T Nation

Positive Failure on 30-10-30

Can you further explain the concept of “outroading” (it sounds like a Hutchins term/observation ) and “gaming” and how it differs between 10 three second reps and 1 thirty second one (I am fully aware of the Arthur Jones term “inroad”).
Even if their are shortcomings in performing regular reps, then surely this would occur on pretty much any regular style set of repetitions ?
Plus with 30-10-30 the focus is on negative fatigue .
A 30-30-30 also has many problems such as the difficulty of maintaining set quality throughout 90 seconds (the 10 regular reps in the middle do to some extent provide a mental respite from the extremely slow movement pattern) without “expert” supervision. The fact that only a tiny percentage of people who would try this method have such supervision , highlights a potential shortcoming of this particular method.
But no single protocol or method is close to perfect.
30-10-30 alongside 30-30-30 and 10-10-10 are all variations of the same theme which is to provide a form of negative “emphasised” training.
You mention trainees using large loads quickly stagnating . Isn’t the reason that the overwelming majority of people using “large loads” is because they are at the upper end of their genetic potential and unless they start a particular programme at lower than their best loads they always quickly stagnate. Improvements in strength at that stage are with very few exceptions minor, and improvements in lean tissue even harder to come by.
I look forward to hearing your response as I’m not a scientist , and whilst I like to share my experiences, I also like to see ideas questioned ,challenged and debated, and in the process further my own knowledge/education.


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Great point about set quality and 30 second reps. It is supposed to be a slow smooth movement, but can easily deteriorate into a series of starts and stops, i.e., ratcheting. Does that matter? I don’t know. Also, if the strength curve for the exercise is variable, there is a tendency to speed up in the hard part, and linger in the easy part of the movement. I think there is definitely a skill to doing these as prescribed, and supervision likely helps.


All these new techniques/protocols are great and help keep ones interest in training going after one has been training many years.
But there does not exist a “magic bullet” and for an experienced/advanced trainee some of these protocols may on occasion (or may not ) push ones physique just a tiny bit further towards ones potential. But even then results will be limited and short lived.
For the less advanced or those looking to regain lost tissue they do offer the trainee an opportunity to “fast track” their progress towards an advanced level.
That in itself is worthy, and whilst it is always better to perform any protocol as close to “as described” , in reality some deviation away from this (provided the trainee is working hard) should not make a “significant” difference in results.

I use a variety of exercise protocols tailored somewhat to the particular piece of equipment and body part. For example, in the last month I’ve been using the 30-30-30 protocol on my Bohicalus Pullover Machine (my homemade version of a Nautilus Pullover) where the range of motion (200+ degrees) and thus the # of degrees of rotation per second is quite high - this particular protocol works well for me. But in doing seated shoulder presses, the range of motion is far less and the # of degrees of rotation per second is different and thus a say 20-20-20 protocol might be better choice. I do the 30-10-30 protocol as well along with 2/4, etc. just for variety.

Of late I follow the 30-30-30 pullover set with a 2/4 set of pullovers followed by a set of close-grip pulldowns which those get the lats pretty hot. Ditto for shoulders: a 30-30-30 seated Bohicalus Machine Press, followed by standing dumbbell flyes at 2/4 speed, followed by Bohicalus Machine Presses (again) at 2/4 speed which get those shoulder really hot!

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Planet health,

I tend to agree. Having excercised under the 30-10-30 regime for two months in proper form, I made good progress in terms of lifted weight (as well as hypertrophy) - initially. Over time, it slowly came to a halt. At first, I extended time in between sessions, which made it possible to make a few more reps on some excercises. Then I tried to shift a couple of excercises without any difference/result. I felt a bit overtrained due to the high intensity, and concluded I had hit a barrier in progression with this scheme.

Promptly changed to 30-30-30 two weeks ago, without adjusting/lowering the weight. Same excercise schedule. To my surprise, it felt easier than 30-10-30. Having made progress on several excercises in terms of weight - every workout - without making sacrifices in form. I plan to continue this approach until I reach a barrier next time, when I probably go back to 30-10-30 again (probably on lower weights and adding more days for recovery).

This is not meant to be a review of these two interesting, and fully working rep-schemes. I believe my personal experience doesn’t prove anything in terms of which model is better than the other. But - i do find it interesting that I was/am able to continue lifting heavier weights when making the change to 30-30-30 - which may imply that planet health has a point.

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One key point is if one starts with an initial weight for 303030 that can be done perfectly, one will eventually get to the load(weight) that begins to inroad. For example, if one “easily” enacts 303030 then I would recommend adding weight and trying another 303030. Once a muscle/muscle group is fatigued (running away) on the back 30 one knows their muscles have failed. Next session one should be closer to completion of the back 30. Then each session add a little more (5 pounds) that can be controlled for 303030. The gains will come as evidenced by a) increased loads, b) bigger size muscles, c) stronger muscles. You have assured High Intensity Focused Inroad without “performance”.
This is my application of Dr. Darden’s 303030 protocol in practice. Prior to 303030 I was 100% Max Pyramid which is superior since it removes all inclination to outroad/offload the muscle/muscle group. However, many of us of larger relative stature will gain strength that can eventually exceed the machine weight limits. In my decades of experience (45 years) these protocols assure gains that APPROACH one’s “genetic” limits … yet never really get there. One will be adding perhaps 2.5 pounds, 5 pounds, 2% each session, and eventually begin to space (recovery/volume) the particular exercise further apart (7 days, 10 days, 14 days).
The keys that work (for me) and folks who understand are:

Focused Inroad (into target muscle)
Safe Application of Load into Muscles (through static joint)
Adequate Recovery Time (which will increase)
Reduced Exercise Volume (as loads increase)

Quite EASY to enact, Yet INTENSE to accomplish, And FULFILLING to progress
Proper application of 303030 and/or Max Pyramid will answer most trainees questions/doubts/concerns. 270 seconds of TUL is an easy “leap of trust” to update one’s knowledge.

A key point hardly ever understood is that if one is not adding weight every session than one is regressing. The regression is because one’s ability to perform/enact/coax a motion is a combination of skill (non-volitional) and strength. Since the acquisition of skill is non-volitional it MUST be eliminated. This can easily be accomplished with extreme reduced motion (slow). As one gets slow and slower one will notice one is approaching a static (zero speed). This quickly blends/blurs a positive motion and a negative motion into a basic static hold.

With a controlled static hold the muscle is ALWAYS loaded which assures intense direct inroad (and progress). I refer to this as “constant backloading” of a muscle which is now released from the dynamics of varying moment arms (machines, bones, joints, and even intra-muscle). With a TUL “long” enough the muscle inroad will cascade across all muscles in a particular muscle group. This is one reason compound exercises work best under ultra-slow (zero) speeds, and ultra-slow (zero) speeds work best with compound exercises.

A similar experience was evident under the SuperSlow protocol in which (even advanced) trainees made progress which quickly (6 months) ground to a halt even when properly applied. This is initially because trainees failed to reduce volume and extend recovery time, and eventually/additionally developed a skill quicker than strength. Experts attempted to circumvent this issue with stuff like “set extenders” when in reality they were battling skill (aka performance) issues. Even when workouts were reduced to once a week stagnation still occurred. Walla … Max Pyramid and 303030 solve all issues. But there is a planning/prescribed process to assure progress with these protocols.

that’s an interesting insight.
You mentioned that you made progress with the 30-10-30 protocol for 2 months , before it ground to a halt , and that progress included hypertrophy.
Now you are 2 weeks into 30 -30-30 and your weights are increasing again.
Have you noted a hypertrophic response yet ?
My thoughts .

Firstly, 30-10-30 and 30-30-30 are distinctly different.
With the former you are performing 90 seconds of work, 80 seconds of which is negative only (30-30-30 is 60 seconds of negative work split into 2 with 30 seconds between them) , with only a respite at any time. Also by performing 10 reps in 30 seconds you are creating a level of congestion in the muscle which one slow 30 rep will not immediately produce.

Plus, if one is seeking maximum hypertrophy I for one would not stay on the same protocol as long as 2 months.
I look forward to seeing how you go with 30-30-30 over time and what results it produces and what shortcomings you find it has.

The most important thing about forums like this is the sharing of ideas and experiences (and views provided they are done respectfully) as in the end no perfect or superior protocol exists or will ever exist.
But by reading about individual accounts and journeys , we can have the information to better maximise results within our own chosen training system/s .

If I understand your experience, when you switched from 30/10x/30 to 30/30/30, you found the latter easier, you felt like you could use more weight with 30/30/30. Doesn’t that suggest that 30/10x/30 is actually the better protocol, because you can fatigue the muscle to failure with less weight?

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This can easily be demonstrated by performing a movement with one arm for a 30 second positive (no negative) and with the same weight on the other arm do 10 reps for 1 up 2 down.
The pump and fatigue on the later is noticeably more .

Thanks markh501 (as well as average_al) for your valuable comments!

Re hypertrophy on 30-30-30, it’s probably too early to be evident. That being said, I would state that the change in routine has brought a feeling of fullness in muscularity during recovery, which may precede growth.

It may be true that 30-10-30 provides a greater fatigue, as I felt it more intense than 30-30-30 overall, and also resulting in a longer recovery process (more tiredness in the muscles - too much?). However, I do feel the mind-muscle connection is better with 30-30-30, as you really have to concentrate, especially on performing the slow positive in good form. Whatever is left in the tank is evidently emptied on the final negative, provided you have chosen the right weight.

My current thoughts are that 30-10-30 can be too much for a longer period of time, and may require a decrease in frequency (to once a week?) after a certain period of time.

markh501: It would be interesting to hear more about your opinions on how often to change routine, and what kind of changes you have experienced results from?

My previous posts may have led to the idea of me being focused on hypertrophy foremost. Honestly, the results I am heading for is the combination of leanness, strength and hypertrophy - which is why Dr Darden’s work is essential to me. Another aspect is time efficacy, which is where my search pointed me in the direction of HIT about a year ago (never to return to HVT).

Hi pettersson ,

Personally I will change a routine if the cost/benefit ratio leans to much towards the former.
So obviously if I am training hard and not progressing then that would be an obvious example.
But even a productive routine might be altered if for example the workout was yielding results , but those results were not considered worth the price of the effort. This explains why some people might move towards slightly more volume (less intensity) and split routines. especially if the difference in results was marginal , if at all different.
But let us just say that i are fine with my current routine, but my progress has halted.
These are the factors I will look at and address first.

  1. Psychological factors.
    Am I truly focussed on every rep of every set of every workout ?
    If not , then why ? and how do I change that ?

  2. Lifestyle.
    Is there anything within how I live that may be preventing me from progressing ?
    Such as lack of sleep , stress, doing too much physical activity outside the gym ?

  3. Nutrition.
    Although over emphasised by the bodybuilding world, ones diet can still have an effect on progress, and needs to be addressed, and if necessary change.

If I see nothing significantly wrong after looking at these three , I will address the programme itself.
Firstly with any HIT programme where progress has occurred you have to look at the increased demands it has put on your body . The typical response would be to reduce either workout volume and/or increase recovery time.
There is nothing wrong with this approach in the context of a “specific” routine but it can lead many “non advanced” trainees down towards a path of minimalist training , rather “optimal” training , long before they approach the upper end of their genetic potential.
Another thing I like to consider is whether the body has adapted the “stimulus” itself.
So I could change for example a 30-10-30 into a 25-8-25 (along with increasing the resistance) .
I could also change an exercise or 2.
So in practice if i were doing 30-10-30 twice a week with 8 exercises and my progress was beginning to plateau , i would firstly reduce the number of exercises (maybe to 6) and add an extra rest day between workouts. My next step if that did not work (or if it did for the next time I plateued) would be to change (or alter) the protocol (eg: from 30-10-30 to 25-8-25) in those exercises most affected.
My next step would then be to change the exercises.
My final step would then be to finish the training cycle and take 7-10 days off , and begin a new/different routine.
That is just an example of how I might go about it.


On a lighter note, a Facebook friend (who doesn’t workout) posted up the following on his wall “Happy 20-10-20 !”
For a brief moment I thought he had began training and had discovered Dr Darden’s work.
I then realised he was referring to today’s date !! :rofl:

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Thanks again Mark,

A wise man said…
You sure brought up an interesting view on priorities, which reminded me the importance of sleep and to limit stress. Many posts have shared insight in the paradox of combining proper excercise with daily life (and I am no exception, though I actually work in the field of occupational medicine).

Now two weeks into 30-30-30 I still enjoy the feeling during TUL, but feel the need to make adjustments to meet the demand for variation. Nurturing the though of rotating the three different routines (30-30-30, normal, 30-10-30) after one another on schedule. Two sessions weekly, meaning you have done one rotation in approx 10 days. Probably 6-10 excercises. Adding or replacing an excercise here and there. Logging procedures. A way of keeping the element of surprise.

Anyone tried that or something similar?

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Now you are exploring some concepts that should work for you. Keep going.

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Thanks for your time Dr Darden! Your principles work well with me! I’m still amazed being able to ask you direct questions in this forum. I can’t wait for the backloading e-book to arrive! Thanks again for the support!

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See my previous post. Early observations after a first cycle of normal, 30-10-30 and 30-30-30 divided in 9 days.

It seems like the 30-30-30 cadence is where the increase in weight/load is possible.

30-10-30 is definitely the most demanding variation, as it requires an extra day or two to get rested. I feel this is where proper control of weight lifted (strength) is being established.

I have yet to define the sensation of normal (4 secs pos, 4 secs neg) but it came as a total surprise to the system, which made me do less repetitions than expected.

The above is to be taken with a grain of salt since it’s definitely too early to forecast an outcome, but I do find the differences in feel exciting - as well as being impressed by the increase of load under 30-30-30 (which was the routine I used two weeks prior to the current workout schedule).

Will get back to you with an update in a couple of weeks, in case this is a procedure to follow.

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A key point hardly ever understood is that if one is not adding weight every session than one is regressing.

Wow!!! That’s roughly 2 or 3 workouts each week x say 40 years taking into account layoffs. That’s 6240 workouts !! I’ve been working out for 50 years so I might be curling 500 to a 1000 or more pounds and chinning 50 —100 reps if did things “ the right way”! Ha ha!!!


Not when you have to go against our biggest obstacle…age…once we reach our prime at 30 or 40 years of age, it’s all down hill from there and eventually strength, speed, stamina and mass will be a struggle to maintain