A 3×3 is a high intensity strength training workout consisting of three circuits or rounds of three compound (multi-joint) exercises performed non-stop to emphasize cardiovascular and metabolic conditioning. Each of the three exercises targets different muscle groups, usually starting with the hips and thighs, followed by upper body pushing and pulling movements, to work all of the major muscle groups and allow for little or no rest between exercises.
A higher number of repetitions is usually performed for the first circuit, with the repetitions dropping for the second and third circuits. A typical repetition scheme for a 3×3 routine is 20, 15 and 10 for the hip and thigh exercise, and 12, 10, and 8 for the upper body pushing and pulling exercises when performed at typical repetition speeds. For example:
- Deadlifts 1×20
- Dips 1×12
- Chin-ups 1×12
- Deadlifts 1×15
- Dips 1×10
- Chin-ups 1×10
- Deadlifts 1×10
- Dips 1×8
- Chin-ups 1×8
While the same conditioning effect could be achieved performing one set of nine different exercises addressing the same muscle groups, the advantage of a 3×3 is that it allows shorter rest periods since the bars or machines only need to be set up once. In most gyms it can be difficult to move quickly between different exercises during peak hours. Most 3×3 routines can be performed with minimal equipment in a single spot, without waiting for equipment or people getting in your way even if the gym is packed. The above routine is unlikely to be interrupted if you perform your deadlifts directly in front of the chin/dip station. A 3×3 consisting of front squats, standing presses and rows can be performed with a single barbell without switching weight and with no rest at all between exercises, although the reps for front squats may need to be much higher depending on how much weight you can press and row.
The following are just a few variations of the 3×3. Many more are possible depending on your capabilities and the available equipment.
- Barbell or trap bar deadlift
- Standing Press
- Chin Up
- Push Up
- Bodyweight squats or alternating one-legged bodyweight squats
- Handstand, incline or pike push-ups or dips
- Chin-ups or front lever pull-ups
- Leg press machine
- Shoulder or chest press machine
- Pull-down or rowing machine
Some people may want to follow these with calf, grip or neck work, but I would not recommend performing any additional exercises for larger muscle groups. In fact, if you are capable of any additional multi-joint exercises afterwards you probably didn’t push yourself hard enough.
If performed regularly with a high level of effort and little or no rest between exercises these routines will produce a tremendous level of general cardiovascular/metabolic conditioning while also building a good degree of strength. Give them a try and post your feedback here, along with your own 3×3 routines.