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3×3 Powerlifting Program: Low Rep Strength

Apr 08, 2019

3x3 Powerlifting Program: Low Rep Strength--the simplest weightlifting program ever

First of all, what is the 3×3 Powerlifting Program for low rep strength? What does “3×3” mean?

To clarify, 3×3 stands for training the “big three” (squat/bench/deadlift), three times a week.

So, you focus all your energy and recovery efforts into the “big money” exercises and only these 3 exercises.

The 3×3 program allows you to train with heavy weights and low reps.

Essentially, you do three sets of three reps at each session with varying intensities.

The volume is fairly low so high frequency can be reached.

With this type of training, you work on doing a few things very well.

In general, complicated programs rarely last, and few athletes benefit from them.

The 3×3 system works great for size and strength goals or just sheer strength goals.


3×3 Powerlifting Program: Used by Many Olympic Lifters

The program’s basic concepts have been used by almost every Olympic lifter, including many world champions for the last 40 years.

The 3×3 system is an eight-week training cycle that is made up of two phases.

Phase 1 is a high volume phase, while Phase 2 is the competition phase.


3x3 Powerlifting Program: Low Rep Strength--man pressing with 3 other men spotting him

What Makes it So Special?

The 3×3 program is so special because there is no assistance work!

We know that in order to get strong in your squat you need to train the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and the lower back.

With other programs, there are many ways to train all these muscles.

You can perform a wide array of assistance exercises or you can combine the squat with these same assistance exercises.

Or you can train the squat, and only the squat, since we already know squats work all the muscles mentioned above.

The major advantage of this option is the squat works the muscles exactly the way they are needed for competition.

Related: Benefits of Heavy Squats and The Other Effects They Have


What Beginners Should Know

3x3 Powerlifting Program: Low Rep Strength -- man squatting with just body weight

Most importantly, if you are new to weightlifting concentrate on getting your form right for the first month or so of working out.

It’s important to program your brain and nervous system to remember a pattern.

Now is not the time to stress over lifting a lot of weight.

Begin light and gradually increase the weight as your form improves.

Related: Correct Posture for Squats: 16 Steps to Follow


3×3 Powerlifting Program: When to Increase the Weight?

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When you get all sets for target weight and reps increase the weight for the next session.

However, don’t train to “form failure.”

“Form failure” is when you jeopardize your form during a rep and feel you could push out one more repetition if it’s performed with poor form.

To avoid injury, try to stay one rep shy of where you know your form will break down.

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3×3 Powerlifting Program: When to Decrease the Weight?

You should decrease the weight when you miss 10% or more of your target reps in total, for two consecutive sessions.

This is when you also reduce the intensity by 10% while using the same number of reps and sets.

The 10% lighter load should feel easy and will allow your body time to recover.

Then, the next session you return to the load you used in the session before deloading and try to pick up the progression once again.

Sometimes bad sessions just happen, that’s why you wait for two consecutive bad sessions before taking the deload.

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3×3 Powerlifting Program: How Does it Work?

Chart with percentages for 3 exercises


The 3×3 system is so popular because it stimulates your muscles much more than with other routines.

For example, if your squat maximum is 700 pounds and you do 5 sets of 5 reps once a week your volume is pretty high compared to other training programs.

When 75% of 700 pounds (525 pounds) is done for 25 reps (5 x 5) the total squat tonnage is 13,125 pounds per week.

Tonnage is calculated by the work sets only and not the warm-up sets.


3×3 Powerlifting Program: Total Squat Tonnage

3x3 Powerlifting Program: Low Rep Strength--man squatting

Let’s take a look at the total squat tonnage of the 3×3 system.

In week four you use 64% of 700 lbs. which is 448 pounds for a maximum of 40 reps (8 sets of 5 reps).

The total tonnage from only one workout is 17,920 pounds.

You perform this workout twice and you have a total squat tonnage of 35,840 pounds per week.

That is over two and a half times the volume of the other program.

The 3×3 system forces the muscles to work much harder and therefore to grow faster and get stronger.


Getting Started

Before you start the 3×3 powerlifting program you need to find your current maximum in each of the three lifts.

cartoon calculator flexing muscles

There are a variety of ways to figure this out.

You can use your last competition lifts if the competition was recent, meaning within the last 4 weeks.

You can also go for a maximum single in the gym.

If you decide to do this it’s important to use all the equipment you usually wear in competition.

If you want to estimate your max based on reps you can use an equation instead.

The Epley equation is a simple one.

With the Epley, you multiply the reps achieved by .033 and multiply the product of this by the weight used.

Add the resulting product to the weight used and you have your max.

Remember it’s not smart to choose weights that you cannot handle.

So once you have found your current maximum you can then calculate your training weights for the next eight weeks.


3×3 Powerlifting Program: Increase Your Max

To clarify, before you start the program, you will need to increase your current maximum with:

  • Squats by 25 lbs.
  • Bench presses by 10 lbs.
  • Deadlifts by 15 lbs.

3x3 Powerlifting Program: Low Rep Strength--man deadlifting

These numbers will be your new projected maximum, base your training on these numbers.

Also, the training weights will be 58-64 percent of this projected maximum in phase 1 and 60-95 percent in phase 2.


3×3 Powerlifting Program: Phase 1

Phase 1 runs from weeks 1-4 and is known as the High Volume Phase.

So a high volume is reached during phase 1 by doing many sets and reps.

This set and rep scheme builds muscle mass and strength.

Plus it will improve your coordination and technique on each of the competition lifts.

Summary: Phase 1
Day l
squat: 5-8×5
bench: 6-8×6
deadlift: 5-8×5
Day 2
squat: 5-8×5
bench: 6-8×6
deadlift: 5-8×5
Day 3
squat: 5-8×5
bench: 6-8×6
deadlift: 5-8×5

The total number of workouts in phase 1 is 12.

Overall, this works out as three workouts per week.

Therefore you must rest one day between the workouts and then rest two days after the completion of one training week.

You can work out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and then rest over the weekend.

Remember, this schedule can really help you to recuperate.

You will squat, bench and deadlift in every workout.

However, since you will not be doing any assistance work you have all your energy available for the three competition lifts.

Why Are Deadlifts Important? The Best Reasons


Sets and Reps

The sets and reps are the same in every workout.

So, you will do five to eight sets of five reps for the squat and deadlift.

Afterward, you will do six to eight sets of six reps for the bench press.

You work with four different percentages during phase 1, you stay with one percentage for each training week.

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This means you will use a particular weight for each exercise and work with it for three workouts or one training week.

Then, for the next week of training, you will be using a higher percentage and therefore a higher weight.

This way you increase the weights every week.

The only piece of equipment you use will be a power-lifting belt.

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3×3 Powerlifting Program: Phase 2

Phase 2 runs from week 5-8 and is called the Competition Phase.

Here, the volume is reduced dramatically in Phase 2 and the intensity is increased each week.

Overall, this will help you to adapt to the heavier weights.

For every heavy lift (1-2 reps) in this phase, you will use powerlifting equipment: your suit, belt, wraps, and bench shirt.

Phase 2 is designed to build power, maximum strength and to improve your technique with heavy weight.

Furthermore, like phase 1, the total number of workouts in phase 2 is 12.

There are also three workouts per week.

It’s important that you still get plenty of rest between the workouts because you will still squat, bench and deadlift in every workout.

The sets and reps in the daily workouts will vary.


3×3 Powerlifting Program: Two-Part Exercises

3x3 Powerlifting Program: Low Rep Strength-- 3x3 CalendarEach exercise is divided into two parts:

  1. Technique and power training: Now you will be performing three sets of three reps for the squat and deadlift.

Then you will do five sets of four reps for the bench press.

The training weight will be 60 percent of your projected maximum and therefore it will remain constant for the next four weeks.

  1. Maximum strength training. You will use 80-95 percent of your calculated maximum for one to two sets of one rep for each exercise.

Also, don’t forget you will do maximum strength training on only one exercise per day.

You can try to max out with: deadlifts on Monday (day 1), bench presses on Wednesday (day 2), and squats on Friday (day 3).

Summary: Phase II
Day l
squat: 3×3
bench: 5×4
deadlift: 1-2×1
Day 2
squat: 3×3
bench: 1-2×1
deadlift: 3×3
Day 3
squat: 1-2×1
bench: 5×4
deadlift: 3×3

So while the percentages for the technique training remain constant, the percentages for the maximum strength training increases weekly by five percent.


3×3 Powerlifting Program:  Benefits of the Program

  1. Uses heavy loads which leads to serious increases in strength.
  2. Low reps and low volume allows for greater focus.
  3. Stimulates the Central Nervous System so you feel strong and powerful after each workout.
  4. The program can increase pure strength or strength and size.
  5. Can be done frequently
  6. Doesn’t take long to complete when focusing on compound exercises.
  7. Easier to execute perfect form on low rep and low set workouts.
  8. Can be used to increase speed and explosive power as well.
  9. Safe because you practice doing more reps so you can work on having the right form.
  10. Great for building dense, hard muscles


How Long Will You Progress with this Routine?

3x3 Powerlifting Program: Low Rep Strength--woman in orange tank powerlifting

Progress will continue depending on several factors.

Your genetics, beginning muscle mass and recovery capacity all play a part in this.

Your recovery capacity will depend on:

  • Energy balance (surplus/ deficit/ maintenance energy needs)
  • Sleep
  • Stress
  • Quality of your diet

At some point, you’ll need to change things up to keep progressing.

Recovery is an essential element and lowering the volume (number of sets or reps) or frequency (number of times per week) of an exercise can be very helpful.


3×3 Powerlifting Program: Final Thoughts

To sum up, try this program and see how much you can achieve with only three workouts per week.

Lastly, remember that this strength training program is for you if you like to work hard in a short period of time, or you just don’t have a lot of time to work out, but want maximum results.

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