‘The Big 3′ Routine

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.

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?

Standard 5×5 Big 3 routine

Monday

  • 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.

Wednesday

As above


Friday

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 several factors including genetics, starting muscle mass and recovery capacity. Recovery capacity itself 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.

Volume
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.

Frequency
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

What I like about The Big 3 Routine:

  • 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 Routine:

  • 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.

 

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, 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 suffering special snowflake 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…?

No.

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 or friend 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 | Cardio | FAQ

654 Comments on “‘The Big 3′ Routine”

  1. Paul

    Hi Andy,

    Do you have any tips at all for finding a good personal trainer to simply to help with form, etc.? I know you suggest learning from the videos, etc. but, frankly, I’m just not very coordinated and know I’ll need hands on help to do these things right. As I look online for trainers in my area I get the impression everyone has their own system, training, ideas, etc. Would it be considered insulting to call up a well trained person and tell them I know what I want to do and just want you to show up and observe my form? Am I better off just asking someone at the gym (I haven’t joined a gym yet, but due to my work hours it’ll probably have to be the major chain gym right near my job)? I tried googling strong lifts and 5×5 with “personal trainer” but that didn’t seem to help. Many thanks, Paul

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Paul, thanks for the question.
      “Would it be considered insulting to call up a well trained person and tell them I know what I want to do and just want you to show up and observe my form?”
      – You may struggle to find a trainer that will be able to show you proper form at a local chain gym, because the economics of the situation are such that they aren’t taught how to coach those things – so it’ll be hit and miss as to whether they are self-taught or not. (This depends on the level of chain gym obviously. Golds Gym vs Planet Fitness for example.) I’d highly recommend driving further to go to a proper gym at the outset with someone that can show you how to lift barbells, even if you can’t sustain it for the longer term. This will help you to get the basics down as well as open your eyes to what is possible.

      You’ll see in my second goal setting article that I feel the one thing that kept me from progressing for years was the poor standard of the gyms that I went to:
      The 9 Categories of Trainee: Their Mistakes, How to Avoid Them, and What You Can Achieve When You Get Things Right (Pt.2of3)

  2. Chris

    Hello Andy,

    In you FAQ section for the “do I have to stick to those exercises above?” question you mention several multi-joint/compound exercises that can be used with this routine. However a few questions down, “Can I add in?” you say no. Are you saying that you can do a similar routine with other compound exercises and keep it at 3 exercises per workout? Or can I do the big 3 workout 3 times per week and maybe add in, say, one compound exercise after finishing the main big 3? I have been solidly lifting for about 2 months straight now and have seen some progress in the makeup of my body, however I haven’t made significant gains in the main exercises such as bench, squat, and deadlifts which is why I have decided to start the big 3 routine today. Mainly what I am getting at is that I would like to add a little more to it such as the first workout of the week being the big 3 plus a row. Then the second workout of the week being the big 3 plus overhead press. Or are you saying if I add something to the big 3 then my body won’t have enough time to recover?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Chris, thanks for the questions.
      “Are you saying that you can do a similar routine with other compound exercises and keep it at 3 exercises per workout?”
      Yes. Strength is the foundation of fitness. You’ve been training for a couple of months and haven’t made significant progress with the main compound lifts, so you’ve identified that you need to address that by coming back to the basics. Good man.

      “Mainly what I am getting at is that I would like to add a little more to it such as the first workout of the week being the big 3 plus a row”
      Actually, what you’d like to do is to get stronger and grow at the quickest rate possible, right? You don’t actually give a damn whether that includes adding a row on the monday or not, but you currently feel like you can do a little more, and so you want to do more, because you have a fear that you will be missing out on growing at the quickest rate possible.

      Could the extra stimulus work to your advantage? Possibly. But it could equally leave you spinning your wheels, again, due to not having enough practice/stimulus and recovery to progress with the key lifts. You can only learn so many movements at once. I’d just leave things as they are.

  3. Brandon Rasmussen

    Hi Andy,

    I have two questions about deadlifting which I’ve found mixed answers on. They’re rather specific and I’m not sure if they’re as important as I’m making them out to be, but here goes:

    1. Head position: I’ve heard from some that the head should be kept in line with the spine to protect it from damage during the lift. I’ve also heard the exact opposite, that the head should be lifted and the chin up in order to generate more force. I’m not sure which is correct.

    2. Where should one’s weight be in the foot at the beginning of the deadlift? I’m finding that if my weight is in the heals, the angle of my back doesn’t appear parallel enough with the floor. Whereas, if I begin the lift with my weight toward the ball of the foot, I get an angle that is more parallel with floor (still a small angle, not all the way parallel) then I shift it through the heals during the pull to generate power.

    What are your thoughts on these: head position and weight in the foot?
    Thanks in advance.

    Brandon

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Brandon. I don’t think either of these extremes technically correct, as there isn’t a single correct way of doing things. If you look through the way record holding dead lifters pull, you’ll see differences in head-neck-eye position.

      However, beginners/novices need a suggestion as they haven’t had time to figure out what feels better for them. I’d suggest they tuck their chin and stare at a point on the floor 8ft in front of them to keep focussed on something fixed. There are more reasons for that but it’s not really necessary to go into, nor is it really my area of expertise.
      As for foot position, google “Bret Contreras Deadlift foot position” – his advice is always on point.

  4. Alex

    Hey Andy,

    Quick question — I’m used to working out 5/6 times a week, and though the progress has been slow to come by, this has been a great way for me to a) relieve stress and b)have something to look forward to after classes and work. I know you suggest lifting only 3 times a week and suggest that lots of cardio could be a setback. Is there anything you can suggest doing in between the three “Big 3″ days that would help advance my progress that still allows me to ‘work out’ in any way shape or form?

    Thanks

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Alex. If you’re after an answer – do this – then I’m afraid I can’t give one. It depends.
      In the broadest of senses, workload (the volume of weight lifted over the week) is what will drive progression. You can do the same workouts split into more days, you can do different workouts (more targeted body parts perhaps) split into more days. If that’s something you enjoy, and you wish to keep doing it then please feel free to keep doing so. The principles discussed in the training section of this site remain the same – more is not better if it is too much for you to recover from.

  5. Shawn

    Hi Andy,

    I’m really enjoying the site, it’s super well put together and is providing me with a lot of motivation. I have been stuck in the rut of working out 5-6 times a week, with little change in body composition after a few years, so I’m excited to try this. The problem/question I have (and after searching through comments I can’t find the answer) involves adding these routines/diet but continuing to train for Jiu Jitsu/MMA. I compete regularly, and I am in the gym which is very cardio based workouts 3-5 times a week, but I want to switch my weight lifting to see some real gains.

    I’m not concerned with getting super shredded, but I have been stuck at 16-18% bf for years now and for optimal performance I want to get down to 8-12%. My question is whether I should just figure out how much energy I am burning during these martial arts trainings and add that to my calorie intake to achieve a cut of 1lb a week? The section on adjusting macros for two a day workouts makes it seem like I fasting in the morning is not a good option (5 meals a day in an 8 hour period doesn’t seem like what you’re suggesting) but I generally workout every morning for 30 minutes and do martial arts at night for 90-180 minutes.

    Also, would you advise doing weights on separate days from combat training, instead of 2 workouts a day? I’m not a professional, so I don’t have experts around me and money to spend doing crazy things, but my goal is simply to get the best performance I can and I can’t stop training while I focus on gaining strength and cutting fat. I’m pretty close to my ideal weight for my weight bracket, I just want to trade in some fat for a little muscle ;)

    Thank you for all the help, and keep up the amazing site. I lost 8 pounds in the last 10 days getting started (I know it’s mostly water) and I feel really good after starting IF, and it’s all thanks to your great site.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Shawn, thanks for the questions. Quite common actually, plenty of people do some MMA/BJJ on the site.

      “My question is whether I should just figure out how much energy I am burning during these martial arts trainings and add that to my calorie intake to achieve a cut of 1lb a week?”
      Yes. Make your best guess. Track things. Then adjust after 3-4 weeks to get it on towards that 1lb per week target.

      The questions on meal frequency, set-up and timing you’ll find covered here:
      TEXT

      “Also, would you advise doing weights on separate days from combat training, instead of 2 workouts a day?”
      If you find the one impacting the other, then yes, if your schedule will allow for it. If not then just position things as best you can. Set things up in a sustainable way though, don’t strain your schedule to do it, or you’ll compromise other important recovery factors – sleep/stress.

      You got this.

      1. Shawn

        Thank you for the reply Andy! It brought up one more question though; Does doing MMA/BJJ count as a workout day, as far as needing to refeed and cycle the macros? In the beginning here I’m just going to focus on calories and getting the macro count correct over the week, and not worry about calorie and macro cycling, but after a few weeks I plan to add that in. I’m thinking that I would only count weight lifting days as workout days, but what is your opinion?

        Thanks again! You do an amazing job answering so many questions.

  6. Daniel B

    Hello Andy, I got another question if you do not mind.

    My squat and my deadlift are progressing nicely with the 5×5 scheme. They are getting more and more taxing every session, but since it is a linear progression and I am cutting, this is expected. On the other hand, my bench has been stalled for two weeks now. Should I drop two sets on the deadlift, as you prescribe when low back gets too sore (even if it isn’t -yet-)? Change the rep scheme for the bench (ala Greg Nuckols)? Move to A/B split?

    Thank you for maintaining this site. It has done much more for my overall fitness and appearance in one month than almost two years of fuckarounditis.

      1. Daniel B

        Thank you for your reply. It is funny, since today I managed to break my bench press plateau while losing another pound this week. Think it was more of a psychological issue more than a strength one. I am going to stick for the BP for now, but I will seriously consider your advice whenever the next stall arrives.

        Thanks again!

  7. Brandon Rasmussen

    Hey Andy,

    Why set the reps at 5? If growth is the goal why not set the reps slightly higher around 8? I’ve heard a slightly higher rep count tends to promote more growth. Just wondering what your view on this is. Thanks

    Brandon

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Brandon. The approach introduced on this site encourages people to gain a good solid base of strength first, as strength begets size. 5×5 is a nice balance between strength and hypertrophy.

      3×8 will likely be equally effective (notice the volume is the same) if done right. Put another way, the difference in development for the beginner between the two approaches will be minimal. However, I see there as being more places for the beginner to go wrong with 3×8.

      1. Brandon Rasmussen

        Thanks for the response. That makes sense. One more follow-up question for you: You recommend doing 5×5 deadlifts but Stronglifts recommends doing 1×5. I’m assuming I should take your word for it and do the 5×5 but I was just wondering why you advocate the 5×5 when Stronglifts seems to say that it’s too much.

  8. Jim

    Hello Andy,

    At 42 years of age, I look at the training frequency of the big 3 and think I’d never recover quickly enough doing this routine 3 times a week. I am basing this on prior experience in the weightroom, and how I feel a day after doing the first workout, which was taxing but not gruelingly so. However, I admit that I have really never lifted according to a strict system, and I have never applied the principle of progressive poundage to my lifts.

    So my question is, do you ever recommend older men to start with a split routine from the beginning?

    Apologies if you have already answered that question elsewhere.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Jim, thanks for the question.
      Absolutely, there’s not one size fits all. Try it and see how you go, you might surprise yourself. Just note that it’s normal for everyone to be unusually sore for days after a first workout back from some time off, or when trying a new exercise. That passes, usually by the third workout.

  9. Wasim

    Hi Andy
    I have a gym in my complex that doesnt have a barbell, but at the moment i cant afford to buy a bar bell or a gym membership, i did a bit of novice research on alternitives but all the sites made it more complicated “goblet squats, theres heapsof diff squats etc etc” is there a way to do squats with dumbbells?
    no bar bell also effects chest, so was wondering if a dumbell chest press would be an equivelant?
    lastly, What is your recommendation with leg work outs?

    Thanks so much for your advice, I dont feel helpless about making changes in my diet and gym routine.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Wasim.
      Sure, there are plenty of options which is why lots of things came up. You don’t want to have the dumbbells in each hand by your side as they will hit the floor before you go deep enough. Grab a dumbbell and use it like you would with a goblet squat with a kettlebell you saw in the videos.

      Other good options are reverse lunges, reverse sideboard lunges. One foot raised Bulgarian split squats. – Youtube these.

  10. Daniel B

    Hi Andy,
    You got a new subscriber right here. Excellent site.
    Got a quick question: what to do if I cannot do the Friday session on a particular week? Would it be better to do a light session on Thursday? Or just take the rest of the week off? Moving the Friday workout to Saturday is not an option, either.
    Thank you!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Daniel, thanks for subscribing.
      Saturday if you can, but if not then wait till Monday. One missed session isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But a “can-do” positive attitude will.

  11. Dominic

    Andy

    What a great site – thank you. A couple of questions if I may, diet and training related:

    1. I’m currently on a 7.5% deficit and cutting. Measuring weight over the last week on an average basis it became apparent that I was dropping weight too quickly. I had dropped almost a kg, yet strength stats were up. I think I was victim of the over counting, under consuming phenomenon you mention on the site. Therefore tweaked my calories and macros upwards and reduced the overall deficit from 12.5% to 7.5%. I assume such a tweak is ok despite not waiting the full four weeks to assess? I am pretty lean (10% bf) and an experienced trainer.

    2. I am on a strength programme that loosely follows the principles you outline here. It’s based on %s of your training max, with the last set being an amrap set at the highest % (max 10) with the average being say 5-7 reps. You have 3 sessions per phase and each phase the training max goes up by 2.5/5kg depending on the exercise. Can I incorporate this into a split routine? And I assume that as long as I am training hard, the lean gains system will work even if I’m not following the workouts to the letter?

    My best and thanks for the advice

    Dom

    1. Andy Morgan

      Dominic, thanks for the questions.
      1. The rapid decrease in weight was due to water weight losses from the decrease in carb intake. This is why I advise in the tracking and adjustment guides to ignore the first week and take an average over the first four weeks.
      2. The quality of a routine can be gauged by whether it follows the principle of progressive overload. The suitability of a routine depends on your recovery capacity and response at that given time. Nothing is static, but you need a baseline from which to adjust so you’re best to stick with something for a while. Anything can be put into a split routine. This article should help:
      Which Routine Is For Me?

  12. Andrew Dickinson

    Is there no back exercise in the “big 3″? Barbell row substituted for deadlifts one day?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Andrew. Deadlifts are a back exercise, arguably the best one. I completely understand why you’d think that though as there is no obvious movement of the back muscles (concentric or eccentric contractions). It’s the isometric contraction that you don’t see that causes the majority of the training effect – the back has to lock into place to keep the spine from crumpling forward under the weight. Make sense?

  13. Gabriel

    Hi Andy,

    I have been following your big three training guide for about 5 weeks now and have seen a major improvement in strength. I’m a little unclear on whether I should be doing the same weight for each set or increasing the weight a little bit on each set.

    Do you mind giving me an example of what 5 sets of squats would look like with your routine? For reference, I was able to do 5 sets of squats at 195, but today did 4 sets at 200 and failed on the last two reps of the fifth set.

    Thanks!

  14. daamazingmrhan

    Hi Andy – First off, thank you for putting this site together. Extremely informative and a great resource.
    Big kudos for making all this information available for all of us.

    In regards to the Big 3 – is it okay to lift every other day? Or should one just stick to 3 days a week with rest days in between while eating at rest day calories and macros on the 2 consecutive non lifting days?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Mr Han.
      Perfectly fine to workout every other day. But it’s more important to get into a pattern and habit that you can keep at the outset. So, keenness to crush this aside, consider carefully whether you’re best keeping it as it is based on your work week.

  15. Maddox

    Andy,

    I’ve been poring over your excellent site for a week now, while studying my Rippetoe, and I’m about to dive into the Big 3. However, I’m slightly confused about how much to lift for the first few sessions. You cite Rippletoe’s advice to increase the weight during that very first session until “it is a struggle to complete the 5 reps,” and increase from there in subsequent sessions. But if I’m already hitting my 5RM in that first session, how can I also follow your advice to “concentrate on getting [my] form right” for the first few months, and not “worry about lifting too much weight”? Surely I’m lifting as much weight as I can from the very start.

    Also, any thoughts on shoes? Rippletoe seems to frown on those thick-heeled squat shoes, as he does on the standing-on-a-two-by-four trick, but just from my experiments with a broomstick I can tell I’m going to struggle to get deep enough without a heel lift. On the other hand, I guess flat heels are essential for deadlifts and I will frankly be jiggered if I’m showing up at the gym with more than one pair of shoes like Imelda Marcos.

    What do you think?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Maddox.
      “But if I’m already hitting my 5RM in that first session, how can I also follow your advice to “concentrate on getting [my] form right” for the first few months, and not “worry about lifting too much weight”? Surely I’m lifting as much weight as I can from the very start.”
      Sorry for the confusion. What I mean here is to not seek out ever increasing weights at the cost of your form. You lift as much as you can at the weight that you can do so with good form. The mindset of “practicing” is valuable.

      As you practice the squat with a loaded barbell you will get more flexible and that will likely fix the problem, without you needing to buy some special shoes. It’s a small point you can consider later, just make sure the shoes you wear do not have squishy heels designed for running – you can’t get away with those at heavier weights. Either flat shoes (like Converse Chuck Taylors) or ones with a solid heel.

  16. Patrik

    Hi Andy.

    I’ve just completed my third week with the Big 3 on 12 week cut phase.

    With regards to the excercises I have increased in all three during this period. However I’m starting to feel that I’m at the limit now to the weights that I can manage to lift during the cut.

    I’m increasing and decreasing the weights during the trainings. I totally understand that I cannot progress forward during the whole time during the cut. I think I’ve gotten a little spoiled that I have been able to add weight almost everytime and therfore I’m a little bit frustrated that I go up and down the whole time. Deadlift are an exception as I’ve been able to add weight almost everytime.

    The question I have in mind is: Should I still stick with the 5×5 routine and try to add when possible and hopefully not decrease the weights during the cut(due to muscle loss)? With regards to sleep, food, recovery etc. I feel that I’m on a good level. I never feel to sore when it is training day to hit the 5×5.

    Or should I perhaps go for 3 sets to reduce volume so my recovery is “greater” then it is now so I will be able to add weights? This is more a feeling I have for the Squats and Benchpress.

    // Patrik

  17. Martin

    How often do your recommend to take a full week off with this routine? It’s the most challenging routine I’ve ever tried. I’ve never been closer to fainting or throwing up during a workout, and it’s the fifth week I’m doing this. With this intensity I guess people should take breaks more often than every 12 weeks or so?

      1. Martin

        Thank you, Andy. I thought that since it’s only the fifth week of this routine, I should go on longer. However, if you’re saying so I will make some adjustments and see how it works out for me then.

        1. Andy Morgan

          You might see people (even myself) say, stick with this for a good 6/8/12 weeks, we’re saying that so that people don’t fall into the trap of program hopping and thus screwing themselves over.
          But in reality the time frame you have been doing a routine is not what determines whether you should change it, how to react to and recover from it is.

          1. Martin

            Thank you. Squats are killing me like never before (I couldn’t even complete the third set during my last workout and I had to go home), so I guess my recovery isn’t as good as I thought. I will switch to the phase 3 A/B split you suggest in “How to Progress from ‘The Big 3′ to Split Routines,” and hopefully it will solve my problem.

  18. ian

    I currently have no option but to use a gym with no squat rack, and to train alone. I’m keen to begin squatting seriously but I’m safety conscious. Which would you recommend: front, goblet or dumb-Bell squats?

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Ian.
      Front squats with a barbell are limited by what you can clean, so unless you’re good at cleaning the bar then that’s not a sensible option.
      Dumbbell squats are awkward to perform, the centre of mass is lowered, and just not a very good exercise compared to the alternative, which would be the Goblet squats with a dumbbell or kettlebell. – You’re still limited by what you can carry, but they have a better carry-over to the barbell squat and are your best bet for the time being I think.

      1. Ian

        Thanks very much, Andy. Decisive and clearly explained. Goblet squats for me, until I find somewhere with a squat rack. I’m looking forward to getting on this now!

  19. Ali Hamandi

    Hey, thanks for the post.
    I’m curious about the risks that compound movements such as squats bring about when it comes to osteoarthritis. As a teenager, am I putting myself at risk of overly-decreased joint quality decades down the road if I partake in strength training until I achieve my acquired physique? I obviously partake in correct technique when doing the exercies, but the joint-stress is still there noetheless. You never really see fifty and sixty year old body builders, so there isn’t much info on the subject, and your expertise will be appreciated.

  20. Justin

    Hey Andy,

    Been reading a lot about how squats can really mess up your back if you are a beginner and don’t know what you are doing. Would Goblet Squats for starting be an ok substitute for doing regular squats?

    Thanks

    Justin

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Justin. Here’s a scenario: It’s your 18th birthday. Your dad comes home from work, he’s had a big bonus, was feeling generous and he’s bought you a car. However you don’t have a license. Do you:

      a) Learn how to drive.
      b) Throw the keys back and say you’d prefer to keep riding your bicycle.

      If a skill is worth learning then you will spend time doing it. Squats are one of those skills. Goblet squats are a good exercise – a squat variation after all, but they will only get you so far, as you are limited by what you can carry. Unless you have mobility issues start practicing the squats, and if you do then start working on those issues.

    2. David

      Justin, i have learned that it’s not the squat or deadlift that are wrong. If my form, technique and body are all messed up, then I need to work on those and not blame the exercise if I get injured.

  21. Cat

    Oh, wow. Guess I’ll start lifting if that woman there on the right can pull that off. Thanks!

  22. Nick

    So we are selling our house and have to put weights and rack in storage. I have been doing big 3 for couple years progressing great. Question I have is I want to maintain strength for next 6 months and will only have access to weights 2x per week. I am planning on doing intervals or long distance running on treadmill 3x per week(ugh) and lift 2x per week on Monday and Friday. Do I still do big 3 twice per week or try something different? Also normally on non-lifting days I go low to no carb…do I continue that since it would be 3 low to no carb days in a row? Thanks for your thoughts…and yes this will be the longest 6 months ever!!!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Nick. Get the same volume in across the week and you’ll be fine. If you can’t get the same volume in, then drop the volume and keep the same intensity. You might not cause enough stress to produce further adaptations, but you won’t likely regress to any significant extent.

  23. cat

    Hi Andy,
    Thanks for your reply. I do enjoy my workout, but I think I’ve stopped making progress. I’d been doing circuit training, HIIT and steady-state cardio at a calorie deficit and was at a weight-loss plateau. I introduced IF (only a week ago) thinking it would break me through it, but inexplicably have gained a bit of weight. It’s maddening. I thought that maybe weights and the big three would be the stimulus that can help break me through the plateau. Think it can?
    Thanks again,
    Cat

    1. Andy Morgan

      Your weight will fluctuate as the water balance in your body changes. This is affected by your menstrual cycle, spikes in salt intake as well as fluctuations in carb intake.
      That aside, let this picture tell you a valuable lesson.

  24. Anthony

    Hi Andy, thanks for the really interesting article. I’ve been training since I was 16 (I’m now 21) making relatively poor progress for 5 years of consistent lifting, so switching to this workout has been really refreshing.

    I’ve experienced some of my toughest workouts recently – my only question is because of the intensity of the workout I can never seem to recover with one or two days rest – is training over DOMS necessarily a bad thing? Hope you can help.

    Thanks again!

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Anthony.
      DOMS will be caused by your training inputs, but the speed you recover from it is affected by sleep quality, stress levels, calorie intake, and diet quality. So, if any of those things have been off recently then that’s likely your answer. Assuming not…

      “…is training over DOMS necessarily a bad thing?”
      No, it’s almost inevitable at times. However if it holds you back from progressing with your workouts then you need to change things up and allow yourself more recovery time between exercises.

      Which Routine Is For Me?
      How to Progress from ‘The Big 3′ to Split Routines

  25. Nicolas

    Hi Andy,

    You’ve really motivated me to get into the 3 big.
    I was about to begin tomorrow, since I realize that my new student’s planning couldn’t let me train on friday and it’s open from monday to friday.
    I found that 3 training a week is the best for me to progress, 2 is just ok to maintain…
    So I have to train to days in a row, and doing those 3 bigs twice to days in a row is too much…
    I could do the 3 on monday and a split on wednesday and thursday, or otherwise a split between the 3 days, or just training two days (so sad :( )
    What would you suggest?

    Thank you.

  26. Cat

    Hi Andy,
    I’m a 34-year-old fit chick looking to drop a final 5 or 6 pounds and considering starting to lift heavy with the Big 3. I do IF and I’ve had a pretty varied and fun exercise routine my whole life, I love a good run and HIIT a few times a week as well as regular body-resistance based strength training often with weights of about 10 pounds. I don’t really know what the right word is for what I do, but it includes lots of reps of compound exercises like squats or lunges with shoulder-presses, or push-ups with rotations deadlifts with dumbbells.

    It seems to work fine, but I feel I might be pushing limit of the benefit here. After being saturated by the pro heavy lifting propaganda on your site and leangains, thanks to my boyfriend, I think I might give it a try. Obviously I’m worried it’s not for me or for women in general because there is so much less information (regimens, before and after pics, discussion) out there for the ladies.

    Would you recommend I start with the big three? Is this really going to work all the same muscle groups I’ve been working or am I just doomed to disproportionately large quads and pecs with these exercises? Like most women, I’m looking to be thin and strong, maybe shredded, but not ripped, if you know what I mean.

    Thanks in advance,
    Cat

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Cat. Women and mens training doesn’t really need to differ. You’re not going to get big and bulky. (See the FAQ.)

      What you have been doing is called circuit training. But you might equally find it tagged under the Crossfit banner nowadays. Not bad, but at some point without careful planning it’ll fail to help you achieve progressive overload and thus you will cease to make progress.

      Two key questions for you:
      1. Are you currently making progress?
      2. Do you enjoy it?

      If yes and yes, then there isn’t a need to change. Something else to consider, would you be better off doing the style of training that you are currently doing because of the camaraderie and support at that gym will help you push yourself harder?

      “Best” depends on context. Hope that helps.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Bogdan. Haven’t clicked the link. With more background and a proper conversation, that is something I could give you a suggestion on, within the greater context of a longer term vision. But this is not the function of the comments – opens pandoras box.

      This article series is my best effort to hep answer this question: Physique Goal Setting – The 9 Categories of Trainee: Their Mistakes, How to Avoid Them, and What You Can Achieve When You Get Things Right (Pt.1of3) I’m confident you’ll find your answer there. If you need clarification then hit me up in the comments there.

  27. joseph

    hi Andy
    I am just starting out with the big 3 workout and was wondering is it possible for me to replace the dead lifts with regular pullups or chinups and progress with weighted pullups or chinups as I only have limited weights and also I wanted to give more importance on improving my chinups as i am not very good at performing them
    thanks and regards
    joseph

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Joseph, thanks for the question. I wouldn’t consider them a replacement, but if you have limited equipment you have to make the most of what you have. To say that a beginner can’t make some great changes with just those three exercises would be a lie. However, if you have a barbell you can squat with, and one you can bench with, then if you put it on the floor you have one you can deadlift with.

  28. julius

    Hi Andy, I am a complete beginner on weightlifting, I’ve been doing the big 3 for a week now, I just want to ask how long should the workout last? Should it last an hour or more? I am just confused cause some people say it should be 30 – 45 minutes only. Thanks in advance.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Julius. It lasts as long as it lasts and that will vary between people and personality types. If it takes you over an hour with warm-ups then that’s perfectly fine and not unusual.

  29. Yuri Andrade

    Hi, I have a back problem, kyphosis and I always heard that I cant do deadlifts and squats because it will hurt my back even more, is that true? if so, what training should I do (I’ve just started working out).

  30. Nuno

    Dear Andy,

    two questions regarding the “Big 3″ and RPT.

    I have recently been changing the 5 x 5 sets of bench press for 3 sets of bench pressing RPT-style and 2 sets of incline bench press to add some color to my training.

    At the moment, a typical session of the 3 sets of RPT looks like this: (yeah, I know, it’s not a lot)

    90 kg – 7 to 8 reps
    (3 mins rest)
    80 kg – 9 to 10 reps
    (2 mins rest)
    70 kg – 9 to 10 reps

    I am now wondering about the following two things since I seem to have hit a plateau:

    1) Since I read somewhere that the first set should be the most important one and I should aim for 6-8 reps: should I increase the weight in the first set already (even though I don’t always get 8 reps in the first set and even though I don’t always get in the target range in the last set) or should I wait? Is there a general rule when to increase weight?

    2) Should I increase the recovery period between sets 2 and 3 to get in the 10 -12 reps range in the 3rd set, should I decrease weight in that set or shouldn’t I care about that last set too much?

    Thanks a lot,

    Nuno

  31. joejoemrjoe

    Hi Andy

    I was doing the big 3 a couple of years ago, doing 5 set of 5 rep for each lift. I have had a break from all exercise for the last 2 years and have just finally got back into it.

    I just started with a personal trainer to help me with form, as last time when I was working on my own every month or two I would seem to get a minor injury. My PT seems to know his stuff and my form is improving, but we only do half hour sessions, and do 2 set of 8 reps for each exercise rather than 5×5. The sessions are way more intense than when I was training on my own. He pushes me to the point where he has to help me complete the last couple or reps.

    Do you think training this way will be as effective as the 5×5? I am concerned that the reduced number of reps means that I am not doing as much work, but the perhaps the increased intensity balances this out?

    I am cutting and have worked out my diet following your diet plan.

    Thanks for any advice!

    Joe

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Joe.
      This mainly comes down to whether you trust that your trainer knows what they are doing. It’s not really about whether 2×8 or 5×5 is better at this stage, people could argue that all day, it’s about how it’s implemented, and how appropriate it is for the person.

  32. Patrik

    Hi Andy.

    Quick question with regards to the progress overload when doing the big 3.

    To continue with the overloading all the time is 50% of 5RM a good starting weight so you can keep increase the weight during the 12 week cut?

    I’ve tried to get a hang of a good starting point when reading the section but feel if I start to high I will stall quite quick.

    // Patrik

    1. Andy Morgan

      Hi Patrik. In that case, you wouldn’t achieve progressive overload, it would just be a progressive increase over time, under the load that you can currently handle. The point of the training is to force your body to adapt, so you need to lift as much as you can to get that to happen.

      1. Patrik

        Hi Andy.

        Ok, perfect.

        So for example if during the first two “test” rounds with regards to Rippetoes suggestion I and up with a weight that is 100kg x 5rep for the Squat.

        That would mean that I on the third workout start with 100kg x 5rep in the squat and from that session try to add approx 5kg every session after if i hit the target.

        Is it normal during the cut that the increase of weight every session will stall as I’m on calorie defict?

        // Patrik

        1. Andy Morgan

          That’s right, but be flexible with the amount – it’s not 5kg or nothing, you can do less of course. As a beginner you’ll will experience strength gains for a time regardless of being in a calorie deficit.

          1. Patrik

            Then everything is under control. I think I have all the tools needed for the new start in weightlifting and nutrition thinking.

            Thank you so much for all the feedback and also for all the time and effort you have done to put up all the information on the site to share with us all.

            Have a really nice weekend.

  33. Stijn

    Hi Andy,

    Why do you choose for the Stronglifts 5×5 template instead of the 3×5 Starting Strength when doing the Big 3? You use SS and Rippetoe in this article but the program consists of 5 sets of 5 reps without the Power Clean and Press.

    Greetz,

    Stijn

    1. Andy Morgan

      Stijn, thanks for the question.
      Beginners need to practice their form, this usually especially true with the deadlift. As I’m not recommending power cleans, these is space to include more deadlifting work without affecting the recovery balance.

      I don’t recommend power cleans because it poses an unnecessary injury risk without proper coaching, which 99.99% of people will not have access to.

      The brain and body can only learn a limited number of movement patterns at any given time. I read somewhere on JTS.com that four is the realistic maximum (couldn’t find where I bookmarked this). Adding more in compromises the speed and efficiency of the learning process. So I purposefully suggest keeping the exercise selection to a minimum.

      Could you add the press in and alternate it every other day with the bench? Sure. If I were physically in a gym coaching someone I can see myself doing that in some cases – though I don’t think it’ll make a big difference to the outcome, controlled variety can be mentally beneficial.

      However, I know I have to be careful when writing recommendations online. People always want to tinker with things regardless of what you say. You give an inch, people take a mile (I talked about this phenomenon in the latest article where people get themselves in the skinny trap). Unless you’re physically there to stop people from doing this (or getting them to e-mail you confirming what they have been doing), you suggest one small customization option in an article and you find that it’s turned into 4 additional exercises, super-sets and a split, that cost them months of progress when they simply needed to stick to the program.

      It’s amusing. A little sad. But as I said in the first part of the new Physique Goal Setting Guide, often people just need to learn the hard way.

      1. Stijn

        Andy,

        Thanks for the reply. Very clear answer.
        But what about the set-rep range, why do you prefer the 5×5 (SL) over 3×5 (SS)? Isn’t 5×5 to taxing while in a deficit and does someone reach his plateau sooner in a 5×5 program?

          1. Stijn

            I read your site trough and through…it’s a world of awesome information. But your answer makes sense :-) My bad!

  34. Bruno

    Andy,

    I have been doing some things wrong with my workout routine..i have always done the 3 big movements, but nowadays i find myself doing from 6-7 types of exercices,4-5 sets and 3 day split wich is chest and tris, Back and shoulder, legs.
    I was doing 6 days a week, performing 3 heavy days(RPT on the main lifts) and 3 hypertrophy days( more reps and less weight).
    Even though the others exercices i do are compounds movements( stiff deadlift, front squats, pull ups, dips, rows, O.H.P.) i think i am doing to much, for sure..
    I was doing that during a cut and now i will reverse 2 weeks and then maintain 2 weeks, i want to get in a 4 days per week routine with low volumes workouts.
    The thing is i don´t know how to do that, because i have been doing crazy amount of volume even in a 700 calorie deficit, and now is so difficult(my mindset i think) figuring out what would be the best approach to achieve that and make gains.

    Even though i never tried 1RM, i can bench 35kg 5×6, squat 55kg 5×7 and sumo deadlift 55kg 5×7(without counting the barbell)
    the question is..i spent the hole day reading your posts and came out with this..doing the ”big 3 routine”, with 2 extra days, to do triceps and calves, and from that reducing to 4 days..i dont know perhaps throwing 2 more exercices in these 3 days.

    What do you think about that?

    It would be a challenge for me because now im used to high volume, and i read in your post ”What To Do When You’re Done With Your Beginner Strength Training Program” some topics about being use to high volume and after that do less but with more weight..

    Well this is my experience so far, i hope you can give me some advice on that, but im willing to do these new routine and take easy with weights during this month with reverse dieting and then maintanance, to finally slow bulk.

    1. Andy Morgan

      Bruno, here’s the deal: Objectively speaking you’re weak. You need to get stronger. The variety and unnecessary additions may well be the reason for you staying weak. For now, the less variety the better. The principles discussed in Greg’s post are completely irrelevant to you at this current time. You will get there though, if you don’t deviate from the advice in the plans here.

      Have a read of my latest post, What To Expect | Physique Goal Setting (pt2). In terms of your lifting career it could very well be transformative, cause at the moment it looks to me like you’re set to take the long and hard road to nowhere like I did for so many years.

  35. Sean

    Hi Andy. I am doing the Big Three. When I train I do the 5 reps and rack the weight in every exercise. In some videos I see people putting down the bar in the floor and then lifting it back up and repeating this 5 times. Are we supposed to drop it and lift it again or should the bar not be racked between reps?

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