how_to_deadlift_moreYes, the deadlift works the biceps.

The core of building a strong body is the Squat, Deadlift, Bench and their variants. Anyone that tells you otherwise is simply ill-informed. As a look at weight category competition powerlifters will show you, you don’t need anything other than these three to get big, strong and ripped.

I neglected the Squat and Deadlift for years, not realizing their fantastic all over body training effects and I wish someone had told me years ago so that I didn’t waste so much time initially.

‘The Big 3′ Explained

What is it?

A deceptively simple yet brilliantly effective training program for putting slabs of muscle on a beginner trainee. It does this by focusing all the trainee’s energy and recovery efforts into the ‘big money’ exercises alone – the Squat, Deadlift and Bench.

Who is it for?

Anyone new to training, or anyone who has been spinning their wheels on ineffective workouts up until now. More advanced lifters will do these ‘big 3′ in a split-routine of some sort, but for those relatively new, you’ll make faster progress training all three in the same workout, 3 days a week.

An experienced lifter that is coming back after some time off may want to start out with this to get back in the groove of things.

When can it be used?

This can be used in a cut or bulk.

‘The Big 3′ – How to Guide

‘The Big 3′ In A Nutshell:

A fixed set-rep pattern is used. This means all working sets (not the warm-up sets) are done at the same weight. Every set is the same number of reps.

You’ll finish all your sets for the one exercise before moving onto the next.

What does it look like?

Here is the standard 5×5 big 3 routine.


  • Warm-up: Foam rolling, stretch out any tight places.

1. Squat

  • Warm-up sets
  • 5 sets of 5 reps (90-120seconds rest between sets)
  • 3mins rest (or however long it takes you to warm-up and be ready for the next exercise)

2. Bench

  • Warm-up sets
  • 5 sets of 5 reps (90-120seconds rest between sets)
  • 3mins rest (or however long it takes you to warm-up and be ready for the next exercise)

3. Deadlift

  • Warm-up sets
  • 5 sets of 5 reps (90-120seconds rest between sets)
  • 3mins rest (or however long it takes you to warm-up and be ready for the next exercise)
  • Cool-down: Foam rolling, stretch out any tight places.


As above


As above

How To Progress

How much should I lift?

For the first workout, choose the weight you believe you will be able to lift for all five sets. – Go conservative, you can always increase the weight next time.

Beginners will need to concentrate on getting their form right for the first month or so of working out. – You’re programming your brain and nervous system to remember a pattern, so don’t worry about lifting a lot of weight like you feel you should, and don’t worry about looking cool. Begin light. Slowly move up the weight as form improves. For the first few workouts I think it is a good idea to follow the advice of Rippetoe:

Do sets of 5 reps, gradually increasing the weight until it is a struggle to complete the 5 reps. Rack the bar, the workout for that exercise is done. Move onto the next exercise.

For the next workout do the same but challenge yourself to lift a slightly heavier weight for that single heavy set. From the third workout you can move onto the standard pattern above. Try starting with the same weight as you could lift the previous workout but this time try 5 sets as per the example above.

When should I increase the weight?

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

When should I decrease the weight?

When you miss 10% or more of your target reps in total, for two* consecutive sessions. (*Bad sessions happen.) With 5×5 this means if you get less than 22 reps total then decrease at the next session. The set you’re most likely to miss any reps on will be the last set due to cumulative fatigue.

Example Squat Progression based on the rules above (weight x reps):

  • Session 1: 130x5x5x5x5x5 clear – increase next.
  • Session 2: 140x5x5x5x5x5 clear – increase next.
  • Session 3: 150x5x5x5x5x3 missed 2 – same weight next.
  • Session 4: 150x5x5x5x5x5 clear – increase next.
  • ….
  • Session 22: 250x5x5x5x5x5 clear – increase next.
  • Session 23: 255x5x5x5x4x3 missed 3 - try same weight next.
  • Session 24: 255x5x5x5x5x5 clear – increase next.
  • Session 25: 260x5x5x5x4x3 missed 3 - try same weight next.
  • Session 26: 260x5x5x5x5x2 missed 3 - reduce weight next.
  • Session 27: 255x5x5x5x5x5 clear – increase next.
  • Session 28: 258x5x5x5x5x5 clear – increase next.
  • Session 29: 260x5x5x5x5x5 clear – increase next.

Golden rule: Lift only as heavy as you can for your target number of reps without any breakdown in form.

How much should I increase the weight by each session?

Increases need to be slow and incremental to allow your body to adapt to the load. (This is not just about muscle growth, but the connecting tissues, nervous system, & bone density changes).

There is no fixed rule for weight increases, however generally you’ll be able to make bigger increases in your Deadlift and Squat each session compared to the Bench because of the greater overall use of the body’s musculature in the former two.

A 10lb increase in the squat and deadlift, 5lb increase for the bench is common initially for each session. The increases you’ll be able to make to the lifts will gradually decrease over time. This is reflected in the progression example above.

How long can I continue to progress with this routine?

This is going to depend on genetics, starting muscle mass several factors, and recovery capacity. 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 of that and cutting back on the volume (number of sets or reps) or frequency (number of times per week) of an exercise can be just the trick.

This is the first thing to look at – reducing the number of sets from 5 to 3 for example. Many people will find that lower back soreness will become an issue first, so reducing the deadlift from 5 to 3 sets is a common progression.

If the above reduction in volume allows you to keep increasing the weight each session then great. If not then you may need to reduce exercise frequency and look at some form of split routine – which is covered in the article, How to progress from ‘The Big 3′ to Split Routines

Don’t miss the obvious though:
Progressions can’t continue in a deficit forever, regardless of how clever the programming is. So if you’re cutting, don’t overlook the simplest answer – you may have to eat more to gain more strength, and that’ll mean you’ll need to make a choice between fat loss or muscle/strength gain. Beginners get spoiled initially as they can achieve simultaneous muscle gain and fat loss and forget this.

Pros, Cons and FAQs

What I like about The Big 3

  • Effective, simple, difficult to mess it up.
  • Volume gives the lifter plenty of form practice.
  • Cuts through the crap & focuses on the exercises that will give the trainee the most bang for your buck.

Drawbacks of The Big 3

  • Equipment availability – some gyms don’t have a squat rack (a smith machine doesn’t count). Some gyms don’t allow deadlifts (seems to be more of a problem in asia). – Change gyms or build a home gym.
  • Knowledge – Can be tough to find a trainer who can show you proper form. – Use the videos and books (see below) as your guide. Change gyms if possible.

Big 3 Specific FAQ

Will this routine still give me abs?

Yes. The abs are worked in the isometric contraction in every lift. Taking the squat as an example (as it’s the easiest to visualise) the abs, combined with the obliques and lower back, perform the function of keeping your torso rigid/tight so that your spine does not bear the load and/or tilt forward and snap you in half. Further reading from Mark Rippetoe.

Do I have to stick to those exercises above?

Unless you have a good reason (injury, mobility issue, etc.) then I’d advise you stick to the exercises above.

Front Squats, The Overhead Press, Rack Pulls, Dips (weighted/assisted), Chin-ups, Row variations… basically any multi-joint/compound exercises that lend themselves well to incremental loading can be used with this routine.

Advice: If it’s tough to perform some of the exercises initially, just try working into them slowly, foam rolling, stretching and practicing. It’s normal for it to be tough or a little weird initially. Assume you don’t have a mobility issue or imbalance first and practice, rather than falling suffering special flower syndrome that modern society loves. Note also the correct height to start the deadlift from.

What is a good warm-up?

You’ll want to do the minimum that you can to get warm and ready for the top set, without tiring yourself for your main work sets. I’ve covered this in detail in the FAQ, WARM-UP: What should I do?

Can I add in…?


Why no chin-ups?

Adding this fourth compound exercise to those big three on a single day would be too much for you to recover from and threatens progress.

Yes, your biceps are worked with those big three. It’s the isometric work through holding the bar with the deadlift.

Got any lifting videos/resources?

Best Book:Starting Strength 3rd Edition’ by Mark Rippetoe. It will teach you about form.
Best Videos: Rippetoe’s are here: Main Barbell Movements Other Lifts & Tips.
Other videos: Type any exercise you’re looking for into Youtube along with any of the following names and you can be sure it’ll be good: Mark Rippetoe / Eric Cressey / Tony Gentilcore / Bret Contreras / Jordan Syatt

Final words of advice?

  • Work yourself gradually into it. Think of training like a suntan, you don’t take all the sun at once, and you must not try to grind yourself into the ground on your first session either.
  • Use a stopwatch to keep your rest times constant and make a log to track progress.
  • If your gym’s atmosphere is lame, put on some music to get yourself in the mood.
  • Headphones are also a good tool to keep people who love to chat at a distance.
  • Keep your Facebook addiction out of the gym.
  • Get 8 hours sleep.
  • If you don’t have a trainer of friend to who can check your form, using your phone to video yourself so that you check. – Compare with those videos linked to above and make adjustments.
  • Have fun!

Got it, now how do I put together a nutrition plan to go with this?

RippedBody Results CollageThat’s what I specialise in. Some people hire me to do it, but you can find everything you need to do this on this site. The level of depth and ease of use I believe is the main reason for the site’s popularity.

I’ve put all the diet guides in one place. This includes, How to Calculate Your Calories, How to Calculate Your Macros, Optimal Meal Timing, Calorie & Carb Cycling, Supplements, How to Track your Progress, basically everything you need.

Continue to -> Diet Guides

Principles | Programs | CardioFAQ

553 Comments on “‘The Big 3′ Routine”

  1. Jaja

    Hi Mr. Andy,

    Thanks for your great information here. My question is “Do deadlifts/squat make people shorter or decrease height”. If the answer yes, do u have any solution ? Really need your advice here prior buy my first barbel. Please correct me if im wrong, and many thanks for your reply.



  2. Matt C

    Hi, I wanted to ask about weight loss. I have worked out before, lost weight before. I have not worked out for a long time and at this stage I am definitely a beginner. Resistance training was always part of it, but I never really focused on strength, it was just a means to lose weight. I just used what I knew from the weightlifting I had done in school when I played sports.

    I have a decent amount of weight to lose, 50-60lbs. Essentially, there will be no bulking period for me until I reach my weight loss goal. Since I will be in a deficit until I have reached that goal, can I still benefit from the big 3 or will I not really see much change in strength beyond the initial neural adaptation from being a beginner?

    This may seem like a silly question, but it just seems like I might need a “foundation” to start on and I am concerned that doing the big 3/starting strength type of programs and BEGINNING on a deficit might not work out.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Matt. Yes, this workout still applies. You can gain muscle while in a calorie deficit as long as you stay within my fat loss guidelines here. This is especially true given that you have a lot of fat to lose. Quoting from the article, “Which Routine is for Me?“:

      1. *Higher body-fat percentages blurs boundary of what is possible on a cut

      While an obese and a lean person may both be in calorie deficit circumstances, their energy availability is different. Fatter individuals have a larger pantry to dip into when the food on the table isn’t enough, leaner individuals don’t. This blurs the lines of what is possible on a calorie deficit because the energy available for recovery is different.

      Therefore, someone that starts off at a high body-fat percentage, and stalls out at the end of the linear progression training continuum, may benefit from moving from their beginner routine and using some periodisation principles, such as those discussed by Greg in his article. “You probably won’t have any issues increasing training volume, though the maximal amount you can handle would be less. It just means you have to monitor recovery more closely.”

      What is the cut off point for this? – It comes down to the individual. “When you’re dealing with biology, you have to accept a little chaos and ambiguity,” says Greg. A little experimentation with this purposefully lower weight, higher volume method, as long as protein intake is sufficient and the deficit within recommended limits, will be fine for preserving muscle mass even if it doesn’t eventually lead to the desired strength increases.

      By “Linear progression training continuum“, I’m just talking about moving from a full body routine to some form of split. That’s covered here. Enjoy getting stuck in Matt. :)

  3. Amaury

    Hi Andy!
    Thank you for this so good info.

    I’d like to know,please,when and how to implement the others exercises in the Big 3 routine like Front Squats, The Overhead Press, Rack Pulls, Dips (weighted/assisted), Chin-ups, Row variations.

    Thank you for your attention.


  4. Pete


    I about to complete my first week of the big three routine, and actually enjoy the workout (but not the subsequent soreness). Anyhow I was wondering if you would advise against adding some other exercises in the mix. I know your site stresses trying to follow the program exactly as its been laid out but could I; (a) complete the big three with an additional body part included (totaling 4 workouts) or (b) add a 4th day of training with maybe two additional body parts?

    Also- I have calculated my calorie intake & macro’s on both rest and train days however because of my schedule I eat out often. I know its not ideal, but with the inability to cook all my own meals its been pretty difficult to have precise calculations. How vital is it to be very accurate with the calorie and macro calculations. I understand the closer the better but do you suspect it will stunt by progress a sustainably estimating some of those numbers? Even considering I have been staying very consistent to the 8 hour feeding window?

    Thanks again Andy, I have learned more in a couple weeks with you and your site then I have over the past year of reading random fitness articles. Thank you sir!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Pete, thanks for the questions.

      “I about to complete my first week of the big three routine, and actually enjoy the workout (but not the subsequent soreness). Anyhow I was wondering if you would advise against adding some other exercises in the mix.”
      Yes. This is the first thing people ask and as such I have it in the FAQ at the bottom of the article. Hope you’re wearing a helmet cause I’m going to ask you slap yourself on the head now.

      “How vital is it to be very accurate with the calorie and macro calculations?”
      Good question. You can’t get around the Nutritional Hierarchy of Importance. Mess up on the calorie intake and you’re screwed. That being said, it’s perfectly possible to not count, be very loose even and have success. Keep doing that for as long as possible and only add in complication (an additional layer of care with counting) as you cease progressing.

      Nutritional Hierarchy Of Importance Pyramid

      Thanks again Andy, I have learned more in a couple weeks with you and your site then I have over the past year of reading random fitness articles. Thank you sir!
      Very happy to hear that, you’re most welcome.

  5. Peter

    Hey there Andy,
    Again thanks you for the advice and support.
    I just started the “big 3” training, in the past I unfortunately fell into the category of the old thinking that when it comes to training, mores is better, working about 90 minutes each session and often neglecting legs and back. I am dedicated to sticking to the routine on your site but a couple questions for you:

    1. Going through today, I was able to complete the big three in about 45 minutes, does that sounds about right length wise?
    2. I typically worked out 90 minutes and worked up a pretty heavy sweet, I didn’t sweat nearly as much with the big three, is that an indication I need to increase the intensity/weight?
    3. Since I am avoiding ab workouts and cardio, during the cut goal and intermittent fasting w/ big3 training, what is the most important factor in getting leaner(more defined abs). Is it careful monitoring of the carb intake?
    4. Just to clarity the suggested progression from the BIG3 to split routine, I am too sore to complete the big3 3 times a week, should I need try and battle through and transition to the split. I feel like being extremely sore leads me to think I need more training to get through that, is that incorrect?

    Thanks again Andy for all you do! Its very much appreciated.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Peter, thanks for the questions.
      1. About right.
      2. No, don’t gauge your workouts by how much you sweat. That will come in time when you have build the strength and work capacity up to lift heavier weights.
      3. Consistency.
      4. Yes.

  6. kierran87

    Hi Andy,

    I have joined a new gym and now cannot do Band-Assisted Chin ups, and not strong enough yet without the band. What exercise can i do to replace the chin-ups?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Jump up and grab the bar. Fight it all the way down. Do that for ~3 reps, 3 sets. Then do 2 sets of 10-12 on the pull-down machine if you have one, palms facing you. Consider purchasing some bands.

  7. Peter

    Great website with very useful info. Thank you!
    I have been working out for years and as you said i felt like I was spinning my wheels. I jumped onto a calorie/carb restriction diet that helped me shed a good amount of fat (as well as muscle). I not am trying the intermittent fasting and I plan to work the big3 for training. I rarely do squats or deadlifts. As I start the big three, its going to feel odd to simply go to the gym and only perform these three exercises then go home. Do you recommend incorporating anything else since I have been training for some time already?
    Thanks in advance!!

    1. Andy Morgan

      If you have a muscular base and enjoy what you are currently doing then there isn’t a need to change the training per se as the diet is the part that you need to focus on. However, if you are looking for a change and an easy way to track your progress then you can consider the above. The difference is that you’ll likely need to move to one of the split progressions sooner for recovery reasons.

  8. José

    Hi Andy.

    2 questions:
    1 – Can I replace bench press with barbell overhead press?
    2 – Doing the big 3 only twice a week (lack of time) will still make me big?

    Thanks for your great website!

    1. Andy Morgan

      José, thanks for the questions.
      1. You could. The overall muscle activation is less and clearly the emphasis is slightly different but that’s still a great exercise and for anyone that can’t bench a good option.
      2. How far you can progress with training twice a week is going, assuming your diet, sleep and training intensity is all in place, will come down to genetics. Past a certain point more volume than can be delivered effectively in two sessions will be needed to drive adaptations. More on this in Greg Nuckols’ guest article, “What To Do When You’re Done With Your Beginner Strength Training Program”.

  9. Leeroy

    Hi Andy, you created a truly impressive and comprehensive website. The before & after photos are great motivation. I have just started the Big 3 Routine after not exercising for a few months. Just have a concern about the volume of deadlifts in the Big 3 Routine. I have read on the Leangains site a while back that deadlifts should be trained low and heavy and on Stronglifts 5×5 site he recommends 1×5 for deadlifts as greater volumes would beat up your lower back and require greater recovery time between each workout. From your experience with clients doing this routine, is it a case of good form conquers all and I shouldn’t be concerned or is it advisable to drop back the volume/weight for deadlift and very slowly build up?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Leeroy, glad to hear you’ve been finding the site useful.
      If you’ve been training for a few months, it’s possibly time to cut back the volume of deadlifts anyway. A detailed progression example covered in the article, here.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Yes absolutely.
      All in context though and common sense should prevail. I mean, if the person has an injury, serious muscular imbalance, or severely limited range of motion that can’t be worked through then you need to address those things first.

  10. Adam Cieszewski

    Hi Andy,
    I have just one question to You.
    Since few years i have problems with my knee.It is called Chondromalacia patellae of my knee.Should i change squats for something else or simply do it with not so much weight?
    However this site is amazing,and i am happy that i found it!
    P.S. Sorry for my language but i’m not perfect in english.

  11. Michael S

    Hi Andy!
    My chest always develops way quicker than the rest of my body, even when Im more cut (that being said, the lowest Ive ever prolly been is around 10-12 percent haha), while my shoulders stay tinnyyy! What do you think of doing the big three but utilizing the overhead press for my main push instead? I’m working up to one handed pushups in my off time and enjoying that much more than benching. what do you think?

      1. Michael S.

        I just started back again after an injury kept me out since may/june:
        height- 6’2″
        squat 125x5x5
        deadlift 215×5

        started back super low on deadlift and squat even though I had been cleared to go back in the gym. Coming back fast- think Ill be back in a month pre injury stats were

        bdyweight 185
        squat 225x3x5
        bench 170x3x5
        deadlift 365×5— I’m all femurs :)

        I actually almost like the way I look better now- I almost looked like I had boobies before. maybe I was just fat? I am an actor and have been getting cast way more now that Im a little bit skinnier, I really just want to recomp in the 170s now instead of getting bigger.
        what you think good sir? sorry for the long response and thankyou again!

  12. Sean

    Andy your website is fantastic. Thanks for being so generous with the free yet valuable information.

  13. Kierran Clarke

    Hi Andy,

    Starting to hit some stalls on the big 3 lifts now, is this usual when cutting? Any advice / tips for me regarding this?

    Thanks buddy!

      1. kierran87

        Thanks Andy, I don’t think recovery is a problem and I’m not too sore after work-outs, just my lifts on the main 3 seem to have hit a stall.Even having to drop the weight now to hit the 5×5 rep range.

        My current thought process is just to keep as it is and maintain what I’m doing, and just keep progressing with my DB Rows, OHP & Chin-ups?

        How does this sound to you, or would you suggest a bigger split?

  14. Jaime

    Not criticizing, but just curious. Why don’t you have novices doing the press or any upper body pulling motion ( chin ups, rows) also? I also noticed that your novice routine works up to a heavy set of 5, as opposed to 3×5 sets across ( starting strength) or 5×5 sets across (stronglifts). Why do you suggest it this way? Thanks.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Fair question Jaime. Essentially, it’s to allow sufficient, focussed practice of these basic movements.

      The average athlete can adapt or advance 2-3 central nervous system-demanding movement patterns at one time, or during one training block without a significant loss in the total goal.” – Derek Woodske

      This will be one of those blocks.
      Also, it’s important to note that the average trainee doesn’t have a coach or decent trainer around them to help with form. They’re on their own. So focus is especially important. If you’re at an excellent facility with top coaches there for you there is a little more wiggle room initially, and people at such facilities wouldn’t be reading this.


      tl;dr: I suggest people keep it simple so they don’t screw themselves up with added complication.

      1. Jaime

        Thanks for your quick responses. Typically the routine I recommend to most friends getting into training is starting strength. Could this routine be used novices following your IF diet protocol? s trouble maintaining strength)

  15. Thomas

    Hi Andy,

    Thanks so much for the loads of awesome information. I hope my question has not been answered, I have searched and not found it. I am a pretty big guys 6ft. 2in and around 300lbs. My issue is I live in the country with no gym relatively close to drive to. I have dumbbells and wondered if I could gets started with the Big 3 using what I have while I invest in a squat rack, bar & plates for longer term implementation. I am definitely a beginner to strength training.

    What are your thought?

    Kindest regards.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Building a proper gym is going to be expensive and poses a barrier to entry that you can’t really afford right now – you need to lose the weight. A well executed routine will dumbbells and barbells can work. See the FAQ I should have something there for you on that.

      1. Thomas

        Ok – So your suggestion is to start hammering away with what I have (dumbbells & bench) and then as the weight comes off then focus on the the Big 3 routine? Thank you!!!

  16. Dylan Taravella

    Hey Andy,

    Been doing the big 3 for a little over a month and I’ve strictly been using pronated grip but I’m seeing in the comments you tend to recommend mixed, is that correctt? Also with the mixed does it matter which hand I switch?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Dylan. Do the pronated grip for as long as you can. If you can’t grip the bar currently then that simply means your connective tissues haven’t adapted and need more time. A switch grip is not a recommendation for beginners, it will just mask the underlying issue that will simply be fixed with a little more time.

  17. Kierran Clarke

    Hi Andy,

    I get a busy schedule sometimes and don’t have enough time in the morning or evening to do a full work-out. What do you think about say doing deadlifts in the morning, then OHP and Chin-ups after work in the evening?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Sounds like you have a prioritising issue Kierran. There are 168 hours in a week, you’re looking to find space for 3. The solution when we get busy isn’t to add things in to our schedules, but often to reassess and prioritise. Otherwise you end up doing multiple things half-heartedly.

      1. Kierran Clarke

        Good answer, and you’re probably right. I’m still hitting the gym 3 x a week so it’s nothing to worry about yet.

  18. Lloyd

    Hey Andy,

    Just curious, why the switch from RPT 3 sets in the slightly higher rep range to the 5 x 5 routine?


  19. Kierran Clarke

    Hi Andy,

    I have a question regarding my chin-ups if you don’t mind? Yesterday i did the following progression: 1x5BW + Strong Band, 1×3 & 1×2 the same. I then did 1×5 with a light band, 1×3 with no band and 1×4 with a medium band.

    Previously i have managed 3 sets of 6-8 reps with the strong band. Seems clear that I’m not strong enough yet to do enough sets/reps on my own or with a light band. Any suggestions on some sets/reps i should try to aim for?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Stick wight he strong band for now until you have built up enough strength to move to a lighter one. If that means more volume whether sets of reps per set) then that’s fine.

  20. sammilocoify

    Hi Andy,

    I’ve recently started lifting again after a year of on/off half-assed working out. For the past few weeks I’ve been doing the big 3 in addition to other isolation exercises. Should I stop doing the additional exercises? I’m not really a beginner but I’m still classic skinny fat – no muscle. Will I lose the slight progress I’ve been seeing in my biceps, etc?


    1. Andy Morgan

      “Will I lose the slight progress I’ve been seeing in my biceps, etc?”
      See the image at the top of the article bud. Stick with the plan and you’ll be fine.

  21. tuna

    Hi Andy!

    Just wanted to progress you since my last coaching with you ended. I’m on the slow bulk currently but have been very slow to add carbs. Thus far the weight has remained about the same and my lifts are still progressing. Everything is fully barbell now including overhead press.

    Two questions: I have finally hit intermediate strength on 3 of the 4 major lifts (Chin-ups, bench, squat, deadlift). Only one is lacking is squat as I had to restart it because I wasn’t squatting deep enough. Slowly getting it back but now my hips are always lower than my knees for a full parallel squat. 1. From intermediate to advanced, do I need to be more careful on how much surplus calories per week on bulk? 2. From intermediate to advanced strength, is it still a linear progression? Any tips from intermediate to advanced that I need to be aware of?

    Thanks! I’ve never been able to lift this heavy in my life so this is all new to me. Thanks to your coaching!!

    PS. I hope to send you an after picture in another 6-12 months. It’s a slow but steady progression.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Eric, good questions.
      1. In theory yes, because less muscle gain be gained the more advanced we get. Intermediate and advanced are not easily quantifiable though, there is large genetic degree of variability, and those strength standards can only serve as a rough guideline.
      2. Yes. New article coming this week that you’ll find useful bud. Hold tight.
      Loom forward to that picture too.

  22. Steven K

    Hi Andy….I’m a senior in decent shape and follow your style of training/eating closely when I can. Unfortunately I am on the road quite often and am unable to find the time (travel city to city in US and abroad) or a gym to weight-train.

    In the past I have used hotel gyms just to keep some tone and the psych. benefit of lifting but lately I have been staying in places with NO facilities.

    Calisthenics just don’t seem to get the job done……Any ideas or suggestions?


    1. Andy Morgan

      Andrew Zomberg of Cressey Performance has a good article on making the best of ill-equipped hotel gyms that you may find useful here. Put this out on Facebook recently, consider liking the page so that stuff like this comes up in your feed.

  23. jenniekillough

    Hi, I’d like to add barbell glute bridges (hip thrusts) into my Big 3 routine. Where would they fit in? Once or twice per week, and if so, on which days?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Jennie. If you’re on the Big 3 routine, then you’re a beginner, and you’re probably best to leave it as is while you start out – there is no place for additional exercises as mentioned in the FAQ. When you move on to more of a split, then you can put it in there.

      1. JennieK

        I started lifting two years ago actually, using Starting Strength to learn form. I moved on to RPT for a while, and then stopped lifting for about a year. So am I back at beginner lifting then? I guess I am, since I took a year break right?

  24. lsvinicius

    Hi Andrew, do you have any suggestion to make for someone who will workout at morning, right after waking up ? I will have to do it for some days and I’d like to know if I should eat anything or if it is fine to train in fasted mode.

  25. Gooch

    Hi Andy

    Can we use the following variation for the beginner (female) who is working out at home.

    Day 1, 3 & 5 : Partial squats ( as she is a beginner) 5×5
    Knee supported push ups (as she is a beginner so not enuf strength) 5×5
    Kettlebell Deadlifts/Rack pull (bar picked up from a bench/high platform) 5×5
    Cardio 5-10 mins

    These can be further progressed to regular full squats, regular push ups and BB deadlifts as form, strength and mobility improves ??


    1. Gooch

      Would it be sufficient workload for a beginner or should we add some more movements in the sessions for her?

    2. Andy Morgan

      Hi Gooch.
      Don’t do partial squats, just do squats with a lighter weight, air squats if necessary (i.e. no weight) and then a dumbbell clutched to the chest in the ‘goblet position’ while she works her way up to being able to handle the bar. – Shouldn’t take long unless they are obese.

  26. EricB

    Question about the rest periods between sets, especially with the higher volume 5×5 Big3 workouts. Reading more details on the Starting Strength forums, Rippetoe seems to be a big proponent of increasing the rest periods between sets to as long as one need to crush the next set (anywhere up to 10 min it seems).

    I understand that 1) he has slightly different overall goals for his trainees and it shows in his programming and 2) we want to keep the rest precise and consistent to show gains, but I am wondering where you fall on at least systematically increasing rest periods as one lifts heavier and heavier. I am wondering where you fall on this and how it fits into your training philosophy, programming, and trainee goals.

    My main motivation is researching “stuck on bench press” recommendations from Rip, and after food and form (which I know I can work better) being the first thing he hammers on, the next very common answer is increasing rest between reps.


  27. tuna

    Hey Andy,

    First: I hope the commentators posting here who haven’t used Andy’s coaching, please do! Andy saved me years of stupid gym training and dieting.

    Just wanted to update you that I’m fully barbell only now and I love it! I can’t believe I didn’t started sooner. Sometimes, I can be my worst enemy! Should of listened to you when we first started back in December. I can only imagine the difference it would be now! Luckily, on some movements, I’ve been able to hit pass intermediate strength. Looking forward to hitting advanced in a matter of years.

    1 quick question: How important is grip strength on training? I’ve switched to using straps for deadlifting on the first 2 sets and on the last set, I use my hands only. But also doing barbell row can get very taxing on my grip. Currently on the barbell row, I do 2 sets (no straps) with barbell and the last (3rd) set, I use one-arm dumbbell row to try to build grip strength as well. Should I only focus on strength and not worry about building grip strength?

    1. tuna

      Update: I did some research on Starting Strength and noticed Rippletoe like Stronglift, talked about doing barbell rows like deadlift. Meaning the bar starts and stops every time on the floor instead of hanging around the kneecap area. I will switch it to that for my 3 sets RPT. Now I don’t have to worry about grip issues because I don’t rush my rep and let it dead-hang before.

      But if you feel grip strength is important along with strength, I will probably do straps on deadlift on the 1st set. And the 2nd and 3rd set with 10% lb off, I will focus on raw hands.

    2. Andy Morgan

      Hi Eric, good to hear from you. Thanks for the kind comment. To answer your question:
      Very important. If you start using straps you will not develop your grip sufficiently. If you can’t pick the bar up off the floor without an aid, it’s a good sign that your other connective tissues haven’t developed enough to handle the weight of the bar yet. I would not use straps for as long as possible, if ever, unless there is a specific imbalance or other reason to.
      “Sometimes, I can be my worst enemy!” – Yes you can. But this basically comes down to fiddling with things unnecessarily.

  28. Alan

    Hi Andy, I really need some advice here, after following your RPT style program for almost a year Ive had great success. However, lately Ive done something to my squat form and am now having really bad bicep pain down near my elbow during and after the exercise(elbow torque??). It is extremely painful and is obviously affecting my bench and dead lift afterwards. Ive researched and tried to correct on my own but cant seem to fix it. Can you please provide some suggestions as to why I’m getting this pain all of a sudden? I squat low bar style.

  29. Kierran

    Andy, typo at the bottom of the page here above the picture collage. In the “got it” sentence.

  30. 007 Game


    You must have a lot of experience working with different people in different styles. From your experience working with clients, which style is “better” in terms of faster gains when doing a recomp / slow bulk – 5×5 or 5/3/1?

    You seem to be a big fan of 5×5, the thing is that although I fail or almost fail in my last set (bench) and really push myself doing squats and deads, by the end of the workout I don’t have that “wiped out” feeling that I used to have training five times a week, for 90 minutes,”super setting” between different machines. (when I did that I left the gym exhausted)

    It feels “strange” for me going out of the gym not totally wiped out and I wonder if that’s normal on 5×5. I also usually add 2-3 supporting exercises.

    Jeff from this post:

    seems to have great results doing 5/3/1 @ four times a week. (I’m doing 3).

    Any thoughts?

  31. Seah

    Hey Andy,

    After our time working together, I have been sticking to 5×5 for my main compounds and RPT to accessories. I read alot of guides on training by Lyle seems that 6-10 reps seem to be better for hypertrophy. Can I alter my rep ranges to 5×10 instead? Is there a a reason why 5×5 and not 5×8 or 5×10 is used?


  32. Dean Shah


    Is lifting heavy one of the primary ways to increase metabolism? What are other ways to do so?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Dean. I could explain here in the comments without context, but that’d likely lead you down a road of irrelevance. Check out as Lyle’s articles are very thorough.

  33. chris

    Hey, Andy. Quick background, I was doing a starting strength 5×5 routine for a couple weeks, found your site and switched to big 3 with RPT. Did that about 5 weeks but then got lazy and took a month off. I realized that spending as little time in the gym as possible is important for me to stay motivated. I don’t think I could do the 5×5 routine as laid out in under 1.5 hours, maybe more like 2, due to working out in a crowded gym, and I think eventually I’d get discouraged by that. I’m comfortable enough with my form at this point to push to a pretty high intensity, I think. My question is, how to handle this? I was thinking just do the RPT split, accept the fact that it’s not the most efficient use of my time, but hopefully I’ll find it easier to stick with it and be successful. Or, maybe it would make sense to take this updated 5×5 big 3 routine, but rotate out one exercise per week, so I’m only concentrating on two in a night. Is this reasonable to you, or is some manning up in order?

    1. Andy Morgan

      If you have the time I’d stick with the best routine for you, rather than let crowding dictate your programming. Or switch gyms, training times etc.

  34. Nuno

    Hey Andy,

    First of, thanks for sharing your knowledge and putting up this awesome collection of infos. It’s probably been asked before (and I apologize if I repeat) but I just would like to get one thing straight with the Big 3 Routine and would have another question.

    Is it correct to stop after the 5th rep in the first one or two sets (even though I would be able to do a couple more) to save up strength for the sets to come? In other words, is the idea to have the muscle completely exhausted after the 5th set of 5 reps (and only then)?

    Also, I would like to know what exercise or exercises you would recommend in replacement for dead lifts since I can’t do them in my gym. Would you go for chin ups instead?

    Thanks again,


    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Nuno.
      1. Yes.
      2. Not necessarily. The idea is to finish the work sets, go home, eat sleep and grow, then come back stronger. Training is the stimulus for that. Perceived rate of exertion shouldn’t be a guide of progress or main training concern.
      3. Racked deadlifts.

  35. Mark Altosaar

    Thanks Andy for the update to the article. It appears to be very simple to implement and I am looking forward to starting it!

    I’ll be joining a gym that doesn’t provide barbells, and I’ll have to make do with dumbbells.

    I’ve looked at videos on youtube that show how to do the 3 exercises using dumbbells, but there seems to be a bit of variability.

    Do you have any videos to recommend that you think do a good job of showing how to do the 3 key lifts using dumbbells?

    Thanks so much!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Join a gym that has barbells Mark. Start as you mean to go on. Anywhere that doesn’t have barbells isn’t going to be a very serious training environment. – Such intangible factors shouldn’t be underestimated.
      You’ll make better progress using dumbbells in a powerlifting gym than you would in a shitty gym.

  36. tuna

    Hi Andy!

    I’ve been having trouble lifting past 265lbs on deadlift with Pronated grip only. My original goal was to get to 315lbs on Pronated grip before introducing the Mixed grip.

    2 questions:

    1) Is the above strategy too ambitious, and I should insert the mixed grip when pronated grip fails? Or keep my current strategy and eventually it will hopefully build pronated grip strength to move up weight.

    2) Any recommendation on building Pronated grip strength?

    Thanks in advance Andy!

    1. Andy Morgan

      1. Start using a mixed grip. The 315 is a nice goal but arbitrary.
      2. Practice with that. Do you want to have a very strong pronated grip though, or a strong deadlift? If it’s holding you back and then consider carefully switching grips or using straps.

  37. John

    Hi Andy

    I’ll try and keep this as concise as possible.

    What are your thoughts on strength training (i.e the proposed 5×5) versus hypertrophy training (reps of 8-10)?

    I’ve done quite a lot of research and quite a few scientific studies would suggest that the latter is definitely better for growth due to total mechanical tension, the former for strength due to total mechanical load.

    I realise that strength gains is a good indicator of muscle growth, but I think the majority of users on here are looking at training in an aesthetic manner to look ripped and may benefit from having the option to do higher reps once a base level of strength is achieved.

    Personally I think (once our consultation is over) I may move onto a four week rotational routine:

    month 1 – strength emphasis. 5×5 big three
    month 2 – Hypertrophy emphasis. 3×8-12.

    repeat ad infinitum.


    All the best


    1. Andy Morgan

      The differences between the two for size gains is going to be small if executed correctly and I don’t think it’s worth worrying about. No program will work forever and it needs to be tweaked.

      A program needs to be based on progression and logical changes made. Changing things like that ad infinitum may work for a time, but it’s not necessarily going to be optimal. To others reading (I think you’ve already read it John) the revenant article containing the principles is, The Principle Of Progressive Overload.

      1. John

        I’m starting to think ‘optimal’ is the most used word in the muscle community, bar none!

        I suppose it boils down to the individuals responses really, or do you think person A and person B could change, intertwine and overlap training methods and end up at the same place with very similar results?

        Read that article a few times now, brilliant as per the rest.

  38. Szymon

    Hey Andy! Great article!
    I just started this routine (I did RPT before, because I thought it’s better for beginner…)
    and I’ve got a question. My gym doesn’t have these very light 1,25 kg plates, and I’m sure I can’t progress from 55kg on benchpress to 60kg(because I’m on a cut).
    Can I increase the rest when moving to bigger weight and decrease later?
    For example:
    Session 1: 55kgx5x5x5x5x5 with 120 sec rest
    Session 2. 55kgx5x5x5x5x5 with 90 sec rest
    and on 3rd session try 60kg with 180 seconds of rest between sets?
    If succeed to do 5 sets of 5, then on session 4 decrease rest to 120 sec

    Thanks in advance!

    Oh, and I’ve got an idea for article you could write in the future. How to choose good BCAA and is more expensive BCAA better than the cheap one?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Buy smaller plates bud.
      Thanks for the suggestion. I have no interest in recommending specific brands but I’ll edit the supplements article to make it clearer.

  39. Professor K

    What SPECIFIC suggestions can you give a MOTIVATED 60 year old (lifting regularly 45+ years)especially volume, frequency and macros for cutting and staying lean. Currently 197lbs/18% fat.

    Also, don’t you think setpoints are broken and injuries prevented by changing up routine after 6 (?) weeks?

    Any help you can give to the older, experienced, often plateaued lifter greatly appreciated.


    1. Andy Morgan

      Professor K.
      1. I’d say that you may take more time to recover between workouts, so sleep and a good diet are more important, and you may need to have more rest days. However, if you’ve been lifting for 45 years then you know your recovery abilities. Nothing else needs to change, principles remain the same.
      2a. Not necessarily. Also, as you’re cutting and a very experienced trainee, maintenance of muscle mass is the key, sticking points (assuming you’re referring to strength gains) will not get unstuck while in a calorie deficit – clever programming will be in vain.
      2b. You may wish to change up the style of rows, chins or pulls or presses every x weeks if you have joint issues (elbow is a big one) but that isn’t a blanket recommendation.
      Please use your name when commenting from now on Prof.

  40. Dean Shah


    Do you recommend stretching following a lift or does that affect gains in any way?

    Thank you, sir.

  41. Dan

    Hi Andy,

    Thanks for the updated post. Truly amazing site here.

    I’m sort of sad to see the loss of going to ‘failure’ (with good form) on the top set. Is the need for recovery just too great? I really liked the way that you can gauge how much more you are capable of doing that day based on how hard you can kill that top set.

    In fact, the high-rep one-set-to-fail approach worked strangely well for the squat these last four months and not for anything else, which I’m wondering whether you think I should change–I used to get minorly injured every time I worked up to squatting 225 for more than a week with 3 sets of 5 and the last one as many as I could, but by doing only one set of ~20 reps once a week, I ramped up to 315 for 7 with what felt like some of the best form I’ve ever had, and a back-off set of 265 for 20. A few minutes after that, I would leg press one set of 295 lb for 15 reps.

    My other lifts did not get stronger, and actually got even weaker. I’d usually be tired…

    My eating wasn’t even that strict at all, but I’m in a college dining hall and would just aim for a lot of protein. (I’m 22, 6’2″, BW 194 lb, my weight didn’t change more than a pound or two in 4 months, but I got slightly less defined)

    This is all a way of saying, I’m happy to switch all this to 5×5 or 3×5, but I’m nervous that made me stall from last time.

    Should I do a high-rep RPT or 3×5? Or knock myself on the side of the head?

    Thank you!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Dan, Knock yourself on the side of the head. Two reasons:
      1. You’ve become attached to a style of training and that’s not a good thing.
      2. There are always individual differences. You’ve got some experience now and you can decide for yourself based on experimentation.

      1. macks

        a combo of questions and answers with andy as well as experimenting (within reason) has proven a lot of what andy advises. my training was professing slowly (or going backwards) with 5×5 to failure. now that I’m on 3×5 and only going near failure, I’m recovering much faster and my lifts are increasing faster too. even my bench which had initially dropped, is climbing back up. i think ample recovery (especially on a cut) is not given enough respect by many.

  42. D

    So Andy, got a question for you: I’ve been half-assing both my training and my diet for about a year prior but since february I’ve been really anal about each and every gram I consume and got myself a powerlifting gym membership to get my form really crisp, so coach is the one setting up my training program 3x a week. He also want us to compete ASAP so competition day for me is the 18th of May.

    Now here’s the issue – I’ve been on a cut but making steady progress seeing as how going from sloppy to crisp form will do that for you, I’ve gained in all lifts except for the bench. There are 2 weight classes for me either 83 kg or 94 kg, I’m currently weighing in at 81 kg, having started out at about 87 in february seeing as how I don’t really want to compete with the big boys at 94 kg or cutting even further to 73 (don’t think it’s possible given the time limit) I’m thinking re-comp until competition day, I’ve pretty much stalled completely in the bench, which is to no surprise being on a cut and I’ve got more of a deadlifters body i.e. long Bones Jones arms so I figure if I go on a recomp now I might be able to make gains and maintain my weight or at least be close to the 83 kg (no more than 84 a week prior) limit come competition day.

    Also I’m thinking about adding bodyweight exercises on rest days, mainly push-ups for my weak ass bench. Thoughts?

    other stats that might be of interest:
    height 184 cm
    Bf 10% ~ (visible 6 pack and these sexy little veins poppin’ all over my body)
    Squat: 140 kg
    DL: 230 kg
    Bench: 90 kg (!)

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi D. You’re not going to pack on any significant muscle mass or make any significant improvements to your lifts in just 16 days. It7s certainly not the time to be making changes. Ask your coach bud, that’s what he/she’s for.

      1. D

        I love my coach and he’s really thorough about technique and I’ve learnt so much from him when it comes to the big 3 but when it comes to diet he would prefer to have me fat and stomping it out with the big boys over at 94 kg or more. See allot of powerlifters are pretty fat, there’s allot of old powerlifters in wheelchairs cause they “caught the beetus” and had they foot cut off and I’m not trying to be one of them, no strength gains in the world is worth that. I wanna be sexy, healthy and strong – in that order.

        The powerlifting is a mean to an end, not the other way around. But I guess recomp? If I’m lucky I might be able to gain some strength in the bench, yeah?

  43. Don

    Hey Andy,

    I’m not quite sure which routine to choose. I’ve been lifting for a couple of years now. I’m pretty experienced when it comes to upperbody barbell lifting but it has been quite some time since I did any deadlifts or squats.

    Do you recommend doing the Big 3 routine?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Carlo.
      To gauge progress… is what I understand from the article.
      Better for you to have a good re-read of the comments on that article or ask him than I.

  44. Rick

    Hi Andy, again thanks for all this info, your articles and even reader comments and your replays to these make for excellent reading.
    From reading the 3day split and big 3 articles, I have come to the conclusion that if you have more time to train and are capable of recovering quickly from the main compound movements, that the big three is the better workout. Am I correct to assume this and also assume that it would be the better workout for someone looking to loose weight and gain strength? Is it also suitable for a slow bulk diet?
    Would it be detrimental to add chins to each big three day?

    With regards nutrition, I know rice is a great carb source but I am not the biggest fan. What is your opinion on using ground oats as an alternative? Also, if it fits my macros is it ok to drink 1ltr of low fat milk on training day? It contains approx. 50grams carbs but should I opt for a better source of carbs?

    Thanks and again, sorry if questions scream ‘newbie’.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Rick, thanks for the questions.
      1. Yes. 2. Yes. 3. Yes, this is specifically addressed above. 4. Not a good idea, your fibre intake will go too high. – See the FAQ fore guidelines. 5. Yes, but drinking calories is less satiating.

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