The S3 Method for Size, Strength, and Shreds

Man Doing Barbell Rows
Per Bernal

When it comes to your training, you can have it all—a ripped physique, full muscles, and the ability to move a monstrous amount of weight.

Just ask Brandon Smitley, a former bodybuilder turned pro powerlifter who holds the raw world record for the squat with a 567-pound lift at 132 pounds. Smitley is ripped, he’s large, and he obviously moves big weights. To help you achieve the same, he created the S3 method—a high-volume push, pull, and legs split that hits your entire body in just three workouts, allowing you to rest and grow for the remainder of the week.

S3 Explained

The training method is designed for those who have minimal time to train. For that reason, each workout focuses on compound movements for higher sets and lower reps (a classic method to accumulate heavier tonnage), followed by familiar bodybuilding isolation moves. To help you burn more calories and increase your muscles’ time under tension (a key for growth), Smitley added intensity techniques like dropsets, supersets, and eccentric reps. “Expect to get more work done in less time and an insane, shirt-splitting pump,” he says.

As for the split, there are two upper-body days, divided into push- and pull-based movements, and a lower-body day. Two of the days o er a conditioning component to elevate the heart rate and help with fat burning when your glycogen levels are already depleted at the end of the workout. This also eliminates the need for additional cardio during the rest of the week. Ideally, you’ll take a day of rest between each training session. Smitley recommends a Monday/Wednesday/Friday training split. It’s only three days of work, but don’t think this means it’ll be a breeze. “At the end of each workout,” Smitley says, “you should feel like you got in an amazing training session.”

How to Progress

Below, Smitley breaks down the two best methods for consistently adding pounds to your lifts.

Ramping Method

  • What it is: A method of progression that has you start with a weight that’s relatively light and continually increase the load as you work up to your top set.
  • Why do it: “Ramping up to one top set is better for overall strength improvement,” Smitley says. “The feeder sets—the lighter sets before your top set—will help you acclimate to the movement pattern and work on technique with loads that are manageable yet still effective. It also allows you to accumulate more volume over time.”
  • Do it: For the back squat, for example, you might progress like this: 225×6, 245×6, 265×6, 285×6, 300×6. “Do that for two weeks,” Smitley says, “and then try and beat your top set by five to 10 pounds.”

Flat-Loading Method

  • What it is: You keep the weight the same for all your sets but use a more moderate load—not too light and not too heavy.
  • Why do it: “Both of these methods are sustainable to a degree,” Smitley says. “But generally, at loading allows for slower, longer, more sustainable progress.” He also notes that this method may be better suited for those who are more interested in hypertrophy (muscle building) as opposed to strength gains, as your muscles are under a heavier load for a more sustained period of time.
  • Do it: For bench press, for example, you might perform a 5×3 with 275 pounds. Then you’d add five to 10 pounds to the bar in two weeks, aiming to get all the reps for every single set.

Trainer Tip: Smitley also notes that alternating between the two methods each week is a good way to keep things fresh while enhancing strength.

Smitley’s Form Tips

As an elite-level powerlifter, Smitley knows a thing or two about form. Follow his squatting and benching tips to lift like a pro.

Back Squat Tips

  1. Point your toes out. Your knees track where your toes point, so point your toes out for a better squat motion. This will also help open up your hips and give the body a place to sit when you get “in the hole.” Plus, adds Smitley: “This develops the glutes and hamstrings more, which will help you move more weight.”
  2. Use belly breaths. Take a breath in through your nose and fill your belly with air. “Belly breaths help create stability, which is good for force transfer when you squat,” Smitley says. “That’s what a lifting belt is really for—it gives you something to breathe into and brace against to keep your trunk rigid.”
  3. Drive traps into the bar. Two keys to a good squat: keeping your chest up and torso straight. And driving your traps into the bar will help with those two things. “Lead with the traps,” Smitley says. “It essentially helps keep the bar over your midfoot.”

Bench Press Tips

  1. Drive your shoulders into your back pockets. “When you pull your shoulders back and down, it stabilizes your scapula and gives you a stronger base to bench-press from,” Smitley says. This allows you to create more power and helps protect the integrity of your shoulder joints.
  2. Drive through your feet. Another key for stability: Keep your feet planted on the ground. You’ll stabilize your whole body. And according to Smitley, “More stability means a greater transfer of force, therefore more weight. And more weight equals more muscle.”
  3. Keep your elbows underneath your wrists. “When you bench-press, you don’t want your elbows out to 90 degrees, as this can lead to pec strains and tears and even rotator cu  issues,” Smitley says. “Keep your elbows under your wrists and your arms slightly tucked into your sides to help increase leverage. Pushing with your elbows  ared is uncomfortable, and it reduces the strength you can push with.”

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