One of the best things that has happened with the growth of the internet, in the world of weight training is that, we learn a lot more than just what the bodybuilding mags want us to know. Unless you lived in the U.S before the 2000’s, your only source of learning about weight training would be bodybuilding magazines, and that meant that you would only learn about things like “ the greatest pumping techniques”. Not that I am trying to insult any bodybuilding mag out there, after all many including myself have been inspired and got our first lessons from these mags, so I would never really consider them worthless. However they are a bit biased towards certain things as they are written to cater to certain readers, but for people like me who are into strength gains as much as muscle building, the net has helped a lot in learning great and effective methods.
One of the most, or probably the most popular method for those who wish to gain strength as well as size, is the 5x5 method, which was popularized by former Mr. Universe Reg Park. In case you are unaware of what the program is like, then it is as simple as it sounds, you do 5 sets of 5 reps in a chosen exercise. The reason why it appeals to both the strength and muscle building enthusiasts is that:
a) you train in the lower rep range (5 reps) and thus can lift heavy and can build great strength
b) since you will be doing 5 sets with that heavy weight, you also get a good amount of volume in your training to add size
So as you can see, the 5x5 routine seems like a nice equilibrium point where you can build both optimal strength and size. Numerous strength coaches have promoted it and have delievered good results with it too. However just like any other method, this method can be done incorrectly too, and that would mean poor results. Before I continue I would like to mention that in my experience I have found that the 5x5 invloves too much vloume with a significantly heavy weight for it to be done too often for most trainees out there.
Sure, for a beginner who is lifting light weights, it might be the perfect way to train, however once you have completed about 6 months or so of training, you should look to use the 5x5 method spraingly, rather than the only way to train all year long. Having said that, those who have great genetics, speedy recovery, and also use performance enhancing drugs, it might not be a problem to do 5x5 year long. However for the rest, who do not fall under these categories, whIch I believe involves the majority of weight trainees, the 5x5 method needs to be approached more carefully.
Here are 3 common mistakes that people do with the 5x5 method:
1) Using actual 5 rep max weight- it needs to be understood that 5x5 is a system of training to improve strength and size, and not a way to test your strength. If you use your actual 5 rep max weight then you will never be able to get 5 sets with that weight in one workout. It is one thing doing one set of 5 with your 5 rep max, and a very different one doing 25 reps with that weight in one workout! Pushing to failure in one set will deplete your strength and energy levels and further sets will be hard to get by, unless you do lesser reps in the next set. And if you keep dropping the reps in the following sets, then you certainly are not doing a 5x5, and are also frying out your central nervous system, which will slow down your progress. Instead use your 7 or 8 rep max weight and do 5x5 with it. As you get stronger and bigger add more weight gradually, and you will hit much fewer sticking points.
2) Doing every exercise 5x5 style- the 5x5 method is meant for big compound movements like squats, presses, rows, etc and not for barbell curls, abs, or calf raises. And, it is also not recommended that you do a 5x5 for every exercise in a workout if you are doing more than 3 exercises in that workout. Select a major exercise or two in each workout and do that 5x5 style in the beginning, and then for the assistance, isolation exercises following that, stick to the conventional 2-3 sets pattern for 6-12 reps.
3) Not taking deload weeks- okay, this is actually more of a common training mistake, rather than one specific to the 5x5 method. After you have pushed hard for a few weeks, your body requires a deaload week, where you train with about 60% of the weight that you were using, so that your body can recover. This way you will come back stronger when you go back to the heavier weights. And this delaoding becomes even more important with a 5x5 style of training, since you will be using significantly heavy weights, and your body will go through much greater wear and tear comapred to the “pump” only style weight training. Ideally do a deload week once every 4-6 weeks for best results.
If you have been guilty of committing any of the above 3 mistakes, then you will now know why you found it hard to see results. So to help you gain the best results from the 5x5 method, here are 2 routines that you can choose from and benefit:
Routine 1: ideal for those with less than 8 months of training
Rotate between the two workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday
Weighted chins- 5x5
Barbell rows- 5x5
Routine 2: more suitable for intermediates
A) Squats- 5x5
B) Military press- 3x6
C) Barbell rows- 3x8
D) Hanging leg raises- 3 sets of as many reps as possible
A) Bench press- 5x5
B) Deadlifts- 3x3-5
C1) Overhead dumbbell press- 3x8-10
C2) 1 arm dumbbell rows- 3x10
A) Weighted chin ups-5x5
B) Front squats- 3x6-8
C1) Incline press- 3x8-10
C2) Seated cable rows- 3x10