Progressing from the big 3

The Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Press, Dips, Chin-ups/Pull-ups.
Slow-bulk or cut, put these exercises at the core of your workout program and you won’t go far wrong.

There are two key training templates introduced on this site, ‘The Big 3 Routine’ and the ‘Three Day Split Routine’.The questions often arise, “Which routine should I use?” or, “When and how should I progress from one to the other?” This article covers the latter question with detailed examples.

These routines are minimalistic so they are particularly suited for a cut. When cutting, to keep your muscle mass, think of things as quite simply ‘use it or lose it’. Keeping training volume low when cutting is important because of the body’s decreased recovery capacity while under maintenance calories. – If we overtax it, we won’t fully recover for the next workout, we’ll stress the central nervous system, increase our chances of getting sick, and miss training sessions.

Thus, the RPT rep pattern I feel is particularly suited for a cut as it allows for maximum muscle stimulation with low training volume. It can be used with any set of exercises.

When slow-bulking the difference in your routine will be an increase in volume, possibly the addition of one or two compound exercises, and perhaps an accessory movement or two.

Thoughts on How and When to Change Your Routine

Whether a person should be doing the ‘Big 3′ every session or more of a split routine depends entirely on recovery times. As Rippetoe said in his book Practical Programming for Strength Training, one of the most important things for determining what kind of program a person should be on, does not depend on the person’s lifting ability, but that person’s ability to for recovery.

Put another way, a person that can squat 1.5*body weight (1.5*BW) might recover quickly enough to make squatting 3 days a week possible, whereas another that can squat 1.0*BW may need several days to recover. He goes on to say that a coach cannot simply look at a person’s strength figures or body size and give them a program, they need to know their client’s capacity for recovery.

Are you Intermediate or Beginner? It depends on how you define it: Strength stats relative to bodyweight or, recovery capacity. Ideally we’d all keep our ‘beginners’ recovery capacity well into the ‘intermediate’ strength achievements range and we’d be able to train more and grow faster. But alas, the human body is rarely so kind.

It may be fun to choose a split routine because it’s labeled ‘intermediate’ and that makes you feel good, but if you could be making better gains on the beginner routine you’d be a fool to not do that. I assure you there are some very big boys and girls that use Rippetoe’s Starting Strength ‘beginner’ routine.

As I am not with you in the gym, only you can tell what your recuperative abilities are. Generally the lower back is the weakest link in the chain. Are you physically able to recover if you do the big three barbell movements three days a week, or do you struggle with lower back pain? When your poundage progression stalls or you get lower back soreness that prevents you from having consistent workouts you know it’s time to change.

Big 3 to Split Routine – Ideas on Progression

A progression from the ‘Big 3′ to a split can be done in stages. When you start failing to recover then move onto the next step in the series.

Rather than jumping immediately to a split, usually a small modification to the volume of deadlifting performed each week is sufficient – this is because it is usually the lower back that is the first to show signs of greater soreness. You’ll want to decrease the number of sets of the deadlift at this time, from 5 to 3 and then perhaps to 1, for each session. After that you’ll need to move into some form of split routine. My first suggestion would be an alternating split (an A/B split), then a move to a three-day split (A/B/C split) when again it becomes necessary.

 There are many different ways to do this, here is one example of a typical progression.

The Linear Progression Training Continuum

Phase 1: ‘Big 3′ Routine – Novices

Same every day:

  • Squats (5 sets of 5 reps)
  • Bench Press (5 sets of 5 reps)
  • Deadlift (5 sets of 5 reps)

Phase 2: ‘Big 3′ Routine – Deadlift Modified

The lower back starts to get sore, you make a volume adjustment to the deadlifts:

  • Squats (5 sets of 5 reps)
  • Bench Press (5 sets of 5 reps)
  • Deadlift (3 sets of 5 reps) or (1 set of 5 reps)

Phase 3: The A/B split 

The lower back and legs are too sore, progress suffers. Bench form is good, but a little variety can be introduced.

Workout A:

  • Deadlifts 5×5 (Sets x Reps)
  • Weighted/Assisted Chinups RPT
  • Overhead Press (OHP) 5×5

Workout B:

  • Squat 5×5
  • Bench Press 5×5
  • Seated Cable Rows (3×8-10 reps)

Week 1 – Monday (Workout A), Wednesday (Workout B), Friday (Workout A)
Week 2 – Monday (Workout B), Wednesday (Workout A), Friday (Workout B)
Week 3 – Monday (Workout A), Wednesday (Workout B), Friday (Workout A) etc…

Phase 4: Full 3 Day Split (A/B/C) – Straight-Sets

More recovery is needed between workouts so a full split is used.


  • Deadlift (5×5)
  • Weighted/Assisted Chinups RPT


  • Bench Press 5×5
  • Seated Cable Rows (3×8-12)


  • Squat 5×5
  • Overhead Press (OHP) 5×5

A Note on Reverse Pyramid Training

Reverse Pyramid Training (RPT), is a double progression model set-rep pattern – when you can no longer increase weight, you work to increase the number of reps. Then when you can lift the same weight with more reps you increase the weight lifted at a lower target rep number. However with no periodization, while a little more complicated, it is still a linear progression system.

You may look to put the RPT set-rep pattern in at either the A/B Split (if you are very confident in your form) or 3 day split points. This may help to spark further progress, but you may just be fighting gravity when cutting.

In general, a little soreness is fine. How do you know if you’re actually too sore to train and need to change your workouts or are just being a pussy? It’s difficult to judge. You’re always going to be sore to a degree somewhere in your body. You’ll become more attuned with your body in time but for now, as a general guide if after a good thorough general warm-up, joint warm-up and warm-up sets (guide to these in this article) you’re still really sore or the weight feels considerably heavier than normal then it may be time to change. This is one reason why it’s important to keep a workout log, so you know what you were lifting last time and know what you should be able to lift.



I no longer recommend dips.

They are a great chest and tricep developer, and it feels awesome to have a couple of plates clanging between your legs as you knock out a few  sets of 8, but the risk-reward ratio is skewed in the wrong direction I feel.

What I mean is, it’s very easy to cause yourself an injury by with this exercise, especially as you start adding a lot of weight. (It puts the humeral head in a position far past neutral). When there are safer alternatives that are equally effective (pushups, the close-grip bench press), I see no point in taking the risk with dips. I no longer do them myself, and I no longer recommend them to clients.

Bad workouts will happen

Strength coach Dan John proposes that people should expect 20% of all their workouts to be bad ones. For whatever the reason, this is what he has found with his coaching of athletes over many years. Before you switch things up, you need to make sure you didn’t just “have a bad one” but are genuinely in need of a change. So, if the weights feel unusually heavy one workout, or you’re extremely sore, listen to your body, stop your workout for that day and go home and rest. Sleep well. (Sleep, diet, and stress can all affect your gym performance.) Come back feeling refreshed, and then see what happens.

Related articles

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Nutrition Pyramid

There is a very clear order of priority when setting up your diet. If you don’t understand it, at best you’ll just be wasting money, at worst your time and effort as well.

If your training has stagnated, often it’s not the training that needs to change. Have you got your diet dialled in?

This six-part series teaches you everything you need to know about how to set up your diet in detail which I hope leaves you feeling freer and more in control of your nutrition.

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The Principle of Progressive Overload

The Principle of Progressive Overload

The most important thing for the beginner trainee is that you get on a good strength training program then stick to it.

The most important thing for the intermediate and advanced trainee becomes not what program you follow (for you must have followed a good one or you wouldn’t be intermediate or advanced), but how you tweak it to follow this principle of progressive overload so that you keep advancing with your training.

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About the Author

Andy Morgan

I'm an online nutritional coach and trainer. After seeing one too many people get ripped off by supplement and training industry lies I decided to try and do something about it. The site you see here is the result of a lot of Starbucks-fuelled, two-fingered typing. It's had a lot of love poured into it, and I hope you find the guides to the diet and training methods I use on this site useful. When I'm not helping clients you'll likely find me crashing down a mountain on a snowboard, riding a motorbike, or staring at watches I can't afford.

288 Comments on “How to Progress from ‘The Big 3′ to Split Routines”

  1. Richard

    HI Andy,

    Just wondering regarding the 3 day A/B split is there any reason why the chins are not straight sets (e.g 5×5). Also regarding the seated cable rows, could I do barbell rows, or one arm dumbell rows. Again would I be better sticking to (5×5) or 3 sets 8-10 reps as advised by yourself.

    Thanks Andy.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Richard, thanks for the questions.
      1. Sure, you could do straight sets also. More details on both styles for chins here:
      A Full Guide To Progressing With Chin-ups
      2. One arm dumbbell rows are very similar to seated cable rows and can be considered a fine alternative. Barbell rows tax the lower back to a far greater extent, which needs to be considered when programming. – The lower back is gets a fair amount of work from the other exercises and may need the break. Hence the first two, where the lower back won’t be the limiting factor of the exercise.

      Make sense?

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  3. Isa

    Hi Andy,

    I’ve read most of the start here articles and I’ve been trying to build my own routine in a sense but I’ve hit a dilemma, (I am cutting).

    I am still progressing on squats (I think I can go 3x a week if I do one of those days as front squats). Chins are also progressing (twice a week), but every other lift I can manage only once a week. Deadlifts I can’t even do if I squat beforehand, my brain literally says no, without any feelings of muscle ache it just literally won’t let me move the weights.

    I used to be obese as a kid and I have very little lean mass, 69kg at 14% BF training for almost a year.

    I don’t know if I should squat 3x a week or do an AB split. Trouble with AB split is I can’t DL twice a week or OHP.

    Can you advise which routine to go to?

    1. Andy Morgan

      You have just answered your own question Isa.
      “I am still progressing on squats (I think I can go 3x a week if I do one of those days as front squats). Chins are also progressing (twice a week), but every other lift I can manage only once a week.”
      Bingo. That is your routine.

  4. Florian

    Hey Andy,

    You’ve already answered some questions I had a few months ago and I have to say thank you! I have been following your routines (currently A/B split) and it’s working like a charm for me. I’m slowly gaining weight and staying as lean as ever. :)

    I just have a few question regarding the Deadlift : I had never tried this exercise before reading your website, and it felt awkward at the start, but I am now looking forward to the days I have to deadlift. It’s really tough and I am exhausted after a set, but it feels very good and rewarding!

    Anyway, I had the coaches from my gym follow me from the beginning, and I’m sure of my positions, but lately after reaching 120kg, I have felt some lower back pains (lumbar muscles), not only while working out, but after, while sitting for a while, or when my back is cold. The coach from my gym thinks it’s because I am very tall (1m87) and very lean, there’s more pressure on my lower back during this exercise that there is for someone shorter / bulkier.

    What’s your take on this? I know you’re not a doctor, and I will be seeing a chiropractor soon, but did you ever have clients with this type of morphology that still were able to deadlift heavy? And if I am advised not to lift too heavy anymore, do you think longer sets with less weight could be remotely as effective (5 sets of 10 reps with 60% of the weight for example?)

    Thank you in advance for your answers!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Florin, good to hear you’re doing well. Thanks for the questions.

      “What’s your take on this?”
      – Just sounds like a recovery issue, same as any other.
      “I know you’re not a doctor, and I will be seeing a chiropractor soon, but did you ever have clients with this type of morphology that still were able to deadlift heavy?”
      – Tall and lean? Absolutely.
      “And if I am advised not to lift too heavy anymore, do you think longer sets with less weight could be remotely as effective (5 sets of 10 reps with 60% of the weight for example?)”
      – Volume is the key driver of progress, so yes, absolutely.

  5. Casey

    Hey Andy,

    I’m moving into a home and considering setting up a home gym, but the seated cable row machine or T-bar row machine would be a big cost for a single exercise. What would you recommend in place of them? I know you said you disliked barbell rows due to lower back stress, but I assume they’re better than nothing.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Casey. Stuff one end of the barbell into the corner of the room, add weight to the other, row with one hand. These are called corner rows. Here‘s Eric Cressey showing you how they are done. Put a towel in the corner of the room though or you’ll scuff the hell out of the paintwork.

  6. Adam

    Question on moving on to the modified Big 3 (reduced sets of dead lift when “lower back starts to get sore”). My back is sore on training days but it’s not hindering progress and doesn’t hurt or really bother me. What kind of soreness should get me to modify?

    Also, big issue with the dead lift isn’t back or legs, but my grip – the bar starts slipping out of my hand on the latter set’s reps. I’m alternating my grip but not sure if there is really anything I can do, any recommendations?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Adam.
      1. If it doesn’t bother you and isn’t hindering progress then I’d probably class that as just regular gym soreness.
      2. Your grip will improve over time, this is because the connective tissues develop and adapt more slowly to the training stimulus than the muscles. For now you just need to wait. (Yes, even though this stops you from lifting more weight in the short term, this is best for long-term joint health.)

  7. Dom

    Hi Andy,

    Great site. Thanks for putting it together. I’ve been lifting for several years, mostly to complement my swimming routine. I would now like to add some serious mass, and I am looking at the “Big 3″ routine. I hesitate to embark on the squat/DL wagon as I had back surgery a few years ago. Any suggestions? I have been using a vertical leg press, doing hyperextension (and reverse). Bench is not an issue. Thanks for your input.


  8. David Ie

    Hi Andy, amazing job with this website.

    I have been lifting for about 4 years. 4 years which have been a never-ending cut due to my lack of control with food (I know what I have to do, I just find it extremely hard not to over eat even with IF & huge veggie portions to ‘fill’ me up).

    I’ve started training the Big 3s for a while and fell in love with deadlifts. I never got enough deadlifts (ego came into play too, but I never got injured) and got to a point where my 1RM was 190Kg at 76Kg-78Kg weight and 1.80m tall. However along with strength gains which I was really happy with, my lower back now looks disproportionate in comparison to my upper back. So, I would like to improve drastically my pull-ups therefore strengthening and increasing volume around my middle & upper back, side & rear delts.

    I would love to get started on the A/B split but (and I say this with a lot of regret) I think the best would be to avoid deadlifting for now. How would you modify the back day’s routine to achieve a similar calorie deficit (or more hehe) and maximise hypertrophy? I’m still quite a newbie with pull-ups and can only do about 6 straight wide grip at this point – that’s a huge discrepancy from my 190Kg 1RM in deads.

    Thanks in advance for your time and keep up the great work!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi David. More rowing variations and chin-ups, less frequent deadlifting. However, two very important things to consider:

      1. You’re not going to gain any significant amount of upper back width whole in a calorie deficit at your stage of your lifting career.
      2. Is you waist actually disproportionally thick, or do you just have more fat to lose?

      Hope that helps.

      1. David Ie

        Thank you Andy. I am in no hurry regarding the calorie deficit and gains, I don’t mind taking things slowly as long as I know I’m moving in the right direction.

        My waist is not thicker than my upper body but there’s just not much difference. From a frontal perspective I need to increase side delts (& rear delts) to have better proportions. From a lateral perspective it just looks like my upper back is from a different body lol (maybe I’m exaggerating a bit). :)

        Thank you for your help!

        1. Andy Morgan

          Some more things to consider: If you’re upper body and abdomen are around the same width, but you’re lean, then you’re a novice trainee in terms of development. Weak-points aren’t really necessary to consider – more compound movements are. It’s the novice focusing on perceived weak points instead of progressing with the main compound movements that keeps them small.

  9. Seth

    Hey Andy,

    Do you think there’s enough volume in the 3 day split(Phase 4)? I feel like I’m dragging with my lifts…maybe the lower volume will help? Just seems like extremely low volume to me.


  10. Ben Casey

    Hi Andy,

    My workouts have increased in intensity over the last 6 weeks on the “Big 3″, I think I need more rest.

    Given this articles content, I’m guessing my frustration with the same 3 movements per week is due to my progression…? Now that I read this, I’m excited with a sorta “graduation.” As in, I get to pound my shoulders and arms now.(?)

    For posterity, here were my emailed questions. If I am to move to a split, my 2nd question might be moot.

    1) My midweek workout, wednesdays, are rough. I feel tired from Monday and can’t push the same weight. Or if I do push the same weight, I can’t do 5 sets. Is this normal? Just roll with it? I have an awesome workout on Mondays, after 2 rest days and a good one on Friday’s. Just that mid-week workout is tough.

    2) The warm up set, or two, are not to be part of the 5 sets, but I notice that I do *much* better with a warmup set that has some weight. For example, for squatting, it helps a lot to work up to my heaviest set (185) after a set of 135 and 155. Do I count the 135 and 155 weight sets as per the 5?

    My Monday workouts are so intense (which I enjoy), I think they’re impacting my ability to lift mid-week. hence the questions.

  11. Enrique

    If on a bulk would it be preferable to add a third exercise for the three day split?
    If so, which exercises would be best?

    1. Andy Morgan

      If you can make the addition of a compound lift and keep progressing in all lifts then yes. If not then no. If the addition of a lift compromises the rate of progression in the other lifts then it’s a case of weighing the pros and cons.

      1. Enrique

        I see. Have you read greg’s new article? He talks about how he recommends training your main lifts like a powerlifter and your accessory lifts like a bodybuilder. Training each muscle/movement 2-3 times per week and doing 6-10 sets for each. I am curious on how that can be set up. He doesn’t have a comment section though. I think you’d need to have four workouts per week and do squat and bench on two days with deadlift and chin ups on the other two. So basically you’d train every other day and for accessory lifts you can do OHPs and dumbbell shoulder presses for 3 sets of 8-12reps for the deadlift and chin ups day and you can do seated rows and standing rows for 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

        Definitely would need to reduce macros because you are reducing one rest day from the week for some weeks. Since it’d be like: mon(t), tue(r), wed(t), thu(r), fri(t), sat(r), sun(t), mon(r), tue(t)….

        So basically it would look like this:
        Workout A: Deadlift 5×5, Chin Ups RPT, OHP 3×8-12, dumbbell shoulder presses 3×8-12
        Workout B: Squat 5×5, Bench Press 5×5, seated cable rows 3×8-12, standing bent over rows 3×8-12

        Pretty similar to your A/B split, but it has a bit of hypertrophy work in it. Does this look better or is your A/B template more suited for me?

        1. Andy Morgan

          Hi Enrique. Yes I’ve read Greg’s article, excellent piece.
          You and I are now 6-8 comments in, over several articles in the space of 3 days, all on training theory. This is now well beyond what I’d consider fair use of the comments.

          Both what I have already suggested and the principles in Greg’s article will work. Choose something that makes sense to you, then stick with it and don’t second guess it. Cause the biggest mistake that people make is changing everything up every time they read something new and different.

            1. Andy Morgan

              No worries Enrique. Perfectly natural to keep asking away when someone keeps answering in detail. It’s my now fault for being so detailed and quick to respond.

  12. Patrik

    Hi Andy.

    When going from the Big 3 into a A/B split with the Chins on the A-day RPT style, how would I do this(reps and sets) if I’m doing them with just the Bodyweight? And would it be a good thing to switch between pull-ups and chin-ups from week to week?


    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Patrik. If you have bands available then I’d use those. If not then it might be best to shoot for a total rep target rather then any fixed set-rep pattern.

      For example: You target 15 perfect reps. You do as many sets as it takes to do that. That might be 5,4,2,2,1,1 for example the first session, then 5,5,3,2 the next session, then 7,5,3 the following.
      When you can get your target number of reps all within… let’s say 3 sets, you can look to increase the total reps targeted (to say 20) and then work until you can get all the reps within three sets.

      ^Just examples, here. You can play around with the numbers of course. Make sense?

      1. Patrik

        Hi Andy.

        Thanks for the reply. It definitely makes sense.

        When would you say it could be a good time to add weight? Should I go for the 3 set and 6-8, 8-10, 10-12 rep target range when accessong where I’m strengthwise? Or do you from experience have another “marker” to target(25 reps total in 3 sets with bodyweight or so) to know when adding of weights is a good idea?

        // Patrik

          1. Patrik

            Hi again.

            Ok, perfect.

            Thank you so much for all the help.

            Have a good time off now. It definitely is important to take care of yourself and your relationships with those around you.

  13. Sean

    Thanks for the replies and patience Andy. Yeah I guess I was just seeking to confirm what I already believed. I do trust your opinion and I agree with you I’ve actually gotten a lot better since last week. I had my first good workout today and I’m back on track now. Sorry for all the comments and the disorganized ideas. It’s just that I am very “controllative” person which most of the time works in my favor since I’m also stubborn as you might have noticed from my comments which is why when I set a goal I will do all that I can to accomplish it, (not a word but I couldn’t find another word for it), and I freaked out a bit when things got so much out of my hands. I know now that all I should have done was keep going and stop over-thinking things. Anyways thanks for your time and I hope one day I can hire you for a personal consultation.

  14. Karl

    Andy — appreciate the response, you do an awesome job with the site and being available via comments. I’ve stalled around the intermediate strength numbers so I will try increasing volume. Thanks again!

  15. Sean

    Hi Andy I posted before about how I got sick. I came back to the gym after 17 days of being off. I did the big 3 doing the warmups up to the weigh I was doing before getting sick. Surprisingly I managed to lift the same weight except for a 5 pound decrease in bench presses and deadlifts. I only did two work sets though because I felt extremely fatigued and I wanted to be well recovered to get back on track on monday. Today is monday and I went to the gym and it was ridiculous. I had some DOMS but it has never interfered with my training before so I just stretched it off. I squatted with the empty O bar and felt a horrible cramp in my hamstrings, stretched it off and squatted a bit more when I realized how much my quads were burning. I couldn’t even lift half the weight I normally do. Same happened with the bench press and I felt my ligaments really sore and weak. Deadlifts were impossible to do and I ended up just doing a bit of pushups and chin ups. It was the worst workout I’ve ever had. This is so frustrating I felt like in just two weeks I’ve lost all my progress I feel weak. As for my measurements I’ve only lost half a centimeter in all areas and I’ve lost around one pound of body weight. It’s like after all the hard work I’m back to being another weak kid in the gym.

      1. Sean

        Yes I also thought that, but how do you explain that the second workout I couldn’t carry half my normal weight even though I only did two work sets in the first workout to avoid this. Maybe it is the sickness and not the time period I took away from the gym and all that goes along with it. Antibiotics and very painful vaccines?

        1. Andy Morgan

          Your fundamental worry here is that a sudden reduction in strength signifies that you have lost a significant amount of muscle. That is not the case. What you consider to be your physique, the stuff you see, the physical structures – fat and muscle – these things will not change significantly over such a short time period, barring starvation conditions.

          What can change quickly though is how well your CNS can function to make those muscles contract.
          You’ve been sick, have taken vaccines and are recovering. That is the cause.

          Listen to your body. Rest and stay out of the gym while you feel run down. Come back to it next week.

          1. Sean

            I know that my body composition hasn’t changed much and that’s what the scale and my measurements and the mirror tell me, but what worries me is the strength loss which I accredited to the nervous system not being in tune after being sick. I have goals in terms of strength as well and what worries me the most is how much my work capacity has decreased. Any tips on how I can recover or should I just wait for it to come back. It’s like I have the strength but after one set my muscles fill up with lactic acid and cramp up and I need to walk and stretch it off. This really impairs my range of motion for the next sets and how much weight I can do overall. This is in part why in the first workout I was able to do two sets squatting 220 pounds and felt tired so I didn’t do more sets. The next workout I cramped up squatting with the empty bar and I couldn’t even move 110 pounds. This is what worries me. It’s like my muscles don’t recover. My third workout went better, I was able to do 5×5 with 200 pounds but the cramps and the lactic acid buildup was excruciating I had to massage my legs a lot afterwards since I could barely walk. I felt like I had just run up twenty floors with a bag full of weights. It’s like my legs are not getting rid of the lactic acid from just doing 5 reps and it builds up into the next sets and I get horrible cramps in my adductors and the part of the quads that are next to the knee.

            1. Andy Morgan

              Sean, when you ask a question first ask yourself:
              a) Am I asking a question or just wanting to hear a voice confirming what I already believe?
              b) Do I trust the opinion of the person I’m asking?

              You’ve asked my advice and I’ve given my opinion on the reasons for what you’re experiencing and what I think you should do. Whether you choose to take that advice is really up to you, but if you aren’t prepared to implement the advice to fix the problem you’re complaining about, don’t continue complaining about it.

              It was quite clear to me three comments ago that you’ve worked yourself into a panic by seeking explanations other than the obvious (and unfortunately misunderstanding and applying some more advanced principles) and I’ve tried by best to relay that – emotion to emotion initially, and explanation to explanation in your second reply.

              Here’s the deal, your body is still run down by the drugs and jabs, that’s why you’re feeling weak, and you need to rest.

  16. Karl

    Hi Andy — any preference as to RPT vs a 5×5-type program for a slow-bulk? I was thinking of switching to 5×5 for squats, bench , and overhead press (currently I am doing the A/B split with RPT). Also, would there be any reason to add in dips/incline press in addition to flat bench while slow-bulking?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Karl. Preference depends on the person. The most comprehensive guide I’ve written to that will be here.
      I’d say any beginner is best avoiding multiple flat pressing movements and sticking with one. Dips pose an unnecessary risk of long term injury for the reward, which can be had with other exercises, so I no longer recommend then. At some point increasing volume is necessary to keep progressing, a different pressing movement could be used, but equally so, more of the same movement will pretty much do the job. More theory on this covered in Greg Nuckols guest article, What To Do When You’re Done With Your Beginner Strength Training Program.

  17. Nathan

    Hey Andy,

    How high is it required to go for the chins? Is chin over the bar adequate, with limited lat involvement, or is nipples to the bar necessary in order to maximize the lat and shoulder engagement. ie I can do body +30lbs with chin above bar, but need assist to go all the way to chest up. Thanks!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Nathan. Forcing the bar to touch your chest is going to an unnaturally exaggerated range of motion for most people’s bone structure, limb ratios and musculature. Chin over the bar leads us to cheat by raising our chins up when the going gets tough.

      Think of it as trying to get your elbows to touch your body.

  18. Florian

    Hey Andy,

    I’ve been following the leangains protocol for about a year now. I have been cutting for the first 7 month, went from 82kg to 74kg (and rediscovering my abs the process) so I have been very happy with the results.

    I am now slow-bulking, have been for the past 4 month, following a “gym trainer” program (lots of exercises for lots of different muscles). I have greatly improved my strength, but didn’t seem to gain much mass. So I finally decided the change and follow the AB split routine.

    My questions :

    1.- In your AB split routine, what do you mean by “Dips RPT / Seated Cable Rows (3×8-10 reps)” ? Should I pick one and do it every week, or vary between the two each time ?

    2.- I am not very gifted when it comes to my legs, so I used to do leg extension and leg curl on my leg day (in addition to the squat). Are those not necessary anymore, or should I consider adding it if my legs are a bit behind the rest of my body?

    3.- You speak about the smith machine in the FAQ, just wanted to know if you also don’t advise it for bench press? I don’t do squats with it, but I felt I could be more effective with the bench press, training alone..

    4.- Last question : you say that there is no need for changing exercises and that these could basically be done for years. Why are so many people saying that it is important to vary exercises, at least every two month, so that your muscles don’t grow accustomed?

    Thanks in advance for your reply !

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Florian, thanks for the questions. Good to hear of your success so far. Bear in mind that I don’t know you so I’m having to make assumptions based join what you’ve said, what you’re asking, and the way you’re asking it.
      1. I’d go with the cable rows and stick to that alone.
      2. Better to follow the program before second guessing it.
      3. For the same reasons that I don’t advise it for squatting, I don’t advise it for the bench.
      4. That’s a question for them. I can think of contexts where it is relevant, but it’s not likely relevant for you right now. It’s more likely that they’re selling you on the BS idea of muscle confusion.

  19. Marc

    Hey Andy
    This is Marc. Hope you remember me. It’s been awhile. Hope everything is going well. I’ve been super busy with my little boy. He’s growing up fast!

    I have a couple of questions regarding my routine. Since I last talked to you, I’ve made improvements in some lifts and plateaued/stagnated in others, all while on a bulk.

    You had me doing a 2 day split with 5×5 for bench, squat and press. RPT for dips and pull ups.

    Here are my numbers at the moment.

    Squat 95kg 5×5
    Deadlift 155kg 5×5
    Bench 82.5kg 5×5
    Dips + 50×5 +40×10 + 30×13
    Pull ups +15 3×5

    As you can see, I’ve made some big gains compared to when you published my stats in your summer article. However on certain lifts (pretty much bench) I’m struggling to make any gains at all.

    I’ve tried increasing my carb intake but I’m unsure when I should stop adding to that. I was at 200g on cut and started at 250 for the slow bulk. Currently trying 300 without much change. Is it too much or can i continue adding so long as I don’t gain too much fat.

    Or should I reduce volume on bench? Say instead of 5×5, try out 3 sets of 5 or 5 sets of 3 reps? I’m not quite sure how to progress. Any suggestions?

    Thanks, Andy!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Marc, great to hear from you. Alright, I know you prefer me to teach rather than be descriptive so here goes:
      The principles of progression apply to a routine as a whole, but also the individual exercises. So, if you’re struggling with the one, you can change up how you train for that one exercise independently of the rest of your training program. Have a read of Greg’s article on training for the intermediate, cause I think that an increase in volume right now is more likely what you need.

      That help?

  20. Antoine RB

    Hi Andy,
    me again.

    I’m still cutting, I’m down to arround 66kg, stenght are stil the same Bench:70×5 / Squats: 80kgx5 / Deadlifts don to 75kgx5 (safty mind thing).

    My Routine…


    Squats 5×5
    Bench Press 5×5
    weighted Dips RPT Style
    cable row


    Deadlifts 5×5
    Pull ups RPT Style (3 sets)
    Shoulder Press RPT (machine / 3 sets)
    Biceps Curls RPT (3 sets)

    Is this too much for my cut? Should I take out the curls? Would it help for loosing my last pounds of Bodyfat?

    And with the cable row 3 Sets of 8-10, how to progress? It’s not the RPT style?

    With the RPT Style…

    so for example for the first Set 6-8 should I go to failure? If I can do 10, I will, or if I reach the 8 rep I stop and adjust the weight for the next session?

    Now, I’m going every set to failure, meaning I will do every set the max of reps I can do.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Antoine. I’ll cover your questions in order:
      1. Depends on your work capacity and recovery capacity. Have a good read of, “Which Routine Is For Me?”.
      2. I can’t see curls making a big difference. Rules for accessories in the FAQ.
      3. See the Big 3 Routine article for notes on progression, same principles apply.
      4. Correct, it’s 3 sets of 8-10 reps, not RPT.
      5. RPT progression is covered in the RPT article, “‘Three Day Split RPT’ Routine”.

  21. Sean

    Hi andy before I found this I did the classic 6 day bodybuilding splits which didn’t get me very far. I started a cut and started the big 3 routine on a wednesday which means monday was my sixth session. Even though I’ve lost nearly one kg of body weight my strength has increased. Squat 80kg-97.5kg Bench Press 70kg-77.5kg Deadlift 80kg-105kg.
    The problem is I’m not even three weeks in and last workout which was the dat before yesterday I realized that when deadlifting you were supposed to let the bar touch the floor every rep. I amped up the weight and did it. Now my next workout is today and my lower back is really sore I don’t know if I should keep it this way or change to a split since I’ve only had 6 workouts and my strength is not intermediate. By the way I weigh 72kg.

      1. Sean

        Yeah I went to workout yesterday and half way through the worst workout I’ve ever had I broke into a fever and horrible cold. So the soreness was probably from that. I couldn’t even lift the bar. I did Squats and Bench Press with less weight than I should have did one set of Deadlifts and couldn’t take it anymore. I got home with fever and had to take medicine and eat like a workout day and go to sleep. Today is rest day and I have the worst headache. I hope I can train tomorrow.

          1. Sean

            Yeah that did not happen. I had to go the hospital on thursday because I felt like I had a knife lodged in my chest. It was a mild pneumonia on one lung. I am having the worst time of my life. Freaking out in the hospital room bored to death not being able to train. I can’t believe this is happening and at the best time of my training and just before I travel and before summer. I can go home tomorrow but I can’t leave my house for another week. I don’t know what to do. How do I come back to training? My strength will be destroyed. I guess I should eat at maintenance until I can train with 0.50 grams of fat per lb of LBM. and 2.6 grams of protein and the rest carbs. Then I can get back on track on wednesday or friday of next week. I am so angry. I’ve never been this anxious. My cut has turned into a failure and now I won’t be ready for my trip or summer. In fact I’ll probably return worst from my trip. All the hard work sent to the dump because of an annoying bacteria.

            1. Andy Morgan

              Muscle is not built quickly, and it can’t be lost quickly either. Rest, take a break from dieting, relax, and you will be fine.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Dave. Though I have read both online and on a piece of equipment about there being two types of dip, I believe there is only one – the way that is comfortable for your joints, meaning your wrists, elbows and shoulders. Generally that will mean your arms are fairly close to the body, your triceps don’t pass parallel, and your body is hanging as gravity takes it. Forcing it any other way is just asking for injury.

  22. Joe W

    Given the difficulty in getting the calves to grow when in a caloric surplus, is it worth training them when running a caloric deficit/doing a cut?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Joe. It could be argued that in most circumstances this wouldn’t be necessary for muscle maintenance given the isometric work they get from the compound lifts. Someone that has a high volume of calf work and fairly advanced development might need some though.

  23. Chris

    Quick question. I do the big 3 with cable rows, trice pull down, cable Flys, dumb bell straight legs and lat pull downs. My deadlifts are dumb bells as barbell hurts. Would you consider that overload for Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays? I recover fine and am always amped for the workout. Also would this fall under moderate or lightly active? Thanks for the help.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Chris. (Progressive) overload isn’t gauged by exercise selection. Check out Naoki Kawamori’s guest article, The Principle Of Progressive Overload so that you can judge this for yourself.

      “Also would this fall under moderate or lightly active?”
      If you’re struggling to decide, use an activity multiplier half way in-between.

      1. Chris

        OK thanks. I have read a lot about weight training doesn’t constitute moderate and those multipliers are for cardio. I just hate the thought of depriving myself of calories because I should be receiving more. I will go e it a shot.

  24. Antoine RB

    Hi Andy,

    still on my cut :)
    I’m doing the Workout A / B Spilt.

    Would like to know what you can tell me about deadlifts “sets across” or “ramp up”.

    Now I’m doing what seems to me “set across” so I do 60kg / 70kg/ 80kg/ and then my sets of 5×5 with 91,5kg. I think my form get sloppy at the end of the last Sets, maybe my muscles getting to tired. Is it better to do the “ramp up” style? So only the last set is the heaviest?
    What do you think?

    And what do you think about a deload week, do I have to this?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Antoine. Straight sets and RPT have their own pros and cons. They are covered in part in this article and also in the RPT one. You’ll find my article, “Which Routine Is For Me?” useful also.
      Whatever you choose, you need to stick within the rules of that system and not change it to lift more. So, if you’re doing RPT, do it. If you’re doing straight sets, do that. Don’t do 3 sets at your target weight when you should be doing 5×5 though as that just means you need to go lighter.

      Pyramid training (which I believe you’re calling a “ramp up style”) just doesn’t make a lot of sense. You need to be fresh when hitting maxes. Also, don’t confuse warm up sets with working sets.

      Deloads are covered in the FAQ. I think the issue here is that you’re taking things you’ve learned from elsewhere and trying to apply them here instead of seeing each system on it’s own.

      1. Antoine RB

        Thanks Andy,
        your’re right I mix things up 😉 sometimes I need someone to get me back. It’s a patience thing, a marathon….

        I will stay in the Workout A/B split and continue with 5×5 deadlifts and lower the weight a little bit, so it should be fine.

        I puted the Dips after the cable row, or is it better to do it direct after the bench press?

        I was looking about deloading because I hit a plateau with my squats and bench press was going down a little bit. But of course I’m in a cut, so what did I expect 😉

        I was looking in you FAQ site but couldn’t find something about “Deloads” so I used the search functions and found it on the questions site….

        So no deloading in a cut, ok 😉

        I think maybe 2-4 weeks to go for my cut and then a little diet break, then a recomp or bulk.

        Thanks Andy

        1. Andy Morgan

          Either can work. I’d go with the dips straight after the bench. Thanks for the heads up about the “deloads” section being missing – I’ve been doing a lot of edits and it must have gotten lost. Will be sure to put it back in.

  25. Jason

    Hi again Andy!
    Been making the slow transition from our cut to slow bulk these past couple months. My questions is in regards to training. I was on a three day split (5×5 rep pattern) and would like to change it up, preferably to the RPT style training. If I keep the exercises the same it seems I would be doing less volume using the RPT style program. Should I add in extra sets or an accessory or two for best results or switch back to the A/B split and follow the guidelines referenced by Greg in the “What To Do When You’re Done With Your Beginner Strength Training Program” to add volume first? Thanks Andy, Jason

      1. Jason

        Main reason I suppose would be variety in rep pattern/change things up a bit. The main lifts haven’t really moved in the last 30+ days even with the increase in calories so my thought process was to change it up.

        1. Andy Morgan

          Jason, thanks. Two reasons to change things up then. I’d consider it as it is (without worrying about the small decrease in overall volume/work done), for the variety, as that’s important and the increase in motivation can bring about better workouts and better gains. (Sometimes you program for that, fascinating article here – make sure you read the first one.)

          From there you can progress to the periodisation principles in Greg’s post here.

  26. Fabian


    Thank You for the great site!
    Im doing kung fu classes mo and tue and one yoga class on thu.
    Im also used to barbell Training.

    Do You have experience on how I should change my barbell Training id like to follow the beginner routine 3x a week and nutrition regarding my martial arts? ( im doing it for about 4 years now)
    Do the martial arts days count as Training nutrition day?
    The Training is 1.5 h and normaly consists of slow movements of mediocre intensity.

    Thanks a lot!

  27. Pingback: Qual Treino Devo Escolher? - Dieta & MalhaçãoDieta & Malhação

  28. Mike Williams

    Hi Andy,

    ive never actually trained the big 3 split, more fuckarounditis BB split then around 12 months ago i discovered lean gains and RPT so my bb split progressed from there. That started the ball rolling. but i feel i have missed out! Wish i had found your site sooner and payed more attention to nutrition but hey ho.

    I am in the best shape i have been in and now i am in a slight calorie surplus (slowly increasing it) i am feeling the need to want to train the big 3 more often, problem being i really enjoy my dips, chin ups and OHP along with a few accessory lifts. The A/B split above has caught my attention as it seems the best of both worlds.

    i think recovery time will be insufficient if i keep doing RPT for the deadlifts,squats and bench, would changing these to a 5×5 be a step backwards or it possible that it will be more beneficial from a volume point of view now im in a surplus?

    in terms of training and strength i would say i am hovering just about intermediate but my squat is lacking, i think this is the reason i want to increase volume plus i really like squats.

    help appreciated as always,

  29. Chad

    Hi Andy,

    Looking to cut down, currently weigh 92kgs and wanting to get to 80kgs. Havent been consistent with my gym work for a good 9 months and very little the last 3 months but have been active with sports trainings. Past PB’s were 160kg squat, 195kg dead and 85kg bench. Question is whether i should ease my way back into trainings for a while before trying to go to failure on my first set on my lifts or if il be fine tucking straight into RPT training.


    1. Andy Morgan

      Definitely ease into things Chad. In fact, be sure to lift less than you feel you can for the first few sessions – your muscles can do it but the CNS isn’t ready. Everyone ignores that though and but learns the hard way suffering quite severe DOMS for days afterwards.

  30. Pingback: Which Routine Is For Me?

  31. Pingback: Which Routine Is For Me? | RippedBody.jpRipped Body

  32. EricB

    Regarding the choice between a “sets across” or RPT split routine:

    I started with your basic 5×5 Big 3 program about 8 weeks ago. Based on my recovery capacity and exercise performance I have been both incrementally dropping volume to 3.5’s on all lifts and frequency as the weight on the bar is steadily increased. I am doing deads on Wednesday only and squats on Monday and Friday. I have also added in presses and chins so I am getting 2-3 exercises per session. As I see it now I am just one more notch away from going to an honest three-day split (once my squat cannot recover sufficiently 2x per week).

    1) Where would you generally advise going to a RPT rep structure vs “sets across”?

    2) In the example programming above, it is on purpose that you’re combining pulling movements into one day (deads and chins combined for example)? When I do chins after deads I am wasted and my numbers are markedly worse. Is this going to “Stress” the muscles more for a greater adaptation?


    1. Andy Morgan

      Eric, thanks for the question.
      1. Haven’t formalised any rules for that yet. Depends on a number of things, mainly though, progress, form and feeling.
      2. Purposeful, to give your back more time to recover due to the drop in frequency. The chins will naturally suffer.

  33. Jaime

    Hello, I’ve been reading your articles all morning. Learned a lot of new stuff. I am 6 feet 225 pounds with a 390 squat, 465 deadlift, 290 bench, and 165 Press ( based on calculations). I see you haven’t written much about Wendler 5/3/1. I think I’m an intermediate lifter, what are your thoughts on this program?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Jaime, thanks for the comment. I’ve covered such questions in the start of this article. This is your first comment here, so I hope you find that helpful
      There will be a guest post by Greg Nuckols coming in the next week on “post-beginner” training that will probably interest you. If you want an update on that, put your e-mail in the box on the sidebar in the homepage, or just check back.

  34. Gooch

    Dear Andy

    My client is a 32 year female who has never exercised before. Goal : fat loss

    Being a beginner, she faces major problems doing squats & deadlifts due to mobility issues, weak core and poor proprioception. Even partial squats are challenging for her.

    How can i go about her routine?

    She being a beginner and hence very low intensity workout, can IF be given to her? Is it a good option? Is it also a good option to include daily low intensity 30 min cardio for her to utilize FFA optimally?


    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Guchu/Gooch, thanks for the comment.
      “…she faces major problems doing squats & deadlifts due to mobility issues, weak core and poor proprioception. Even partial squats are challenging for her. How can i go about her routine?”
      This is probably just a matter of practice. But if you think she has special imbalances/needs then that’s for you to decide as her trainer, not I.
      “…can IF be given to her? Is it a good option?”
      The IF is completely unrelated. It’s a diet strategy, but if it’s going to add a layer of complication to things right now rather then simplify as it does for most people) then forget it and focus on one thing at a time for her. More here.
      You can’t outrun your mouth. More thoughts on cardio here.

  35. Aaron

    Hi Andy,

    what would you recommend if I usually do the Big-3 5×5 (but on wednesdays no squat/bench and instead dips/chins) when going on a Cut. Should I keep my routine or switch to RPT during the cutting? Should I addionally reduce the volume i.e. only Squat, DL, Bench once a week (like stated in your article) and ditch the Dips/Chins during the Cut?

    I hope you can give me some advice.

    Thanks in advance!

    Best regards,


    1. Andy Morgan

      Sorry Aaron, there isn’t a single answer to this, all depends on you bud. You gotta apply the principles of the above article and the other training articles.

      1. Aaron

        Ok, so I guess it depends on my recovery.

        I was just wondering if 5×5 is unnesserary volume since I won’t get much muscles anyways. So RPT would be less volume and time spent with same result.

        So you wouldn’t generally recommend doing each exercise only once a week when on a cut since muscle preservation is the main goal – not muscle growth?

        1. Andy Morgan

          1. Did you see the pros and cons sections on straight sets (eg. 5×5) and RPT in those latest article updates? I think I have that covered there bud.
          2. This depends on the individual. Those more advanced can get away with training an exercise once a week, as they have learned how to hit the body/muscle harder – which also has CNS recovery etc. implications.

          1. Aaron

            1) Actually, I haven’t found it. Where can I find it? Would be very useful.

            2) Ok, I’ll just keep observing my training performance then. I’ve already noticed that doing DL on wednesdays is too much – I was still very sore from monday DL and Bulgarian Split Squats (BSS). I’m gonna skip DL today, too, to recover for monday and only do Bench and BSS today and continue from there. So I’m progressing to a split routine in stages like you’ve suggested in this article.

  36. Krzysztof Szczepaniak

    Hi Andy
    From the top sorry for my weak eanglish. 😉

    Since January 2014 I trained for a full two months (3 x week) Basic movements ( squat , benchpress , back ‘s on machines because it’s my weakest party of the body and in addition have a curvature of the spine )
    Since April 2014 I’ve added 3 other exercises ( weighted Dips, straightening the legs on the machine, chinups )

    I train now running ABABABAB …
    A = Benchpress , Squats , Chin ups
    B = Weighted Dips , straightening the legs , the back ‘s on machine ‘s (still weak point of my body)
    I do not do crunches , cardio once a month for peace of mind, stretching at home, keeping the diet.

    I am writing because I wonder if they did not change the training plan, grew in strength little bit and on benchpress i can do 75kgx8 , 95kgx8 squats , back’s unfortunately are weak (load is given together with a barbell, 3 sets of 8/10/12 rep and subtracting -10 % of the weight at a set , my body weight is 75kg) .
    In the current exercise I am 90 % happy, because they are easy, quick, and I see more or less progress with time. But I wonder if they did not change the current plan for a 3 day split ( chest / leg / back) . Do you have any suggestions to add simple, quick exercises to do Split workout, something that will not damage my spine too. Can be with my current plan?, but to attack another method my back and change some exercise (for example, straightening the legs on the machine)?
    I was also worried about those back’s, from January (then touched the rod to pull) is a small improvement , as do 3 sets x5 chinup with 3 min break between sets , but still I am not happy and I do not know how to approach this part of the body that was on it so progress as he wants .

      1. Krzysztof Szczepaniak

        State of health: Bend back “S” and Light Scoliosis, Doctor told me not to deadlift, OHP and similar exercises requiring spine.

        1. Andy Morgan

          That’s recommendations on what not to do, rather than what you can do or better still, what types of exercises to avoid. As I said, it’s not for me to advise here bud.

  37. James Boyle

    Hi Andy

    Did my first barbell big 3 today following your revised guidelines. I am currently 5,11 and 234 pounds. I managed 5×5 no problem with bench 80kg, deadlift 95kg and a pretty pathetic first squat of 65kg (I was a bit nervous with the bar on my back).

    2 quick questions:

    1. I’d like to cut for obvious reasons (down to about 185-190) but is this realistic when starting barbell training (only have done dumbbells, chins, dips for about 2 years)?

    2. I work 8-6 and can do IF no problem during Mon to Fri pm but am less good at the weekend. I generally carb/calorie cycle a little like Lyle McDonalds suggestion – with this in mind Mon, Wed, Fri don’t seem to be ideal training days? What days would you suggest for a weekend calorie cycle? Fri, Sun and Wed (and have a higher calorie day on that day?



    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Jim. Put the squat first.
      1. You can definitely get down to 185 or 190 and that’ll be a huge change and you’ll be looking great. You’ll likely want to take it further though, but there’s little point worrying about how you’ll look at that weight just yet, just get going and see.
      2. A minimum of one day of rest between workouts is what I recommend. I also recommend putting carb refeeds on the training days. See here for more.
      At the end of the day, the main thing is to start in a way you can be consistent with.

  38. Amaury

    Hi Andy!
    Thank you for this great website. I’m 52 years old and started your training for about 3 months ago.I have had good results, but there are days when I am not able to do the exercises without eating something before going to the gym.Generally I eat a portion of cottage cheese and take the 10g of BCAA as you recommend. Genarally I do not feel well when I take BCAAs. Seem to feel a little more weak.I’m now with 68kg and 10% body fat.I fell I need now,to earn more muscle density.I’d like to know when I should start doing the Press, Dips, Chin-ups and Pull-ups.Sorry,but I could not find in your article,the tips about implementing these exercises in my routine.
    Could you please,clarify it to me?
    By the way,I’m from Brasil and I’ve been talking about The IF for some friends and they are very happy with the results.
    Thank you for your attention.
    All the best,my friend!

    Amaury Guerra

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Amaury. There isn’t a single set of rules for when to add in exercises X, Y and Z. The principles are what are important – I can’t just throw out a training program at you. I’ve tried to cover this above, but I’ll have another article on training principles soon.

  39. Alan

    H Andy, I’m still on the big three routine while bulking as I still do not get sore the day after training My body feels tired on rest day so I know I’m pushing myself hard and my workouts are intense. Should I have progressed to a different routine by now? In regards to the big three, I dont seem to be progressing in adding weight either. I’m not sure if this is do to needing a change in routine.
    PS – You gave me an example of and AB split routine in the past but I have not tried it yet. Because I dont get sore Im still able to do all the big three exercises three times a week without issue. Although, since Im now bulking should I stay on the big three or use a split routine with 5×5 reps?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Alan. If you’re still gaining strength and not feeling sore on the Big 3 routine then that’s excellent and stick with it. The goal isn’t to get to a perceived “more advanced” training split, the goal is to gain as much strength as you can in the quickest amount of time and the frequency of the Big 3 is great for that as long as one can still recover from it.

      1. Alan

        Thanks Andy, makes sense, soreness aside, just another thought, now that I’m lean bulking should I move to a split routine or remain on the big three routine?

  40. Yifan

    Dear Andy,

    Thank you so much for providing all the detailed information here about training and diet. It has helped me immensely. I have a question regarding progressing from the beginner routines. I am currently doing the big 3 on Mon, Wed, and Fri using 3×5 similar to the Starting Strength routine (slow bulk). I think I might be getting close towards the edge of needing to transition to one of the other routines you mentioned. In terms of RPT and split routine, what would be the difference in recovery that would indicate if one should go with one or the other? For example, from my current routine, I could keep doing 3×5 and do a split routine, or I could do the big 3 each day but using RPT, or it could be a mixture of the two.

    Thanks again.

  41. Nate

    Hey Andy my job only allows me to get to the gym on weekends. I know its not possible to do the big 3 on consecutive days but, can I do the 3 day split on fri,sat, and sun?

  42. matt

    Wow, I just came upon this site and I have to say that what I’ve read so far is very well written and refreshingly sensible. Nice job.

    I’m curious what feedback you might have regarding my current program. Basically I’m following the Starting Strength lifting protocol minus the power cleans (I do rows instead), with also weighted chins. So far I’m progressing on all my lifts and I’m loving the 3×5 heavy barbell workouts.

    My issue is that even though I’d like to continue lifting heavy, my current short term goal is actually fat loss. To that end, my strategy is to continue with what I’m doing until recovery becomes compromised, and if/when that occurs I’d adjust to a more minimal program like you suggest here. This makes sense to me but I’d love another’s opinion.

    My basic stats: Though I’ve lifted on-and-off since my early 20s, I consider myself a beginner as I’ve only lifted heavy like this for a couple months. I’m 34; 6’2″; 195lbs; and basically skinny fat. Recovery isn’t the best and I’ve had some real issues with lower carb fat loss plans when done in conjunction with heavy lifting.

    My diet is basically paleo plus starches. Aside from protein powder, I eat very little processed food. I don’t do gluten or dairy because of digestive issues. I’m not doing IF at the moment because in the past I’ve had some disastrous experiences, resulting in massive mood swings and really low energy, though those problems might have been a result of too much lifting, or not getting enough carbs; I’m not sure.

    My main lifts: 105 Press; 170 Squat; 240 DL; 150 Bench.

    Any feedback that you have would be greatly appreciated. And like I said, great site.

  43. Jess

    Hi Andy,
    I am performing pushups at the end of my bench day performing 2 sets of 8-12 reps in a slow, controlled manner but I am able to hit 12 reps easily, even if I elevate my feet. Would it be alright to have someone add weight plates to my back for extra resistance?

    Additionally, I am looking for a RPT calculator spreadsheet. I cannot find a one online so would you happen to have one or know of a link to a spreadsheet online?

    I appreciate your expertise :)

  44. tungi Mashamba

    Hey Andy,I am a terribly weak beginner,well,maybe not that bad (can’t do a single chin up).I use the free gym at school that’s open for guys on Tuesday ,Thursday and Friday.What’s my best option,big 3 on tuesday and friday ,big split on all days or any other suggestion you might have?

  45. Cody

    Hey Andy, love your stuff.

    Quick q: I understand that the general body recomp method is recommended to be +20% for lifting days and -20% for rest days.

    What are your thoughts on a +20% for lifting but -40% for rest days. I am trying to lose more fat, but will this method be detrimental to me in any way? Make muscle gain slow?


  46. SteveJW2

    Hey Andy,

    As I mentioned in another comment, I recently started a leangains protocol. I’m doing a body recomp -20/+20. I have lifted a little before, but not much. My #s aren’t terribly impressive. I’d imagine you’d call me a beginner. BP – 140 3×5, Squat – 160 3×5, DL – 265 x 5. I’m 5’10 155 lbs at about 15-16% BF. Anyway. My lifting #s aren’t going up that fast especially on squats. DL is not really going up too fast either though I do have a little experience at them, hence the higher weight there relative to the other lifts. My question is – is the Starting Strength protocol too much to mesh with Leangains? Is it too taxing to see good gains on the lifts? Should I make any adjustments? I know it’s probably complicated and a little tough to answer over the internet. Any thoughts are welcome though. Thanks.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Steve.
      “…is the Starting Strength protocol too much to mesh with Leangains? Is it too taxing to see good gains on the lifts? Should I make any adjustments?”
      1. No, it can work gangbusters with the leangains principles.
      2. This depends on context: lifting experience and thus required recovery capacity (which will vary from individual to individual) as well as the energy balance which will determine recovery capacity.
      3. Always, if you aren’t progressing.

      1. SteveJW2

        Should I expect to add less weight to my lifts on a body recomp rather than bulking protocol? I would imagine so. I was figuring it’d probably be almost 1/2 as fast. I’m going to give myself a little longer to progress. But if I don’t, what do you think the likely culprits are? PS: Eating 3000 calories on training days and 2000 on rest days.

        1. Andy Morgan

          Hi Steve.
          “Should I expect to add less weight to my lifts on a body recomp rather than bulking protocol?”
          Yes, because the recovery and growth capacity of less. The latter question is too open ended.

  47. taz dave could i slip mill press into the big 3 or 3 dy split? realy good site and sound advice.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Dave. You could alternate that with the bench for the Big 3 routine. Clearly there are a lot of options/flexibility with a split routine. Play around with it depending on how you progress.

  48. Gurv

    Hey Andy,

    Still doing my lean bulk. Squats and Deads continue to progress slowly but surely.

    If I’m struggling to progress in strength for bench press (Wednesday – 5reps x3 sets) and OHP (Friday – 5reps x3 sets) – permitting everything is on point with mobility/rest/recovery, would you suggest a slight increase in macros to bust through the plateau, OR a switch to RPT x3 sets? I know I could experiment, first with increasing macros and testing for about 2-3 weeks, but I thought I’d get your input first. If I kept macros the same, I bet if I went with RPT, I would probably see increases because it’s only one balls to the wall top set.


    1. Andy Morgan

      Both could work Gurv. How are your other lifts going? Are they improving? If so then you may want to hold off for now. Depends on your preference for muscle/fat gain. You could try RPT for those exercises if you wish. Then you’d have a different standard you will be judging your strength by though.

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