There is a popular program out there on the Internet that has novices (that’s you) train by doing five sets of five (5×5) on squats, three times a week. Starting Strength proposes that you do three sets of five (3×5) on squats, three times a week. Which is better?
I have been following the 5×5 program for about two years and I have seen the best gains of my life. But in the last few months I have been really struggling with the recovery from doing 5 sets. Squats in particular are just brutal.
In short, 5×5 three times a week is too much. There’s too much stimulus, not enough recovery, and lifters stall or regress. They go from stage 1 to stage 3, instead of stage 2. We see it all the time: lifters doing 5×5 three times a week stall early at a light weight. Putting them on a 3×5 program generally gets them unstuck. In fact, this is exactly the strategy that the Other Program proposes when you get stuck. You might as well just do three sets of five at the beginning and not get stuck.
After reading this I decided to swap to 3×5. Yesterday was my first workout on the new program. I started off with squats with the weight at 85kg. I have been struggling to get past this weight for a few weeks now. My workout on Thursday on the squat looked like this:
5, 4, 4, 4, 3.
Training is mostly mental. You have to grind it out. Most times when I reckon that I can’t do another rep I probably have at least 2 more in me. I hit the first set and busted out 5 without any real issues. On the second set I was already to concede at the 4th rep but the knowledge that I would only have to do one more set prompted me to keep going.
With one more set to go I realised that if I hit 5 on this one then I would have conquered the weight. Sure enough I forced my way to the full 5 reps. It was hard, really hard, but I got there. If I had had to do another 2 full sets I know that I wouldn’t have been able to overcome that mental barrier.
The press went fairly well and then I came to deadlifts. Once again I had been struggling to break past the 127.5kg barrier. This time I got there. The last rep was particularly challenging but I put my success down to the fact that I was so much fresher. Those two sets each in squats and presses that I hadn’t had to do made a huge difference.
Weights are now like this for next week:
Bench press 70kg.
Bent over upright row 82.5kg.
Age 46, body weight 70kg.
I know that the upright row is not part of the starting strength program but I’m going to stick with it for now.
Hope you’ve all had some solid gains this week.