Singles For Strength

by Jason F. Keen

Training with singles is a great way to build strength. In fact, over the last few years, I have trained almost exclusively on singles and 3x3 (3 sets of 3 reps) rep schemes. While there are many so-called 'experts' who would tell you that singles don't really build strength, or that you must train with higher reps to gain size, the results will speak for themselves if you give singles training a try…

Singles Scheme 1

One way that I implement singles into my schedule is to train 'frequent practice' style. This is basically the style of training I have come up with after reading Pavel Tsatsouline's books and then meeting him and attending some of his seminars. I will basically pick a handful of lifts, and do them 4-5 times a week, usually hitting 3-4 top singles on each lift at each workout. Half the lifts will be trained with 'heavy' singles one day, and the other half will be trained heavy the next. When it is not a heavy day for a particular lift, I use the weight from the day before minus 10-20%, and focus on speed and perfect form. I will start at about 75% of my current max on the heavy days at the beginning of the cycle, and I raise the weight about 5 pounds at each heavy day on each exercise. Once I have hit new PRs for multiple singles for a few days in a row and/or start plateauing, I will back-cycle and start all over, or possibly shift into a routine that has the week split up along bodypart lines..

I go more in depth into this kind of training on my 'Productive Routine' page, so check it out there…

Singles Scheme 2

Another good way to work singles is a schedule that is halfway between Pavel's ideas and Steve Justa's. Again, pick a few lifts and do them all 4-6 times a week. This time, you will keep the weight constant over the course of the week and increase the number of singles at each session. You might do 3, 6, 9, 12, and 15 singles at each of 5 different workouts for each lift during the course of the week. Obviously, this cycle is similar to the Pavel one above, except that instead of adding weight at each workout (increasing load) you add reps at each workout (increasing the volume).

Also, with this workout, compensatory acceleration is used on all singles; that is, you strive to use perfect form but also to contract your muscles as hard as possible and accelerate the bar. Each week add 5 to 10 pounds to the bar on each lift and proceed with the required number of singles at each workout. What I generally do is, every fourth week I will do an isometric-only workout on Tuesday where I do each of the lifts at each of 3 positions, and then on Friday I will try to hit new PR singles on all the lifts. I will then start the whole month-long cycle over the next Tuesday or Monday.

For example:

Week 1
Monday (3 singles) AM- DL, Behind-the-neck Press PM- Squat, Snatch
Tuesday (6 singles) AM- DL, Behind-the-neck Press PM- Squat, Snatch
Wednesday (9 singles) AM- DL, Behind-the-neck Press PM- Squat, Snatch
Friday (12 singles) AM- DL, Behind-the-neck Press PM- Squat, Snatch
Saturday (15 singles) AM- DL, Behind-the-neck Press PM- Squat, Snatch

Week 2
Same as week 1, but add 10 pounds to squat and DL, 5 pounds to BTNeck Press and Snatch.

Week 3
Same as weeks 1 and 2, but add 10 more pounds to DL and Squat, and 5 more pounds to Press and Snatch.

Week 4
Tuesday (3-position isometrics) DL, Press, Squat, Pulls
Friday (PR singles) DL, Press, Squat, Snatch

Week 5
Start over; Becomes new week 1, but use 75% of new PRs from previous Friday.

A couple other notes about this scheme is that it is best to use right after you have done a lot of varied work for each bodypart. That is, if you have been doing a leg day, back day, overhead day, and event day or something, where you work a lot of different movements at each workout, this schedule will be good for 'consolidating' your strength and pushing up your speed and power on these few big lifts. What I like to do is go from a couple months of this schedule straight into a couple months of another Steve Justa-type of workout where I do the same 4 lifts, but on day 1 I do only bottom-position partials, either just doing reps in the first few inches of the ROM on each lift, or doing 1 and 1/4 lifts (squat down, come up; squat down, come 1/4 of the way up; squat down, come up; squat down, come 1/4 of the way up; etc…). Then, on the next day, you do top-position partials, where you simply complete the last few inches of each lift for a few reps/sets. The third day you do a few of the speed reps with 75%, and then start pulling heavy singles in 25-50 pound jumps until you hit a new max. Take a day or two off, and start over with the bottom-position partials…

Singles Scheme 3

Another way I put singles to use is to do my 'simplified strongman workout,' but to use singles on all gym lifts. These singles are not done at any specific percent, or necessarily for a max, either. I will just go according to feel. Some days I will go a little lighter (85%) and really work on speed and form, doing a couple singles with the same weight, and some days when I feel good I might try for a new max, and then hit that weight for a couple reps. I also usually use isometrics or negative reps on one exercise at each workout.

-Squat (alternate with DL e/o week)
-Front Squats
-Good Mornings (on Squat day) alternated e/o week with:
-RDLs w/Reverse Hypers w/ Seated Leg Curls (on DL day)
-Zercher Squats

-BTNeck Press (alternate with Clean/Military/Push Press complex e/o week)
-High Pulls or Power Cleans or Power Snatch or Log Cleans
-Dips; supersetted with:
-Narrow-Grip Bench; supersetted with:
-Log Bar Rows, or 2-arm Dumbbell Rows (to simulate rowing the log)

-Strongman Events
-whatever events I will be doing at my next comp.; if no comp. upcoming I will either do a grip day or farmer's walks, tire flips, stone loading, and harness pulls.

-Speed Squats
-Speed Overhead DB Press or Military Press
-Speed DLs
-Speed Bench

For the speed bench, squat, and overhead stuff, use the Westside method of waving the weight between 55 and 70%, and stick to 8-12 sets of doubles. For the DLs, do singles, and use the following protocol:
One other idea is just to do Shrug Bar lifts on the speed day using the above Westside protocol, and to do so in place of both the speed DLs and squats. Then you can shorten the workout down to Shrug Bar DLs and overhead presses for your speed work, which makes for a pretty quick and invigorating workout.

In Conclusion…

Now you have a few different ways to incorporate singles and partials into your gym work. Remember, form is always key on singles and partials, whether they be heavy or speed work. If done properly, singles will probably become your key to super-strength, and your favorite rep range will close up to being between 0 and 2.

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