My Big 3 - Need Guidance

New guy here.

I read this article: Finding Your Big 3 Lifts

I decided I want my big 3 to be:

Clean & Jerk
Front Squat
Overhead Press

For me personally I feel like these 3 lifts would cover all bases. If I have a 300lb c&j, 350lb fs, and a 225 overhead press I feel like my body would definitely reflect that. I’m guessing if I start today it would probably take me ~5 years to hit all these goals. Who knows if I ever will get to those numbers, but those are the numbers I’m shooting for. Current stats are:

5’8, 175lb, 31 yr old male
c&j - I can do 145lb 7x2
fs - I can do 160lbs 5x5
ohp - I can do 115lbs 5x6

How can I design a program that is 3 days a week that would focus on these 3?

I would be thankful for any help!

I think some clarification might be in order. Is your goal…

  1. To perform the lifting feats you listed, taking whatever physique changes happen?


  1. To develop your physique, using those three movements as your main lifts?

Google and download a copy of Dan John’s ‘From the The Ground up’ ( he gives it for free!) Full of gold. Wont hurt to read a bunch of his articles here either

It is a bit of the mix of the two.

I want to get to a 350 FS without having to back squat.
I want to get to a 225 OHP without having to flat bench press.
I want to be able to get to a 300 C&J training only 3x a week for the next ~5 years.
While hitting these goals I want to be as light as possible. I would love to stay around 77-85kg. (170-185 lbs).

But I do want these to be my main lifts to develop my physique. In terms of my physique I really only care about big lower body, big back, big shoulders. I figure if I eat really well, I’ll cut down enough fat to have my abs show.

But obviously the end goal is to hit those numbers. I’m guessing if I hit those numbers, there’s no way in hell I’d be scrawny.

Yeah realistically thats not going to happen.
Good goals, but unless you’re a genetic freak for maximum progress you will need to get all-over bull strong and train all muscle groups both directly and indirectly through out the year.

Top trainers only concerned with performance still advocate a decent amount of accesory work like hamstring curls even isolation stuff for tha gunz…

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Thank you for your input!

Would you say doing a program like this for 2 years before specializing into my goals is a better option?

I would just add C&J to Day 1 & Day 3 workouts?

Yeah, your on the right track thats a great program to build an overall base.

I would add C&J ( go nowhere near maxing) to just one day and/or train one extra day just drilling and learning the intricacies of O lifting ideally at an olympic lifting gym. Basically like skill training for a sport

I’d change to clean and press, front squat and deadlift. C&J is technical enough your learning curve will probably limit how strong you can get at it, whereas clean and press probably less so.

But, you’d probably do well to squat as well as front squat. It’ll simply get you stronger.

FWIW I’d go so far as to say you could probably do reasonably well just training clean and press and squat with smart accessories.

So, for reference of someone whom has been lifting a little bit and I am also a similar size and age as a you. 185 and 32 years old, I can front squat 385, clean 300, however, I can just overhead press my own bodyweight. Out of all of your goals, I would say the biggest challenge will be strict pressing 225. 50 pounds over bodyweight OHP at 175ish is gnarly man, definitely an exceptional level of strength.

I don’t think you need to back squat if you don’t want to or don’t have the time. I personally would focus my efforts (in the future as you get stronger) to higher frequency training, using auto-regulation. It is what really helped my lifts the most. Also, it seems like you just want to achieve these numbers to look a certain way… I would say you should find some desire in lifting the weights themselves and building the strength as part of your ultimate goal, because in my experience front squatting anything over 315 around a 185 pound bodyweight is not pleasant. In other words, if it is all for vanity, I think it will be hard to get under those weights most days and I believe there are much, much easier ways to “look jacked.”

Also, while overhead pressing is not my strong suit, I have found benefit in programming the push press for building overhead strength as well. I believe in following dedicated programs for as long as you can as a novice, however, later on I would practice the hell out of these lifts if they are your goal. So, for three days a week I would do:

Day1- C&J, Front Squat, Overhead Press
Day2- C&J, Front Squat, Push Press
Day3- C&J, Front Squat, Jerks off blocks (or fuck it, OHP again)
Using how you feel to program your numbers for the day, while developing “minimums” that you create over time. The goal is to build tolerable volume over a long period of time.

Not saying this is how you should do it, but this is similar to what has helped me (an average joe) build a somewhat decent level of strength.

This is about what i would suggest, there are many elite olympic lifters, who dont back squat, to save joints or stay in weight class, ELITE weightlifers !!! 4 time olympic medalist Niam sulamanalu, would only work up a double of clean jerk on front squats. Evolv is right on especially on the ohp part, on one of squat days do a set or two of back squats monday. On fri after top set of cleans throw extra weight on bar and do some romanian deadlifts. As far as tonnage go 90% mon, 87.5 % wed and 95% fri as this you have two full days rest. High incline dumbell presses will help ohp as well as heavy hammer curl help rack weight on cj. With that strenght increase you put on weight. Or go olympic lifting gym if you can find one.

I agree about the Clean and Jerk being a “test” and the combination of your clean, your front squat, and then your overhead strength.

I agree that you’ll need to drive up your clean and your front squat and your overhead.

To me, it seems like you will need periods where you build the lifts separetly. This will include doing “other lifts” to improve your “focus lifts.” You don’t have to always back squat, but you can use it to drive up your front squat. You won’t always deadlift and do high pulls, but you can plan for periods where you use those lifts to build up your clean. Incline presses and dumbbells won’t be all of your pressing, forever, but this lifts can help build your overhead.

Then you’ll have workouts where you’ll put the lifts together to do a clean and jerk. The stronger everything is, the bigger your clean and jerk will be.

Also, I really like the push press to improve the “strict” press and the jerk. Years ago, I thought the push press helped by providing an overload, like more weight than I could press. These days, I’m starting to think the push press helps because it’s a “faster” or more “dynamic” move, where you blast through the sticking point.

If you’re interested in doing some research and reading up, you should check out old Anthony Ditillo articles, then all of Thibs stuff from the last couple years. These dudes love big cleans and overheads.

Thanks everyone for all the thoughtful responses!

I’m not tied to these exercises. I just love the feeling of the C&J. It just makes me feel athletic when I do it. Also the thing I love about front squats is the fact it is self correcting. I think that gives me a peace of mind and allows me to attack the reps. Flat BP has always given my right shoulder issues (ohp never has and dbs never have). So having these 3 would keep me in shape and strong and balanced.

I would have to do accessory exercises, but I would still want my “big 3” to be C&J, FS, and OHP.

Based on what everyone has said and what I’ve researched, what do you guys think of this?

c&j 6x2
fs 3x5 + pyramid down
ohp 3x5 + pyramid down
*assistance - rdl, rows, db bench, bb curls, abs + hypers

c&j 6x2
bs 5x10
push press 5x3
*assistance - chin ups, dips, split squats, ghr, abs + hypers

c&j 6x2
fs 3x5 + pyramid down
ohp 5x10 (60% of day 1)
*assistance - bb hip thrust, rows, one arm db ohp, abs + hypers

Exercise selection looks good. You probably won’t need to do a whole lot of assistance work, maybe one, or two at the most, exercise plus abs.

If you’re squatting three days a week, and having a 5x10 BS day, I don’t see the need to pyramid down after your 3x5. If I am missing something, forgive me. I personally think that the extra sets will only hinder your progress in strength, rather than add to it. Keep your visits to the gym short and intense. Over time, if you need more volume on front squats with this plan, just add in more warm-up steps to get to your working weights.