get strong

How to Get Strong as Hell in Only 3 Hours Per Week

“I know how to get strong. You’ve got to work out every day – I’ve got no time for that.”
“Come on man. Our gym’s far too busy to get a strength workout in – let’s just superset some arm exercises instead.”
“All these powerlifters spend hours in the gym every day – there’s no way I can commit to that.”


Sound familiar?

All the above are excuses people give for why they can’t get strong.

Hell, most of these people haven’t even TRIED a strength training program – they’ve given up before they’ve even started.

One of the main reasons people often give for not wanting to follow a strength-specific program is time. And it’s true – powerlifting-style routines CAN be time consuming.

Take something like Sheiko – we’re talking squatting or benching twice in the same session, performing a high number of sets, and handling loads that require long rest times.

What about Smolov? That 10×3 day? Wow – that’s a lot of gym time. Add in accessory work, and you could be talking a two-and-a-half to three hour workout.

But these programs are the exception. The average guy can use them, but it’d need to be the average guy with a lot of time on his hands.

You and I can’t spend all day in the gym. We’ve got other stuff to do.

Sure, we love training – there are few better feelings than ripping a heavy barbell off the floor, seeing chalk dust fly into the air as you clap your hands before a heavy lift, or the look on your training partner’s face as you smash your previous PR.

But we’ve got jobs, families, friends and commitments. This means we need a routine that gets us seriously strong, without requiring hour upon hour in the squat rack and around the bench press.

Enter the 3-Hour Workout Week

Here’s the battle – get in the necessary volume, frequency, and loads to build freakish strength, but in only 3 hours each week. What’s a guy to do?

Here’s a big tip – if strength is your goal, then make strength your priority.

Fitness and bodybuilding magazine workouts are crammed with filler – their workouts may take 90 minutes, but little of that is really of much use to you, my iron-loving friend.

If you strip these routines back there’s maybe half an hour of “good stuff.” When it comes to building brute strength, you want the bare minimum.

Still interested? Read on…..

Mastering the Basics

A finely-tuned strength routine needs only a few exercises.

We’ve got the “Big 3” –

–          Squats

–          Bench Presses

–          Deadlifts

These alone are awesome, but not quite enough to get optimal results, so we also need

–          Squat accessories

–          Bench press accessories

–          Deadlift accessories

Go with these six and you’re nearly there. There’s just one final component that you need –

–          Prehab work

Between these 7 categories, you have EVERYTHING you need for the perfect strength routine. Let’s take it a bit further –

Breaking Down the Categories

The Big 3

The big 3 are fairly straightforward.

Squats, bench presses and deadlifts – there’s not much more to it.

You can squat high bar or low bar, deadlift with a conventional or sumo stance and bench with whatever grip you find most comfortable. However you do them, the big 3 are the big 3.


Accessories aid with your strength on the big 3. Your best options are:

–          Squat

–          Paused Squats (with a 2 second count in the hole)

–          Front squats

–          Box squats

–          Safety bar squats

–          Bench Press

–          Paused bench press

–          Close-grip bench press

–          Board press

–          Incline bench press

–          Deadlift

–          Deficit deadlift

–          Paused deadlift

–          Snatch-grip deadlift

–          Block pull

(Other exercises can be used, of course. Above are the ones I’ve found to be most beneficial because they have the most carryover to strength gains.)


Prehab work covers a number of different exercises which aid injury prevention, and target areas that the big 3 and the accessories miss.

–          Direct hamstring/ lower-back work – back extensions, glute ham raises, barbell hip thrusts, heavy kettlebell swings.

–          Upper-back work – any row variation (dumbbell, barbell, machine, chest-supported) any vertical pull (chin-ups, pull-ups or pull-downs.)

–          Core work – rollouts, planks, leg raises.

The Format for How to Get Strong

That’s enough exercise chat. Here’s how your 3-hour week will run down –

–          You’ll do 3 one-hour sessions each week.

–          Every session will have one main lift, two accessories, and two prehab exercises.

–          You’ll hit each main lift once a week.

–          The big 3 lift will always come first and be the focus of your session.

–          Your two accessories will be for the other 2 of the big 3.

–          The two accessory and two prehab exercises can be any that you choose, but aim to vary them as much as possible.

–          You’ll work in 4-week periodised cycles, with volume increasing each week.

Sample Session

Here’s a sample session from week 1 to give an idea of how a session might look:

Exercise Category Sets Reps Load
Big 3 5 4 80% 1RM *
Accessory 4 6-8 RPE 9 ^
Accessory 4 6-8 RPE 9
Prehab 3 10-15 RPE 8
Prehab 3 10-15 RPE 9

* This 1RM should be your most recent gym maximum. If you recently hit a PR in a competition, take 90% of this to use for your 1RM. If you’re unsure of what your current max is, take an educated guess.

^ RPE refers to Rate of Perceived Exertion –

RPE 10 = All out maximum effort – this was a seriously tough rep and you had to grind through it.

RPE 9.5 = Still really tough, but the form was good and smooth.

RPE 9 = You had 1 more rep left in the tank.

RPE 8 = 2 more reps in the tank

RPE 7 = 3 more reps left

The Weekly Cycle

The above table will remain the same for each of your three workouts every week. What will change is your exercise selection.

For instance, you may decide that your first workout of the week will be –

–          Big 3 – Squat

–          Accessory #1 (Deadlift) – Deficit Deadlift

–          Accessory #2 (Bench Press) – Paused Bench Press

–          Prehab #1 (Upper back) – Wide Grip Pull-ups

–          Prehab #2 (Core) – Weighted vest ab wheel rollouts

After a day or two for rest, your second session would be –

–          Big 3 – Bench Press

–          Accessory #1 (Squat) – Front Squat

–          Accessory #2 (Deadlift) – Paused Deadlift

–          Prehab #1 (Upper back) – Chest supported dumbbell rows

–          Prehab #2 (Glutes/hams) – Heavy kettlebell swings

Your final session of the week would then be –

–          Big 3 – Deadlift

–          Accessory #1 (Bench Press) – Incline Bench Press

–          Accessory #2 (Squat) – Safety Bar Squat

Prehab #1 (Glutes/Hams) – Glute-ham raise

–          Prehab #2 (Core) – Hanging leg raises

Programming the Big 3

The foundation of this program, and the key to success, is properly programming your big 3.

Each week, the goal with the big 3 exercises is to increase the intensity from the week before. Week 1 should be relatively straightforward, week 2 is a little more challenging, week 3 gets serious, and week 4 is where things are tough.

Take a look at the loading guidelines for each lift –

Week 1 – 5 sets of 4 at 80% 1RM

Week 2 – 5 sets of 6 at 80% 1RM

Week 3 – 5 sets of 3 at 85% 1RM

Week 4 – 3 sets of 3 at 90% 1RM

If you picked your loads correctly, you should hit every single rep of every set in every week.

Programming the Accessory and Prehab Work

For the accessory and prehab work, you’ll use the RPE scale, as outlined earlier.

Be smart about this – the accessory and prehab exercises should be tough, but not brutal. They are there to assist you, build strength, hit weak parts and increase your main lifts. If you’re going all out on them, it will negatively impact recovery, you’ll miss lifts, and strength will start going backwards.

I encourage choosing different exercises throughout a cycle, and aiming to beat your previous reps or weight on an exercise each time you perform it.

This is similar to the method used for main lifts at Westside Barbell, wherein you don’t train a lift too frequently, but each time you do perform it, you beat your previous performance.

For example, we’ll look at your accessory work for the bench press. Here are two 4-week cycles, utilizing 4 exercises, and sticking to an RPE of around 9 –

Week 1

Paused Bench Press – 185lbs – 4 sets of 6

Incline Bench Press – 195lbs – 4 sets of 6

Week 2

Flat Dumbbell Press – 70lbs – 4 sets of 8

Board Press – 225lbs – 4 sets of 8

Week 3

Paused Bench Press – 185lbs – 2 sets of 8, 2 sets of 7

Incline Bench Press – 195lbs – 2 sets of 8, 2 sets of 7

Week 4

Flat Dumbbell Press – 75lbs – 4 sets of 6

Board Press – 235lbs – 4 sets of 6

Week 5

Paused Bench Press – 185lbs – 4 sets of 8

Incline Bench Press – 195lbs – 4 sets of 8

Week 6

Flat Dumbbell Press – 75lbs – 4 sets of 8

Board Press – 235lbs – 4 sets of 8

Week 7

Paused Bench Press – 195lbs – 4 sets of 6

Incline Bench Press – 205lbs – 4 sets of 6

Week 8

Flat Dumbbell Press – 80lbs – 4 sets of 6

Board Press – 245lbs – 4 sets of 6

This gives an idea of how you can increase a lift fairly substantially in just a few weeks, while remaining in your given set and rep range and incorporating the RPE scale.

The same method can be used for the prehab exercises, though these require an RPE of 8.

Should you stall or plateau on an exercise two times in a row, switch it out for something different. On the above example, this could mean changing to incline dumbbell presses, pin presses, chain bench presses and decline bench presses.

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Cycle to Cycle Adjustments

Progressing on the accessory and prehab work from one 4-week cycle to the next is incredibly easy using the above guidelines, but the big 3 exercises take a little more planning.

The idea is to increase your 1 rep max weight each 4-week cycle, then use the same percentages (80, 80, 85 and 90) so that you’re lifting a little heavier than the previous cycle each time.

How much you increase your max depends on how you found the previous cycle –

-          Hit every rep and found the program “easy” – add 15lbs to your squat and deadlift max and 10lbs to your bench press

-          Got all the reps and found it do-able – add 10lbs to your squat and deadlift max and 5lbs to your bench press.

-          Really struggled and only just about got every rep, or missed the odd one here and there – keep your maxes the same.

-          Missed more than 1 rep, or had some poor sessions – reduce your maxes by 10-15lbs for the squat and deadlift and 5-10lbs on the bench.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Not much really.

If you stick to the given rep ranges, sets, RPE guidelines and choose your exercises wisely, you’ll make better gains in strength than ever before, all in just 3 hours per week.

I’d advise deloading after two 4-week cycles, though you can deload more or less frequently should you feel the need. On a deload week, the easiest template is to simply pick exercises as you usually would, but perform just three sets of eight to 10 reps on everything at an RPE of 6 or 7.

One additional note is that to get optimal results from this program, you should be eating in a caloric surplus.

You might be thinking about trying to build brute strength while getting shredded to the bone, but here's the kicker - you just can't lose fat and build size and strength effectively at the same time. In his article "Adding Muscle While Losing Fat," Lyle McDonald writes that, when trying to cut body fat, your calories are too low to put you in an anabolic (gaining state) and when bulking, your calories will be too high to lose any fat. You need to pick one goal, and commit to it. (McDonald)

We’re not talking about cramming down 5,000 calories per day, replacing all your water with whole milk, or downing olive oil shots every few hours, but you do need to eat big.

How big?

Multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 16 if you’re largely sedentary, by 18 if you’re moderately active, or by 20 if you’re on your feet moving about all. That’s how many calories you need to be eating.

Not gaining? Add an extra hundred calories per day.

Getting stronger but getting fatter? Eat 100 calories less.

It really is that simple.

The majority of your nutrition should come from healthy, nutrient-dense foods. You know the ones – eggs, chicken, lean red meat, oats, potatoes, veggies and fruits, but there’s also some room for a bit of junk in there, especially if you’re shooting for a higher calorie target.

Kid’s cereals, PB&J sandwiches, pizza, ice cream, chocolate milk, or even the old IIFYM staple – Pop Tarts – are all fine to help get you those vital calories.

Eat big, train wisely and get strong as hell in only 3 hours per week.

About the Author

get strongMike Samuels is an online coach and personal trainer based in the UK, specialising in fat loss and strength performance. As a competitive powerlifter and former fat boy, Mike knows what it takes to get lean while gaining brute size and strength. Outside the gym, Mike enjoys good coffee, reading, writing and reading or writing while drinking good coffee.

Works Cited

McDonald, L. (n.d.). Retrieved 7 2014, from