As most of you know, my basic philosophy of strength training involves the following:

  • Strength underpins all other bio-motor qualities.
  • Big is a by-product of strong. So train for strength and size will follow.
  • Big bang exercises that involve the most amount of muscle trained for your available time.
  • Ground-based movements.

You will also know that I have embraced the usage of specialty bars and some of the ideas of Coach Joe Kenn.

With this in mind, I would like to re-visit the Pull, Push, and Squat program. For me, this is one of the most time efficient and result-producing programs available. The twist in this tale is related to it being a 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 matrix, so let’s call it the three to the fourth power program.

Select any exercise you like from the pull, push, and squat categories. However, keep in mind that it must be a ground-based movement in order to make the cut in this program; therefore, any exercise that you are not exerting force through the feet and into the ground will have to be left out. I am not waging an anti-bench press campaign, but I want you to try the other variants within the push category for a period of time. Then, you can gauge your reliance on the go-to bench every time you walk into the gym.

Next, you need to select a different bar for each of the three exercises on the day. Hopefully, you are training in a more enlightened gym that has embraced the utilization of specialty bars. You can use the good ol' faithful Olympic bar, or you can use derivative power bars for one movement each session. After this, you can choose from the selection of bars that you have available:


From here, I want you to allocate one of your most result-producing set and rep protocols to a different movement on each training day, and then rotate them through the three-day week plan that will come out of this process. I usually work on three-week plan with my rugby players, so I will give you my three most successful plans with thanks to some amazing programmers along the way.

 Three-Week Wave Loading Strength Cycle

(Thank you Ian King & Charles Poliquin)

Week 1: 2 x (6/5/4) @ (75%/80%/85%)

Week 2: 2 x (5/4/3) @ (80%/85%/90%)

Week 3: 2 x (4/3/2) @ (85%/90%/95%)

Three-Week Basic Loading Strength Cycle

Week 1: 5 x 5 (step or plateau load) @ 80% - 85%

(Thank you Bill Starr)

Week 2: 2 x 5, 3 x 3 (step load) @ 80%/85%, 87.5%/90%/92.5%

Week 3: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (step load) @ 85+%, 87.5+%, 92.5+%, 95+%, new max

(Thank you Jim Schmitz)

Three-Week 4 x 6 Cluster Cycle

(Thank you Damian March & Luke Thornley)

Week 1: 4 x 3/3 with a 20 seconds rest in between clusters @ 85+%

Week 2: 4 x 2/2/2 with a 20 seconds rest in between clusters @ 90+%

Week 3: 4 x 3/2/1 with a 20 seconds rest in between clusters @ 85%, 90%, 95%. Add weight if you can to each cluster set with micro plates - a real necessity in this program.

Now it is time to put the program together. I would like to see what you come up with, so please send in your ideas with your favorite set and rep plans. You could use some of the ideas from my Rule of 24 series, 12 x 2 for the primary exercise of the day, 8 x 3 for the secondary exercise, and then finish with 4 x 6 on the tertiary exercise. I will stick with my Big Three program designs from above to complete the program for you.

elitefts Ashley Jones matrixFor core, I cannot go past the advice of Pavel: 3 sets x 3-5 reps, on 3-5 exercises, 3-5 days per week. The choices are innumerable, so any list will be incomplete. However, remember to be multidimensional in your exercise selection.

So, the basis of the Three to the Fourth power program is:

  • Three days per week
  • Three exercises per session
  • Three different set & rep protocols
  • Three different types of bars during each session

As you can see, “no man is an island” when it comes to training ideas. So borrow from everywhere, interpret if it is appropriate in your environment, and then apply to your situation. Modify if needed and continue to always develop. I hope you can apply some of these to your own programming, or I hope that my ideas have, in some way, stimulated a different view of programming for you to consider in your training.

Engineering Physical Performance: Strength Training for Rugby eBook

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