2-3-5, 7-11 Weight Training Program

This entry is part 7 of 11 in the series Training Programs

The right kind of weight training can grow muscle in very little time. The 2-3-5, 7-11 program gives you maximum benefit in as little as 20 minutes every 7 to 10 days.

Originally published 2004

The goal of your training program is to grow muscle. To to that, you need to do enough to stress the muscle and promote release of growth hormone. To accomplish that goal, you want to do Romanian Sets, especially for the exercises that are using the large muscles of the legs, back, and chest.

If you’re a woman, don’t worry about getting all bulky and angular. Unless you take testosterone supplements, you can’t. And note too, that bone grows only when the surrounding muscles put stress on it. You can take all the supplements you want, but bone mass won’t increase significantly until you engage in weight-bearing activities.
Learn more: Your Body NEEDS Weight Training.

Romanian Sets

2-3 for Warmup Sets

This is the Romanian Training program. You do no more than 2 reps in your warm up sets, as you work up to your target weight. In other words, you’re just warming up the muscle. You’re not stressing it with a high volume of activity.

In addition, you do 2 reps only in your lightest warm up sets. For the rest, you’ll do 1 rep. When you’re first starting, and haven’t dialed in your target weight, you may well pick a weight that’s too heavy. One rep will be plenty! Or you may pick a weight that is way too light. Do a couple of reps, and pick something heavier.

Ideally, you’ll do a total of 3 warm up sets. For example: 2 at 50% of your target weight, 1 at 85%, and 1 at 95%.

3-5 reps at Your Target Weight

The target weight concept is critical for building muscle mass in the safest and most effective manner possible. The goal is to be using a weight that does let you get to 3 reps, but which does not let you do more than 5 reps.


  • Your 1-rep maximum is the biggest weight you can lift, no more than one time.
    In other words, you can’t do 2 reps at that weight. That is the most effective way to build muscle. It’s the strategy that power lifters use. But it also has highest risk of injury or muscle strain.
  • Using your 2-rep maximum weight reduces the risk of injury, but it’s still higher than most would like.
  • The 3-5 rep range produces maximum growth, with minimal risk.
  • Any more than 5 reps is pretty much a waste of time, when it comes to building muscle.
  • Your muscle store enough creatine for a 10-second burst of maximum effort.
    (That’s why a sprint is 100 yards. You can go that far in about 10 seconds.

Doing anything more than 5 reps just increases soreness, without building muscle:

  • After that 10-second burst, the muscle has to rely on secondary energy sources.
  • Those processes create metabolic by-products that you experience as soreness.
    (In other words, on the 3-5 program, you not only build muscle rapidly, you don’t get sore.)
  • To combat the soreness, your muscles retain water, so they get bigger — but not stronger.
    (So they look good, but they don’t perform any better — and you, meanwhile, are living with the soreness!)

If you’re in the right rep range, you’ll find that you if can only do three reps this week, you’ll be able to do 4 next week, and maybe just barely squeak out 5. The next week, 5 will be pretty easy to manage. A 6th will be hard (but it’s good to attempt it). At that point, make a note in your training record that it’s time to up the weight in your next session. If you increment by the right amount, you should find yourself just barely able to squeak out 3 reps in that session.

Squeakers are best!
When you can just barely manage that last rep, you grow the most!

What About the Smaller Muscles?

As noted earlier, you definitely want to be doing Romanian Sets for the large muscles of the legs, back and chest. For smaller muscles like the arms, Romanian Sets still work. But it can be more time-effective to skip the detailed sequence and just do a warm up set or two, followed by the target-range set. If your goal is simply to “get fit”, that’s sufficient. But if your goal is to maximize strength and build maxium muscle, follow the Romanian program for every exercise.

The 7-11 Recovery Period

This is the other important aspect of the plan. As Dr. Michael Colgan writes in his New Power Program book, a muscle spends a few days recovering from a strenuous effort, and another few days “overbuilding”, which is when the real growth happens.

For optimal growth, then, you want to allow 7 to 10 days recovery time between sessions. (I say “7-11”, just because it’s more memorable, and because I find that after 14 days, I’m still lifting heavier weight than the last time — a sign that I’m fully recovered and “overbuilt” from the previous session.

Copyright © 2004-2017, TreeLight PenWorks

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