Three On/ One Off Redux
A New Twist on an Old Classic
When I began lifting weights – sometime in the late ‘80s – there was really only one training split that most bodybuilders used: the three on, one off scheme. For any of you unfamiliar with this split, it works like this: You split your body three ways, and then you train for three days straight before taking a day off. After your day off, you begin the split over again.
Most bodybuilders of that era trained legs on one day, and then split their upper body into two sessions; some lifters trained antagonistic bodyparts together on one day – chest and back, or biceps and triceps – while others would train all of their push muscles on one day – chest, shoulders, and triceps – and their pull muscles on the other day – back and biceps.
But the three on, one off split eventually fell the way of the dinosaurs. In the early ‘90s Dorian Yates entered the scene, bringing with him his “blood-and-guts” style of training. This training consisted of minimum sets, heavy weights, ultra-intense sets (which might be an understatement), and plenty of rest between workouts. It didn’t take long for other bodybuilders to follow suit. Within a decade, almost all of your top bodybuilders were taking a week off between training each bodypart, and hardly ever training more than two days in a row without taking a day off. The same, more or less, still holds true today.
But I think there’s a lot of value to the three on, one off split. It just needs a little tweaking. Get ready for a 21st century three on, one off redux.
Principles of Three On/ One Off Mass Building
First, let’s look at what I believe are the “keys” to rapid muscle growth if you are going to use this program. This will allow you to understand why my version of the three on/one off program is designed the way it is.
Key #1: Frequent Training – I know that this one is a bit controversial, considering all of the emphasis these days on giving your muscles enough time to “rest and recuperate.” But you can’t argue with this: The more frequently you can train a muscle, the faster it will grow. The secret is in training just enough to stimulate the muscle so that you can train it again a few days later (which is a real benefit of this training split).
Key #2: Heavy, Multiple Set Training – One of the most effective forms of training that anyone can perform is “neural training”; in other words, using heavy loads for multiple sets. These kind of workouts tend to produce “mass that lasts” more so than higher-repetition training. What you must keep in mind with neural training, however, is that you can’t go overboard with maximal loads to near failure. You must always leave something in the tank, so to speak, when incorporating this method.
Key #3: Don’t Forget the High Reps – Neural training may be highly effective, but you don’t need to neglect the benefits of getting a good pump, which helps to build muscle via sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
Key #4: Stay Away From Training That Induces Too Much Trauma on Your Muscles – The good thing about neural training (when not taken to failure) and high rep training (also when not taken to failure) is that you can recover from these sessions relatively fast. The kind of training you don’t want to perform on a three on, one off program are maximal and even sub-maximal loads taken to the point of momentary muscular failure or beyond.
The Redux Training ProgramThe following program involves two different phases. Each “phase” lasts for three days. After taking a day off, the second phase is performed. This form of training is often called micro-periodization (as opposed to macro-periodization). With micro-periodization, the training will fluctuate during a week of training, allowing you to train multiple aspects within a short period of time.
Phase One: Neural Training
The first three days of training focus on using near maximal loads for multiple sets and low reps. You should be able to recover from these workouts within 72 hours. Keep in mind, however, that you may be sore at first, especially if you have never performed this kind of training. Don’t worry if this happens. Train through the soreness and your body will adapt in no time.
Day One: Neural Leg Training
Squats – 10 sets of 3 reps. After warming up with two to three warm-up sets, load the bar with a weight that would typically allow you 6 to 8 reps before reaching failure. Use this weight for all 10 sets.
Donkey Calf Raises – 5 sets of 10 reps. Calves tend to respond better to higher reps, hence the lack of neural training on this exercise.
Day Two: Neural Chest and Back Training
Incline Bench Presses – 8 sets of 3 reps. After warming up with two to three warm-up sets, load the bar with a weight that would typically allow you 6 to 8 reps before reaching failure. Use this weight for all 8 sets.
Wide Grip Chins – 8 sets of 3 reps
Day Three: Neural Shoulder and Arm Training
Standing Military Presses – 8 sets of 3 reps
Barbell Curls – 6 sets of 3 reps. Once again, use a weight that would typically allow you 6 to 8 reps before reaching failure. Perform less total sets, however, due to the indirect work your biceps received with all of the chins the day before.
Lying Triceps Extensions (a.k.a. skull crushers) – 6 sets of 3 reps. As with the barbell curls, there is no need to perform more than 6 sets on this exercise. Your triceps have already received plenty of stimuli from the military presses and the incline bench presses.
Day Four: Off
Phase Two: Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy
The following sets should be taken a few reps shy of muscular failure. None of the sets listed include warm-ups. Perform at least one warm up set for each exercise.
Day Five: High Rep Leg Training
Hack Squats – 2 sets of 25 reps
Walking Lunges – 2 sets of 30 reps
Stiff Leg Deadlifts – 2 sets of 25 reps
Standing Calf Raises – 4 sets of 30 reps
Day Six: High Rep Chest and Back Training
Wide Grip Dips – 2 sets of 15 to 25 reps
Incline Dumbbell Flyes – 2 sets of 20 reps
Feet Elevated Push-ups – 2 sets of 20 reps
Wide Grip Pulldowns – 2 sets of 25 to 30 reps
Close Grip Pulldowns – 2 sets of 25 to 30 reps
Dumbbell Pullovers – 2 sets of 20 to 25 reps
Day Seven: High Rep Shoulder and Arm Training
Seated Dumbbell Presses – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Dumbbell Lateral Raises – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Dumbbell Curls – 2 sets of 20 reps (each arm)
Concentration Curls – 2 sets of 20 reps (each arm)
Lying Dumbbell Extensions – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Bench Dips – 2 sets of 20 to 30 reps
Day Eight: Off
Closing RemarksThis program is designed for building muscle mass, so make sure that you’re consuming plenty of calories every day. As a starting point, consume at least 12 times your bodyweight in calories on a daily basis (although 15 would be even better). And be sure to get plenty of protein. Eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight daily.
When not training, make sure you rest and relax as much as possible. And I don’t just mean to sit around on your couch, watching television mindlessly. That kind of behavior can actually be very “non-relaxing.” Take a nap, practice a relaxation technique (such as meditation), and read a book. Relax and grow.
After two to three weeks on the above program, you may want to rotate to some new exercises. Just make sure that the new exercises are as equally demanding as the originals.