Why I Don’t Like the 5×5 Strength Training Programs…

About the Author: Eric Cressey

Actually, this post should have been entitled, “Why 5×5 Workouts Works for Some People, but Not for Others.” That title would have been long and not “black and white” enough to get your attention, though.

The 5×5 workout (or 4×6, for that matter) approach works relatively well for taking people from beginner to intermediate. When all you’ve been doing is 3×10-12 (because the bodybuilding magazines said that was the way to do things), lifting heavier weights for continued progress makes perfect sense.

I feel strongly that not working below five reps on the main strength movements in your program is a huge mistake for lifters who are intermediates (or more advanced) – whether the goal is size or strength.

You see, in an untrained individual, you get strength gains on as little as 40% of 1-rep max (1RM). As someone gets more trained, that number goes up to 70%. However, you need at least 85-90% of 1RM in intermediate and advanced lifters to elicit strength gains.

For the average intermediate, 85% of 1RM corresponds to about a 5-rep max. In other words, only your heaviest set of five would be sufficient to stimulate a strength improvement. Now, what happens if you do a 5×5 workout? You’ve done 25 reps – and maybe five of them (the first set) were actually performed at a high-enough intensity to elicit strength gains.

As I show in my new book, Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, if you want to get stronger faster, you need to spend time below five reps – and above 85% of 1RM (and preferably 90%). This isn’t just physiological; it’s also psychological. You’ll get more comfortable handling heavier weights.

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