3+3+3=9 Muscle Specialization Guidelines

Dennis Weis

Articles, Muscle gain, Strength and performance, Training

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3+3+3=9 Muscle Specialization Guidelines

3+3+3=9 Muscle Specialization Guidelines

A champion is a champion because he works on his weak areas of muscle and strength rather than specialize on his strong point(s).

A champion keeps improving because he is more than willing to work the exercises he dislikes intensely for he knows it is necessary.

What Does The Term Specialization Mean?

Specialization simple means concentrating on one muscle group above all others for a predetermined amount of time, or until the muscle group which is presumable lagging comes up a bit.” – Charles Glass

Everyone who trains with HEAVY IRON has certain muscle groups that don’t respond as they should. There are a number of reasons for a slow muscle size and strength gain syndrome. It includes and is not limited to: Chronically localized (muscle) and systemic (Central Nervous System) overtraining – lack of training consistency – poor mind to muscle link connection – arbitrarily terminating tension enhancing reps before muscle growth stimulation has been induced – poor “Exercise Technique” or repetition form.

Bodybuilding specialization is a method by which to smash and derail the slow gain syndrome by working for advanced development of a certain muscle group that is lagging in size & strength,.

Appraise the muscle needing priority training. Does it need more size & strength, or a combination of these? Once you have answered these questions, it is time to begin planning your specialization program.

 In the quest to gain the most amount of size & strength, the first thing to remember is that consistent hard work is the only SECRET. The second thing to remember is to never forget the first thing.

Specialization isn’t always about just improving shape and muscularity to a subpar muscle group either. It is sometimes advantageous to specialize on One Exercise Only to the exclusion of doing a group of exercises, especially if it is your mission to gain the most amount of size & strength in the shortest possible time.

Generally, the acquisition of size & strength is accomplished by performing anabolic . . . Neuro-Muscular Activation (NMA) Exercises such as:

Major Muscle Groups:

Thighs B-Bell: Back or Front Squats
Machine: 45° Leg Press Traps B-Bell: Cleans
Shrugs Lats B-Bell Bent-Over Rows Lower back B-Bell: Deadlifts
Chest B-Bell: Flat Bench Press
Incline Bench Press

MINOR Muscle Groups:

Delts B-Bell: Press Overhead
Triceps EZ Bar: Close-Grip Bench Press
Biceps B-Bell: Curls

I have been involved in the Iron Game for over 50 years and  have yet to hear the question; “So how much weight can you do in the Dumbbell: Lateral Raise, Incline Fly, Machine Leg Extension or Cable Cross-Overs?”

People have always admired great strength, and their questions usually revolve around the “Anabolic Growth” exercises (How much can you Squat, Bench, Deadlift, Press Overhead, Curl etc?). Throughout history, it has been that way and it still is and it always will.”

The Following 3+3+3=9 Specialization Guidelines Reveal How To Incorporate A, Quick Results, Specialization Program Into Your Weekly Exercise Prescription.

  • Guidelines:
  1. Choose anabolic . . . Neuro-Muscular Activation (NMA) Exercises which enhance the most stimulation of size, and strength of the muscle group needing specialization.
    Or if you want a subpar muscle group to exhibit a combination of size, strength, more fullness and muscularity, choose from a combination of Neuro-Muscular Activation (NMA) and/or Muscle Specific Exercises.
  1. Put your specialization (muscle priority) program at the very beginning of a scheduled daily (AM or PM) workout. Generally, blood testosterone, glucose, muscle glycogen and the psychosomatic cycle (mental and physical feeling) toward training are at heightened levels during the first 20-45 minutes of a workout.
    As a result you will be able to apply maximum training effort to your program of specialization.
  1. The next way to structure your specialization is to perform it in the morning and then come back later in the day and complete the remaining workout for the number of other muscle groups you planned on working that particular day. This incorporates the principle of double-split training.
  1. Perform an easy to implement, effective specialization routine on the days that are not scheduled for a workout. For example, do a specialization program on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
  1. Train the remaining muscle groups (minus the muscle group you are specializing on) once and at the most twice per week on non-consecutive days, perhaps on Monday and Friday, and reduce the number of sets you normally do by approximately 25-50-75%.
    For example, if you are regularly doing 10 sets you would drop down to 7, 5, or even two sets.
  1. To see positive results from a specialization program, you will generally need a minimum of four to six to 8 weeks of diligent, hard, training and probably not more than a maximum of 12-14 weeks. This is only a rough average, and there have been cases where bodybuilders have been able to shock a stubborn muscle group into a new dimension of growth with as little as one day to two weeks of specialization training.
  2. As I mentioned in the previous guideline, specialization training will normally be most effective six to eight weeks before mental burnout (exhaustion or overtraining stage, which is the third and final phase of the ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’) is experienced. When you become aware of this condition you should take a three-week layoff from specialization training before embarking upon another priority program for the same muscle group, or any other muscle group for that matter.  This will give you the opportunity to recuperate fully, and your mental attitude toward your training will become more ‘focused’ for the next phase of specialization. Unless otherwise advised, specialization procedures should not be performed more often than every other day in a weekly situation. The exceptions to this are the abdominals and calves, which can be worked five to six days per week if necessary.
  3. Specialize on only one muscle group at a given time. For example, you should not attempt to do priority training for two major muscle groups such as the chest and back at the same time. You can, however, work two minor muscle groups such as biceps and triceps or a combination of one major and minor muscle group of the quads and hamstrings together if need be.
  4. Maintain a positive mental attitude (Use visualization techniques frequently where you imagine yourself achieving an improvement in muscle density.) and the willpower to make the specialization program work. Here’s an example of a strength specialization program that is easy to understand and employ. A lot of study, experimentation and training went into the development of this strength & muscle size method. Bodybuilders, Olympic lifters and Strongmen have made outstanding gains in strength & muscle size, using this program.

9-Week Program Matrix

The following 9-WEEK PROGRAM MATRIX is a training template that Abilene, Texas resident, Powerbodybuilder Ken Lain used successfully back in the 90s to simultaneously hold World Record Bench Presses in 3 separate heavyweight divisions of sanctioned powerlifting competition(s).

The 9-WEEK PROGRAM MATRIX not only works successfully for the Flat B-Bell Bench Press but also for other major and minor muscle group compound Neuro-Muscular Activation (NMA) exercises.

The 9-WEEK PROGRAM MATRIX is followed 2X per week (on non-consecutive training days).

Hypothetically assume an EVERY-DAY MAXIMUM SINGLE EFFORT (MSE) of 300 lbs prior to beginning (Week 1) the 9-week cycle. Your goal to increase your maximum single effort by 10% (300 x .10 = 30 pounds) over the next 9 weeks, = 330 lbs.

You may not always be able to add 10% for a new projected one-rep max for the Matrix program.  Pretty soon there’s going to come a time when 5% will be all that you can add.

However, for the first year or two you will continue to make those 10% gains, which will take a 300-lb. bench presser up to around 400-500 lbs. over a two year period of time, but only if he has the desire or discipline to train consistently.  You’ll need the desire and discipline to train consistently especially when you are five to six weeks into the Matrix program and want to give up because it is so brutally hard to get through.

  • “Dress Rehearsal” Warm-Ups

 A non-fatiguing “dress rehearsal” (muscle-specific) warm-up system is necessary for any of the previously mentioned neuro-muscular activation exercises as a means to bring blood into the muscles and tendons and ensure that the central nervous system (nerve force) is stimulated maximally. (Another way to stimulate the CNS is to eat foods high in Tyrosine and Sulfur such as meat and eggs)

“Dress rehearsal” warm-up sets also teach the muscles the exercise range of motion and that the poundage will become progressively heavier (i.e. golgi tendon readiness). In the warm-up example to follow you will notice that the reps are fairly low from a countdown of 5 to 1.

The reasoning behind this is that higher rep warm-up sets would create a buildup of PH and lactic acid. As a result of this early fatigue at the chemical level, the brain cannot recruit high threshold muscle fibres, necessary for the “size & strength-enhancing sets”.

The process for doing “dress rehearsal” warm-ups sets is to use 20-95% of the involved poundage you will be using for a pre-determined number of “size & strength-enhancing sets and reps”.

5- “Dress rehearsal” warm-up sets

WEEK NO. 1: Monday
(Heavy Day-180 lbs)


WEEK NO. 1: Thursday
(Light Day-145 lbs)


1 set x 5 reps (45%)
Rest-pause:  90 sec

  80 lbs 1 set x 5 reps (45%)
Rest-pause:  90 sec
65 lbs

1 set x 3 reps (60%)
Rest-pause:  90 sec

110 lbs

1 set x 3 reps (60%)
Rest-pause:  90 sec

90 lbs

1 set x 1 rep (80%)
Rest-pause:  90 sec

145 lbs

1 set x 1 rep (80%)
Rest-pause:  90 sec

115 lbs

1 set x 1 rep (90%)
Rest-pause:  90 sec

160 lbs

1 set x 1 rep (90%)
Rest-pause:  90 sec

130 lbs

1 set x 1 rep (95%)
Rest-pause:  5 min
170 lbs 1 set x 1 rep (95%)
Rest-pause:  5 min

140 lbs

The percentages (%) listed for the “Dress Rehearsal” Warm-Up Set(s) are based against the poundage’s used in the following 9-WEEK PROGRAM MATRIX for a particular week, be it a Heavy or Light training day.

week program matrix

Current Maximum Single Effort = 300 lbs
Projected Maximum Single Effort (300 x .10%) = 330 lbs


(Heavy Day)
  (Light Day)
1 3 sets x 10 reps (55%)
Rest-Pause: 45 sec-2 min
180 lbs

3 sets x 10 reps (55%)
Rest-Pause: 45 sec-2 min

145 lbs


3 sets x 9 reps (60%)
Rest-Pause: 45 sec-2 min
200 lbs 3 sets x 9 reps (60%)
Rest-Pause: 45 sec-2 min

160 lbs


3 sets x 8 reps (65%)
Rest-Pause: 45 sec-2 min
215 lbs 3 sets x 8 reps (65%)
Rest-Pause: 45 sec-2 min
170 lbs


3 sets x 7 reps (70%)
Rest-Pause: 2-3 min.
230 lbs 3 sets x 7 reps (70%)
Rest-Pause: 2-3 min.
185 lbs


3 sets x 6 reps (75%)
Rest-Pause: 2-3 min.
245 lbs 3 sets x 6 reps (75%)
Rest-Pause: 2-3 min.

195 lbs


3 sets x 5 reps (80%)
Rest-Pause: 4-5 min.
265 lbs 3 sets x 5 reps (80%)
Rest-Pause: 2-3 min.
210 lbs


2 sets x 4 reps (85%)
Rest-Pause: 4-5 min.

290 lbs 2 sets x 4 reps (85%)
Rest-Pause: 2-3 min.
225 lbs


2 sets x 3 reps (90%)
Rest-Pause:  4-5 min.
295 lbs 2 sets x 3 reps (90%)
Rest-Pause: 2-3 min.

235 lbs

9 1 set x 1 rep (95%) 315 lbs 1 set x 1 rep (95%)

250 lbs

The percentages listed in the left column for weeks 1 through 9 are computed against a Maximum Single Effort + 10% (= Projected Maximum Single Effort). Consider this as a Heavy Day for training.

Within the column to the right for weeks 1 through 9, use 80% of the poundage used for the Heavy Day.  Consider this as a Light Day for training.

Always take two days of R & R between the Heavy and Light Days
Ex:  Monday (Heavy Day) R & R (Tues-Wed) Thur (Light Day)
R & R (Fri-Sat-Sun)

Week: 10 (Wednesday)
(Test for Max Single Effort)

“Dress Rehearsal” Warm-Up Set (s)

The sets/reps and percentages of max protocol listed are based against the poundage indicated for the first attempt (i.e. example below 295 lbs) only!



2 sets x 5 reps (20%)
Rest-pause:  4-5 min

 60 lbs

1 set x 5 reps (45%)
Rest-pause:  4-5 min
135-140 lbs

1 set x 3 reps (60%)
Rest-pause:  4-5 min

175-185 lbs

1 set x 1 rep (80%)
Rest-pause:  4-5 min

215-245 lbs

1 set x 1 rep (90%) 265-275 lbs

1st Attempt

1 set x 1 rep (89-92.5%/max)
Rest-pause:  4-10 min

293.7-305.25 lbs
2nd Attempt

1 set x 1 rep (95-97.5%/max)
Rest-pause:  4-10 min

313.5-321.75 lbs

3rd Attempt 1 set x 1 rep (100-102%/max)

330-336.60 lbs


For the sake of efficiency when you are computing poundage’s for the “Dress Rehearsal” Warm-Up Sets, 3 Main Matrix Sets and the 3 Attempts (when testing for a Max Single Effort) and you have odd poundage (as in the above First Attempt 293.7-305.25 lbs.) always take odd poundage to the NEAREST five-pound interval.

As an example in the 293.7 lbs. would be moved to 295 lbs., whereas poundage like 305.25 lbs. would be taken to 305 lbs. Do assistance work during weeks 1 through 7 ONLY. Do 3-5 sets for a major muscle group and 2-3 sets for a minor muscle group.

After completing the 9-week PROGRAM MATRIX for a select major or minor muscle group exercise, wait at least 30 days before beginning a new PROGRAM MATRIX for the same exercise.

One of the SECRETS to becoming an outstanding power-bodybuilder is to recognize your deficient points in muscle and strength and map a program to correct the weakness. The informational tools for achieving this are contained within the pages of this article.

As one success axiom goes, you must “plan the work and work the plan”. To be a champion of muscle and strength development you must be a tough-minded hard-headed realist. Know your priorities! Good luck!


Dennis B. Weis is a Ketchikan, Alaska-based previous top-level titled Power-Bodybuilding champion. He is also a hard-hitting, uncompromising freelance professional writer and investigative research consultant in the fields of bodybuilding, nutrition, physiology, and powerlifting. During the past three decades he has established a small but dynamic one-man business to service male and female bodybuilders, fitness buffs, and powerlifting enthusiasts of all types with very personal (one to one or mail order), and highly professional instruction on all phases of physical excellence. He has coached literally hundreds of select clients, one of the most notable being a personal training advisor to the 1983 Miss Minnesota winner. One of the training tools he uses as a personal trainer is the revolutionary and famous Samra R.E.S.T. Principle.