Most exercisers have multiple fitness goals. They want to get fit, build muscle, get stronger, and lose fat, usually at the same time. This invariably involves doing several different types of workouts, such as lifting weights one day and doing cardio the next.
While this training approach undoubtedly works, it can be time-consuming. And when time is short, workouts are often the first casualty. We’ve all said, at some point, “I can’t go to the gym today – I’ll catch up on my workout some other time.”
And while some people may make up their missed workout, the majority never do.
Most exercisers can afford to miss the occasional workout and still make progress. But, skip more than a couple, and your progress will begin to stall, and you may even start to backslide and lose some of your hard-won fitness.
So, what if there was a strength, hypertrophy, metcon, and fat loss workout you could do just three times a week that took 30 minutes or less?
Sounds too good to be true, right?
But, before you write this off as hyperbole, take a look at the 3×3 workout.
This high-intensity training program will help you reach all your fitness goals in double-quick time. However, that brevity comes at a price, as 3×3 workouts are TOUGH!
But, if you are up for a challenge, the 3×3 workout will produce the results you want in less than 90-minutes of training per week.
What is the 3×3 Workout?
At its heart, 3×3 is a high-intensity and circuit weight training (CWT) workout. However, unlike most circuits, it’s been stripped down to just three exercises and three laps, which is where the name 3×3 comes from.
3×3 kicks off with a compound leg exercise, followed by an upper-body push and an upper-body pull, or vice versa. Between them, these three exercises work most of your major muscles, including your arms and abs. However, these smaller body parts are trained indirectly.
- Bench press
Each exercise is taken to failure, and you do three laps of the exercises without stopping. So, that’s nine non-stop sets or about 20 minutes of work.
Regarding reps, you should pick weights that allow you to start with around 20 reps for the leg exercise and 12 reps for the upper body exercise. The high-rep leg exercise will elevate your heart rate and provide the metcon aspect of this workout.
However, because you’ll be taking each exercise to failure, the reps will probably decrease as you progress through the nine sets.
That means, from start to finish, your 3×3 workout will end up looking like this:
- Squats x 20
- Pull-ups x 12
- Bench press x 12
- Squats x 15
- Pull-ups x 10
- Bench press x 10
- Squats x 12
- Pull-ups x 8
- Bench press x 8
To ensure you train all of your muscles equally, your next 3×3 workout, usually done 2-3 days later, would use three different exercises, e.g.:
You can do up to three 3×3 workouts per week, such as Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It’s not a good idea to do them on consecutive days as you need some time to recover.
Once you have completed your 3×3 workout, you are then free to do some direct training for your abs, arms, and calves. But, in reality, this is not essential and may not even be possible.
If you’ve taken each set to failure and stormed through all nine sets as fast as you can, there should be very little gas left in the tank for additional exercises.
3×3 Weekly Plan
You now have all the information you need to create your own 3×3 workouts but, to save you the bother, here is a weekly training plan to follow.
Do each workout once per week, resting a day between each one. Remember to take each set to failure and move quickly from one exercise. Rest no longer than necessary between exercises OR laps. Once you start the workout, it should be a straight run through all nine sets.
|Workout 1 – e.g., Monday||Workout 2 – e.g., Wednesday||Workout 1 – e.g., Friday||Reps*|
|Bench press||Overhead press||Dip||12/10/8|
|Chin-up/pull-up||Lat pulldown||Bent-over row||12/10/8|
*Reps are for illustrative purposes only. Use roughly your 20RM for the leg exercise and your 12RM for the upper body exercises. Take all sets to failure, regardless of how many reps you actually perform.
3×3 Workout Advantages and Benefits
Not sure if the 3×3 workout is for you? Consider these benefits and then decide!
Over a done in 30 minutes – you should be able to complete a 3×3 workout in 20 minutes or less. So, even with a ten-minute warm-up, you can be in and out of the gym in about half an hour. That’s a considerable time saving compared to most workouts, and you only need to exercise three times a week.
Total conditioning – despite only lasting 20 minutes, 3×3 workouts develop multiple fitness components simultaneously. If you want to be a fitness all-rounder but can’t dedicate lots of time to several different types of workouts, 3×3 could be the time-efficient training approach you’ve been waiting for.
Burn fat and get lean – because 3×3 workouts are so intense, each one will burn a lot of calories. However, that high intensity also triggers EPOC, which is short for Excess, Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption, and also known as the afterburn effect.
In simple terms, EPOC describes how, after a high-intensity workout, your metabolic rate remains elevated for many hours, leading to faster fat burning. Expect your heart rate to be higher than usual for several hours after completing your 3×3 workout.
Infinitely variable – providing you follow the legs/push-pull structure of the 3×3 workout, you can create dozens if not hundreds of effective workouts. Your training never needs to be boring or repetitive. You can also adapt this training method according to the available workout facilities. It’ll work in even the most poorly-equipped gym.
A tough workout – some people LOVE to suffer for their fitness, and, despite its brevity, the 3×3 workout is immensely demanding. If you enjoy pushing yourself to the limit, you’ll probably enjoy the 3×3 workout.
3×3 Workout Downsides and Drawbacks
As beneficial and effective as the 3×3 workout is, there are a couple of drawbacks to consider, too…
Monopolizing equipment – doing the 3×3 workout means hogging three pieces of exercise equipment for 20 minutes or so. That’s not a problem if you work out in your own garage gym, but it could be an issue if you train in a commercial gym. This workout may not be practical or convenient when the gym is busy.
One way around this is to do a machine, dumbbells/barbell, and bodyweight exercise 3×3 workout. Take the dumbbells/barbell over to the machine you want to use and do the entire workout without moving off that spot.
Training to failure – the 3×3 workout is effective because it involves training to failure. Not just once or twice but nine times in quick succession. As the old saying goes, you can train long, or you can train hard, but you can’t do both!
Training to failure requires a particular mindset, and it’s all too easy to think you’ve trained to failure when you haven’t. So, in this instance, training to failure means reaching a point where you physically cannot do any more reps, i.e., exhaustion. 3×3 is not for the faint-hearted!
This type of high-intensity workout is painful, and you’ll have to contend with burning muscles, heaving lungs, and a pounding heart. You may even feel sick. But that’s the price you have to pay if you want to get more done in less (much less!) time.
You’ll also need a spotter for some exercises, especially squats and bench presses. If you plan on training alone, choose exercises where you can go to failure more safely, such as trap bar deadlifts and dips.
Muscle imbalances – the stripped-down nature of 3×3 training means that you won’t train all major muscle groups equally. Some minor muscles may not get trained at all. As such, this workout method may not be ideal for competitive bodybuilders looking to develop a balanced, aesthetic-pleasing physique.
However, if you are more interested in function than appearance, the 3×3 workout should produce the results you want.
Initial weight designation may be tricky – you probably don’t know your 20RM for leg presses or your 12RM for bench presses. As such, you may find it hard to determine what weights to use for your first few 3×3 workouts.
That said, you can make a fair estimation with a 1RM calculator, using about 55% for the leg exercise and 70% for the upper body exercises.
However, truth be told, there is no need to be ultra-precise when deciding on your training weights. And, you can adjust your weights for subsequent workouts based on your performance. However, providing you take your sets to failure, this workout will produce results, even if you end up working outside the recommended rep ranges.
3×3 Workout – Wrapping Up
The 3×3 workout is ideal for anyone who is short on time and doesn’t want to do strength training and cardio separately. Using this ultra-intense training method, you can develop cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength/size simultaneously and with workouts lasting 30 minutes or less.
3×3 is also a very effective fat loss workout.
That said, if you want to maximize hypertrophy or strength, or train to run a marathon or for other endurance sports, 3×3 may not be the workout for you. It’s just not specific enough.
But, for time-pressed general exercisers, this type of training could help you achieve all your fitness goals simultaneously and efficiently.