“What does following in the footsteps of everyone else get you? It gets you to exactly the same conclusions as everyone else.” — Ryan Holiday


From warm-up to drop-off; 3 sets, 9 reps, done…

I’m obviously utilizing ARXFit equipment here, well… because it’s awesome, and I have access to it.  I employ this same idea, though, when using free weights.  If you looked at some of my past TBDL workouts, for example, you’d see this 3-set protocol expanded by 2 sets on either side.  So for the same physiological target result (in this case, working toward a 3-rep circa-max effort), I’d be looking at a 7-set, Autoregulated protocol.

Note: if you’re unfamiliar with “autoreguation”, “drop-off”, “periodization”, and/or “feel-out sets”, you might want to check out these posts:

Let’s discuss this with a working, real-life example.

The screenshot above is of my initial set of ARXFit horizontal chest presses.  3 reps, with a TUL (time under load / tension) of approximately 41 seconds.  The red-and-black trace is a real-time readout of my current set vs (in gray) the last set of my previous horizontal press workout.  Force is displayed here in ft-lbs of torque.

We can readily see from this readout that I’m down between 10 and 13% across the board.  And this is as compared to the drop-off numbers of my last workout which, themselves, are about 5% off of my circa-max numbers.  But that’s ok; this is my first set, and the intent is to “feel-out”, “prime”, and get the cns ready to rock & roll.  My point here being that warming-up — build-up, feel-out sets — whatever you want to call them, are vitally important to wring the most out of every workout.

Which is to say:

  1. I don’t believe in the single set to failure model for maximizing results, and
  2. most trainees spend way too much time in the “warm-up” process, squandering valuable energy and resources that could be better utilized.

So, as in most things in life, the best answer does not reside in the extremes, but in the nuance.

In the case of today’s workout, the sweet spot is the proper queuing of musculature, connective tissue, and cns to perform the task (reaching for a 3-rep circa-max) in a manner which derives most bang for the buck.  If racking up volume were the order of the day, this wouldn’t be such a big deal — any and all directed volume would be welcome into the sum total.  But what we’re looking for here is the convergence of efficiency and effectiveness; the maximum return on time and effort investment.

This is what most busy people want (and actually, need) out of their workout routines; the 80%, of the 80/20 rule.  The biggest bang for the buck.  This is, in fact, the model around which we built Efficient Exercise.

So today’s intent was to hit a 3 rep circa-max, and inroad the musculature (i.e., achieve a drop-off) to the tune of no more than 5%.

Let’s look at the second set:


Now the gray trace is the initial “feel-out” from above.  The red and black trace depicts the 2nd set.  To be expected, up across the board.  Take notice especially of the intensity (power output) and total work performed (Output — tracked via the blue trace in the small box).  And you can’t see it here, but that 517 max output is down about 6% or so from my all-time max (that I hit on this machine just a few weeks ago).  Many, *many* factors involved in that — namely an 8+ mile fixie huck in 100+ degree weather before I dove into this workout. However, this is the beauty of autoregulation: do what I can today, and under today’s host of variables; keep the table set for the big leaps that will come.

And now for the 3rd, and what was to be the final, set of 3.


Again, the gray trace depicts the prior (in this case, 2nd set), the red/black depicts the current 3rd set.  Down 3+% across the board.  For the day’s intent, that’s good enough for me.

I might have been able to get 1 more set of 3 in without dropping into greater than a 5% inroad.  However, I knew I had another 8 mile ride in the 100+ degree heat ahead of me, so I let discretion be the better part of valor.  And, too, I had 2 other lifts in the mix, so the total overall body hit was pretty extreme.

The entirety of the day’s activity, via the TTP Facebook group:

Screen Shot 2017 07 04 at 11.16.51 AM

Heal thyself, harden thyself, change the world –



  1. I recently listened to an interview with Jon Jon Park, Reg Park’s son. Following in his father’s footsteps, he was a bodybuilder briefly (after a career as a competitive swimmer) and then made a career as a personal trainer with his own gym. In the interview, he talks about Reg Park’s 5X5 training protocol. I had not realized that this was not done as sets across, but included two warmup sets and a drop set. So sets 1 and 2 would be something like 60% and 80% of the working weight, then two sets at 100%, then a drop back set to finish.

    Jon Jon, who is now 59, uses the same idea, but now with only three sets: warmup, 100% effort, then a drop set.

    It sounds very similar in principle to what you are describing here.

    • Craig!

      There are many versions of Bill Starr’s 5 x 5 program, and what you mention here is one of them. The original program had a Heavy (Monday), light (Wednesday) and medium (Friday) loading scheme, and looked something like this:

      Monday – Heavy power clean, squat, and bench: 5 sets x 5 reps for each exercise, ramping the weight in each set so that the last set is as heavy as can handled with good form.

      Wednesday – light day; same “big 3” exercises: 5 sets x 5 reps for each exercise using approximately 70-75% of the top end weight from Monday.

      Friday – Medium day; same “big 3” exercises: 5 sets x 5 reps for each exercise using approximately 80-85% of the top end weight from Monday.

      Wash, rinse, repeat.

      Like most effective programs, there’s no magic involved. Just hard work 😉

      • I agree: no magic! But I find it very interesting when people far apart in time, and from different backgrounds end up finding value in a similar concept, e.g., warmup, hard set, backoff set.


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