Updated Bill Starr Big 3 Program

For those that are interested, I found this program in some old posts from another forum.

Hopkins Football 2000 Summer Lifting: Upperclassmen

by Bill Starr

Monday (Heavy Day)

Squats 5 x 5; 1 x 8 (back-off set)

Bench Press: Change your routine every week. Always do three sets of five as warm-ups then do three sets of heavier triples, doubles or singles. Some weeks you might want to find a work weight and do it for 3-5 sets of five. Do one or two back-off sets of eight

Back Work: Alternate deadlifts with power clean and clean high pulls every other week. Change up the reps on the deadlifts each time you do them. Do five sets of five, two sets of five, followed by three sets of 3, or four sets of eight. Work five sets of five on the power cleans, then do four sets of three on the clean high pull. You should be doing fifty more pounds on the high pull on your very first set than you used for your last power clean and aim at using 100 more pounds on your final set.

Auxiliary Work: Incline Dumbbells: Change these around also. One week do three sets of twelve or fifteen, then another do two sets of twenty. Do NOT do any less than 10 reps however.

Tuesday (Light Day)

Power Snatches: Two sets of five, then four to five sets of three. As long as you are maintaining goof form, you can do extra sets but when the form gets sloppy, move on to the high pulls.

(Note from Coach Margraff??make sure you know what you are doing with this lift. Incoming freshman are not to attempt this lift until they are properly taught the technique here at Hopkins by Bill Starr)

Snatch Grip High Pulls: Five sets of three, again trying to handle at least 100 pounds more on your final set over what you power snatched for your last set

Overhead Press: Change the set and rep sequence like you did on the bench press. Until you get your form down, do five sets of five. An excellent formula to improve this lift is to do three sets of five as warm-ups, then select a work weight and do five sets of three. Follow these with one back-off set of eight. If you make all your sets, move the weight up five pounds the next week. Stay with the strict presses until you are able to handle 200 x 3, then you can add in some push presses. But the strict presses are more beneficial until you reach that strength level.

Baby Cows: Start doing three to five sets of thirty reps and if possible alternate the standing and seated calf machines.

Chin-ups: Do four sets of all you can do. Try to add at least one rep, total, to each workout and these will steadily move up.

Wednesday (Light Day)

Squats: Five sets of five, using 50 lbs less than you did on Monday or do Front Squats, three sets of five followed by three sets of heavier threes

Good Mornings: Four sets of eight. Remember you want to keep your top set of eight at 50% of your best squat

Incline Bench: Follow the guidelines set down for the bench press on Monday. Change the routine weekly but always look for a PR

Dips: One set without weight, then start adding resistance for three or four more sets. Do eights, fives and threes. In order for dips to help your other lifts, you have to move past 100 for reps

Beach Work: Do two or three sets for your triceps and biceps, but don?t get nuts on these for you are already doing lots for you upper arms and adding in too much will not help, but hurt. For the triceps: straight-arm pullover or pushdowns on the lat machine are good. Any type of curling is useful for the biceps and some reverse curls are beneficial for forearm development. Keep the reps high, twenties, fifteens, and never less than ten

Friday (Medium Day)

Squats: Three sets of five followed by two sets of threes and one back-off set of eight. Try to move your triple up five to ten pounds each week and come back the following Monday and do that same weight for five reps.

Hang Cleans: These are optional. If you think you need more work on your power clean form, do three or four sets of five before doing your shrugs. Always do these before shrugging.

Shrugs: Five to six sets of five. Alternate the Hawaiian kind with the ?in the rack? type, if possible

Bench Press:Four sets of eight followed by two sets of doubles

Close-grip Bench Press OR Overhead Press: Do NOT do both!! You can alternate these every other week. On the close-grips, do three or four sets of eight. On the overhead presses, do five sets of five

Beach Work: Optional. If you have some energy left over at this stage of the week, you can add in more curls, triceps or chins. But don?t overdo it or you will be shot for Monday.


Abdominal Work: Include ab work at every workout. In fact you can do something for your abs every day. Be sure to hit the high and low portions of your midsection every time. High reps are better than multiple sets of lower reps.

Stretching: Spend time stretching after each workout. It is also a good idea to start doing some stretching during the workout in-between sets.

Leg Machines: If you have them available, utilize the leg machines at least twice a week. Leg extension, leg curl and adductor for two sets of twenty.


i have trained using the big three program with great gains, however i tried the program you posted about a year ago and couldn’t handle such high volume, especially for pressing exercises.


Thanks for the input. I posted the program not as a recommended form of training but just for general interest. I’ve been looking into doing a Big 3 type program myself because I think it hits all of the muscle groups adequately and is simple. Looks like the “old” program is still the best.

How did you structure your program?

I wouldn’t touch this program at all because of overhead pressing and snatches. Modified Westside would be better as they’re safer for the shoulders. Doing overhead exercises will increase the risk of having your shoulders seperated. You’d have to go over to elitefs website and read all of Coach X’s posts for his reasoning not to use overhead exercises. He’s strength coach for a pro football team and he said that his players are seeing the benefits of not doing overhead stuff and actually benching more.

Great post! I’d probably reduce the volume a little, but it looks interesting.

I’ve been doing a modified version of this workout on a 3 day split, very similar to the monday/wednesday/friday laid out here. It has been working great! My squat has gone up quit a bit, and I would recomend this rutine for anyone afraind of west side and looking to up their squat. I’ve had gains in bench and deads as well but not nearly as much as squats which is fine for me.

I think the volume is high but that is because it is modeled for a dedicated athlete not you average joe.

I was just curious if anyone has anything to say about back off sets. From my point of veiw it is good to add a little volume to a program, but at the same time I have heard that to get the most benifit out of heavy sets its better to avoid them. The reasoning was that CNS and Muscle memory will carry over from the last heavy set better then on a lighter set. I can see using different protocals for certain training situations but in one like this where performance seems more important the hypertrophy it may be counter productive. However I might add them to my program to spice things up a bit.

This thread takes me back. I did a three day a week Bill Starr Program in high school to prepare for football. Im also aware of how he sets up a Monday, Tuesday, wednesday, and friday workout as I have his book and have read practicully every Ironman magazine article written by him. I even met him at a Strength and Conditioning Conference when i was in college (I also met and ate lunch with Louie Simmons and Mel Siff at the same conference, unbelievable knowledge!). This utilizes a Heavy, Light, Medium intensity system. I made great progress on the program and built a solid foundation on it. It may seem like a lot of volume but it’s really not because you’re only going for one max set of 5. For example:

Squat 135x5, 225x5, 275x5, 315x5, 365x5

This would be your Monday Workout for the squat. As far as too much overhead pressing, I don’t agree. Coach x deals with football players who take a huge pounding during the season on their shoulders. I played Div 1-AA football and limited my overhead pressing because of the pounding my shoulders took from football. But for a recreational weightlifter, they wouldn’t see the same shoulder problems as a football player would using this program. The Military press will help them increase their benching power and the snatches can benefit their cleaning respectively. When I used the program in high school, i made sure to add some rotator cuff exercises to strengthen my shoulders. I feel this is a great basic program to develop a strong foundation of strength and size which has greatly helped me when I switched to a westside template during my collegiate football years.

I started doing the basic stuff, squats, benches and powercleans without any assistance, then after 3 weeks i added chins; four sets of max reps trying to add at least a rep to the total each week, as Starr recommends.
after another 3 weeks i started doing deadlifts on heavy day instead of powercleans and overhead presses on light day instead of benches.
then a couple of weeks later the program looked like this:

heavy day:
bench press

light day:
squats (light)
overhead press

medium day:
squats (medium)
incline press
clean high pull

i quit doing chins because i was afraid of overtraining.

i did this for about 8 weeks with great gains in strength and size. after this i felt that squatting and pulling heavy on the same day was trashing my legs. I then switched the heavy pulling to friday and kept the heavy squatting on monday like this:

heavy squat
bench press
powercleans (which would be light pull)

light squat
overhead press
clean high pull (medium pull)

medium squat
incline press
deadlifts (heavy pull)

i did the classic 5x5 thing with everything except deadlifts, i used 5x3 with them because i tend to loose my groove over 3 reps.

  • Volk

The original was much better, in terms of being able to get an average trainee to do it. This one is far too complicated for someone who just lifts for sports but doesn’t read about kinesiology/physiology/ etc like most of t-nation.

Volk, this looks similar to Joe Kenn’s Tier system… 1) ME 2) DE 3) Volume 4)moblity 5) moblity, M-W-F with alternating Upperbody, lower body and total body. Of course it’s not the only one. This one is called “elite”, He has others called traditional, i guess more like Starr’s. There are many ways to do it depending on individual’s needs.


I started the basic program and then just followed the recommended exercise transition suggested by Bill Starr.


Thanks for the input. I agree that the original was probably the better program - simple and basic.