Using time as a training variable

When we pick up a barbell and perform a lift, we normally focus on just two things: the weight and the number of repetitions. These are undoubtedly key variables to use improving performance, but they miss a lot nuance that goes into getting better. A few years ago I was talking with former discus thrower Adam Kuehl about what other variables he feels are overlooked and his answer was quick: time.

There are many ways in which time can be used as a variable. Kuehl had meant time in terms of the tempo at which each repetition was executed. Focusing on how long or short each phase of the lift is can create a different stimulus. Squatting with a 3-3-1 tempo (3 seconds down, 3 seconds at the bottom, 1 second up) is going to be very different than a standard rep. Velocity-based training is another take on time. And then you can also look at the time spent not lifting. Modifying rest periods through methods like cluster also impacts the stimulus. This last method was one that popped out to me when talking with one of the world’s best shot put coaches.

The 3/7 Protocol

Several years ago I asked legendary shot put coach Jean-Pierre Egger what had changed in training Werner Günthör versus Valerie Adams. He also had a quick response: the 3/7 protocol.

The concept is simple and comes from the from French coach Emmanuel Legeard. Athletes take a weight and do a set of three reps. Rest 5 seconds and then do a set of 4 reps. Then 5 reps, 6 reps, and 7 reps, all with the same rest intervals. In total, the athlete accumulates 25 reps and is done in less than two minutes.

Ideally you do the protocol with 80% of your one-rep back, however both Legeard and Egger recommend taking 75% for beginners and increasing the rest periods to 10-15 seconds. If, on the other hand, you make it through all the reps the first time through, you can increase the weight.

» Related content: Take a look at how Jean-Pierre Egger utilizes holistic exercise design in this case study.

The method behind the madness

If you try the method out, you’ll be in for two minutes of hell. As Egger told me, it’s a bit crazy. But it is crazy for just two minutes and then it’s over. That’s the point for Egger.

Legeard can go into detail about muscle fiber recruitment, metabolic stress, and the scientific aspects of how the method works. He can explain how the rep range chosen is ideal for building both force and mass simultaneously. When you listen to Egger talk, on the other hand, he takes a different perspective. He spoke at one of our seminars in 2016 and explained why he fell in love with the method:

“If you make only long trainings where you are only in the weight room, you do not have time to work something more important: coordination, timing, and your discipline. Many years ago we forgot to train this.”

Some recent research done on the protocol has shown that strength gains were quite similar using this method when compared to more traditional set and rep schemes like 4×6 or even 8×6. So why not try it? You get the same benefits in less time. That’s what Egger was after.

Don’t get carried away

This method has yet to get much mention in the English-speaking world, but here in Switzerland many coaches have started utilizing it after hearing Egger lecture about it. The big issue with a method this simple is that it is easy to take out of context, and often you see coaches using the method throughout the week and throughout the year. You see some people take the Yessis 1×20 method to similar extremes. Before trying it out, coaches should remember how Egger has implemented it.

First and foremost, Egger only uses this method sparingly in the 4-week extensive (general preparation) phase that starts they year. It provides a bit of a reset for these athletes. As he puts it:

“Many athletes have problems after many years since they only work in the specific domain. Specific means deformation of the body. I think that 3-4 weeks are necessary each year to work on this balance against the destabilization of the body.”

He’s working with mostly elite athletes who need something more if they are going to reset. Simply going back and doing 4×8 is not going to do the trick, so the 3/7 protocol can provide more usefulness while still allowing them to fit in the specific work that Olympic champions need.

Even in the extensive phase, he uses the method just once a week for compound lifts. In parallel he uses other methods like wave loading, also inspired by Legeard, and many of the methods chronicled in the famous Werner Günthör training video.

There is no best method

The 3/7 protocol has worked wonders for Egger, but if you look at how he implements it, it is clear method cannot create all the adaptations an athlete needs. When picking up a barbell coaches need to remember they are not just limited to changing up weights and reps. There are more variables out there.