Uniting three self-supervised learning (SSL) ingredients (discriminative, restorative, and adversarial learning) enables collaborative representation learning and yields three transferable components: a discriminative encoder, a restorative decoder, and an adversary encoder. To leverage this advantage, we have redesigned five prominent SSL methods, including Rotation, Jigsaw, Rubik’s Cube, Deep Clustering, and TransVW, and formulated each in a United framework for 3D medical imaging. However, such a United framework increases model complexity and pretraining difficulty. To overcome this difficulty, we develop a stepwise incremental pretraining strategy, in which a discriminative encoder is first trained via discriminative learning, the pretrained discriminative encoder is then attached to a restorative decoder, forming a skip-connected encoder-decoder, for further joint discriminative and restorative learning, and finally, the pretrained encoder-decoder is associated with an adversarial encoder for final full discriminative, restorative, and adversarial learning. Our extensive experiments demonstrate that the stepwise incremental pretraining stabilizes United models training, resulting in significant performance gains and annotation cost reduction via transfer learning for five target tasks, encompassing both classification and segmentation, across diseases, organs, datasets, and modalities. This performance is attributed to the synergy of the three SSL ingredients in our United framework unleashed via stepwise incremental pretraining. All codes and pretrained models are available at GitHub.com/JLiangLab/StepwisePretraining.