The “3 to 5” Approach: The Only Strength and Power Exercise Protocol You Will Ever Need
5 Reasons Why Strength and Power are Critical for Longevity and The “3 to 5” Training Approach
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been digging deep into exercise through the lens of the 9 exercise adaptations:
Hypertrophy (Muscle size)
Max Anaerobic Endurance
Max Aerobic Endurance
Long Duration Endurance
If you missed any articles in our recent series on exercise, here are the links to catch up:
To keep the spirit alive, we’re going to continue deconstructing the world of exercise so you are fully armed with the principles, strategies, and tactics to design an effective and well-rounded exercise program that works for you.
Why am I hammering exercise so hard?
World-renowned longevity practitioner Dr. Peter Attia is far more qualified than I to answer that question:
“The good news: we have a “drug” that is very effective at delaying the onset of death and preserving healthspan. This drug is called exercise, and nothing else rivals it.
The bad news: it takes more time and effort than ingesting any pill or employing any “hack.”
Now, onto this week’s topic: training for Strength and Power.
5 Reasons To Be Strong and Powerful
Let’s start with some definitions.
Power is speed multiplied by force.
Strength is a measure of force. It is the ability of your muscles to create force through a movement.
Strength and power are NOT just for pro athletes. You would be cheating yourself to not develop as much strength and power as possible.
With age, you naturally lose muscle and become weaker.
After the age of 40, the stats are alarming:
You lose 1% of muscle size per year
You lose 2-4% of strength per year
You lose 8-10% of muscle power per year
These losses compound in an extremely detrimental way.
Preserving muscle power and strength as you age is critical to your quality of life downline.
If you want to be able to stand up and move confidently in old age, catch yourself from a fall, and prevent injury, you must train for power, strength, and hypertrophy.
But you don’t have to wait until you’re a senior to enjoy the benefits of being stronger and more powerful.
Every aspect of human movement will be enhanced as you become stronger and more powerful.
Here are 5 reasons why you should train for power, strength, and hypertrophy (the last of which we will cover in a future article):
Reason #1: Look good, Feel good, Play good.
Looking good is subjective.
My goal is to give you the tools required to look good – whatever that means in your eyes.
To dispel a common myth, you can absolutely get stronger and become more powerful without putting on muscle mass.
So if you don’t want to bulk up but want to be stronger, the “3 to 5” Approach explained below is for you.
As a rule of thumb, the more important it is to you to not put on muscle mass while becoming stronger, perform more sets of a lower number of repetitions. For example, 8 sets of 3 reps.
Conversely, you can absolutely put on muscle mass while becoming stronger.
But the goal of strength and power training is to become stronger and more powerful, not bigger. If your sole goal is to put on more muscle, focus on hypertrophy training.
Everyone wants to feel good.
That means being injury-free, having energy all day long, feeling powerful, vital, and strong, and not battling nagging pain or constant stiffness.
Playing good means being able to do anything you want when you want to do it.
You should be able to surf, hike, play tennis, hockey, or golf, and feel good both when you’re doing it and at the end of the day.
And if you want to do all of these in one day, you should be able to!
Reason #2: Live independently in old age.
Resistance training is the best tool we have to combat neuromuscular aging.
Our neuromuscular system is essential to the process of human movement.
In laymen’s terms, movement is a 3-step process:
Step 1: The nerves signal to the muscles (neuromuscular activation).
Step 2: The muscles contract.
Step 3: Those muscles move a bone.
If you want to live independently into old age, you must be able to move.
Any dysfunction in your neuromuscular system will prevent you from moving or moving well enough to live alone.
And the only way to keep your neuromuscular system strong enough to fend off the trials of time is by strength training.
Reason #3: Increase bone strength.
Bone mineral density, your bone strength, improves with resistance training.
If you’re reading this in your teens and twenties, you have a massive advantage as your bones will be most responsive when you’re young.
However, there is still hope if you’re past your twenties.
Your ability to strengthen your bones may be diminished but it is not zero.
Axial loading, or training in an up/down movement pattern, will drive the biggest benefits for increasing bone strength.
I highly recommend getting somewhat regular DEXA scans to measure and track your bone mineral density along with other key measures such as lean mass and fat mass.
Reason #4: Strengthen connective tissue and reduce injury risk.
Skeletal muscle is not the only tissue that benefits from resistance training.
Connective tissue (ligaments and tendons) becomes stronger with strength training.
Developing stronger connective tissues is one of the major reasons that strength training can reduce your risk of stress, strain, and overuse injuries.
Reason #5: Don’t become part of the “Fall Statistic.”
Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among adults aged 65 and older.
Building strength and power will reduce your risk of becoming part of that unfortunate statistic.
The “3 to 5” Approach: The Only Strength and Power Exercise Protocol You Will Ever Need
The “3 to 5” Approach is the only protocol you need to develop strength and power.
There are slight differences between how the modifiable variables are tweaked depending on whether your goal is strength or power, but most of the protocol remains the same:
Pick 3-5 exercises
Do 3-5 repetitions per set
Rest 3-5 minutes between each set
Perform 3-5 sets per session
Train 3-5 days per week
The “3 to 5” Approach can be used in combination with endurance and hypertrophy training as long as your total volume isn’t causing high amounts of fatigue to the detriment of your strength or power training.
To understand how different training types impact each other, check out this chart of interference.
Let’s go through how each of the modifiable variables should be pulled when training for strength or power.
Pick 3-5 exercises per workout.
A common mistake people make is doing new exercises each time they workout.
You can vary up the movements you select across sessions within the week, but stick to the same few movements within that week for at least 8-12 weeks at a time.
When training for strength and power, select compound, complex, multi-joint movements based on movement pattern (push, pull, squat, hip hinge, rotation).
Think about the exercises you select through the lens of movements rather than muscle groups.
The primary goal of strength and power training is not to develop a muscle as it is with hypertrophy training.
It is to improve a functional outcome.
So, instead of thinking “I need to train my chest” or “I want to grow my legs” shift your thinking to “I need to train explosive hip extension” or “I want to train a pushing or pulling or rotation movement.”
For well-roundedness and to prevent imbalances, select your exercises to create a reasonable balance across each movement pattern.
Here are a few examples:
Push: bench press, overhead press
Pull: (weighted) pull-ups, barbell rows
Squat: back squat, front squat, Bulgarian split squat
Hip hinge: deadlifts, kettlebell swing
You can also implement complex movements such as Turkish get-ups, clean and jerks, and snatches.
Be careful while performing any of these movements.
Compound lifts take great technique to perform correctly. Educate yourself, start light, and tape your sets to ensure your form is correct.
Quality is the primary driver of improvements in strength and power.
That means it is critically important to avoid doing anything fatiguing prior to a strength or power session. So, DO NOT train for endurance or hypertrophy before a “3 to 5” workout.
Being as fresh as possible going into these workouts will allow you to put top-notch quality into every single rep.
Compound lifts are also extremely neurologically demanding.
They are complicated, involve multiple joints, have multiple steps which sometimes occur in multiple planes, and require coordination and focus to perform the movement properly and with maximal intention.
Any amount of fatigue going into one of these sessions will compromise your results.
Perform 3-5 reps per set and 3-5 sets per session.
At the end of a “3 to 5” session, feel free to perform some accessory hypertrophy or endurance training.
If you were trying to maximize strength only, as competitive powerlifters might, you would do nothing outside of your strength training.
But our overarching goal is well-rounded health geared towards extending lifespan and maximizing healthspan.
The interference effect from hypertrophy or endurance training is too small for us to worry about.
Just don’t go so hard that your next strength or power session will be compromised due to fatigue.
Quality drives improvement in strength and power.
Rest for 3-5 minutes between each set.
If you’re training for strength, a set should only be counted towards the 3-5 total working sets when you are using 70% or more of your one rep max. For more guidance on how to properly assign volume and intensity, consult Prilepin’s chart.
If you’re training for power, use 30-70% of your one rep max depending on the number of reps and sets you perform.
Remember, quality drives strength and power improvements. You should experience little to no fatigue as a result of this training.
The “3 to 5” Protocol: Time Saver
Resting for 3-5 minutes between each set will feel long.
But DO NOT cheat yourself on rest.
Quality drives strength and power gains. Skimping on rest will cause your quality to plummet along with your progress.
If you want to save a lot of time and are okay with sacrificing a tiny bit of quality (you should be okay with this unless you’re a pro athlete) then you can superset.
For example, after completing a set of squats and starting the timer for your 3-5 minutes of rest, you can walk over and do a set of pull-ups.
Just do not superset exercises that work the same major muscles as this will result in subpar quality.
Perform 3-5 sessions per week.
Don’t forget to make time for endurance training too.
Aim for a 3-5% increase in intensity (the weight or load) per week and/or a 5% increase in volume (number of reps multiplied by sets, keeping reps per set below 5) per week.
For structure and goal setting, it helps to split your training into 8-12 week blocks with a deload or back-off week after 5 weeks of consistent training.
As long as you continue to progressive overload by increasing intensity and/or volume, you can continue improving for a very long time with this program.
That’s all for this week, folks.
I hope these articles are helping you better understand the profound benefits of exercise and providing you with effective strategies to build a well-rounded program that works for you.
Experiment, keep what you find to be useful, and discard the rest.
And, most importantly, be consistent in whatever you do.
Much love to you and yours,