The Aasgaard Company Logo Starting Strength Book Cover Practical Programming Book Cover Strong Enough Book Cover Mean Ol' Mr Gravity Book Cover Starting Strength DVD Cover
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

5 Ways to 5 x 5

by Andy Baker


Page 1 of 2 :: 1 2 >

Both lifters and coaches could stand to be a little more creative in finding new ways to keep adding weight to the bar each and every week.  Perhaps one of these 5x5 alternatives can help you.

Most of us recognize that doing 5 sets of 5 reps – 5 x 5 – is an incredibly powerful method of getting big and strong. The method is an absolute staple of many of the programs laid out in Practical Programming for Strength Training, 3rd edition. The 5-rep set is right in the “metabolic middle,” the perfect combination for both size and strength. And a whole bunch of 5-rep sets is a powerful stimulus. But this article isn’t about physiology. It’s about training. I want you to walk away from this article today with a piece of information you can train with tomorrow.

That being said, there are multiple ways to employ the 5x5 method into your program. Each method has its own set of pros and cons.

So let’s get to it.


1. Sets Across

This is probably the most commonly used method of doing 5x5, and will be familiar to a large majority of those reading this article. But for those unfamiliar, “sets across” basically means that all 25 reps are done with the same amount of weight. An example session:

  • 135 x 5
  • 225 x 5
  • 315 x 5
  • 365 x 5
  • 385 x 5
  • 405 x 5 x 5 sets (8-10 minutes between sets)

This is by far the hardest method – especially if work sets are approaching that of a 5RM. The benefit of this approach is that it has the potential to create the most stress. The downside is that it has the potential to create the most stress. So going all out on 5x5 across on an exercise like the squat has a tremendous capacity to trigger gains in both size and strength, but it also has the capacity to lead to overtraining. It is also an excellent method for early intermediate lifters to accumulate volume. For a late-stage intermediate, 5x5 across may need to be cycled in with other rep schemes to avoid burnout, or used in conjunction with one of the other 5x5 approaches from this article. For advanced lifters, heavy sets across at this volume will likely be limited to short periods of time (4-8 weeks) before volume must be reduced; otherwise a brush with overtraining can be expected.

No matter the level of training advancement, 5x5 across must be used cautiously by older lifters. If 5 rep sets are to be done heavy, a 40+ lifter might just get the same training effect from 3-4 sets and not run the risk of overtraining. Or he might be better served by using a less stressful variation of the 5x5 protocol.


2. Ascending Sets

Ascending sets of 5 involve starting with a light weight set of 5 and progressing up through 5 sets until a limit set of 5 is reached. This method was made most famous by Bill Starr in his classic work The Strongest Shall Survive. There are several key advantages to using this method as opposed to a sets-across approach. First, it’s faster. My guess is that this was the primary reason Starr used this method with his football teams. When going all out with 5x5 across, 8-10 minute rest times between sets are the norm. This often means 40 minutes of rest time alone in a training session, not including warm up sets. For a trainee who wants to get 3-4 exercises in during a training session, this type of drain on his/her time may not be feasible. Using ascending sets, the trainee can usually get through the first three sets on just a couple minutes rest. Prior to his fourth set, he may take 3-5 minutes, and then rest completely (5-10) prior to his limit 5th set. This makes for a much shorter session. For strength coaches or personal trainers who generally have around an hour to work with their clients or athletes, this is can be an ideal approach.

As both pro and con, this method is much less stressful than sets across. For a trainee with limited recuperative abilities (athletes and older trainees) this is a good way to accumulate volume. Additionally these two demographics often require a better warm up than just a general strength trainee. Athletes may be chronically sore and stiff from practice and conditioning, while older folks are generally stiff and sore from being, well, old. The first 2-3 sets at lower weights are a good opportunity for a thorough warm up without wasting a lot of time.

The downside to this method is that it may not generate enough stress to drive adaptation. If this is the case, there are a few “tweaks” you can make. First, simply try adding a set or two. This may mean doing 6 or 7 actual sets instead of just 5. This will “cluster” more work at a higher percentage of your top set. Below is a comparison:


Ascending:

  • 135 x 5
  • 185 x 5
  • 225 x 5
  • 275 x 5
  • 315 x 5


After tweaking:

  • 135 x 5
  • 185 x 5
  • 225 x 5
  • 265 x 5
  • 295 x 5
  • 315 x 5


A hybrid ascending sets/sets across approach:

  • 135 x 5
  • 185 x 5
  • 225 x 5
  • 275 x 5
  • 315 x 5 x 2 sets

Another way to make an ascending rep scheme more stressful is to add speed to the light weight sets. So in the rep schemes listed above, make your sets at 135, 185, 225, and 275 move more explosively. Accelerating moderate loads at a high velocity is more stressful to the nervous system than moving that same load slowly. For a sport athlete this is absolutely the recommended approach.


3. Descending Sets

Descending sets allow the lifter to work up to his top set of 5 reps faster and with less accumulated fatigue than with ascending sets. Let’s use an example rep scheme of a lifter using 6 ascending sets of 5 to get to a top set of 405x5:

  • 135 x 5
  • 225 x 5
  • 315 x 5
  • 365 x 5
  • 385 x 5
  • 405 x 5

The problem with a setup like this is that the lifter could be handicapping himself on his top set each day. The sets at 365 and 385 are fatiguing enough that they cut into his performance on his top set each day. This will become more pronounced as the lifter grows in strength over time. A simple alternative might be to implement descending sets:

  • 135 x 5
  • 225 x 3
  • 315 x 1
  • 365 x 1
  • 385 x 1
  • 405 x 5
  • 395 x 5
  • 385 x 5
  • 375 x 5
  • 365 x 5

This is much much closer to the stress that a sets across approach would create. But because the weight is dropping each set, the rest time between sets could be greatly reduced, making for a much shorter training session than 5x5 across, but still much longer and more stressful than just doing 5 ascending sets. If the lifter attempts to keep rest times short and do each descending set in a state of incomplete recovery this can be an excellent way to improve work capacity and promote hypertrophy.

Page 1 of 2 :: 1 2 >


Back to top Articles page

Vimeo YouTube

Events

October Iron Fest : North America

November 7-9 Starting Strength Seminar : Champaign, IL

November 22 Training Camp - Press & Bench Press : Atlanta, GA

November 22 Training Camp - The Squat : Atlanta, GA

November 23 Training Camp - Deadlift & Clean : Atlanta, GA

December 5-7 Starting Strength Seminar : Wichita Falls, TX

January 9-11 Starting Strength Seminar : Los Angeles, CA

February 6-8 Starting Strength Seminar : Houston, TX

Subscribe

Sign up for our newsletter for weekly "Best of the Forum" gems, a heads up on new content, upcoming events, and other news. (Your email address is never sold or shared.) View Archive


Products

starting strength seminar button    starting strength training camp button
  • “I was never taught like this before in 6 years of high school football, 3 years of college and 13 years in special operations. Would have been good to have at age 20ish.”
  • “Great three days! I love how confident I feel about my lifts now.”
  • “I have been to multiple seminars and certifications (NSCA, ACSM, etc.) but have never actually been taught how to position the body correctly. You’re right that the barbell moves much differently than PVC!”
  • “Worth the price of admission for day 1 alone- and for Rip’s sense of humor.”
  • “Well worth the money! Learned more in 3 days than I have in the past 3 years.”
  • “It has been a real eye-opener to learn that most of my previous education has been wrong.”
  • “Very complicated ideas and processes were made simple to understand and apply- Quickly!”
  • “Great time under the bar and lecture. Better than any other seminar on lifting.”
  • “The seminar will significantly reduce the amount of time I will need to teach the lifts to anyone.”
  • "I have learned the most this weekend than in any other educational seminar/schooling I have been involved with.”
  • “Perfect extension to “the book”…Direct, honest- no “bullshit” or “sales”...and Rip made me laugh.”
  • “Every coach needs to attend this seminar. You may think you know these 5 lifts, but what you discover is you don’t!”
  • “Learning about strength, the how’s and why’s of getting strong has fundamentally changed my opinion and knowledge of the subject in a profoundly helpful and life changing way.”
  • “The best thing for me about this is that I feel as though it will be possible to translate these teaching progressions to my staff and realistically expect them to apply it to clients.”
  • “Actual value for money – very rare in any industry.”
  • “In 25 years, the most satisfying workshop I have attended.”
  • “Appealed to all types of learners – Visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.”
  • “I loved the simple processes to coach each lift, and the platform coaches were all excellent.”
  • “Great background lectures followed by concise point-by-point instruction for coaching/performing the lifts.”
  • “Great seminar with thorough discussion of all movements, biomechanics, and physics behind them.”
  • “The Q & A session was great and brought out several interesting discussions.”
  • “I liked the format of analyzing the lift, teaching it, then practicing.”
  • “All the coaches were professional and demonstrated superior knowledge of the lifts, and did a great job. My ability to coach has improved because of them.”
  • “Coaching section was very valuable- it was nice to hear someone verbalize good coaching practices.”
  • “Out of all the different certifications and seminars I’ve been to, this one has had the greatest impact on my ability to coach.”
  • “This seminar should be the gold standard to which all others are compared”
  • “The depth of material presented was refreshing. The content allows understanding of the why’s and the mechanics behind the movements.”
  • “I am looking forward to the continued application of these concepts to enable me to drive adaptation progressively and consistently. Thank you!”
  • “I’ve never been to a similar seminar. This one set the bar pretty high.”
  • “Outstanding experience with not only doing the movements but also coaching experience. Thanks to all the staff!”
  • “The individual attention was amazing, not only as a coach but as a lifter.”
  • “Thoroughly enjoyed it. I came to learn and accomplished that.”
  • “This seminar was at a different level than others I have attended. Much more educational.”
  • “The subject matter was as detailed as it could possibly be and easily understandable as well. Great seminar.”
  • “I liked different platforms, different groups, and different coaches. The variety is effective and different perspectives/eyes on the movement is helpful.”
  • “Best mix of hands-on and lecture setting. Worked well for an uncoached individual”
  • “The principle-based approach creates a very valuable training experience beyond merely the five basic exercises covered.”
  • “I really liked the depth of the material, the consistency of the SS Model and its general applicability. The staff was very knowledgeable and approachable.”
  • “Very impressed with how a relatively complex subject was broken down into easily digestible bits of information that are immediately applicable to improving the exercises."
  • "The seminar was very hands-on. The Staff Coaches were very effective at improving lifters’ technique faults, despite having relatively few sets to do so.”
  • "The seminar is on par with undergraduate and graduate coursework I have taken, in its clear building of a topic: from model to practice to mastery. All lectures and 'labs' were presented in an extraordinarily logical way."
  • "It is so refreshing to see some integrity and excellence in this field! No nonsense, simple, and effective information delivered thoughtfully and in depth!"
  • "Compared to other fitness certifications, this has been the most informative and thorough."
  • "The quality of coaching, deep knowledge of the staff, and accessibility to high quality experts is amazing and very useful."
  • "Exceptional coaching. All questions were answered in depth, with explanations, and practical examples of good and bad form."
  • "It’s clear that a tremendous amount of thought has been brought to bear on the design of this seminar. This includes not only the core content, but also the manner in which it is communicated and delivered."
  • "Each individual gets specific feedback, and it is invaluable to see the coaching that other lifters receive."
  • "This is the second SS Seminar I have attended and I am finding it difficult to express how valuable to my training it has been because there is so much fantastic information provided. The 3 days will provide months of return on the investment."
  • "It is apparent that Rip and the Staff have put a great deal of thought into developing the model, presentation, and practical application of the seminar."
  • "Very well organized. Great to start with mechanics and physics and build from there. The coaches are very knowledgeable and communicate very well."
  • "This was one of the best educational experiences in my life of two Master’s degrees and a partially completed Doctoral degree. Fantastic and accessible presentation of biomechanics. Please come to my school and fire the biomechanics instructor."
  • "This seminar has set me up for a lifetime of successful, productive strength training. Great coaching and technique demonstrations, with a good coach-to-athlete ratio."
  • "The coach to attendee ratio is great. Each athlete receives feedback and no one is overlooked because a coach is trying to supervise too many lifters. The information presented is well thought out and delivered in a way that all can understand."
  • "Content was thorough and very clearly presented. As a coach, the teaching models and clear, concise, and direct coaching method is so helpful and effective. Being coached by the different seminar staff, each with their unique feedback, was extremely beneficial. The practical sessions broke up the seated lectures very well so there wasn’t down time or fluff."
  • "I’m a graduate student and this was easily one of the best educational experiences I’ve had. 100% graduate level or higher."
  • "Well, I’m not sure what a ‘similar’ educational experience would be…this was pretty singular. It was a whole lot to take in, but very well organized."
  • "The level of detail and reasoning was well beyond many, if not all, certifications and undergraduate classes I’ve experienced. The material is well laid out and applicable. I learned a lot as an athlete and as a coach."
  • "I enjoyed the entire seminar, but what stood out most were the coaches. All the coaches were great at what they do; I received great feedback on my lifts and coaching."
  • "The seminar is similar in nature and quality to graduate/doctoral level education. The staff coaches provided exceptional coaching, feedback, and academic discussion."
  • "The seminar was superbly organized and well presented. Great combination of hands-on experience with academic grounding using a variety of learning and teaching styles with superbly knowledgeable instructors."
  • "The difference between the seminar and the coaching on the lifts I received in high school is incredibly vast. What you guys do is remarkable. How much I learned in three days is incredible."
  • "The expertise of Rip and the coaches was incredible. It was obvious that it takes a lot of effort to put this seminar on, but the staff made it look very easy. GREAT STAFF!"
  • "Compared to Crossfit Levels 1 & 2, Oly, Kids, Football, Endurance etc… Rip is more knowledgeable and experienced than anyone I have trained under."
  • "The seminar was extremely thorough and clear. Although the material was very complex, it was demonstrated and taught simply, making it easy to learn."
  • "A wealth of information, clearly presented. It was an honor to be a part of this and to be instructed by such profoundly knowledgeable people. Thank you. I will not only recommend this to anyone who will listen, but I will also advocate for a Starting Strength Coach in Pittsburgh."
  • "Excellent organization, information, and communication. Rarely do Strength & Conditioning seminars hit those three aspects well."
  • "I learned so much about technique that will greatly improve my lifting, and I learned the “why” behind it. The depth of content was amazing."
  • "The whole seminar was exhaustive and thorough, and truly an incredible value in terms of dollars per hour."
  • "This was the most fun and educational seminar I’ve been to. Finally some people that have a clear knowledge of physics/mechanics of the lifts are, and the ability to convey it. Much more effective instruction than other seminars I’ve attended."
  • "Every person involved with this seminar helped me more in two days than I’d gotten in the previous two years."
  • "The staff was excellent and very helpful. It was definitely worth traveling from Sydney, Australia for!"
  • "The depth of information and attention to detail were great."
  • "I’ve been to every seminar and conference known to mankind, including at least 4 from USA Weightlifting. The justification of the rationale (for performing the lifts this way) was bulletproof. Anytime I speak, I like to give people things they can use and why. This seminar was the standard in that respect!"
  • "The intimate attention of the staff at each station to better your communication as a coach and as a lifter was fantastic. The rotation between coaches allws you to experience different styles and personalities to see a variety of coaching."
  • "This seminar was by far the best I’ve attended. There was more information in three days of this seminar than I got in four months of a certification course I took at a community college. The attention and professionalism of the staff will make me a better coach and athlete."
  • "The depth that all the coaches had when evaluating our lifts was extremely helpful."
  • "Worth every penny! Will highly recommend attendance to anyone interested. Great instruction, great staff, and fun."
  • "By far the most content and quality of any similar educational experience I’ve had."
  • "It was a pleasure to be coached and educated by such a knowledgeable staff. Lots of good laughs, too. Thank you."
  • "I was really scared to attend because I didn’t think I would belong or have any business being here. However, I felt totally welcome and it was just an amazing, almost life-changing experience. Thank you all SO much. Seriously."
  • "This was the single best strength-specific seminar I’ve attended. I just wish it was a day or two longer."
  • "Cheaper than college, and learned more."

starting strength book cover practical programming book cover strong enough book cover mean ol' mr gravity book cover starting strength dvd cover starting strength tshirt