Last Update  On February 15, 2012
Building Muscle With 10x3

by Vladi
I guess most of you are familiar with rep ranges such as 3x10, 5x5, 3x5 but have you ever heard of 10x3? I guess not.

10X3 calls for 10 sets of 3 reps and is a really underrated scheme for building muscle mass. Many people will say that the 10 x 3 method was “created” by Chad Waterbury but I've heard about it from various places and don't know which is the original source. 

"Does 10x3 build muscle? That's only 3 reps per set. Ronnie Coleman does 25.

Look, 10x3 calls for only 3 reps per set but at the same time you are doing 10 sets total. In other words if I do 3x10 and 10x3 I did the same number of reps. However 10x3 will provide the following benefits:

- You will be able to have perfect form on each rep - the less you do the easier it is to have perfect form.

- You will use heavy weights compared to 3x10 - in most cases you can start with 75-80% of your maximum.

- You feel fresh at the end even thought you are doing 10 sets.

"But isn't the workload the same as 3x10?"

In term of reps - Yes. In terms of weight - No. If I  decide to do 3x10 I will have to use something like 70% of my maximum but if I go for 10x3 I can use 80%.

If my maximum is 100lbs and I decided to perform 3x10 that's 30 reps x 70 lbs = 2100 lbs moved.

If I go for 10x3 that's 30 reps x 80lbs = 2400 lbs moved. That's 300 lbs higher workload. Let's be honest - heavier weights build bigger muscles.

" I should do 10 x 3 for every exercise? This sounds like too much."

There is no way you will be able to use 10x3 for more than one exercise per workout. It takes too long. I recommend that you use it only for compound exercises - squats, deadlift, bench, pull-ups...etc. Otherwise sessions will take 2 hours and you will start to feel drained. The goal of 10x3 is to allow the athlete to leave the gym fresh while others are doing endless sets of curls and buy bullshit supplements due to lack of results.

"Should I train to failure on 10x3?"

No. You should never train to complete failure. It's counter-productive and too stressful on the CNS. I will give you an example. I used to perform 3-4 sets of pull-ups until complete failure each. Of course my form on those last reps was questionable and I was feeling mentally tired after one set. I switched to 10x3. I didn't go to failure. Maybe close to it but definitely not to failure. After the first sessions I was not even hungry. The next day my lats were sore from head to bottom like never before. I'm dead serious. Especially my left lat was so sore at the portion close to the spine that it hurt to breath and bend/extend my spine. And this is coming form a guy who hasn't missed a pull-up or back workout workout in the last year or so. In other words I wasn't new to pull-ups but the workload increased so much that my body had no choice but to complain. The cool thing is that you never feel mentally destroyed during a workout if you do 10x3. The next day is another story....

"How much should I rest between sets?"

For hypertrophy up to 2-3 minutes if the weight is demanding. Start with 1 min and gradually add more time to the rest periods. For strength I would cut the sets to 8 and do 8x3 instead of 10x3 with as much as 5-7 minutes between sets.

10x3 has many benefits but the most important thing is that it allows you to do a lot of quality work without reaching failure. It also is good for both - hypertrophy focused training and strength increase goals.

"When should I add weight?"


When you can do a certain weight for 10x3 add 5 pounds the next week. Keep adding weight as long as you can perform all 10x3 sets. Then you go to 8x3 for a while and once that gets tough it's time to reset and start another cycle with slightly heavier weight than your initial weight.

Example: Squats 10x3 ; Starting weight 200 lbs

Cycle 1

Week 1: 200 lbs 10x3
Week 2: 205 lbs 10x3
Week 3: 210 lbs 10x3
Week 4: 215 lbs 10x3
Week 5  220 lbs 10x3
Week 7  225 lbs 10x3 - it gets harder
Week 8  227 lbs 8x3
Week 9  230 lbs 8x3
Week 9  235 lbs 8x3 - it's not getting any easier; form suffers; 

End of cycle

Cycle 2

Week 1: 210 lbs 10x3

You start the second cycle with a weight that is 10 pounds heavier than the starting weight for the previous cycle and you build back up until you reach a personal record and than you repeat.

"Dude, why should I cycle?"

In order to avoid plateaus and injuries. Linear progression works only for a few months when you are a beginner. After that you have to cycle - having periods when you do two steps back in order to progress three steps forward. It also avoids CNS fatigue and allows you to build a solid base.

Good Luck. Have fun getting bigger and stronger with 10x3.
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