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Bigger and Badder

Ron Partlow
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5x5 training for power

So the contest is over. You’ve reflected on your prep and analyzed your placing. You’ve found a place for your trophy and made your favourite stage photo your new avatar. You enjoyed training to catch a sick pump and rested when you felt like it. You ate a cheat meal once a day—or maybe twice if you count all the random treats and the baking your friends at the gym gave you.

In the immortal words of every gym rat, “You caught a good rebound, bro.”

But now it’s time to actually have a plan. In the end, you realize that your main goal is still what it has always been. You need to add size … everywhere. Maybe move up a class. Since you just spent 16 to 20 weeks dieting all-out and hammering a wide variety of exercises with a lot of lot of volume, you’re kinda burned out.

Well, something that’s worked for me in the past is the good old “5×5” technique. That’s where you do five sets of five reps with a constant weight. It’s a different way to utilize volume and intensity that is great for strength and power. I’ve always been a high-intensity “train to failure and beyond” type of guy. So doing a “set” that doesn’t go to failure seemed really odd at first. Then I realized why it was working.

Training to failure is the central idea of most of the hypertrophy training I’ve ever done. Pushing until you can’t get another rep seems to recruit the most fibres and is a huge factor when it comes to making a muscle grow. However, training to failure with a lot of volume often yields no strength increases over time, and that can lead to stagnation in the end.

Debates rage on about what “failure” actually means, and there’s a huge amount of mental masturbation from experts who seem dead set on making things incredibly complicated in their search to find out whether 12 sets at 60 percent intensity is better than 6 sets at 90 percent intensity. Don’t get me wrong; I want to know the answer—I just don’t think a study involving 55-year-old men doing leg extensions applies much to what a bodybuilder is doing. If you want to get bigger, it might help if you got stronger so you could move more weight through your bodybuilding workouts. And the 5×5 does exactly that. So get stronger with five sets of five reps.
I think it’s best utilized on big, main compound exercises at the beginning of the workout. You would warm up by pyramiding a few sets and then choose a weight to do five sets of five reps with. I prefer two minutes rest for this type of training, and I do watch the clock on these. That way all the variables are controlled.

My favourite movements for this are exercises such as bench press, incline press, rack deadlifts, bent-over barbell rows, Smith machine military press, squats, and stiff-legged deadlifts. As soon as you get 5×5, you add weight the following workout. Don’t let ego get in the way, though; start with a weight you can do and make sure you nail down the rest periods and use killer form. Then go up from there. Watch yourself get stronger on that lift. I bet if you turn that 300-pound deadlift for 5×5 into a 405-pound deadlift for 5×5, you’ll also be stronger on all your rows and pull-downs, and over time, you’ll get bigger.

For more tips and tricks from IFBB Pro Ron Partlow, read his column here!