatening your ability to recover). So what the 3×3 method lacks in total volume it makes up for with more workouts. You’ll hit the upper and lower body each twice per week with various degrees of intensity (see “Constant Rotation” below for a full explanation), permitting stimulation of the same groups of muscles in two different ways-the key to fast, balanced growth. Believe it.