The Original 3 to 5 Method for Maximal Gains in Very Little Time

May 30, 2002 07:54 PM

I first met Pavel a few years ago at a course in Minneapolis. I had only recently rekindled my interest in strength training after a yearlong hiatus to study meditation and learn how to teach it to others, and was looking to get back into it. The description of the course read like an ad for the simple meditation techniques I teach: Simple, Easy, Cheap, Effective. Highly Effective.

That first exposure to Pavel was phenomenal. He outlined a very simple, straightforward plan to complete strength. He called it 'the 3 to 5 Plan'. Three to five, or even two, exercises for the whole body. 3-5 days between workouts. 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps. 3-5 minutes rest between sets. That's it. Very simple. Very effective. Very Pavel.

I took that knowledge home with me, and with a few borrowed concrete weights, managed to deadlift 245 for 5 reps in a relatively short period of time. I had never deadlifted before, and started with 85 pounds or so. Great gains I thought. My travels and lifestyle took me away from weight lifting again soon after this, and I only picked it up again last spring. Using the 3-5 method, I worked up to 5x5 with a 300 lb. deadlift (I ran out of weights) and soon after that to a 3x3 240 lb one legged deadlift, both legs. I used the Bent press as my other lift of choice and was soon hefting 75 lbs overhead rather easily for reps.

Below you will find outlined the specifics of this program. Again, it's a variation on the theme, but it is one that I feel works rather well. It certainly broke me of any 3 sets of 10 to failure nonsense? hehe.

First, as I said, pick two exercises. Compound exercises (multiple joint involvement) are best, i.e. deadlifts, squats, bench, or better yet side or bent presses, etc. One pushing and one pulling movement are best. You could probably get away with Clean and Jerks or snatches as well. You will do one exercise a day, alternating exercises every workout, hitting each exercise three times in two weeks. All the usual High Tension and safety concerns apply. For the purposes of this article we will assume you have chosen the deadlift and the side press as recommended in Pavel's Power to the People! You would start on a M,W,F schedule, deadlifting M and F, and W of the following week, and Side Pressing W, and M and F of the second week. Start with a weight that is comfortable for you in each, about 60-70% of your 5RM. Do 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps adding 5 lbs every workout. Add 5 lbs every other workout if you are starting relatively light, i.e. under 100 lbs The side press is a good example of this.

Your workout would look something like this, beginning with 5 sets of 5 reps for the first 2 weeks.

M deadlift 5 x 5 150 lbs
W SP 5 x 5 25 lbs
F deadlift 5 x 5 155 lbs
M SP 5 x 5 25 lbs
W deadlift 5x5 160 lbs
F SP 5x5 30 lbs

You get the idea. Now, here comes the fun part. When you can no longer perform your allotted number of sets and reps in good form, drop the final set. For example your deadlift progress would look something like this, assuming your 5 Rep Max is 160 lbs:

Workout 1 5 x 5 95 lbs (60% of 160 lbs)
WO 2 5 x 5 95 lbs
WO 3 5 x 5 100 lbs
WO 4 5 x 5 105 lbs
WO 5 5 x 5 110 lbs
WO 6 4 x 5 115 lbs
1 x 4 115 lbs

At this point, you would drop the last set you could not complete in good form, and continue on,

WO 7 4 x 5 120 lbs
WO 8 4 x 5 125 lbs
WO 9 3 x 5 130 lbs
1 x 4 130 lbs

Drop the 4th set and move on,

WO 10 3 x 5 135 lbs
WO 11 3 x 5 140 lbs
WO 12 3 x 5 145 lbs
WO 13 2 x 5 150 lbs
1 x 3 150 lbs
WO 14 2 x 5 155 lbs
WO 15 2 x 5 160 lbs -Your old 5RM!
WO 16 2 x 5 165 lbs
WO 17 1 x 5 170 lbs
1 x 3 170 lbs
WO 18 1 x 5 175 lbs
WO 19 1 x 5 180 lbs
WO 20 1 x 4 185 lbs

This is a gain of 25 lbs to your 5RM in about 3 months, and probably took less than five hours total in three months working out (considering 5 minute rests between sets). Not bad. At this point, you may either rest a few days and try for a new one rep max lift, or rest a week and begin again, starting with weight based on your new 5RM of 180 lbs.

Your individual results may vary, and probably will. This is just an example after all. You needn't start with 60% of your 5RM. I didn't. Your other exercise will probably progress and end differently, but you'll figure it out. That's it. Simple, eh? Thought so. Keep this up, and you'll be lifting alongside the best of them in no time flat. Either that or run out of weights and have to introduce a new exercise like I did.

You may incorporate other exercises if you wish into this schedule, but it's not necessary. If you goal is to tone up, get freakishly strong and use up little of your time, this is the program for you. '3 to 5'. Tweak it as you will, shorter rests for bigger muscles, etc., and see what results you have with the '3 to 5' program.