When to Use 5 x 5
In a Conjugate Method training program, dynamic effort training is typically focused on increasing the rate of force development via the use of sub-maximal weights moved at maximal speed. We use this method for both upper and lower body training, with the end goal being to improve explosive strength that translates to faster squats, bench presses, and deadlifts.
However, sometimes a lifter needs to increase muscular endurance, size, or focus on technique. In this case, we would use a 5 x 5 set and rep scheme in place of our usual 12 x 2, 10 x 2, 8 x 2 three-week wave.
The 5 x 5 set and rep scheme is a classic strength training approach. Although not optimal for true dynamic effort work, the muscular endurance and hypertrophy benefits associated with 5 x 5 make it a worthy trade—a bit less dynamic effort training effect, but a bit more accumulated volume and hypertrophy.
What causes the 5 x 5 set and rep scheme to be a bit less effective at developing explosive power is the loss of speed most lifters experience between their third and fifth reps each set. Generally, the first two reps will move at optimal velocity, with the following three reps performed at speeds a bit less than optimal.
As we mentioned above, what you gain versus what you lose makes the 5 x 5 option an intelligent choice to build up some muscular endurance and add some muscle mass to your frame. The next question is, when should an athlete use the 5 x 5 set and rep scheme?
Athletes New to Training
If you have just begun to train or have yet to experience much success in your training, you will use the 5 x 5 set and rep scheme a bit more often when performing your dynamic effort training. We do this to ensure a beginner lifter is building muscle mass, muscular endurance, and building technical proficiency via multi-rep sets.
It can be beneficial for beginners to alternate between conventional dynamic effort programming structure and the 5 x 5 set and rep scheme wave to wave. This will expose a beginner to authentic speed training while also helping them learn how to execute reps properly. Additionally, 5 x 5 will provide the beginner with enough volume to ensure an increase in muscle mass.
Out of Shape Athletes
Occasionally, athletes can get caught up focusing on the intensity of their training, forgetting about the volume accumulation aspect. This leads to a loss of conditioning, which will ultimately affect an athlete's recovery rate and overall success.
The 5 x 5 set and rep scheme can be used as an effective conditioning tool for out-of-shape athletes. One of the ways Lou would force an out-of-shape lifter to get back into shape was through the use of 5 x 5. These training days are grueling for the improperly conditioned athlete and will either inspire you to get your shit together or send you home for good.
For the experienced athlete, the 5 x 5 set and rep scheme can offer similar benefits to the beginner athlete. No matter your level, we can all benefit from increased volume accumulation. Just because you're already big and strong doesn't mean you can't get bigger and stronger.
The 5 x 5 set and rep scheme offers the experienced athlete another avenue to avoid accommodation and stack up the volume to take their lifts to the next level. If you want to get stronger, you must accumulate more volume. Ultimately, you will only be as strong as the intensity levels you've been exposed to and the amount of training volume you can accumulate.
Keep Your Options Open
Conjugate Method training gives a coach many options to choose from when designing a training program. Do not limit yourself or lessen the effectiveness of your training because you want to stick to the conventional approach. At Westside, we always look for ways to manipulate the methods and improve the effectiveness of our training - you should too.
The 5 x 5 set and rep scheme will allow you to accumulate more volume, increase muscle mass, improve muscular endurance, and raise conditioning levels. This will enhance the quality of your max effort and dynamic effort training in the future.
Ultimately, the efficiency of your programming will depend on your ability to make the right call at the right time, ensuring that an athlete has constant exposure to the correct training stimuli at the proper levels of volume and intensity. If you need more volume, the 5 x 5 option could be right for you.
Simmons, L. (2007). Westside Barbell Book of Methods. Westside Barbell.
Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. C. (2009). Supertraining. Verkhoshansky.
Zatsiorsky, V. M., & Kraemer, W. J. (2006). Science and Practice of Strength Training. Human Kinetics.