5×5, And Just an FYI: This is FOUR Days In a Row. Someone Give Me Some Credit

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Q: I’ve heard many interpretations of 5×5. Some say to start with a 5RM and then lower the weight so you can keep doing 5 rep sets. Others say to stick with the same weight and just do as many reps as you can with it for all 5 sets. Even still, others go with the Waterburian (how’s that for a new word!) idea of getting all 25 reps with the same weight no matter how many sets it takes. What would be the Gentilcorian (I’m on a roll) rejoinder?

TG: Gentilcorian, eh? It almost sounds like an era. It makes sense really. I mean, any great “era” needs to be recognized. Take for example the Victorian Era, which was marked by it’s prosperity in culture, entertainment, and the homemaking roles of women. The Gentilcorian Era is very similiar in that it too recognizes the greatness in culture (I’m the master at passing the Grey Poupon), entertainment (Louie DeVito is our generations Mozart), and the homemaking roles of women (Ma, meatloaf! On my plate. Ten minutes. Stat!). It’s uncanny really.

However, getting back on task….when most people think of 5×5, they typically think of Bill Starr’s original program. While it’s a great program, and has gotten plenty of people strong(er); like any strength training program/template, it does have it’s limitations. And while I could easily sit here and dissect every nook and cranny (lack of single leg work for example), the truth of the matter is, if more trainees followed this type of program they’d probably make infinitely better progress in the gym. I mean, it’s kinda hard to knock a program that emphasizes compound movements and putting more weight on the bar.

As it is, when I write programs for clients, I love using the 5×5 set/rep scheme. Anytime I can get someone out of the three sets of ten mentality, I am all for it. However, how I program 5×5 depends on the client/athlete:

Complete Newbie/Beginner: Every set counts. I don’t care if we’re starting with just the bar, it’s going to count as a set. Likewise, I’m not really too concerned about how much weight we’re putting on the bar- so much as I am making sure we’re ingraining proper form and technique. It’s been shown in research that un-trained individuals can get a training effect from as little as 40% of their 1RM (rep max). Needless to say, loading a beginner isn’t my first priority.

Intermediate (which coincidentally is where most of my readers tend to be): I’d just be happy with them not missing any lifts. One of my biggest pet peeves as a strength coach is guys missing lifts. Granted, I understand it happens, but it shouldn’t be a weekly thing- contrary to what you’ve been lead to believe. That said, when I say 5 reps, I really mean 3-5 reps. Ideally, I want you to get all 25 reps. But if you do something like:

Set 1: 315×5

Set 2: 315×5

Set 3: 315×5

Set 4: 315×4

Set 5: 315×3

Then that’s cool. Rather than do 1-2 crappy reps on those last two sets, I’d rather you just cut the set short. This isn’t necessarily “missing a lift” so much as it is being smart and not hurting yourself. The following training session you would try to get those reps back:

Set 1: 315×5

Set 2: 315×5

Set 3: 315 x5

Set 4: 315 x5

Set 5: 315 x4

In this example, I’d encourage the trainee to just keep using 315 as their “work weight” until they actually complete all 25 reps. Once they achieve that, then they can bump the weight up 10-20 lbs and start all over again.

Advanced (which coincidentally you’re not if you can’t bench press at least 1.5x your bodyweight, deadlift 2x your bodyweight, and squat 2x your bodyweight. Curling in the squat rack just means you’re a major tool. And if you’re one of those guys who carries a water jug around with you while you train, you’re an uber tool): Here we can be a little more creative, and I’d direct you to Dan John’s 5×5 Variations article. However, in all honesty, for a more advanced trainee, 5×5 isn’t going to cut it, and I’d be more inclined to follow something along the lines of what I described in my Rule of 90% article.

General Random Thoughts- because I didn’t know where in the hell to put this in the blog post

1. Seriously, don’t miss any lifts*.

2. In the case of this post, I am not referring to an actual 5×5 program- for that click on Bill Starr link above. Rather, I’m referring to the main movement of the day. For example if I have someone following a three day per week, full body split, each day is going to start with a “main movement” (for lack of a better term):

Monday- deadlift emphasis (5×5), followed by some extra ass-kickery.

Wednesday- bench emphasis (5×5). I know, I know- I realize it’s blasphemy not to bench on Monday, but deal with it. Actually, if you really want to turn your world upside down, instead of a bench variation, why not go with chin-ups or pull-ups? Come on, live life dangerously.

Friday- squat emphasis (5×5), followed by ass-kickery and eating lots of dead animal flesh.

3. Don’t be that guy that does 5×5 for stupid shit like lateral raises, leg extensions, or leg curls. It’s dumb and a complete waste of time.

4. Completely off topic, but would anyone be interested in trade bartering services? I’d be willing to write your programs, if you’d be willing to do some website work for me. In a nutshell, I get girls (or guys) to want to hang out with you, and you help me set up/organize my new website. If anyone’s interested, please contact me via email.

* In case you’re not picking up what I’m putting down: DON’T MISS ANY LIFTS!!!!

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