Preaching to the choir, but its reassuring

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Preaching to the choir, but its reassuring

Postby stephen sutton » Wed Dec 06, 2006 5:00 am

Marty's Stream of Warped Consciousness Blog

Tue Dec 05, 2006
5-rep sets: the default rep range
I had a conversation with Pavel Tsatsouline a while back and per usual his probing questions crystallized a truism that I’d long forgotten. He asked “Over the years did you develop a single preferred repetition range” What was ‘normal’ in my training. Put another way, what single rep range did I use most often in my weight training and why? Without hesitation I said 5-rep sets. I kind of surprised myself with the quickness of my reply but upon reflection it was an appropriate response. I based my answer on a lot of empirical data gleaned from my own athletic efforts and from working with some of the greatest strength athletes of all time. As a teenager I took up weight training because I wanted to grow my body for contact sports. I sought a concurrent increase in usable athletic strength to compliment my size. My emphasis was on explosive power. I wanted to be big and athletic. I was isolated and alone and took my cues magazines of the day. I was greatly influenced by the terrific articles of John McCallum. Mac was the first expert to address and clear up the rep-issue: he flatly stated the case that high reps built muscle tissue - but provided little in the way of brute power. Super low reps peaked power - but 1-3 rep sets led to quick burnout and were better used selectively instead of continually. The 5-rep set, Mac postulated, was the ideal rep range, one that split the difference between high and low and provided a critical balance between building muscle size and building pure athletic torque. Bill Pearl (another mentor) used 6 to 8 reps to build his incredible mass; ditto Reg Park. Mac persuasively suggested Fives. I commenced using five reps sets to near exclusion on squats, overhead presses and power cleans.

Being determined and ambitious and having all the training time I needed, over time I developed the ability to take a triple and turn it into a five though sheer willpower and guts. In retrospect my teen choice was physiologically correct. To this day I use and recommend the 5-rep set. Once an individual has gotten passed the beginner stages and wants to take their physique to the next level 5-rep sets are fabulous progress inciters – particularly for those who’ve never done less than 10-12 reps. Too often male and female trainees shy away from lower reps using the lame myth that ‘they don’t want to grow too big’ – as if it were that easy! Later when I took up powerlifting and trained under world champion Hugh Cassidy’s tutelage, I found it oddly reassuring that Hugh too used 5’s as his ‘default’ rep range. When I began working with Chicago’s Ed Coan and Oklahoma’s Doug Furnas I found it more than coincidental that both had independently come to the conclusion that 5-rep sets were the key and both used 5s more than any other rep range. Doug came up under hall-of-famer Dennis Wright who was a big 5-rep man. Doug eventually squatted 900x5 in the old George Zangas supersuit. Ed loved 5-rep sets and during his classical 12-week competitive preparation would use 5-rep sets for 8 out of 12 weeks! I passed my love of 5’s onto 7-time world champion Kirk Karwoski and they became the backbone of his training regimen. Kirk eventually hit 900x5. The classical strength cycle (Coan, Furnas, Karwoski) was 12-weeks in length and during the first 2-3 weeks 8-rep sets were used. Then the shift was made: a vast middle section was undertaken and 5’s were used exclusively. In the final 2-3 weeks, low rep sets (1-3) were used to peak power and strength.

It’s no coincidence that each of the men I mention developed incredible muscle mass to compliment the insane functional power each possessed. Does any of this 'strength exotica' have any bearing or relevance for normal people who use weight training in their fitness efforts? Absolutely: in my experience the average trainee is fixated with 10-15 rep sets (or higher) for a litany of lame reasons: “Low reps are dangerous” and the aforementioned favorite, “I don’t want to develop big muscles.” This excuse is used universally and defies rational thinking and basic biology. Safety is a matter of performing a lift properly using proper technique. There is nothing inherently dangerous about low repetition lifting. The danger comes into play when the lifter contorts or twists in order to complete a rep that they are not really capable of completing using strict technique. Lift weights to build muscle and strength. Period. No other reason. Coordinate cardio and diet to oxidize excess body fat. Intertwine the three elements to increase muscle size (and function) while reducing body fat. No matter who you are, (assuming you are past the rank beginner stages) a dose of 5-rep sets can blast you out of whatever training rut you find yourself in. Forty-three years down the progressive resistance highway I still believe the 5-rep set possesses magical attributes. Perhaps you should consider giving them a test ride.
stephen sutton
not looking for a new England
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Joined: Mon Jun 20, 2005 8:49 am

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