By Stephan Korte
The training program presented here has been used by some of the strongest German powerlifters including IPF Junior World Champions Ralf Gierz and Michael Bruegger. Gierz totaled close to 2200 lbs. at superheavyweight and Bruegger was the first German powerlifter to break the 2200 lb. barrier at a bodyweight of 26O lbs. Bruegger was also the first German to bench over 600 lbs. in an IPF competition (paused and no bench shirt). The basic concepts of this program have been used by almost every Olympic lifter, including many world champions over the last 40 years.
The 3x3 system is an eight week training cycle that consists of two phases. Phase I is a high volume phase, while Phase II is the competition phase. It shares some similarities with the Louie Simmons style of training program. The similarities include no off-season, training percentages in the 58-64 percent range and the main focus of the 3x3 is its high volume phase. Another similarity is very few of the 3x3 training lifts are in the percentage range of 80-95 percent.
The one thing making the 3x3 unique when compared to Simmons and other current powerlifting training is that the only training exercises used are the competition lifts. There is no assistance work! Why is that? The answer is very simple. In order to get strong in the squat you need to train the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors and the lower back. In other programs there are different ways in which to train all these muscles. You can perform a variety of assistance exercises or you can combine the squat with these same assistance exercises. The other option is to train the squat and only the squat. We already know this exercise works all the muscles mentioned above. The major advantage of this option is the squat works the muscles exactly the way they are needed for the competition.
As I mentioned earlier this type of training approach has been used for decades by the Eastern Bloc and Western European Olympic lifters and it works. During the last 10 years I have had the opportunity to talk to and train with many Olympic lifters. In 1992 1 was stationed at the Olympic Training Center while doing my assignment with the German Army. I observed that their training consists of only the competition lifts, the snatch and clean and jerk. Some of you might say that Olympic lifters do a variety of pulls including pulls from a block, high pulls from the hang position, etc. If you take a closer look at these exercises you will see that they are biomechanically identical to a certain portion of the competition lifts. The only difference is that they are not performed through the full range of motion of the competition lift. This will definitely overload the muscles. This is a technique that is very effective if you do it right. Unfortunately I see many powerlifters doing it wrong. They do hack squats, leg presses and leg extensions - exercises that have no bio-mechanical relationship to the competition lift. Leg pressing a 1000 lbs. does not mean that you can squat that weight. Do you see the difference? These exercises do have their place in a training program, but only to rehabilitate from injuries or to create variety once in a while, but not in a serious training cycle.
The 3x3 system works so well because your muscles will be stimulated much more than with other routines. Let’s take the squat again to explain this fact. For example, if your squat maximum is 700 pounds and your training schedule calls for 5 sets of 5 reps once a week you will achieve a fairly high volume com-pared to other training programs. When 75% of 700 pounds (525 pounds) is done for 25 reps (5 x 5) you end up with a total squat tonnage of 13125 pounds per week. This tonnage is determined by the work sets only and not the warm up sets (this is the standard approach in the 3x3 program). Now take a look at the total squat tonnage of the 3x3 system. In week four you use 64% of 700 lbs. which is 448 pounds for a maximum of 40 reps (8 sets of 5 reps). The total tonnage of only one workout is 17920 pounds. You repeat this workout twice and you end up with a total squat tonnage of 35840 pounds per week. That is over two and a half times the volume of the other program. The 3x3 system creates a workload stimulus that forces the muscles to work much harder and therefore to grow faster and get stronger.
Preparations: Before you start with the 3x3 system you need to find your current maximum in each of the three lifts. There are many ways to find this out and it’s up to you which one you choose. You can use your last competition lifts if the competition was recent (within the last 4 weeks). You can also go for a maximum single in the gym (important: use all the equipment you usually wear in competition). If you estimate your max based on reps you can use a variety of equations. A simple one is the Epley equation. In the Epley, you multiply the reps achieved by .033 and multiply the product of this times the weight used. Add the resulting product to the weight used and you have your max. Remember it does not make sense to choose weights that you cannot handle.
Once you have found your current maximum you can calcu-late your training weights for the next eight weeks. I will give you a more detailed explanation of this in future articles. However, before your start the program you will be asked to increase your current maximum in the squat by 25 lbs., the bench press by 10 lbs. and the deadlift by 15 lbs. This will be your new projected maximum and it will be this number that you will base your training. The training weights will be 58-64 percent of this projected maximum in phase I and 60-95 percent in phase II.
Phase I- Weeks 1-4 - High Volume Phase: By doing a lot of sets and reps you will reach a high volume during phase I. This set and rep scheme builds muscle mass, strength and helps to improve your coordination and technique on each of the competition lifts.
Summary: Phase I Day l
deadlift: 5-8x5 Day 2
deadlift: 5-8x5 Day 3
The total number of workouts in phase I is 12. This is three workouts per week. Make sure to rest one day between the workouts and rest two days after the completion of one training week. I used to work out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. With this approach I had two days off on the weekend which really helped me to recuperate.
You will squat, bench and deadlift in every workout. Yes - you squat, bench and deadlift three times a week. That’s too much? How do you know? Have you ever tried it? You will not be doing any assistance work, which means that you have all your energy available for the three competition lifts. By the way, I’ve worked with Olympic lifters and they train the squat six times a week. They break it down to four front squat sessions and two back squat sessions. In these workouts they used some heavy poundages. If these lifters were overtrained it is of no consequence because they won a bronze and a silver medal in the superheavyweight category at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.
The sets and reps are the same in every workout. Five to eight sets of five reps for the squat and deadlift and six to eight sets of six reps for the bench press.
You work with four different percentages during phase I, but you stay with one percentage for each training week. This means you will use a particular weight for each exercise and work with it for three workouts or one training week. The next week of training will have you using a higher percentage and therefore a higher weight. That way you increase the weights every week. Make sure to use no equipment, except a power-lifting belt.
Phase II - Week 5-8 - Competition Phase: During phase II you will reduce the volume dramatically and increase the intensity week by week. This helps you to adapt to the heavier weights. You will use powerlifting equipment (suit, belt, wraps, and bench shirt) for every heavy lift (1-2 reps). The intention of phase II is to build power, maximum strength and improve your technique with heavy weight.
As in phase I, the total number of workouts in phase Ills 12. There are also three workouts per week. Make sure to get plenty of rest between the workouts. You will still squat, bench and deadlift in every workout. The sets and reps in the daily workouts will vary. Each exercise is divided in two parts:
Technique and power training. You will be performing three sets of three reps for the squat and deadlift and five sets of four reps for the bench press. The training weight is 60 percent of your projected maximum and it and it will be con-stant for the next four weeks.
Maximum strength training. You will use 80-95 percent of your calculated maximum for one to two sets of one rep for each exercise. Train maximum strength on only one exercise per day. I used to max out as follows: deadlift on Monday (day 1), bench press on Wednesday (day 2) and squat on Friday (day 3).
Summary: Phase II Day l
deadlift: 1-2x1 Day 2
deadlift: 3x3 Day 3
While the percentages for the technique training will be constant, the percentages for the maximum strength training will be increased weekly by five percent.
Next up: Part 2-The squat: High volume and competition phase. Until then: Good lifting! If you have further questions, feel free to call or write me. Also available for seminars.