When was the last time you performed singles in your training plan? If you're a strength athlete, your answer might just be, "last Thursday." But if you're someone who simply wants to get bigger and stronger, without necessarily ever competing, training with singles has probably never crossed your mind.

I want to change that.

Let me first define what a "single" is. It's one repetition.

A rather heavy "single."

Okay, that was easy. Let's move on.

Me and My Friends

For years, Pavel Tsatsouline, Charles Staley, and I (to name a few) have been extolling the virtues of cutting reps and adding sets. The ten sets of three (10x3) method is very popular because it works.

We all know that 3x10 has its values, but sometimes the best solution to your problem is to do the "opposite."

Now, let me say that 10x3 really isn't the opposite of 3x10. Both consist of 30 total reps, and the maximum load you can use for either method really isn't too far apart (76-84% of your one repetition maximum [1RM]). For example, most people can do 3x10 with 76-80% of their 1RM.

But with 10x3, you can usually up the load to 80-84% of your 1RM. Sure, that might not sound like much, but the muscle and strength gains that people experience with 10x3 compared to 3x10 is proof enough that the extra few pounds makes a big difference.

So it makes sense to increase the load even further, and keep the volume as high as possible.

Cutting Reps

I've been experimenting with singles for quite a spell. I always come back to singles with my clients and myself when the ultimate goal is size and strength, simultaneously. The reason why singles are so effective is because they keep fatigue in check, even when you're training with heavy weights.

When you do a single, endurance is never a limiting factor. Even sets with typically low reps (4-6) can crank up a person's anaerobic glycolysis if a compound exercise is used, the sets are high, and the rest periods are short. That's great for fat loss and boosting your anaerobic threshold, but sometimes we want to limit those factors in favor of heavier loads and bigger muscles.

The problem is, most people equate singles with a very low number of sets. If you want to get big, you must train with sufficient volume. Three or four sets of singles won't do jack shit for your muscle mass. You need more sets.

Many, many, many more.

Volume and Mass

Virtually any training load will build muscle if you perform enough volume. Ten sets of ten will make your muscles bigger. So will 4x25, 2x50, and 1x100. But if you spend any more than a week or two with such parameters, your maximal strength will tank quicker than a movie starring Pauly Shore.

So the answer to training for size and strength simultaneously is simple: train with heavy loads and sufficient volume. This approach supports the postulate that a certain amount of fatigue is necessary for hypertrophy. More sets result in more fatigue. The key is to balance out the volume and fatigue as much as possible. I've experimented with singles enough to know how many reps you'll need to induce enough fatigue for growth, but not so much that it burns you out.

To maintain your maximal strength, the training load must be at least 80% of your 1RM. But a much better alternative is to augment that number to the 85-90% range.

How do you get sufficient volume with such a large load? Singles!

Choose Your Weapon

For this program you'll be performing a lot of sets: 20-24. That doesn't leave room for any movements that don't work tons of muscle groups at once. Your exercise selection must be as efficient as possible.

Here are the movements you should choose from, separated into two categories (A and B).

A Movements:

Push press
Chin-up or pull-up

B Movements:


You can use any variations of the above movements. For example, you can do a back squat, front squat, overhead squat, Zercher squat, etc.

The Zercher squat

You'll choose one movement from each category, as I'll outline later.

Load Your Weapon

The load (weight) you should use for these workouts is 85-90% of your 1RM. If you're new to singles, or if you haven't been training with heavy weights since Walter Mondale's presidential bid, stick with the lower end of the spectrum. If you're well conditioned, aim for 88-90%.

However, you can use 80% of your 1RM for the first few workouts until you get the hang of it. But bump up your weight to 85% after the first week.

Frequency and Supplementation

Since you'll be training with heavy loads for all workouts, I recommend a frequency of no more than three workouts per week. You can start with two workouts per week for the first week, but you'll need to add in a third workout. Here's one that works well to complement the other two singles workouts for the first week.

Load: medium (a weight you could lift 10-12 times before failure)

A1) Dip
Rest 45 seconds

A2) Chin-up
Rest 45 seconds

A3) Deadlift
Rest 45 seconds

A4) Reverse lunge
Rest 60 seconds and repeat three more times

After one week of training heavy for two workouts, drop the above workout and perform three heavy workouts with singles.

It's very difficult to train heavy for more than 3-4 weeks before you need a break. You can burn out fast with nothing but heavy weights. Therefore, supplementing with the following protocol will make a big difference in terms of your results and recovery.

Do the following before and after every workout.

2-3 hours before training

Consume a meal with a caloric balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

5-15 minutes before training

Consume 10 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) with 1/2 serving of Surge.

Take 10 grams (8 tablets) right before you begin your training.

5-15 minutes after training

Consume 10 grams of BCAAs with 1/2 to 1 serving of Surge and 5 grams of creatine.

45-60 minutes after training

Consume 40 grams of protein powder with 1/2 cup raisins.

Program Structure

Choose one movement from the A category and one from the B category for each workout. Use a different movement for all three workouts each week.

If your workout consists of nothing more than the two movements for 20-24 sets, you'll be in great shape. However, you can always throw in supplemental work at the end of the workouts. You can't go wrong with external rotations, hip abduction, side lunges, and serratus work. The supplemental exercises are up to you. Perform no more than 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps.

The rest periods are short (30 seconds) for the movements with singles. Intuitively, it seems that you'd need longer rest periods since the load is heavy. This is not the case, as you'll soon find out. You'll be amazed at how fast your nervous system jacks up its output once you get the first 8-10 sets under your belt. Now, I'm not saying these workouts will be easy. They won't. But no one ever built an incredible physique without a little blood, sweat and tears.

Here's a sample plan for the workout with singles and supplemental exercises.


Sets: 20
Rest: 30 seconds between each set
Load: 85-90% 1RM

Power clean

Sets: 3
Reps: 8
Rest: 30 seconds between each exercise
Load: as heavy as possible

A1) External rotation
A2) Hip abduction
A3) Reverse crunch


Sets: 20
Rest: 30 seconds between each set
Load: 85-90% 1RM

Overhead squat

Sets: 3
Reps: 8
Rest: 30 seconds between each exercise
Load: as heavy as possible

A1) Calf raise
A2) Reverse curl
A3) Woodchop


Sets: 20
Rest: 30 seconds between each set

Push press

Sets: 3
Reps: 10
Rest: 30 seconds between each exercise
Load: as heavy as possible

A1) Push-up plus
Note: this is just a push up while pushing your shoulder blades apart at the top of the movement.
A2) EZ bar reverse curl
A3) Side lunge


Week 2: increase load 2% and perform 22 sets with all A and B exercises.

Week 3: increase load 2% and perform 24 sets with all A and B exercises.

Week 4: return to higher rep training for 3 weeks.

Singles for Specialization

Up to this point, I've outlined a kickass total body plan to boost size and strength. However, you might not need to add overall mass. Maybe you just want to bring up a lagging body part or two?

Decent overall mass, but with one or two lagging parts.

Well, you're in luck. If you perform 24 sets of heavy singles for a lagging muscle group, it'll get big – fast! Such an approach, however, won't leave much time for anything else. So you might want to simply add in the 24x1 method to your current plan on an off day, especially if it's a split routine.

Let's say you want to boost your biceps. Here's what you'll do for two workouts each week.

Workout 1

Sets: 24
Rest: 20 seconds
Load: 85-90% 1RM
Reverse curl

Workout 2 (3-4 days later)

Sets: 24
Rest: 20 seconds
Load: 85-90% 1RM
Hammer curl

You can, of course, use any isolation movement you want, depending on your weaknesses. Just be sure to use a different movement for each of the two workouts.

Time Factor

Make no mistake: a singles workout isn't exactly quick. That's why it's important to use compound movements, and only two of them per workout. Supplementing with the above protocol is also essential for enhancing recovery.

The specialization workouts are even tougher because you'll be spending about 15 minutes just training one muscle group. But if that muscle group is lagging, it needs a lot of attention. Heavy singles will certainly build up your lagging muscle groups, although you'll need to manage your time with other exercises.


Building a bigger, stronger, leaner body takes tough workouts. These workouts are indeed challenging because they won't be finished in less than hour. So if you have the time, follow this plan because it will make you bigger and stronger!