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The Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Press, Dips, Chin-ups/Pull-ups.
Slow-bulk or cut, put these exercises at the core of your workout program and you won’t go far wrong.

There are two linear progression training templates introduced on this site, ‘The Big 3 Routine’ and the ‘Three Day Split Routine’. The questions often arise, “Which training program is for me?” or, “When and how should I progress from one to the other?” This article covers the latter question with detailed examples.

It is best that you adjust your routine to build from one to the other, rather than jumping straight to ‘The Three Day Split Routine’ from ‘The Big 3′. Learning how to adjust your routine is an essential skill you will need as you advance in training experience to keep yourself progressing. Most people screw themselves up by not learning this skill – they jump blindly from routine to routine when progress stalls, never learning the broader principles of effective training routines or how to tailor it to themselves. They then wonder why they spin their wheels for years not making progress. This article will cover how to do that.


Big 3 to Split Routine – Ideas on Progression

As covered in the article Which Training Program Is For Me? whether you should be doing the big 3 (the squat, bench press and deadlift) every session, or more of a split routine, depends entirely on your recovery capability. As Rippetoe said in his book Practical Programming for Strength Training, one of the most important things for determining what kind of program a person should be on, does not depend on the person’s lifting ability, but that person’s ability to recover.

A person that can squat 1.5x their bodyweight might recover quickly enough to make squatting 3 days a week possible, whereas another that can squat 1x their bodyweight may need several days to recover. Only you can tell what your recuperative abilities are, so pay attention and I’ll tell you what to do here.

Progression from the ‘Big 3’ to a split can be done in stages. When you start failing to recover then move onto the next step in the series. Note the sentences in italics after each phase explaining the changes made and why.

The Linear Progression Training Continuum

‘Big 3’ Routine > ‘Big 3’ Modified > The A/B split > Three Day Split

 There are many different ways to do this, here is one example of a typical progression:

The Linear Progression Training Continuum

Phase 1: ‘Big 3’ Routine – Novices

Practice is important at this stage, so you do the same exercises every day:

  • Squats (5 sets of 5 reps)
  • Bench Press (5 sets of 5 reps)
  • Deadlift (5 sets of 5 reps)

Phase 2: ‘Big 3’ Routine – Deadlift Modified

The lower back starts to get sore, you make a volume adjustment to the deadlifts:

  • Squats (5 sets of 5 reps)
  • Bench Press (5 sets of 5 reps)
  • Deadlift (3 sets of 5 reps) or (1 set of 5 reps)

Phase 3: The A/B split 

The lower back and legs are too sore, progress suffers. Bench form is good, but a little variety can be introduced.

Workout A:

  • Deadlifts (5×5)
  • Weighted/Assisted Chin-ups (3×8)
  • Overhead Press (OHP) (5×5)

Workout B:

  • Squat (5×5)
  • Bench Press (5×5)
  • Seated Cable Rows (3×8-10)

Week 1 – Monday (Workout A), Wednesday (Workout B), Friday (Workout A)

Week 2 – Monday (Workout B), Wednesday (Workout A), Friday (Workout B)

Week 3 – Monday (Workout A), Wednesday (Workout B), Friday (Workout A) etc…


Phase 4: Full 3 Day Split (A/B/C) – Straight-Sets

More recovery is needed between workouts so a full split is used. Additional compound movements are added so that overall training volume does not drop too low.

Monday:

  • Deadlift (5×5)
  • Weighted/Assisted Chinups (3×8)
  • Additional compound movement (Example: Front squats 3×8-10)

Wednesday:

  • Bench Press 5×5
  • Seated Cable Rows (3×8-12)
  • Additional compound movement (Example: Lat-pulldowns 3×8-10)

Friday:

  • Squat 5×5
  • Overhead Press (OHP) 5×5
  • Additional compound movement (Example: RDLs 3×8-10)

Notes

Soreness – How to Gauge When You Need to Change

In general, a little soreness is fine. It’s difficult to judge the line between being too sore to train and needing to change your workouts.

You’re always going to be sore to a degree somewhere in your body. You’ll become more attuned with your body in time but for now, as a general guide if after a thorough general warm-up, joint warm-up and warm-up sets (guide in this article) you’re still really sore or the weight feels considerably heavier than normal then it may be time to change.

This is one reason why it’s important to keep a workout log, so you know what you were lifting last time and know what you should be able to lift.

Bad Workouts Will Happen

Before you switch things up make sure you didn’t just have a bad workout but are genuinely in need of a change.

So, if the weights feel unusually heavy one workout, or you’re extremely sore, listen to your body, stop your workout for that day and go home.

Rest, sleep well, then come back feeling refreshed and then see what happens. If you have two or more consecutive workouts and aren’t under a lot of stress, it’s probably time to make a change.

About the additional exercises

Training volume (sets x reps x load) is the key driver of training adaptations, and should go up as we gain experience and progress over the course of a lifting career.

So, you will see that in phase 3 and phase 4 I’ve added additional compound movements to the routine so that total training volume does not drop.

None of the big three exercises are repeated, however, as they are the toughest to recover from, but other compound movements are chosen.

Why I don’t recommend dips

Long time viewers of the site will see that dips are missing from the examples above, so I wanted to comment on the reason.

They are a great chest and triceps developer, and it feels awesome to have a couple of plates clanging between your legs as you knock out a few sets of 8, but the risk-reward ratio is skewed in the wrong direction I feel.

What I mean is, it’s very easy to cause yourself an injury with this exercise, especially as you start adding a lot of weight. (If you go deeper than you should it puts the humeral head in a position far past neutral).

When there are safer alternatives that are equally effective (pushups, the close-grip bench press), I see no point in taking the risk with dips. I no longer do them myself, and I no longer recommend them to clients.

What to consider next

I consider one of these programs as the next progression:


*******

Thanks for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments as always.

– Andy

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Francesco
Francesco

hi andy, I wanted to know if you think it is possible to use the routine “A / B” as a complement to the calisthenics, thanks

francesco
francesco

I understand perfectly, I think it is important to maintain strength exercises like squat and squat bench in my bodyweight training program. I will try to keep the volume within the canons described in “THE MUSCLE & STRENGTH PYRAMID”
Thanks for your articles that cut away the shit and leave the basic concepts 🙂

Rafael
Rafael

Hey Andy,
First of all: Thanks for the great site. I’ve been following your site on and off for years, and I’m continually impressed by (and appreciate) your ability to so consistently increase both the quality and quantity of information that you share in your articles and comments.
Questions:
1) I’m currently in Phase 1 at 185 lbs BW and 5′ 11 and back soreness is starting to interfere with the squats (185 lbs), but not DL (235 lbs). Is this normal sign that it’s time to decrease DL volume, or does it suggest an issue with my squat form?
2) Are there any particular programming or dietary modifications (in a cut) you suggest for thoroughly detrained (formerly intermediate) lifters?

Chris
Chris

Hi Andy. I’m planning on starting the Big 3, but curious about Chinups. I know you talk about the isometric work on the biceps, and I agree, but my arms and back are a serious priority to me. I’d start with the A/B split if I wasn’t new to full-range DL and Squats . I finally have access to proper DL and Squat instruction, so I’m going for it. I want minimal hypertrophy in my quads (pants are too tight in the thigh), but want the other squat benefits. Can I work on Chins on “offdays” since they won’t interfere with the intensity of a B3 session? I’m still building up to Chins, but I can work on them at home instead of embarrassing myself at the gym. What do you think? Thanks!

Dario Zarba
Dario Zarba

Hi Andy,

why do you recommend in phase four only one chest exercise? Isn’t it better to drop the OHP and do another chest exercise? What are the pros of keeping the OHP?

Dario Zarba
Dario Zarba

But for the other muscle groups there are more exercises… Couldn’t there be a recovery issue too?

Raphael
Raphael

Hi Andy,

One question regarding Seated Cable Rows (A/B Split): Do you recommend the narrow (V-bar) or the wider (bar) grip? With BP and OHP as part of the A/B split I assume that the anteriour scapular is already under extensive strain why I could imagine that a wider grip would be prioritized.

Mika Sutinen
Mika Sutinen

Hi, again Andy!

…Do you think grappling could be, in theory, an assistance workout and therefore you could do the big 3 for longer time without the need for adding more assistance lifting exercises?

Mika Sutinen
Mika Sutinen

Cool! Thank you!

George
George

Hi Andy,

First of all after spending a few days digesting your site, books and various podcasts, thank you for all the information you put out. It helps new coaches like me and then some so thank you.

I can coach others just fine and get great results but when it comes to myself, I overcomplicate it. I’ve heard you discuss this paradox on a the TeamBoxTV podcast. Any advice on that front?

Also, I find SLDLs more comfortable on my back than traditional DLs and weirdly more so than RDLs too. It could be a form issue or related to an injury I sustained in my childhood. Can I make these substitutions based on circumstance and goals over the 12 weeks?

George

Karol
Karol

Hi, any substitution on seated cable rows and lat-pulldown in phase 4? Now i’m train in garage gym and i don’t access to such equipment. Is Pendlay row good instead seated cable rows? And what about lat-pulldown as 2x week chins may be too much.

Karol
Karol

Thx for reply and what do you think about “close bench grip” on Wednesday in Phase 4? I’d like to incorporate this excercise and doing it on Wednesday is good idea?

Arturo Murcia Dominguez
Arturo Murcia Dominguez

Hello andy. I dont really like bench press. I feel unconfortable, i dont progress, and even i have shoulder pain. I do love dumbels, no pain, but i have severe problems with big dumbels to start the exercise… So, i decided to switch to a technogym horizontal press machine. I feel good, my pec works and i can progress. Is this ok? Or should i retake bench press?

Many thanks and really good worj
Arturo
Spain

Jay
Jay

I been doing pogram got to the point where i lowerd the deadlifts to 3 sets. When i start a workout now when i get to squats i feel tried last two sets but finish them i get bench and deadlift but cannot do the warm up sets. I been on the program a month and a have and bulk 15 pounds before starting the program and now at a maintenance should I go to the next phases already?

Jay
Jay

Before I started the program i bulked 15 pounds now i am eating at maintenance. I am at phase two of the program. When I do the program after i finish squats ,which tire me out i have no energy to do bench and deadlifts. This happend the last 3 sessions. I could barely finish the warm up sets for bech and deadlifts. Should I move on to phase 3, or go back on bulk. My goal is to get strong as possible. I work out in the morning right after breakfast.

Alan
Alan

Hi Andy
On the 3 day split routine, how long a break do you suggest between sets?
Thanks
Alan

Kyle
Kyle

Andy,

It seems like the link to the Big 3 routine is not working. As a beginner, I will definitely need to start there. Thanks for all this excellent information!

Jo
Jo

Hi Andy,

How long (weeks or months) do you recommend for each phase?

I like the program, and am currently trying to reach my goal of acquiring a bit more muscle definition versus mass.

JP

Mikkel
Mikkel

Hey Andy,
I have been on phase 2 (3×5 deadlift), and considering changing to phase 4.
I am on a cut, and have experienced a 10% drop in bench press and dl strength.
The deadlift sets feel like I ran out of gas.

I have had a tough time with squat and bench technique,
probably due to very long femurs and arms.
(High-bar squat 60 kg, bench 50 kg, dl 95 kg)

The weird thing is that there is not much soreness?
Should I progress to phase 3, or could I even be undertraining with this routine?

Kind regards

Mikkel
Mikkel

Thanks I did not consider that, will probably do the bodybuilding then
Just to be clear:
You suggest that I have I need more volume to become stronger?
I cannot lift with higher intensity than now, but maybe I respond better to hypertrophy training (higher reps/volume)?

Mikkel
Mikkel

Brilliant,
thanks for all the amazing content and answers.

Tori
Tori

Hi! So I am very new to weightlifting. I have mostly been working out at home doing videos that use dumbbells, but I am wanting to get more into a gym setting and do more bar bell work. I read about the big 3 and that it will be a good place for me to start as a beginner. Due to my work schedule, I’m not really able to always have a day in between training days, and many days that I can work out will be back to back. So with that in mind, would it be better to just start off with a three day split or what would you suggest? I’m just concerned if I’m doing the big 3 every day for 3 days straight I won’t allow enough time for recovery.

Thanks!

Adnan
Adnan

Hey Andy
Is the “the big 3 routine” and its progressions to be done to failure?

Regards

Adnan
Adnan

Thank you for the prompt reply.
So it’s basically guess work? Which improves with experience?

For example I do 190lbs squat 5 reps for 5 sets. So next session I increase weight to 200lbs. I do 3 sets for 5 reps. On the 4th set at the 4th rep I FEEL I wouldn’t get in the 5th rep so I re rack the bar. And do the same for the 5th set. And mark 2 Miss for the session ?

Danijel
Danijel

There are “Weighted/Assisted Chinups (3×8)” in the program, can I follow your idea of bodyweight progression (“Target a rep total for a session, then do as many sets as it takes to do that. If your target total is 15 reps then that might be 5,4,2,2,1,1 for example the first session, then 5,5,3,2 the next session, then 7,5,3 the following. When you can get your target number of reps all within… let’s say 3 sets, you can look to increase the total reps targeted (to say 17) and then work until you can get all the reps within three sets. From there you increase the total targeted number of reps again (to 19 perhaps)”)?

shawn
shawn

Hey what are your thoughts on this workout program mixed along with a ketogenic diet? right now my main goal is to cut hard and ive been finding a lot of success so far with this diet but i would like to see some strength gains and achieve a somewhat leaner/bulkier look in the process. Mostly focusing on cutting now as im around 25% BF. Any advice is appreciated thanks!

Josh
Josh

Hey Andy,

As always thanks for your wealth of information. I wanted to know if constant nagging injuries are also a sign its time to split up your routine. I’ve been doing SL 5×5 since January now and I’ve made great progress on all of my lifts. Now when I first started and was really new to form I picked up an inner left thigh injury and a wrist injury. Nothing crazy but more of a nagging pain when I’m first warming up and a day or two after I lift. I tried resting a week, taking an extra day to rest when I need it, but the pain always seems to come back after a while. Just this week though I seem to have pulled something in my left knee as I have a nagging pain in it since Wednesday. I’ve been studying form religiously since I started SL 5×5 so I’m frustrated that my knee is acting up because form is vitally important to me and I thought I was working out with proper form. The knee pain only occurs after I lift and lasts about a day. My question is can these nagging pains be an indicator that I need to split my routine or do you think its probably a form only issue? I know you’re not a doctor but if you’ve had nagging injuries like this in the past how did you deal with them?

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How to Choose the Most Effective Strength Training Program for YOU

[…] experience and find you can still progress linearly with most of your exercises then consider a modified form of the big 3 routine, or a three-day split […]

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