Singles to Doubles to Triples

How to Progress to Heavier Kettlebells

NOTE: this article is a sequel to these two:

Increase Your Strength with Double Progression

How to Progress Effectively in Bodyweight Exercises


So today I would like to share with you my favorite method of progressing from singles to triples and beyond. It fits calisthenics and kettlebell strength training perfectly because they both have huge jumps in intensity most of the time. I am talking about those moments when you were having fun with a pair of 24 kg kettlebells and can’t even move 32 kg ones in the same exercise. Or when you can do 10 reps in regular Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Ups, but fail to perform even a solid negative in a “diamond” version. If you trained enough time using bodyweight or kettlebells, you know what I mean.

In both articles at the beginning, I shared some methods of progressing in such unforgiving circumstances, but I wasn’t too specific on this particular solution. I think it deserves a full post and you will be able to benefit from learning it.

The Method

The actual method uses the principle of double progression. In short, the double progression is a fancy name for using two variables in your training instead of one. For example, 3 sets of 6-8 with X kg. How does it work? At the first session, you perform 3 sets of 6 with X kg. Rest for a week. At the second session, you nail 3 sets of 7 with X kg. Rest for a week, then finish 3 sets of 8 with X kg. In the fourth session, you increase the working weight to, say, X+2.5 kg and start over with 3 sets of 6. In this particular example, working weight and reps per set are our two variables. Everything else is constant.

The “Singles to Doubles to Triples” method utilizes the same principle of double progression, but in this case, our intensity (working weight) is constant. Our two variables are sets and reps.

Singles to Doubles

First of all, you should understand the difference between training and demonstration of strength. In short, if you bleed from all the holes in your body, then you are probably working with too much intensity, and that is not training, but rather demonstration of strength.

If I say “singles” here, I assume that you can do at least three of them (I mean 3 sets of 1 rep). To rephrase, I suggest you to implement this method starting with comfortable single repetition intensity, not your 1RM. This is mandatory and important point that will allow you to progress further in consecutive training sessions.

The mechanics of the method are easy. Start with 3 sets of 1. With time, work up to 8-10 sets of 1. Once you can do this, you can try performing 2 reps in the first set. Most likely you will succeed. For example, your progress can look like this:

Week 1: 3 sets of 1

Week 2: 4 sets of 1

Week 3: 5 sets of 1

Week 4: 7 sets of 1

Week 5: 9 sets of 1

Week 6 : 1 set of 2 + 5 sets of 1 (7 total reps)

At this point, I suggest you to try your best to keep the overall volume using the Most Flexible Set/Rep Scheme. In the same time, try to add sets of two every session. For example:

Week 7: 2 sets of 2 + 4 sets of 1 (8 total reps)

Week 8: 3 sets of 2 + 3 sets of 1 (9 total reps)

Of course, the progress probably won’t be so smooth, but it still will be close to this example.

Doubles to Triples

At this point, you can drop singles and concentrate solely on doubles. Your new goal is to work up to 6-8 sets of 2. Again, it will take several weeks. Our example can continue like this:

Week 9: 4 sets of 2

Week 10: 5 sets of 2

Week 11: 6 sets of 2

Week 12: 7 sets of 2

When you reach the goal, you can try triples in the first set. Back to our example:

Week 13: 1 set of 3 + 3 sets of 2 (9 total reps)

And again, try to keep the volume and work up to 3 x 3:

Week 14: 2 sets of 3 + 2 sets of 2 (10 total reps)

Week 15: 3 sets of 3 + 1 set of 2 (11 total reps)

That’s it. With help of consistency and 15 weeks, three pathetic singles transformed into 3 sets of 3 reps. What can be cooler than this?

An Important Note

The smoothness of the progress will vary greatly with different exercises depending on the complexity of the skill. For example, I really doubt that you can progress to 3 sets of 3 from 3 sets of 1 in the One-Arm Chin-Up in as little as 15 weeks (of course, unless you weigh 50 kg or less). On the other hand, you may conquer 3 x 3 in Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Ups faster than in 15 weeks.

Should You Use Only 2 Variables?

If you live in parents’ basement and have no life, you can control all the possible training parameters and play with them. I mean repetition tempo, rest between sets, time of the day, or any ridiculous thing you can come up with (like lunar phase). However, I would stay on the safe side of only two variables. Every other parameter should be constant.

When to Use the Method?

This method is particularly cool for mastering heavier kettlebells and more advanced bodyweight exercises. You are free to use it with any other implement, but do not rush things and do not add weight until you can perform solid 3 sets of 3 reps.

What about Static Holds?

This method can work for static holds too. The single repetition will equal a hold of 4-5 seconds. Again, you should be able to perform it at least for 3 sets. The rules won’t change much, although you will add seconds instead of repetitions.

Work up from 3 sets of 5 seconds to 6-8 sets. Start over with 4-5 sets of 6 seconds. Work back up to 6-8 sets. Start over with 4-5 sets of 7 seconds, etc.

Importantly, if you feel any tendon pain during training a certain static hold, you are probably working too hard. Scale back to painless variation of this position and work back up.

Closing Thoughts

The Singles-to-Doubles-to-Triples method is simple and effective. I worked for me every time I applied it. If you are in a proper situation, do not hesitate to use it. Thanks for reading.

Play rough!

Alex Zinchenko

Every time you don’t like and share this article, you upset a kitten somewhere.

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7 thoughts on “Singles to Doubles to Triples

  1. Gabri

    Hi Alex!

    Great article, I have already shared it on my FB page. The timing is also great, since I was getting a bit stuck on my training, so I am going to use this method for the levers and for weighted pull ups.

    On pullups it seems easier for me to add weight than reps… and when I work on low reps it just feels better than with high reps. Even if on other exercises I like to progress once I reach 8-10 reps, on pull ups I don’t like to do more than 5 for strength… So it would make sense to work on low reps right? Or would it be dangerous? Many people are always warning about taking it easy with weighted pull ups and OACU training.

    Thank you for sharing your insight with us, keep up the awesome work!

    PS: I would love to hear about how did you start training people. Do you train people also in person, or just online? If you have already written something on the subject I would like to read it, and if you don’t… I’d read it happily too.

    Reply
    1. Alex Zinchenko Post author

      Hey, Gabri,

      Thanks for sharing the article.

      Regarding Pull-Ups. Yes, I heard about “danger”. However, I never experienced any symptoms, as well as my clients. You can injure yourself with any exercise, so I don’t see any point to worry. My best in Weighted Chin-Ups was 60 kg for a single at bodyweight of 80 kg when I trained them. Interestingly, only when I started training the One-Arm Chin-Up, I suffered elbow tendinitis. It is all just a matter of patience.

      My advice would be to have a clear end point. For example, touch the bar at the end of each rep. If you don’t touch it, the rep doesn’t count. This way you can work even on singles. Although, 3-5 reps can be a better choice.

      Regarding training people, no, I haven’t written anything yet. I trained lots of people in person in the past, but I don’t do this anymore. I left only two guys that I really enjoy training in person (of course, they both live here in Kiev). The majority of my clients is online spread all over the world.

      Training people in person is definitely easier, but online training fits my schedule much better. There are lots of things to say. I need the actual questions to answer. My advice: be yourself and don’t try to please everyone. Do not chase clients. Work only with people you enjoy.

      I can write an article on coaching. Ask any questions and I’ll try to cover them all.

      – Alex

      Reply
      1. Gabri

        Hey Alex!

        Thank you for answering as always, you’re the best.

        I wrote you a list of questions I’d like to see covered on a possible future article, but like other times, when I clicked on “Post Comment”, this text appeared: “Your request timed out. Please retry the request.” and my questions disappeared…

        So I am going to try to write them again, getting straight to the point:

        1/ How did you started training clients online?

        2/ How do you manage your time with everything that you do (traning clients and yourself, having another job, wrtiting, being married, playing music, enjoying life…)?

        3/ How can I start training people offline if all I know is from the books, programs and blogs I have read, and the experience I’ve got from training myself for years and some friends of mine too?

        4/ How should I proceed if I want to help some people lose weight, but what I know most is about getting strong and healthy? Should I educate myself in that matter and try with my clients, or would that be irresponsible, and I should let another coach help them?

        5/ How can I get my first clients, how can I know how to proceed and how much to charge them? (I do this for pleasure, but I think people do not take free services seriously)

        6/ I am studying 6th grade from Civil Enginner, and I am going to start working as a management consultant on September. I feel very excited about my new job, but I still want to help people, train them and guide them. Is it possible to do both things at the same time, or should I choose only one?

        These are the main things that come to my mind. I hope you write an article about this, telling your own experience, and giving some advise on how to proceed and what to read and do.

        Thank you in advance Alex.

        Best wishes,

        Gabri

        Reply
          1. Gabri

            Alex!

            Awesome article! I just read it. I will post my comments on the article itself.

            Thank you a lot for answering all of my question!

            Gabri

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