The Triumvirate

TAGS: training program, Sports Training, Jim Wendler, strength, powerlifting, strength training, strength coach, training

The number 3 is held in reverence by many people. Of course, the title of this article is in reference to the Roman Empire and where would we be without them? The ménage a trois is held in high regard by most men (and a few, strong women that will probably never be married, but have boyfriends for life) The Holy Trinity helps Christians find their way and the Triple Crown (in both baseball and horse racing) is one of the highest sport honors one can receive. Three is also the typical number of lives one gets when playing computer games and the amount of wishes one gets from a Genie. By the way, if I had three wishes from a Genie (and did not have the option to have more wishes) here is what I would wish for.

  1. Unlimited hair on my dome.
  2. A magic briefcase that a billion dollars would appear in every day for the rest of my life and my son’s life.
  3. The ability to see all women naked, but only when I choose. This would ensure that I didn’t slip up and see my grandma naked.

Getting back on track, I am currently trying the 3-a-day training program. Before we go through the basics of the program, here are some of the reasons why I like doing this and why I think this can help me. You may be in the same boat as I.

  • I don’t like a lot of volume.
  • I like to lift heavy.
  • I get stronger when I lift heavy (this is pretty obvious but should be pointed out).
  • I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the weight room.
  • I like to keep things simple.
  • I’m not too concerned with muscle mass.
  • I’m a “one-pump chump” in the weight room (after I perform 1-2 exercises I am mentally tired and don’t really want to do more).

This is also a great way for people who do not have a lot of time in the weight room and still want to make progress. This is also great for people that want to get super strong but are not competing in powerlifting. I think many of you are like me; you want to get stronger but have no plans on competing, at least for awhile. So instead of trying to only make your squat, bench and deadlift bigger, let’s concentrate on getting stronger and having a variety of lifts that can help us.

So what are the basics of this program? Here is a breakdown:

  • Can be done for two, three or four workouts a week
  • 3 lifts are done per day
  • Dynamic, max effort and repetition work are emphasized
  • Recommended for intermediate and advanced lifters

In order to save you time and grief, here is a breakdown of the four training day program, using the 3-a-day philosophy.

Day I – Dynamic Bench Press

  1. Dynamic Bench Press
  2. Triceps
  3. Lats

Day II – Max Effort Squat/Deadlift

  1. Max Effort Squat/DL variation
  2. Lower back/Hamstring movement
  3. Abs

Day III – Max Effort Bench Press

  1. Max Effort Bench Press variation
  2. Shoulders
  3. Lats or Upper back

Day IV – Dynamic Squat/DL

  1. Dynamic Squat
  2. Quad movement
  3. Abs

Understand the supplemental lifts on each day are interchangeable and can be changed to fit your needs. For example, you can do your triceps work on the dynamic or max effort day; there are no absolutes. You can experiment and see what works for you.

Now if you want to train 3 days a week, you simply adjust your training as such. We will use Monday, Wednesday and Friday as the training days.

Week I

Monday – Dynamic Bench Press
Wednesday – Max Effort Squat/DL
Friday – Max Effort Bench Press

Week II

Monday – Dynamic Squat
Wednesday – Dynamic Bench Press
Friday – Max Effort Squat/DL

Week III

Monday – Max Effort Bench Press
Wednesday – Dynamic Squat
Friday – Dynamic Bench Press

By the way, this is the same 3 days/week schedule that has been talked about several times before. This is really nothing new, but done for those that haven’t read about it before.

Now the two/days a week is a little different and done only for those that absolutely have to do it. But maybe this is what your time allows. The reason why I pick this template is that if I have to travel or something else pops up in my schedule, this is exactly what I would plan to do.

Day I – Max Effort Bench Press

  1. Bench Press variation – 5-7 lifts @ or above 90%
  2. Shoulders (dumbbell press, military press, incline press)
  3. Lats

Day II – Max Effort Squat/DL

  1. Squat/DL variation – 5-7 lifts @ or above 90%
  2. Hamstring/Low Back or Quad Movement
  3. Abs

The reason for the above split is that I respond better with max effort training and don’t need a lot of dynamic work. This may not be true for you. Again, training twice a week is really not recommended, but is a reality for many of us. This is ideal for training over the holidays.

Notes/Questions

A lot of people are going to ask the question: “How come you are only training your shoulder, triceps, hamstrings, low back, and quads once a week?” This is a good question. Usually these exercises are trained twice a week with supplemental and accessory work. For example, the triceps are trained with a heavy “lockout” day and a “bodybuilder” day (consisting of extensions or pushdowns). Well, I’m not a big fan of the bodybuilder day because I didn’t feel like it helped me get too strong. In fact, it felt like wasted energy and time. I also like to train my low back and hamstrings in the same manner; with big, strong exercises. Plus, your low back, hamstrings and quads do get quite a bit of work with the max effort work. This is the same with your shoulders and triceps. The only thing that I still think needs to be trained twice a week is the lats. This is because most people have such a large imbalance between their pushing and their pulling.

Since we are not going to be doing a lot of exercises, the ones that we do choose must be great exercises. Not good, but great. You are going to have to do this on your own, but this is what I chose.

  • Hamstrings/Low Back – Glute Ham Raises, Good Mornings, 45 Degree Back Raise, Reverse Hyperextensions (I grouped these two muscle groups together because it’s almost impossible to isolate them.)
  • Quads – Leg Press, Power Squat, Lunge, One-leg Squat, Belt Squat
  • Lats – Chest Supported Rows, Pull-ups, One arm dumbbell rows (I will probably use lat pulldowns if I feel especially lazy)
  • Upper Back – Face Pulls, Shrugs, Up-right rows
  • Shoulders – Standing Military Press, Dumbbell Bench Press, Dumbbell Incline Press, Blast Strap Pushups
  • Triceps – 4 Board Press, 5 Board Press, Rack Lockouts (all can be done with bands)
  • Abdominals – Side Bends, Weighted Sit-ups, Abdominal Wheel, Hanging Leg Raises, Grappler (rotational abdominal training)

Why is this good for advanced lifters and not beginners? Because advanced lifters are much more efficient and know how to get more from an exercise. Remember how I stated that I am a one-pump chump in the weight room? I think many advanced lifters feel drained after their first exercise. This is because they have given just about every part of themselves to that first lift. This is not the case for a beginner. I’m not saying that if you are a beginner that you cannot do this program, but it just makes more sense for an advanced lifter.

Max effort rotation – all max effort lifts are going to be done in 3 week waves, using the same exercise for three weeks. This is a little bit different than usual, but I feel it can have its benefits. The big reason is because my bodyweight is as low as it has been for 5 years, I do conditioning 3-4 days a week and I have to establish and break personal records at this new level that I am operating at. It will be asinine to expect me to lift the same amount of weight as I did when I was fat and bloated. If I used my old records as guidelines, then I would be a basket case. No need to put fuel on the fire.

    • Week 1 – set max, perform 5-7 lifts at or above 90% (this includes that new max lift)

Example set/rep scheme for this day

50% x 5
60% x 3
70% x 2
80% x 1
90% x 1
100% x 1
90% x 1 (for 3-5 sets)

    • Week 2 – Perform 5-7 lifts at 90% of week one’s max, you can go up and try new max during these sets if you feel strong and know you will get the weight. You cannot fail.

Example set/rep scheme for this day (remember this is based on the performance of week one):

50% x 5
60% x 3
70% x 2
80% x 1
90% x 1 (for 5-7 lifts)

    • Week 3 – Set new max, a total of 3 lifts @ or above 90%. Your focus should be on getting a new max, not the amount of lifts above 90%. The total volume on this day is going to be lower because of this; this is good.

Example set/rep scheme for this day –

50% x 5
60% x 3
70% x 2
80% x 1
90% x 1
100% x 1 (this should be a new max; you can do one down set if you feel like it (@ 90%) but you don’t have to)

  • Week 4 – Start back at week 1, using new exercise.

All work done after the max effort/dynamic work can be supersetted to save time.

Set/rep scheme for supplemental lifts –

All lifts are done for about 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps except for the high lockout (triceps work). This is usually done for lower reps (3 sets of 3-5 reps) but it doesn’t have to be. Exercises can be changed every three weeks, similar to the max effort waves.

Dynamic work is to be done with chains or straight weight. If you do use bands, it should be light for you (not necessarily the “light band”). Because of the increased load on max effort day, dynamic day must be dynamic. All sets/reps will be done explosively and with purpose. There will be none of the following:

  • Wasted movement (shoulders coming off of bench during presses and the bar coming off of the back during squats)
  • Working up to heavier weights (we have a max effort day for this).
  • No Nemo’s (don’t flop around like a fish out of water)

All weights for dynamic bench press and squat will be 50-60%. The three week squat and bench press wave will be the following:

Week 1 – 6x2 @ 50%
Week 2 – 6x2 @ 55%
Week 3 – 6x2 @ 60%

Yes, that reads 6 sets of 2 reps. Why? Because it is something different.

Max effort lifts – Cambered Bar Box Squats, Pin Deadlifts, Deadlifts off of elevated platform, Buffalo Bar Box Squats, 2 Board Press, 3 Board Press, Floor Press – these may change though, but this is the initial plan.

If you are having reservations because of the decreased volume of supplemental/assistance lifts understand that a lot of it is made up for with the increase in volume in max effort lifts.

By they way, I think of this kind of workout as “Smart work and hard work.” Too many people do too much hard, unproductive work (this leads to overtraining and diminished results or too much scholarly work (which results in paralysis and light weights.) You have to have the right blend of both to be strong.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the focus in this training scheme/template/idea is pretty much max effort work. This is the foundation of this training. Yes, there is some dynamic work and some rep work but not a ton.

While I’m not a bodybuilder (and this program is not designed for them) I feel that this kind of training actually makes me bigger. High volume training makes me feel depleted and weak. It’s the same kind of feeling one gets when watching the Cleveland Browns.

As for deload weeks, I have nothing planned in the program. What I mean by this is that if I feel awful or that my performance during the warm up session is noticeably “off” I will deload. There is no plan to when I will do this. My body will tell me when I can and when I can’t. I wish I could prescribe something for you, but in reality, that’s impossible. My main goal is to get the two max effort sessions during the week. If I feel run down on the dynamic days, then I will take a day off and focus on flexibility and mobility. Sometimes this is all I need to recharge my batteries and get ready for my next session.

Something that I learned at the 2005 SWIS symposium was from the head strength coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Matt Nichol. He has the opportunity to work with top level athletes and uses the Omega Wave system to monitor them. He told a story of a young, energetic player who is always intense and always ready to train; no matter the time or the circumstances. After several plane fights and several games, this player entered his facility, full of energy and an ass kicking attitude. Matt hooked him up to the Omega Wave and found that he was NOT ready to train. Matt instructed him to go to another trainer where he went through a series of mobility, flexibility and breathing exercises (probably a bastardized version of Yoga). When the athlete came back to him, the Omega Wave concurred that his body was ready to train. This was only after an hour of these exercises. The point is this: don’t neglect the “wimpy” stuff. By doing these things (relaxing the body and mind) you can ensure that you are going to be training optimally. Remember there is a big difference between this and training maximally.

Since 99.9% of us do not have the Omega Wave, it is imperative that you do the most to help recover physically and mentally between sessions.

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