5×5 same weight for all sets?
I was recently reading about one of the most common sets/reps scheme, which is the 5×5 strength routine. 5 reps is generally used for building strength rather than hypertrophy.
Alternatively, lifters might prefer to use the 3×8-10 sets/reps scheme, generally used for hypertrophy. Reps of 8-10 is normally around 70-80% of your 1RM.
Okay, so I wanted to compare two versions of the 5×5 method. They are:
1. Cumulative fatigue – using the same weight for each set (typically all 5 sets will be at 85% of your 1RM)
2. Pyramid – increasing the weight for each set so you might aim to totally max out on the final set, or even only achieve 4 reps on the final set (so here set 1 might be at 70%, set 2 75%, set 3 80%, set 4 85% and set 5 90% of your 1RM).
What does this mean?
Let me use an example of a woman who has a deadlift 1RM of 100kg.
What would the two methods look like?
Method 1 – Cumulative fatigue
Set 1 = 5 reps at 85kg
Set 2 = 5 reps at 85kg
Set 3 = 5 reps at 85kg
Set 4 = 5 reps at 85kg
Set 5 = 5 reps at 85kg
How would this workout feel? I’d imagine it would feel extremely difficult if 85% is representative of a 1 set 5 rep max then imagine having to do this for 5 sets? I’d make a guess that the woman would have to rest for 4-5 minutes between sets to make the recovery. She might also fail to make 5 reps on the fourth and/or final set.
Method 2 – Pyramid
Set 1 = 5 reps at 70kg
Set 2 = 5 reps at 75kg
Set 3 = 5 reps at 80kg
Set 4 = 5 reps at 85kg
Set 5 = 5 reps at 90kg
According to this, sets 1, 2 and 3 fall inside the hypertrophy percentage range (70-80%) however, hypertrophy is best obtained when the muscles are under tension for 45-60 seconds. 5 reps will probably not take this amount of time. It probably takes more like 25-45 seconds.
How would this workout feel? I imagine it’d feel a lot easier than method 1. Sets 1, 2 and 3 should feel easy. Set 4 is likely to feel manageable too because she has only just reached her 5RM. Sets 1, 2 and 3 might well have felt like warm up sets to her. I don’t think our lifter would have trouble hitting all 5 reps here on set 4. She might need less rest time between sets, maybe 3-5 minutes instead of 4-5 as in method 1.
Now what about set 5? 5 reps at 90kg? This is 90% of her 1RM, which according to charts, tells me a 90% 1RM corresponds to a 3RM. So our lifter might make 3 reps on set 5. No doubt this set would be challenging.
I think method 1 is going to be a lot more tiring. The appropriate weight is being used for the correct rep range, i.e. she is lifting a weight that she can ONLY lift 5 times, 5 times. Therefore her muscles are being worked in a way that will make them stronger.
Method 2 is interesting. I almost feel that sets 1, 2 and 3 are “wasted” being used as working sets because she is lifting a weight than she can clearly lift MORE than 5 times and surely that defeats the object of doing a 5 rep set? Theoretically, our lifter would be able to deadlift 70kg and 80kg more than 5 times (70% and 80% respectively and in the 8-10 hypertrophy scheme). Put in another way, she might be using an 8RM as opposed to a 5RM but being “forced” to stop at 5 reps.
I think set 5 is useful though. Our lifter will be able to try out more than she might’ve otherwise, and will be less tired than in method 1 (because the weights used in workout 2 are less). Set 5 will be testing and excellent for strength gains.
Which workout method will be better overall for strength or for hypertrophy? I’d be inclined to say that method 1 is better for both strength and hypertrophy. Why?
a) The appropriate weight is being used for each set, i.e. a 5RM for each of the 5 sets. This is the optimal weight for strength. The volume is high (25 reps) and each rep is as hard.
b) If we look at method 2, it is using a hypertrophy weight (70-80%) but not a hypertrophy rep range (it’s using 5 reps not 8-10). So sets 1, 2 and 3 are not going to be very hard. They will certainly be manageable. Sets 1, 2 and 3 are also not optimal for strength gains because although they are 5 reps, they are not heavy enough weights to get the full benefit. Our lifter is lifting a weight that she COULD lift 8 or 10 times, but she is making herself stop at 5 because the workout says so. I’d almost go as far to call this pointless, if it weren’t for reaping the rewards on sets 4 and 5. Method 2 gives the lifter the opportunity to “test the waters” at above her 5RM. This will be helpful in breaking plateaus and building new strength.
However, overall, due to the lower amount of work required in method 2, I’d say that method 1 was superior for both strength and hypertrophy in this theoretical case.
Of course, weightlifting doesn’t work this way. I just thought it was interesting to talk about, since I’d been thinking about it. There are many more factors involved in how strength and hypertrophy are gained. This was just one way of looking at it. Both methods have their place – the key is progressive overload, which means progressing every session; adding a little bit more weight, less rest time, etc.