Adam Piggott

Gentleman adventurer

Sunday lifting thread – The old switcheroo.

On last week’s lifting thread I gave a shout-out to my posse on new program ideas for me to follow. Didact came through in a big way.

I started out on the same StrongLifts 5×5 programme that Adam did, and I still use a lot of the same concepts from that programme in my own training routines. As I noted in a three-part series of posts that I wrote a few years ago for another reader’s request – you can find that series, along with all of my other multi-part posts, here when you look for “A Beginner’s Guide to Lifting” – the SL5x5 programme is, in my personal opinion, THE most effective way for novice lifters to pack on hard muscle mass, lose fat, and gain strength.

However, it needs to be very clearly understood that the SL5x5 programme is a beginner’s training method. It is extremely effective, because it uses time-tested and rigourously proven principles of strength engineering.

But, like most problems in engineering, there is actually more than one possible way of approaching the question of how you add strength over short periods of time.

I will answer Adam’s request for suggestions based on my personal experience, and will offer two possible alternative training methods to doing squats 3x per week. Both involve squatting only twice per week, not three times.

So this week I switched it up a bit to incorporate some of Didact’s recommendations.

On Wednesday I followed his advice for the bench press and the chin ups which is as follows:

Friday – Upper Body Day, Bench Press & Chin-ups:
Warm-up sets: 5 pause reps @45, 95, 135

Work sets:

  • 3 sets of 5 reps @185
  • 3 sets of 5 reps @195
  • 2 sets of 2 reps @205
  • 1 set of 1 rep @215
  • 1 set of 1 rep @225
Chin-ups: 1 set of bodyweight chin-ups for as many reps as possible, usually between 15 and 20

I was following my own numbers for the weights, obviously, but otherwise I did it exactly as Didact mentioned here. If you exclude the warmups then this is 10 sets of the bench press as opposed to 3 sets on the 3×5 program. I felt it the next day, no doubt about it. Not in an overwhelming sense, but it was noticeable.

On Friday I did the same as above for the squat, as I misread Didact’s squat regime  as 37 sets, which seemed slightly insane, but it’s actually reps, not sets. Anyway, I did that and then I did my normal 3×5 for the shoulder press which he excludes for some reason, not sure why. When I eventually got to deadlifts I have to admit that it was just about over for me by that stage but I managed to eek out about 10 reps.

I felt the legs the next day, no doubt about it. It felt good to switch things up like this. I’m taking the next week off over Christmas but I’m looking forward to see how the old legs respond to a bit of snowboarding.

The one disadvantage that Didact’s program has is the time it takes to complete it. I was in the gym for almost 2 hours on Friday as opposed to my normal hour session. I’ll have to weigh this up going forward.

The other challenge will be not to overindulge to much over the next week. We shall see as I have some fun stuff planned.


Podcast #98 – The expectations episode.




  1. 7817

    Programs like Didact’s look good to me in theory but I have difficulty in carrying them out. The extended time and total exhaustion for several hours afterwards was difficult to manage.

    Recently I changed my program to lifting every day, but only doing one main lift per day and one accessory lift. The plan also alternates between upper body and lower body every time, and alternates between volume and intensity every time so that every day is not just a huge grind (sets of 5’s at lighter weight, 3’s at medium weight, or singles at heavy weight, all increasing as I am able).

    This makes it more of a 30-40 minute plan, so that I feel energized afterwards while still pushing myself.

    Good luck with your plan, because if you can handle the recovery and volume I think Didact’s is probably better than what I do, but everyone has their groove.

  2. My biggest problem is that I have dicky shoulders. No bench for me, no chin-ups for me. Disappointing but there doesn’t seem to be a way around it.

  3. didact117

    The one disadvantage that Didact’s program has is the time it takes to complete it. I was in the gym for almost 2 hours on Friday as opposed to my normal hour session. I’ll have to weigh this up going forward.

    Yes indeed. That is a perfectly valid criticism and I definitely should have pointed this out in my original post. It DOES take a lot of time to do these workouts.

    As noted in my original post, I do not claim that what I have laid out is optimal for most people. It works for me, but I’ll be the first to admit that it may not be efficient. Those who criticise my setup from this perspective are certainly right to do so.

    In my view it is possible to tailor the setup a bit by focusing on different lifts through different days in the gym, and adding in a sort of “season” or “phase” here.

    The idea here is to do light(er) weights for lots of reps for 8-10 weeks – 5×5 or even 8×5, depending on how much weight you want to use for each lift. And then, you start adding weight and lowering the reps for about 6 weeks – so you drop down to 3×3, then 1×3, then one-rep maxes, over those weeks.

    Again, this isn’t my original idea. This is something that I remember seeing from a video made by the Trap Lord, Infinite Elgintensity, some years ago. I’ve never really used this idea, but it has rattled around in my head since then.

    What would such a setup look like? Well, let’s take a look at two possible versions:

    5 days of lifting a week – in which you only do ONE compound exercise each day
    Day 1: Squats
    Day 2: Bench
    Day 3: Deadlifts
    Day 4: OHP
    Day 5: Barbell rows

    You can throw in some accessory lifts too. The only ones that I really bother with are chin-ups and “hangs” – mostly for grip strength and spinal decompression.

    3 days of lifting a week – only two lifts per session.
    Day 1: Squats & Deadlifts
    Day 2: Bench & Chin-ups
    Day 3: Squats & Deadlifts

    In my view it should be possible to do either high-rep/light-weight or low-rep/heavy-weight versions of these two plans within about an hour, as long as one is strict about good form and does the usual due diligence with respect to food, protein shakes, recovery time, and so forth.

  4. didact117

    Oh and I exclude shoulder press and barbell rows because, basically, I stopped bothering with them. I found that doing chin-ups worked better for me in terms of upper-body strength than barbell rows, and I was never really happy with how overhead presses don’t really have a reasonably strict standard for form. That is part of the reason why OHPs aren’t really included in either powerlifting or Olympic lifting competitions – it’s just too easy to cheat on them by turning them into, effectively, a standing bench press or a military press with subtle knee movements.

    It is just a personal preference, I am sure people will disagree with those comments for various reasons, and that is fair.

  5. 7817

    I like what Didact is saying about the value of chin ups. It was difficult to take good advantage of them until I found a place where Rippetoe outlined his personal chin up plan on the starting strength forums. If you search chin ups and “pin firing” you should be able to find it.

    Essentially, he does chins once a week, but 3 different methods. One is 5 sets of chins to failure.

    One week is something like 5 sets of five with added weight, provided you can do 12 chins at bodyweight.

    The final week is an hours worth of chins, doing them every two minutes, but not to failure. Start at 2 or 3 reps, and keep working up over many sessions until you can do 30 sets of 5-7 reps in an hour.

    I weigh more than I ever have (about 200 lbs) and can do more chins than I ever have following this method (12 bodyweight chins). It works. You will be quite sore however.

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