Tri-Sets: The Ultimate Guide!


Tri-Sets

Tri-sets are one of the most effective training methods that you can use to rapidly build muscle mass and lose body fat. They work because they prolong the time under tension of your sets and force your muscles to work longer than normal. If you are stuck at a training plateau then tri-sets may be just what you need to start progressing again!

Introduction

  • Part 1: The 6/12/25 Method
  • Part 2: Mechanical Advantage Tri-Sets
  • Part 3: Uni-Angular Tri-Sets
  • Part 4: The 10/10/20 Method
  • Part 5: Heavy Then Tri-Set
  • Part 6: Double Tri-sets
  • Part 7: Devil’s Tri-sets
  • Part 8: Iso-Dynamic Tri-Sets

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything you need to know about how to use tri-sets to build muscle mass and blast through training plateaus.

A tri-set is a series of three exercises performed in a row with 10 seconds rest between exercises. You could use squats, leg presses and leg extensions for a quadriceps tri-set or the bench press, skull crushers and overhead cable extensions for a triceps tri-set.

Here is the official protocol for a muscle-building tri-set:

  • Perform exercise #1, then rest for 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise #2, then rest for 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise #3, then rest for 2-4 minutes and repeat the whole tri-set as needed!

Tri-sets have a long history in the iron game. The first-ever Mr. Olympia champion Larry Scott used tri-sets almost exclusively in the 1960s to build his legendary biceps and triceps. Sense then countless bodybuilders and athletes have used tri-sets to break through hypertrophy training plateaus.

Building muscle mass is all about maximizing two training variables: the amount of weight that you lift and the time under tension of your sets. For example:

  • Hypertrophy = (Load) x (Time Under Tension)

If you want to build as much muscle mass as possible then you have to perform lots of reps with relatively heavy weights. In my opinion Ronnie Coleman said it best:

“It’s called bodybuilding. And the only way to build muscle is through repetition. Heavy weight, as heavy as possible and for as many repetitions as possible.”

Tri-sets are so effective because they dramatically increase the time under tension of your sets without forcing you to use lighter weights.

Think about it: if your sets normally take 30 seconds to complete then a tri-set will take you (30 + 30 + 30) = 90 seconds to complete! This means your muscles are being forced to work 3 times longer than normal during a set!

This is why many world-class coaches like Charles Poliquin, John Meadows and Josh Bryant use tri-sets with their elite athletes to build muscle mass.

I hope I’ve convinced you that tri-sets are a powerful hypertrophy training method. Of course there is more to tri-sets than just performing 3 exercises in a row for a body part.

In this guide I am going to teach you 8 of the most effective tri-set training methods ever invented! These methods include the 6/12/25 method, uni-angular tri-sets and iso-dynamic tri-sets. Trust me, you won’t find this cutting edge information anywhere else.

Note: if you have any trouble reading the workout routines presented here then please read this article. Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: The 6/12/25 Method

The 6/12/25 method is by far one of the most popular tri-set methods of all time. It was popularized by Charles Poliquin as a fat loss training protocol but it also works incredibly well for building muscle mass.

The idea is simple: you are going to perform a tri-set where you perform 6 reps on the first exercise, 12 reps on the second exercise and 25 reps on the third exercise. For example:

  • 1st exercise x 6 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • 2nd exercise x 12 reps, rest 10 seconds
  • 3rd exercise x 25 reps, rest 2-3 minutes, repeat

The 6/12/25 method works so well because it targets all of the different motor units in your muscles. The first exercise targets your high-threshold motor units with a relatively heavy set of 6 reps. Then your lower threshold motor units are knocked off with the 12 and 25 rep sets.

It’s very important that you pick the right exercises when using the 6/12/25 method. Your first exercise should be more of a big compound exercise that recruits a lot of muscle fibers. On the other hand your second and third exercises should be ones where you can safely grind out reps in higher rep ranges.

Machines and isolation exercises work well for your second and third exercises although compound free weight exercises can also work if you are careful.

Here is a sample leg routine that you may want to try. Check it out:

6/12/25 Leg Routine

  • A1: Front Squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Machine hack squat (medium stance), 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Leg Press (narrow / low stance), 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet neutral), 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Romanian deadlift, 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing straight), 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise B3.

This is an absolutely brutal workout! In my experience the 6/12/25 method works especially well for training muscle groups such as the quadriceps and hamstrings. These muscles respond really well to higher rep sets in most individuals.

I should warn you that you need to have a high pain tolerance before attempting this routine. All of these sets should be pushed within 1-2 reps of muscular failure in order to maximize the amount of lactic acid you produce. Not everyone has the ability to “dig deep” and grind out those last few reps.

If you don’t like pushing yourself in the gym then this routine is not for you!

Here are some sample chest / back and shoulder / arm routines that you also may want to try. Check it out:

6/12/25 Chest And Back Routine

  • A1: 30 degree incline bench press, 3 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 30 degree incline DB press, 3 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Standing cable crossover, 3 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Narrow pronated grip chin ups, 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Machine chest supported row, 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

6/12/25 Shoulder And Arm Routine

  • A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Standing cable rope overhead extension, 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Seated DB hammer curl, 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • C1: Seated DB overhead press, 3-4 x 6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: Seated machine lateral raise, 3-4 x 12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C3: Reverse pec dec, 3-4 x 25, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest

There are many tri-set methods that you can use but the 6/12/25 method is easily one of the best. If you don’t know where to start then you can’t do better than the 6/12/25 method. If you want to learn even more about this superior training method then check out the following article:

The 6/12/25 Method: The Ultimate Guide!

Part 2: Mechanical Advantage Tri-Sets

Mechanical advantage tri-sets are a hybrid of two advanced bodybuilding training methods:

  • Mechanical advantage drop sets
  • Tri-sets

You may not have heard of mechanical advantage drop sets before. That is a shame because they are one of the most effective ways to train for hypertrophy. The basic idea is to perform 2-4 variations of an exercise in a row.

You would start with the most difficult variation or the one where you can lift the least amount of weight. Then you perform variations of the exercise that are progressively easier. For example you could perform a mechanical advantage drop set with high incline dumbbell presses, low incline dumbbell presses and flat DB presses.

The key is to rest 10 seconds in between exercises and to use the same weight for each exercise. In case you are more of a visual learner here is Christian Thibadeau giving a perfect overview of mechanical advantage drop sets:

Performing a mechanical advantage tri-set is really simple: you perform a mechanical advantage drop set with three total exercises. For most trainees three exercises is the “sweet spot” for mechanical advantage drop sets where you create enough muscular damage and fatigue to maximize growth but without burning yourself out.

Now let’s take a look at some sample training routines. Let’s kick things off with a pull up routine for your back: 

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Tri-Set Routine #1

  • A1: Wide overhand grip pull up, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Medium supinated grip pull up, 3-5 x ARMAP**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Narrow neutral grip pull up, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight that you used for exercise A1.

Here is the training video:

This is an extremely advanced pull up routine. You should be able to complete at least 8 full range of motion wide overhand grip pull ups before you attempt it. In case you were wondering a full range of motion means either your collar bone or your upper chest touches the bar on every rep.

If you are not strong enough to do this routine as written then you may want to try it with lat pulldowns instead.

Here is what a full high-volume upper back workout might look like. Check it out:

Upper Back Mechanical Advantage Tri-Set Routine #2

  • A1: Wide overhand grip pull up, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Medium supinated grip pull up, 3-5 x ARMAP**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Narrow neutral grip pull up, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest\
  • B1: Barbell dead stop rows, 3 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Kroc rows, 1 x 20-30, 1/0/X/0, rest as needed

**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight that you used for exercise A1.

This is an awesome upper back hypertrophy routine that almost anyone can perform. This routine does feature a lot of volume. You should have at least average recovery ability before attempting this routine. If you are a “hardgainer” then this routine is not for you. 

Mechanical advantage tri-sets also work extremely well for training the chest. One of the easiest ways to structure a chest routine is to perform three different variations of dumbbell presses: high incline dumbbell presses, low incline dumbbell presses and flat dumbbell presses. You are stronger as you move from one exercise variation to the next which means you can use the same dumbbells on all three exercises. Check it out:

Chest Mechanical Advantage Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: 60 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 30 degree incline DB press, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Flat DB press, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest 

**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight that you used for exercise A1.

Here is the training video:

Once again if you respond well to high-volume workouts then you could easily perform some extra chest work either before or after this tri-set. Now let’s look at a mechanical advantage tri-st for the quadriceps. I picked up this routine from the ever-creative German strength coach Wolfgang Unsoeld.

You are going to perform a tri-set with three different types of squats: heels elevated squats, heels slightly elevated squats and heels flat squats. You are much stronger with your heels flat than you are with your heels elevated so these exercises work perfectly with this training method. Check it out:

Quadriceps Mechanical Advantage Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Back squat (narrow stance / heels elevated), 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Back squat (narrow stance / heels slightly elevated), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Back squat (narrow stance / heels flat), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight that you used for exercise A1.

Here is the training video:

This routine is absolutely brutal. After all, not everyone can handle performing 9-15 sets of squats in a single workout! If you have a hard time recovering from this much squatting volume then you may want to consider performing 1-3 of these tri-sets rather than the recommended 3-5. 

Before moving on let’s take a look at some mechanical advantage tri-sets for everyone’s favourite muscle groups: the arms. I picked up this mechanical advantage tri-set from IFBB professional bodybuilder Dusty Hanshaw.

You are going to perform three different exercises in a row using an ez-curl bar. The first exercise is the standing ez-bar french press. The second exercise is the infamous “skull crusher.” Finally the last exercise is the close grip bench press. Check it out:

Triceps Mechanical Advantage Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Standing ez-bar french press, 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Lying ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Ez-bar close grip bench press, 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight that you used for exercise A1.

Here is the training video:

In my experience this routine works best when performed for higher reps and/or at the end of your triceps workout.

I am not one of those coaches who believes that your elbows are going to explode if you start your triceps workout with lying extension movements. However, starting your workout with low-rep overhead extensions is probably asking for trouble.

Finally let’s look at a bicep routine. This routine features three different types of dumbbell curls: 30 degree incline dumbbell curls, 60 degree incline dumbbell curls and seated dumbbell curls. Your biceps are a little bit stronger in the seated position than they are in the incline position.

You are also going to change your grip from the weaker supinated (palms facing up) grip to the stronger neutral grip on the last exercise. These little tweaks will help you to bust out more reps at the end of your tri-set. Check it out:

Biceps Mechanical Advantage Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: 30 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 8-10, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 60 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated DB curl (hammer grip), 3-5 x AMRAP**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest 

**Perform as many reps as possible with the same weight that you used for exercise A1.

This routine is particularly effective for targeting the long head of the biceps. Most trainees have an underdeveloped long head. This is somewhat surprising as the long head is responsible for creating the biceps peak.

In reality the only way to fully target the long head is to use incline dumbbell curls and other isolation exercises where your elbows are behind your body throughout the entire movement. You can read my article on training the long head of the biceps for more information.

You may also want to check out my article on mechanical advantage drop sets for more information on this superior training method.

Part 3: Uni-Angular Tri-Sets

Uni-angular tri-sets is another incredible hypertrophy training method that you should know about. I remember when I first saw a picture of Larry Scott hitting a biceps pose. How in the world could anyone develop such unbelievable arms!? I just had to know.

It turns out that Larry Scott used uni-angular tri-sets almost exclusively to develop his legendary arms. A uni-angular tri-set is a special type of tri-set where all three exercises are performed in a similar muscular plane. Larry used to perform three different variations of preacher curls back-to-back with no rest in between exercises.

Larry relied on the preacher curl so much that many strength coaches call them “Scott curls” instead of preacher curls! Here is Larry Scott’s exact bicep workout that he used in his prime. Check it out:

Biceps Uni-Angular Tri-Set Routine #1

  • A1: Bilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 x 6-8**, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

**Perform 4-6 partials in the bottom position immediately after your last full range of motion rep.

Here is the training video:

Uni-angular tri-sets such as the one above work so well because they overload a specific part of the muscle fiber pool. Let me explain. There are tons of different muscle fibers in each of your muscles. Every exercise taps into a specific portion of these muscle fibers.

With uni-angular tri-sets you are using three exercises that tap into similar but slightly different muscle fiber pools within the muscle. This is an extremely effective way to build muscle. In my experience uni-angular tri-sets work extremely well for increasing the size of your arms.

Let’s take a look at one more bicep routine and two tricep routines.

Biceps Uni-Angular Tri-Set Routine #2

  • A1: 60 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 8-10, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 60 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3-5 x 8-10, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3-5 x 8-10, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

This is a fantastic routine for beefing up the long head of your biceps. As I mentioned earlier the long head of the biceps tends to be under trained relative to the short head.

If you want bigger bicep muscles (and healthier shoulders!) then this is a great routine to try. Now let’s take a look at some uni-angular tri-set routines for the triceps. Check it out:

Triceps Uni-Angular Tri-Set Routine #3

  • A1: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3-5 x 7-9, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Decline ez-bar extension (to chin), 3-5 x 7-9, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Decline DB extension, 3-5 x 7-9, 5/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

This first routine is fantastic for overloading both the lateral head and the medial head of the triceps. Research has shown that all forms of decline tricep extensions are ideal for overloading these heads of the triceps.

The lateral head is recruited more in the stretched position of these exercises so make sure you get a deep stretch in the bottom position of these exercises! 

Triceps Uni-Angular Tri-Set Routine #4

  • A1: Seated overhead pin press (bar starting just above head), 3-5 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Seated ez-bar french press, 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated cable rope overhead extension, 3-5 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

This routine is better for targeting the long head of the triceps. The long head is the big, meaty triceps head located on the backside of the arm. It tends to be recruited the most during all forms of overhead presses and extensions. This uni-angular tri-set is awesome for targeting the long head.

If you perform it correctly you may wake up the next morning feeling like a team of angry ninjas started beating on your long head with bamboo sticks!

For more information on this superior training method you can check out the following article:

Uni-Angular Tri-Sets: The Ultimate Guide!

Part 4: The 10/10/20 Method

The 10/10/20 method is exactly as it sounds. You are going to perform a tri-set with 10 reps on your first exercise, 10 reps on your second exercise and 20 reps on your third exercise. There isn’t anything fancy about this specific type of tri-set.

However, I have found over the years that this set / rep scheme tends to work extremely well for most trainees. The higher reps are great for accumulating more time under tension to drive the hypertrophy process.

Let’s take a look at a few sample routines. Here is a chest / shoulders / triceps routine that you can try as part of a push / pull / legs split. Check it out:

Chest / Shoulder / Triceps 10/10/20 Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 3 x 10, 2/2/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 30 degree incline DB press, 3 x 10, 2/2/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Machine fly, 3 x 20, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated DB overhead press, 3 x 10, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated DB partial lateral raise, 3 x 30, 1/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • C1: Dead stop skull crushers, 3 x 10, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • C2: V-bar cable pushdowns, 3 x 20, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

The 10/10/20 tri-set is performed for the chest while the shoulders and triceps are trained with supersets. This is a simple but extremely effective routine. Here are some back / biceps and leg routines that you may want to try. Check it out:

Back / Biceps 10/10/20 Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Barbell dead stop row, 3 x 10, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Wide overhand grip cable pulldown, 3 x 10, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 20, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated zottman curl, 3 x 12-15, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3 x 12-15, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

Legs 10/10/20 Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Bilateral lying leg curl (Poliquin method / feet pointed in), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Back squat, 3 x 10, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Leg press, 3 x 10, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Leg extension, 3 x 20, 1/0/1/1, 180 seconds rest
  • C1: DB stiff-legged deadlift, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

Again these are just a couple of straightforward but extremely effective routines.

Part 5: Heavy Then Tri-Set

There are a lot of different strategies that you can use to program tri-sets into your workouts. In my experience in working with hundreds of clients one of the most effective strategies is to perform heavy work early in your workout followed by tri-sets to finish the workout.

The basic idea is to perform some heavy “straight sets” early in your workout to recruit and fatigue your high-threshold motor units. Then you move onto 2-4 rounds of tri-sets to knock off the lower threshold motor units. This is a simple but extremely effective way to structure a hypertrophy workout.

Here is a chest “heavy then tri-set” workout that you may want to try. Check it out:

Chest Heavy Then Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Hammer strength incline press, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Decline hammer strength press (against bands), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: 30 degree incline barbell press, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Stretch push ups, 3 x 15-20, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the training videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise B2, exercise B3.

This workout features many exercises that John Meadows uses in his Mountain Dog programming. Here are some shoulder and hamstrings “heavy then tri-sets” routines that you may also want to try. Check it out:

Shoulders Heavy Then Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Barbell behind the neck press, 4 x 4-6, 4/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Reverse pec dec, 3 x 15-20, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Seated DB lateral raise, 3 x 15-20, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 15-20, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

Hamstrings Heavy Then Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Deficit snatch grip deadlift, 3 x 5, 3/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing in), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest

I really want to bring your attention to the hamstrings routine listed above. Most people do not know this but you can and should point your feet in different directions during leg curls to target different portions of the muscle.

There are three main directions that you can point your feet:

  • Feet pointed in
  • Feet neutral
  • Feet pointed out

Most people only perform leg curls with their feet pointed neutral. This type of leg curl is great for developing the tendinosus, one of the medial hamstrings muscles. However, for complete hamstrings development you should also point your feet in and out during some of your sets.

When your feet point in you recruit more of the semimembraneous. When your feet are pointed out you recruit more of the biceps femoris. Using all three feet orientations in a single tri-set is a great way to knock off all the motor units in your hamstrings in one go.

If you really bust your ass on this routine then you may find that your hamstrings explode with new growth!

Part 6: Double Tri-sets

I first learned about the double tri-sets method from the writings of Charles Poliquin. You are going to perform 2 separate tri-sets in one workout for a given body part.

For example you might perform 3 total rounds of your first tri-set, then perform 3 total rounds for your second tri-set for whatever body part you are training. This is an extremely high volume training protocol that should only be reserved for advanced trainees.

You really need to have your recovery and nutrition dialed in to benefit from something this extreme.

In my experience the double tri-sets method works extremely well for training the arms and the hamstrings. Let’s take a look at some sample workouts.

Biceps Double Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / reverse grip), 3 x 5-7, 3/2/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Seated DB hammer curls, 3 x 10-12, 3/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: 45 degree incline DB curls (hammer grip), 3 x 4-6, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: 45 degree incline DB curls (supinated grip), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: 45 degree incline DB curls (supinating grip), 3 x 10-12, 3/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

This is a bicep routine that Charles Poliquin designed for IFBB professional bodybuilder Milos Sarcev many years ago. Milos reportedly put on over an inch on his arms over the course of a few months using this routine and a few others that Charles designed for him.

The first tri-set is primarily designed to target your brachialis although the short head of the biceps also receives some attention. The second tri-set is designed to overload the long head of the biceps. As you already know the long head of the biceps tends to be underdeveloped in most trainees.

It is very important that you use the exact tempos listed in the routine for each exercise. You may not be able to lift quite as much weight this way but the tempos are there for a reason!

Now let’s check out a triceps tri-set routine that Charles designed for Milos:

Triceps Double Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Lying ez-bar extensions (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 2/2/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Lying ez-bar extensions (to chin), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Bench press (shoulder width grip), 3 x 10-12, 2/2/1/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Rope cable tricep pushdowns, 3 x 8-10, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: V-bar cable tricep pushdowns, 3 x 12-15, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Reverse grip cable tricep pushdowns, 3 x 12-15, 2/0/1/0, 120 seconds rest

Once again we have two different forms of uni-angular tri-sets jammed together into one workout. This workout features 18 total sets for triceps which is massive when you consider that all of these are working sets. That means all 18 sets are performed to close to failure (but not all the way).

The first tri-set is designed to overload your lateral and long heads of your triceps while the second tri-set further overloads the lateral head. If you have the guts to complete these arm workouts then you will be rewarded with significantly larger arms.

If you are especially motivated then you can actually perform the bicep and tricep tri-sets together in the same workout.

Here is how you would sequence the exercises:

  • Bicep tri-set #1: 3 sets
  • Tricep tri-set #1: 3 sets
  • Bicep tri-set #2: 3 sets
  • Bicep tri-set #2: 3 sets

Alternating back and forth between antagonistic body parts in this manner is a great way to design a workout. Your muscles will actually fatigue at a slower pace this way vs normal.

Finally let’s look at a hamstrings tri-set that you may want to try out. This is another routine designed by Charles Poliquin many years ago. In Charles’ opinion this was just about the fastest way for a bodybuilder to bring up a pair of lagging hamstrings. Check it out:

Hamstrings Double Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Bilateral lying leg curls (feet plantar flexed / pointing in), 4 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A2: Bilateral lying leg curls (feet plantar flexed / neutral), 4 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 15 seconds rest
  • A3: Bilateral lying leg curls (feet plantar flexed / pointing out), 4 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Standing good mornings, 4 x 6-8, 4/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Romanian deadlift, 2 x 8-10, 4/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Reverse hyperextension, 4 x 15-20, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest

The hamstrings have two primary functions: knee flexion and hip extension. This routine features a separate tri-set that targets each of these functions of the hamstrings.

You may notice that the target rep ranges differ a lot from the first tri-set to the second tri-set. There is a very good reason for this. Your hamstrings are primarily fast-twitch muscle fibers. Whenever you perform an isolation exercise for the hamstrings such as leg curls you should train in relatively low rep ranges.

Of course low is relative. However, most of your sets of leg curls should be in the 1-8 rep range for optimal results. Performing more than 8 reps on leg curls is a poor way to target these fast-twitch muscle fibers.

When the hamstrings perform hip extension movements they actually behave more like slow-twitch muscles. This is because the hamstrings work together with the glutes and the lower back to perform hip extension movements. For optimal hypertrophy development you should perform most of your hip extension movements in the 8-20 rep range.

When you take these factors into account the above hamstrings “double tri-set” routine makes a lot of sense. This just goes to show how important it is to know your functional anatomy when designing strength training routines!

If you are hungry for more Poliquin-style training routines then check out the following article:

Charles Poliquin’s 15 Favourite Training Programs!

I am confident you will find a routine or two that you can’t wait to try in the gym!

Part 7: Devil’s Tri-sets

I first learned about Devil’s tri-sets from the German strength coach Wolfgang Unsoeld’s teachings. No, you are not going to burn in hell for all eternity for performing this routine!

A devil’s tri-set is simply a tri-set where you perform 6 reps on each exercise. The “666” rep scheme explains the name for this training method.

In my experience Devil’s tri-sets work unbelievably well if you have a lot of fast-twitch muscle fibers. Fast twitch guys need relatively lower rep sets in order to grow. However, when you perform low rep sets it’s hard to accumulate enough time under tension for optimal growth.

Devil’s tri-sets is almost a perfect training method for these fast-twitch guys because it lets them train in lower rep ranges while still accumulating enough time under tension in their set! Just think about it: a normal set of 6 reps might only take 24 seconds to complete if you are using something like a 3/0/X/0 tempo.

However, if you perform your 6-rep sets as part of a tri-set then the entire set takes (24+24+24) = 72 seconds to complete! Now that is a lot of time under tension!

By forcing your muscles to work longer with heavy loads you create a powerful stimulus for hypertrophy. Let’s take look at some Devil’s Tri-set routines. Check it out:

Chest Devil’s Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Flat DB press, 4 x 6, 2/2/X/1, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 4 x 6, 3/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: 45 degree incline DB press, 4 x 6, 4/0/2/0, 180 seconds rest

Legs Devil’s Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: Front squat (medium stance / heels flat), 4 x 6, 3/2/X/1, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Walking DB lunges, 4 x 6, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Seated machine leg extension, 4 x 6, 2/0/2/2, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Bilateral seated leg curl (feet plantarflexed / pointing straight), 4 x 6, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Snatch grip Romanian deadlift, 4 x 6, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Bilateral lying leg curl (feet plantar flexed / pointing out), 4 x 6, 3/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest

Arms Devil’s Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: 45 degree incline DB curl (offset grip)**, 4 x 6, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 4 x 6, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 4 x 6, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B1: Decline bench press (shoulder-width grip), 4 x 6, 4/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Lying DB extension, 4 x 6, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B3: Hammer strength dip machine, 4 x 6, 3/0/2/0, 180 seconds rest

As a general rule of thumb I recommend that you forgo any additional work for your target body parts when performing Devil’s Tri-sets. In other words you would perform your 3-5 sets of the tri-set and then call it a day.

Because the reps are relatively lower there is still a fair amount of neurological fatigue from these routines. If you start loading up the volume then you may find that you cannot properly recover between workouts.

If you are a fast-twitch guy then you probably already know that endless sets do nothing but drain your recovery stores though.

Part 8: Iso-Dynamic Tri-Sets

I’ve saved the best for last! OK, there is no “best” routine. However, this is by far the most interesting training method in the entire article.

Iso-dynamic tri-sets feature two different types of muscular contractions:

  • Isometric contractions
  • Traditional concentric / eccentric contractions

You are going to start your tri-set with an all-out overcoming isometric contraction. Let’s use the triceps as an example. You are going to bench press an empty barbell into a pair of safety pins that are set up about 2 inches below lockout. When the barbell hits the pins you have to press as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds.

Your goal is to literally break the pins in half! This isometric bench press counts as your first exercise. Then you are going to perform 2 “regular” exercises to further exhaust your triceps. Let’s take a look at a sample training routine before discussing this further. Check it out:

Iso-Dynamic Tri-Set Bench Press Routine

  • A1: Close grip bench press overcoming isometric***, 3 x 6 second hold, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Close grip bench press against bands, 3 x 6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Decline DB extension, 3 x 12, 3/0/1/0, 4 minutes rest

***Perform an overcoming isometric with an empty barbell. The pins should be set up 2 inches below lockout in a power rack.

Here is a video of Josh Bryant demonstrating this routine:

Josh Bryant is the man I learned this routine from. Here he is taking two bodybuilders through this exact routine. The most important part of the routine is the isometric bench press. Josh normally uses these to help powerlifters blast through training plateaus although it can be used by bodybuilders to pack on slabs of muscle mass.

The main benefit of the isometric contraction is it forces your body to recruit more muscle fibers in your triceps. Research has shown that all-out overcoming isometric contractions let you recruit up to 6-7% more motor units than concentric or eccentric contractions!

When you move onto your 2nd and 3rd exercise in the tri-set your triceps will still be recruiting more muscle fibers than normal. This means that you can damage and fatigue more muscle fibers than normal!

Assuming proper nutrition and recovery this will result in rapid triceps growth. Iso-dynamic tri-sets can theoretically be performed for other body parts but they work especially well for the triceps as demonstrated by Josh Bryant.

Conclusion

Tri-Sets

Tri-sets are by far one of the most effective hypertrophy training methods that you can use in the gym. They are so effective because they prolong the time under tension of your sets while still allowing you to lift reasonably heavy weights. This is especially true with the 6/12/25 method, Devil’s tri-sets and iso-dynamic tri-sets.

It is not always possible to perform these training methods in a busy commercial gym. However, if you have the means to perform these routines then you should absolutely incorporate them into your long-term programming. If you want to take your training to the next level then join my online coaching program.

I regularly use tri-sets and other advanced hypertrophy training methods with my bodybuilding clients to blast through training plateaus. 

“Failure is not an option. Everyone has to succeed.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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