I’ve not had much time this week as I’ve been preparing fighters for a show at the weekend,  so this post quickly summarises a simple strength development approach introduced to me by Gil Stevenson, a director of the UK Strength & Conditioning Association. If you struggle to understand how to train for strength rather than bulking up muscles, then this very simple structure can help you out.


3 — 5 sessions per week

3 — 5 exercises per session

3 — 5 sets per exercise

3 — 5 reps per set

3 — 5 minutes rest between sets

This is a simplified, easy to remember structure that helps you to design a strength training session. The combination of  numbers used depend on your phase of training, training experience and so on, but as a rough template it helps you get started.

Between 3 to 5  strength sessions a week provides enough stimulus to increase strength (although – I generally recommend 2x sessions per week for Thai boxer, as this allows sufficient developmental stimulus, without eating significantly into sport specific training). And using between 3 to 5 different multi-joint exercises with maximum effort gets results. Your exercise selection is beyond the scope of this post, but you should include a lift for the lower body, an upper body push, an upper body pull and something for the core.

Performing between 3-to-5 sets of each exercise ensures there’s sufficient volume for a strength adaptation. Using a weight that you can only lift a maximum of between 3 and 5 times with good form will provide an intensity that loads the central nervous system (CNS) sufficiently to cause an adaptation. You’ll get much stronger without putting on body weight — and a greater strength-to-weight ratio will make you more athletic and provide the foundation needed for speed and explosive power.

Resting for a minimum of 3-minutes between sets of the same exercise allows your CNS to recover enough to work at the intensity required to develop strength in the next set. If you take shorter breaks, although you won’t feel tired, your CNS will still be shot and unable to transmit a strong enough signal to lift heavy enough. Your wiring simply can’t transmit the spark to your muscles without enough re-charge time. I like to superset two non-competing exercises back-to-back without rest to condense workouts. I still aim for a 3-min rest period before repeating the same exercise again. Your whole session should take an hour or less.

As a rough and ready outline you could do a lot worse than applying the 3-to-5 structure to your strength training sessions.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

By | 2017-10-16T19:43:55+00:00 December 17th, 2012|Programme Design, Strength, Written Post|10 Comments


  1. Mark Plunkett December 17, 2012 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    Good as always, pretty much what I do already but I find it really hard to rest enough between sets.

    • DonHeatrick December 17, 2012 at 6:15 pm - Reply

      That’s good Mark. Yes, it does seem a long time between sets, especially to Thai boxers who always want to push on – but to train and overload strength specifically, it’s a physiological requirement. Resting needn’t be stood around watching the clock though. As I mentioned, supersetting a non-competing exercise immediately afterwards uses the time productively. I also add mobility and stability work into my programmes during these ‘rest’ periods. Even light shadow boxing or footwork drills are efficient use of this time. Just make sure you aren’t negatively affecting your recovery for your next work set.

  2. News | Super Fight Series December 17, 2012 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    […] Link: Strength Training Simplified Don Heatrick posted a link to SUPER FIGHT SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP's wall: Here's a quick strength training structure for great results. Don't waste time training the wrong qualities in the gym. […]

  3. Eddy December 18, 2012 at 10:50 am - Reply

    Hard Train, Better Result.

  4. Mark Plunkett December 20, 2012 at 5:41 pm - Reply

    Thanks Don, also Im looking for a good compound exercise to add to what I already do, squats, deadlift, overhead press, bench press and barbell row. Hopefully split into to different workouts of 3 exercises each. Any ideas ?

    • DonHeatrick December 21, 2012 at 8:47 pm - Reply

      I’d add chin-ups or pull-ups to your programme Mark. It’ll balance out the the two upper-body pushing exercises (overhead press and bench press) with a second upper-body pulling exercise (in addition to the barbell rows).

      Bench press
      Pull up

      Overhead press
      Bent over barbell row

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