The Best 3-Day Workout Plan to Build Muscle

Completing three full-body workouts per week is effective for building strength.
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To pack on muscle, you don't need to spend hours upon hours picking things up and putting them down. ​Phew​. Three one-hour strength-training sessions is adequate for building strength and gaining muscle mass, according to celebrity trainer Ebenezer Samuel, CSCS, head of training and innovation at the virtual training platform FlexIt.

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The catch, however, is you need to be intentional with how you allocate those three hours. Samuel says for strength gains, completing three full-body workouts per week —each featuring one hinge, one squat, one push and one pull exercise — is most effective.

"Ideally, there will be some movement crossover between the days," Samuel tells LIVESTRONG.com. Why? "Repeating movement patterns helps people build proficiency with those movements faster. It also helps establish the mind-muscle connection," he says.

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To make it as easy for you as possible, we asked Samuel to put together this three-days-per-week gains guide. Below, he offers a workout program designed for beginner and intermediate lifters.

What to Keep in Mind Before You Begin

Tip 1:​ If any of the prescribed movements are too advanced, scale them down to the indicated alternative. Or, do the listed movement with less weight—or no weight at all. And if you're an advanced lifter with time to spare, you might consider opting for this five-days-a-week workout plan instead.

Tip 2:​ Before starting your workout, warm up. “Your movement prep can be simple,” Samuel says. “One minute of jumping jacks, followed by one minute of high plank, followed by one minute of body-weight reverse lunges is sufficient for most exercisers,” he says.

Day 1: Full-Body

Exercise

Reps

Sets

Double Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

8

4

Goblet Squat With Pause

10

4

Incline Bench Dumbbell Row

12

3

Push-Up

30 seconds on, 30 seconds off

4 minutes

1. Double Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a mid-weight dumbbell in each hand, your arms straight down by your sides.
  2. Brace your core. Then, keeping your legs straight, push your butt back and hinge at your hips. Continue lowering toward the ground until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings or the dumbbell heads touch the ground (whichever comes first).
  3. Press your feet into the ground, then press your hips forward as you return to standing. Squeeze your glutes at top then repeat.
  4. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

2. Goblet Squat With Pause

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Sets 4
Reps 10
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width, a kettlebell at chest-height with one hand on either side of the horn.
  2. Keeping your elbows in toward your ribcage and your core braced, shoot your butt back and bend at your knees to lower into a squat.
  3. Descend until your hips are lower than your knees, or until right before your chest falls forward (whichever comes first).
  4. Maintain tension in your lower body as you hold this position for 1 to 2 full seconds.
  5. Press through your feet to return to standing.
  6. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

3. Incline Bench Dumbbell Row

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Sets 3
Reps 12
  1. Holding two light-weight dumbbells, straddle a weight bench set at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Plant your feet on either side of the bench and sit down. Let your chest press against the pad and allow your arms to hang straight down, palms facing in.
  3. Think about squeezing a clementine between your shoulder blades as you draw your elbows up toward the ceiling and squeeze your shoulders together.
  4. Continue raising the weights until they pass your ribcage. Pause at the top for 1 second before slowly reversing the movement.
  5. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

4. Push-Up

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Sets 4
Time 30 Sec
  1. Get into a high-plank position. Make sure your wrists are stacked directly under your shoulders and your toes are hip-width apart.
  2. Draw your bellybutton toward your spine to brace your core. Your body should make a straight line from shoulders to hips to heels.
  3. Keeping your neck neutral, bend your elbows back to lower toward the ground with control.
  4. Continue lowering until your chest touches the ground, then squeeze your quads and glutes and press through your palms to return to the start.
  5. Rest 30 seconds between sets.

Tip

If you do not yet have the strength to do a standard push-up, Samuel recommends doing incline push-ups, instead. (Not knee push-ups!). “Grab a weight box or stack some plates or books and put your hands on those instead of the ground,” he suggests. The higher the platform is, the easier the push-up will be.

Day 2: Full-Body

Exercise

Reps

Sets

Goblet Reverse Lunge

12 (per side)

4

Double Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

8

4

Dumbbell Bench Press

10

3

Resistance Band Row

12

3

1. Goblet Reverse Lunge

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Sets 4
Reps 12
  1. Hold a kettlebell at chest height, one hand on either side of the handle. Adjust your feet so they’re directly under your hips, and place one foot in front of the other.
  2. Cinch your core to stabilize your back. Then, simultaneously keep your chest high and bend your front knee and step back with your back foot.
  3. Continue lowering until your front knee grazes ground. Press into the ground with your front foot to return to standing and squeeze your glutes at top.
  4. Repeat for 12 reps with the same lead foot. Set down weight, rest 30 seconds, then repeat for 12 reps on the opposite side.
  5. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

2. Double Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

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Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a mid-weight dumbbell in each hand, your arms straight down by your sides.
  2. Brace your core. Then, keeping your legs straight, push your butt back and hinge at your hips. Continue lowering toward the ground until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings or the dumbbell heads touch the ground (whichever comes first).
  3. Press your feet into the ground, then press your hips forward as you return to standing. Squeeze your glutes at top then repeat.
  4. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

3. Dumbbell Bench Press

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Sets 3
Reps 10
  1. Grab two mid-weight dumbbells and lie down on a flat bench. Brace your core to press your lower back into the bench and your feet into the ground.
  2. Extend your arms straight overhead and adjust your hands so your palms are facing away from you.
  3. Bend your elbows as you pull dumbbells to chest height, then exhale as you press them back overhead.
  4. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

4. Resistance Band Row

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Sets 3
Reps 10
  1. Sit on the ground with a tight core, both legs straight out in front of you.
  2. Position resistance band around both feet and hold one side of the band at knee-level in each hand, palms facing in.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and bend your elbows straight back. Continue pulling until handles pass ribcage.
  4. Slowly return to starting position and repeat.
  5. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

Day 3: Full-Body

Exercise

Reps

Sets

Double Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

8

4

Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

12

4

Push-Up

8

3

Goblet Squat With Pause

40 seconds on, 20 seconds off

4 minutes

1. Double Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 4
Reps 8
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a mid-weight dumbbell in each hand, your arms straight down by your sides.
  2. Brace your core. Then, keeping your legs straight, push your butt back and hinge at your hips. Continue lowering toward the ground until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings or the dumbbell heads touch the ground (whichever comes first).
  3. Press your feet into the ground, then press your hips forward as you return to standing. Squeeze your glutes at top then repeat.
  4. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

Tip

There’s a reason the double dumbbell Romanian deadlift is featured all three days. Put simply: It works. “It’s one of the most effective exercises for teaching people how to properly hinge their hips,” Samuel says. "And if people can hinge their hips properly, their quality of life improves." After all, hinging at the hips is essential for being able to do daily activities like hauling a package from the steps or picking up your kiddo.

2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row

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Sets 4
Reps 12
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hinge at the hips. Grab a dumbbell with one hand, palm facing in. Steady yourself against a bench or other sturdy object nearby with your opposite hand. Contract your core to protect your back.
  2. Keeping your spine straight, pull your elbow back behind your body until dumbbell passes chest height.
  3. Contract your scapula at top before returning to start.
  4. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

3. Push-Up

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Sets 3
Reps 12
  1. Get into a high-plank position. Make sure your wrists are stacked directly under your shoulders and your toes are hip-width apart.
  2. Draw your bellybutton toward your spine to brace your core. Your body should make a straight line from shoulders to hips to heels.
  3. Keeping your neck neutral, bend your elbows back to lower toward the ground with control.
  4. Continue lowering until your chest touches the ground, then squeeze your quads and glutes and press through your palms to return to the start.
  5. Rest 90 seconds between sets.

4. Goblet Squat With Pause

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Sets 4
Time 40 Sec
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width, a kettlebell at chest-height with one hand on either side of the horn.
  2. Keeping your elbows in toward your ribcage and your core braced, shoot your butt back and bend at your knees to lower into a squat.
  3. Descend until your hips are lower than your knees, or until right before your chest falls forward (whichever comes first).
  4. Maintain tension in your lower body as you hold this position for 1 to 2 full seconds.
  5. Press through your feet to return to standing. Repeat for a full 40 seconds before resting.
  6. Rest 20 seconds between sets.

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