Find out how the new 3/7 method can power you to increased strength and muscle size

Building muscle mass is tough. Ramping up your maximal strength takes work.

You need commitment, motivation and a solid game plan.

There’s no way around it. And no shortcuts.

To hit your targets, you need a well-structured program focused on principles of specificity and overload. And a clear understanding of the appropriate dose response.

Luckily the strength and performance world has never been short of training protocols. From accumulation methods such as German Volume Training, drop sets and pre-exhaustion. To intensity-driven strategies that include cluster sets and eccentric training.

There are hundreds of ways to kickstart the strength and muscle building process. And now we have another. It’s called the 3/7 method.

It’s designed around building muscle through extended metabolic work.

In this article we’ll show you how it works and take a close look at the science that underpins it.

First things first…

What is the 3/7 method?

The process of muscle growth is complex.

The increase in protein content of a muscle fiber is triggered through multiple cellular processes. Involving changes to cytoskeletal structures and a chain of events that are initiated by mechanotransduction processes.

(Yes, that’s mech-ano-trans-duction. Told you it was complex.)

But for all the complexities of muscle physiology, the process is actually pretty simple.

To gain muscle, you can either lift heavy. Or lift light with high-volumes and close proximity to failure.

Both strategies are guaranteed to flip that mechanotransductory switch. You can then kick back while your muscles do the rest.

The 3/7 method is a high-volume, metabolically driven training protocol that has been shown to increase both strength and muscle mass.

Here’s a quick step-by-step:

    1. You complete a total of 5 sets of an exercise of your choice (research has been conducted using bicep curls and bench press).
    2. Use a load of around 70% of your 1-RM (one repetition maximum).
    3. Start with 3 reps, then rest for 15 seconds. Then complete 4 reps and rest for another 15 seconds. Then 5 reps, then 6 reps and a final set of 7 reps. Resting for 15 seconds each time.
    4. Rest for 3 minutes and repeat the entire process - a total of 3 times.

As an advanced protocol, the 3/7 method is pretty simple.

The key is choosing an appropriate load - too heavy and you can’t complete the reps, too light and you’ll not gain anything from it.

Plus, you need to make sure you stick to the rest periods as strictly as possible.

The 15 second breaks act as “intra-set” recovery periods. They need to be short in order to help accumulate metabolites and ramp up the high threshold motor units recruitment to trigger the growth process.

The 3/7 method consists of 5 sets with an incremental number of repetitions (3 to 7) and very short rest interval between sets (15 s)

~ Laurent et al., 2016.

The research behind the 3/7 method

While the method has been used by bodybuilders and athletes for some time, it wasn’t until 2014 that the 3/7 method started to creep into the bodybuilding literature. First appearing in the book 'Strength Training and Bodybuilding' by Emmanuel Legard.

Then, in 2016, the 3/7 method was proposed for the first time in scientific literature. It was Cedric Laurent and colleagues who introduced the “new strength method” to the academic world in 'Science and Sport'.

To measure its effectiveness, the 3/7 method was compared to two more traditional training protocols.

A group of 38 healthy, trained men were split into three three groups and trained twice weekly for a period of 8 weeks, using the bench press. 

  • Group A performing a 4 x 6-rep protocol
  • Group B performing an 8 x 6-rep protocol
  • Group C performing the 3/7 method  

(All using 2.5 minutes rest time between sets and the same 70% loading).

After the trial period, the 3/7 group (C) had improved their 1-RM by 29.8%.

The 8 x 6 (B) group had improved by 35.9% and the 4 x 6 (A) group by 21.8%.

This indicated that while it wasn’t the most superior system for developing maximal strength, it was an efficient protocol.

Other results revealed that maximal force increased by 22.4% for the 3/7 group (C). Compared to 25.5% for the 8 x 6 group (B) and 9.9% for 4 x 6 group (A).

The impact of 3/7 on muscle hypertrophy

In May 2019, Séverine Stragier and colleagues published a similar study.1

They also compared the 3/7 method to the traditional 8 x 6 approach - this time using bicep curls.

But on this occasion looked at muscle hypertrophy effects as well as maximal strength and force production.

Using the same 70% 1-RM meant that both volume and load were equal. So in theory, it should lead to the same amount of growth and strength.

Yet, surprisingly the 3/7 came out on top for both strength gain and muscle hypertrophy.

Significant gains in size, strength & speed

Results showed that while both groups increased 1-RM strength, the 3/7 group reported much higher increases - 22.2% vs. 12.1%.

And for maximal voluntary force, it was a similar story - 15.7% vs. 9.5%.

Both statistically significant differences.

Additionally, neuromuscular function was similar in both groups. But bicep thickness had increased by 9.6% in the 3/7 group, compared to 3.7% growth in the 8 x 6 group. 

The 3/7 method provides a better stimulus for strength gain and muscle hypertrophy than the 8 × 6 method

It’s worth noting that the 3/7 method is also more time-efficient.

Allowing you to complete high-volume work in a fraction of the time it takes to complete high-intensity protocols.

It can therefore be easily incorporated into a strength workout, or used to target specific muscle groups as part of a split approach.

Possible limitations

Although these results are interesting, there’s still minimal research to advocate the 3/7 method as being superior to more traditional approaches.

In terms of its efficacy for strength, the 3/7 method appears to be a viable protocol. Laurent showed that it was superior to the 4 x 6 method with equivalent loads.

However, it was not as effective as the 8 x 6 method, demonstrating that a dose-dependent effect was observed.

Note: In 2019, additional Stragier's studies showed the 3/7 method to be superior to 8 x 6. But evidence remains inconclusive and further research is needed.

Both the 8 x 6 and 4 x 6 have used 70% 1-RM loads for comparisons. And while that makes sense from a “load equated” perspective, typical working loads at 6 reps would be more like ~80% of 1-RM.

Which could make a significant difference to any observed differences to strength and hypertrophy.

Further research on the 3/7 method

The original work by Legard and Laurent suggested that the mechanism behind the 3/7 method was metabolic stress. In other words, 3/7 triggered a cascade of hormonal changes that spiked muscle protein synthesis.

Currently, debate is ongoing as to whether metabolic stress is actually a mechanism of hypertrophy. Or just another route to creating mechanical tension that results in the activation of mechanotransduction.

Either way, further research into the underlying mechanisms that govern the 3/7 method is required.

Additional studies are now necessary to document mechanisms underlying the efficacy of the specific design of the 3/7 method. Consisting of an increased number of reps in successive sets

Takeaway…

The 3/7 method is a fast, simple training solution that appears to result in strength and muscle gain.

And while research is currently limited, it does provide an interesting training alternative for bodybuilders and athletes.

The 3/7 method is perhaps not “the best” in terms of strength and growth. But on the evidence gathered so far, it does have value - both psychologically and practically.