The Clean Volume Concept

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is a concept I refer to as “clean volume.”

No we’re not talking about power or hang cleans – I’m talking about the quality of the volume that you’re accumulating in the gym.

Let me explain a bit further.

This concept really solidified for me while chatting with Dave Tate at last years Underground Strength Session.  We were talking about ways to drive your bench up, and he and Jeremy Frey both stated that you shouldn’t do anything more than 3 reps in the barbell bench if your goal is to hit big weights.

Now I know what you’re thinking (probably the same thing I was!): 3 reps?

That’s it?

How am I ever going to get my bench up with sets of 3 reps?

And you might assume that you’re going balls-to-the-wall heavy with those 3 reps as well.

Both are wrong, at least at first blush.

When we’re talking about triples, or 3’s, that’s the point where we tend to lose our technique on almost any set.  At the very least, your technique isn’t as good after 3 reps as it was on the first 3.

Think about it like this:  You’re hitting 3×8 on the bench press.  We all know the first couple of reps look great, but if you’re being honest and pushing yourself, at the very least the last 2 or 3 reps can be a bit sketchy.

So instead of doing 3×8, you do 8×3. In this way you get the exact same volume (24 total reps) but the quality of that volume is much higher.

If your goal is to move maximum weight, your technique needs to be as close to ideal as possible. Why waste your time developing, or engraining, sub-par technique?

If you’re a numbers guy (or gal), with the 8×3 method you’re getting 90-100% quality reps. Even using triples I’d imagine there would be a rep or two in there that aren’t perfect, thus the 90% figure.

However, if you’re doing it the old-school way of 3×8, only about 40% of your reps are performed using ideal or perfect technique!

This is where we have to take our training – every set and every rep should strive for perfection. Every rep is going to solidify our technique – either for better or for worse.

Let me clarify one other thing as well – I’m NOT talking about jacking the intensity up on these either! If you’re using 3×8 at say 70ish percent (I don’t use percents, but work with me here) I don’t want you performing 8×3 at 90 percent.

Keep the INTENSITY the same, but focus on perfecting every rep of every set. Next week, I’ll discuss another concept I’ve been using a lot in my own training, technique work-ups.

Stay strong



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  1. Interesting stuff….how would this logic differ (or would it) for someone who’s goal is to do a submax for reps, e.g. 225 pounds to failure for an incoming college freshman football player? The goal should be good technique, but the barometer is set to measure quantity of reps, not necessarily the quality of reps.

    • Perhaps they would do one day that’s more “technical” in nature (like I described above) and then a second day where technique isn’t the primary focus but instead endurance capacity is?

      Anyone done this specifically in their training?


  2. Mike, this is a great idea. I hadn’t really thought about it for strength moves, but I’ve definitely started to use it for my Snatches and C&Js. I very rarely do multiple reps per set, even for my warm-ups. I use more of a Bulgarian-style, where I stick to singles and work on the highest quality reps as possible. It’s helped me a great deal.

    • Absolutely! Especially in the O-lifts were technical proficiency is key, this concept is just kind of second nature, I would think.

  3. Mike,

    Great post. As far as the rest periods are concerned, since the total rep amount is kept the same although the set number changes, what do you suggest about rest periods. Should they be shorter, longer or the same? How much would you say rest between sets plays in keeping the reps “clean.”

    Also, would you go far enough to say that set manipulation like this can also work for hypertrophy programs?

    Thanks in advance

    • Danny –

      I think you could argue for any of those rest options – more, less or about the same. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be focused on the rest – in other words, I’d be most focused on the quality of the work being done, and if you’re resting too little and that’s effecting quality, then you need to take more rest.

      As far as hypertrophy goes, I wouldn’t use my primary lift to build hypertrophy, as again, the goal is perfect technique. Just from the volume/intensity of the lift you may get some hypertrophy influences, but that’s not the goal.

      Instead, I would use accessory lifts such as DB presses with higher reps to build muscle. In fact, this is exactly how I’m doing it within my workout.

      Hope that helps. Thanks!

  4. I agree with this logic. I had been reading and researching this back when Chad Waterbury was emphasizing the speed of the movement as well as form. If lifting heavy is a skill and it is the reps should be clean to allow for maximal recruitment and efficiency of the neurons.

  5. I have had great successs with the type of training that Mike is talking about for those training for 225 reps in our Pro Tryout Training Template. I have a great program that B Patel created for a project we were working on. We focus on technique and maximal weights on one day. The other is focused on develop strength endurance on the bench press. We found out that it is best to have a day at the end of a three week wave to test the most reps you can do, but the next weeks you should back off with maybe 3-4 sets of 12-15. The failure training all the time is not optimal, risk injury, and takes time to recover from.

  6. Mike,

    I could not agree more with what you have written here. I feel like I can speak to this as well as anyone since I doubted this logic before I started seriously training.
    I’d read Ferrugia’s blog for a while, and though I love the guy, I wondered about the logic of heavy (relatively speaking) weights/lower reps for grooving technique as opposed to light weight/high reps.

    It only made sense to me that your technique would be better on the latter.
    Then, something happened that changed my mind forever: I noticed that, in almost every case, once I got to the four rep mark, no matter the weight, I started counting in my head, hoping for the set to end, and my technique was shot from there.

    Now, I live by what I’ve heard Cressey and Boyle say: “Learn to do something well before you do something repeatedly.”

    • I believe Prilepin’s chart was a way to effectively manage volume as based on the intensity/load the lifters were using.

      Regardless, I think it can still apply to this as well.

  7. Hmm, I’ve been doing like, working up to near max 1 rep (95% or so) and then dropping down do a few sets of 3’s.
    Have you tried that approach and if so, do you like the 8×3 better?

    • I have done something similar, and it works quite well. The nervous system is really primed after the heavy single, for sure.

      As long as the focus is on quality, I think you’ll definitely get something out of it. Good luck!

  8. Mike,

    I like the style (did Waterbury’s 10×3 routine once), but I’m not sure how this would be incorporated into a routine. Are you suggesting this as just a main lift + accessories to follow (if so, could you give an example)? Or would you apply this to all of your current lifts?

    • Thanks Mike. Any recommendations on what you would do with the set/rep scheme for the subsequent lifts, or is that too goal-dependent?

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