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The 3 x 8 Routine for Beginners

by Mark Cammack    September 1, 2019

Image that says Mark's GYM, Routines, 3 x 8

If you are just starting or beginning again with weight training, the 3 x 8 Routine, three sets of eight to ten repetitions method, is an excellent choice. This type of program has been promoted by people like barbell enthusiast Dr. Thomas DeLorme with an interest in rehabilitation, and Vince Gironda who produced fast gains in fitness and bodybuilding. It can provide results without being overtaxing or producing too much soreness. It is easy and simple to use. It takes only a fraction of the time to perform and plan that complex programs do. It will work well for both men and women. The first things to consider are your goals and physical condition. Please consult with the health care practitioner of your choice for a physical. If everything is OK, and you are ready, follow me into the gym and we will go through it together...

The basic things to begin with are:

Comfortable flexible exercise clothes and gym shoes
Be hydrated with water before starting
Leave off the colognes or perfumes
Turn off cell phones and put them in a safe place
No music players, earbuds, or music in the gym - the focus is on exercise

Most people who use the 3 x 8 want to get fit, improve their appearance or health, or use it as springboard to intermediate routines. We will look at the lat machine front pulldown exercise as an example of how to do this. We will follow a 50-75-(90-95)% approach for the respective sets. The first set is 50% of your 100% working weight. It should feel light. The second set is about 75%. The final set is at 90% to 95%.

If you are a man capable of using 100 pounds for 8 repetitions with an additional repetition (rep) or two being possible, that is fine. We are not focusing on the weight so much as the feel of it. Ladies may need less weight, such as 50 pounds. Do not go all out at first, but rather to 80% to 90% of ability. It takes time for the muscles, tendons, nerve pathways, and capillaries to develop. Training on the 3 x 8 as a beginner should be pleasant and not forceful.

About 5 minutes of general warm-up exercises may be helpful for some. Once this is done, we begin. This is a general description of how this goes:

With 50 pounds loaded on the lat machine, take a seat with the knees under the knee pad. A comfortable medium-wide palm down grip with an angled bar is beneficial. Do not use a straight bar as it can affect the inner elbows (epicondyles) in some people. The angled bar relieves the potential strain. It is important to do everything possible to make the exercise experience a happy one. It should be something that you get to do, and not have to do. If an exercise causes discomfort or does not feel right, stop. You may be able to try a different movement, a change of angle, or come back to it in the future. Use light weights and be mentally focused when initially obtaining the feel of a movement. The emphasis is on technique and your personal interaction with the equipment or calisthenic (body weight) exercise.

Image showing the proper technique when doing a front lat machine pulldown.

Front Lat Machine Pulldown: This is the correct manner of doing a front lat pulldown. The first image is the starting position, the second the proper end point, and in the third we return with control to the beginning. The hands may be closer together for a medium grip depending upon body build and feel of the exercise. The bar in the drawing above has the minimum grip angle required. A steeper bar slant may be helpful for some.

The bar is pulled down in a controlled manner to the front and close to the body. Be careful to gently tilt the head back slightly if needed to avoid bar contact. Depending on the lat machine this may be helpful to make room for the bar's path to the upper chest area. It can appear similar to a chin-up as the bar goes below the chin level. Then the bar is returned to the starting position. This is repeated for 8 reps. Rest for 45 seconds to a minute. The weight is increased to 75 pounds. Repeat for 8 reps. Rest for 45 seconds to a minute. We now use 100 pounds for 8 reps. Rest 2 minutes or so before going to the next exercise. When you are capable of performing 10 reps confidently, increase the weight slightly. The amount added should be just enough so that you are back at the 8 rep range again. This is progressive resistance exercise.

Here is an example weight progression for a man and woman who are just starting exercising with the 3 x 8 Routine. The actual weight used may be less or more depending on the ability of each person.

Man:        50-75-100 lbs.
Woman:   25-(35-37)*-50 lbs.

* Machines with 200 pound weight stacks often have 5 to 10 pound increments, the larger ones with 400 pound weight stacks can even have 20 pound increments as possibilities. If plate loaded, we can more easily attain the precise amount. The 35 to 37 pounds listed is in the general range required.

Let's look at a basic program for the entire body. We will choose one exercise per body part.

Chest: Supported V-bar dips using waist high dipping bars or stable chairs. This is a calisthenic exercise. By shifting your body weight from being supported by the legs to the upper body, we can safely exercise the chest and triceps. The sets should feel light, medium, and medium heavy. It is OK not to use your full body weight on these. Do what you can. These are supported dips, your legs hold you up and you bend them as desired to increase the load. Regular dips use the full body weight to exercise with. Dips are safer than the bench press movement and stimulate the chest muscles well.

Back: The lat machine front pull down.

Shoulders: Lateral raise with dumbbells. These are with the elbows bent. The motion is similar to pouring water from a pitcher with each arm.

Thighs: Leg press.

Calves: Seated calf machine or leg press calf press.

Biceps: Two arm barbell or dumbbell curls.

Triceps: Lat machine pushdown.

Abdominals: Crunch with body weight as comfortable for three sets. Work up to 3 sets of 8 reps, and then gradually increase to no more than 3 sets of 12 reps.

Eight exercises are enough for beginners. If you stay with the basics and gradually increase the weight as you get stronger, you might be surprised with the results within a few weeks to months. You can gain a lot of benefit for the time spent. This is a total of 24 sets that can be done in 40 minutes to no more than an hour. The whole body is often exercised two to three times per week at this stage. Rest days are important and should follow workout days. Some people like the Monday-Wednesday-Friday training schedule. If needed, an upper body (chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps) and lower body (thighs, calves, abdominals) split routine can be done on separate days with a rest day in between. Each split workout should take no more than 25-30 minutes.

I hope this is helpful while introducing you to your new friend the 3 x 8 Routine. Enjoy it.

Related articles:

The 6 x 6 Routine

The 6 x 10 Routine

Vince Gironda's 8 x 8 Routine


Mark's GYM: Routines 3 x 8 is © Copyright 2019 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved.

Front Lat Machine Pulldown is a derived work. It is based on:

Wide Grip Lat Pulldown: Sekiseiinko


© Copyright 2019 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved.