Why the 5-Rep Set Is Our Strength North Star

When we train strength at Performance360, we are always using the 5-rep set as our north star. The reason for that, is because the 5-rep set is truly the most all encompassing strength set for the purposes of how WE train for strength. You are generating absolute strength while also developing muscle and physique, improving your conditioning, and ensuring your connective tissue stays strong and capable in support of your fitness goals. 

Of course, it’s not as if every strength day features the 5-rep lift, but the point to understand is that is the epicenter and we program to be either above or below that number depending on the day, and always arriving at some form of consistently training it. It’s a matter of being able to pull strings on the rep count and load to make sure you are achieving balanced strength, physique and conditioning goals. Performance…360.

For example, if we offer a 4-rep option, that just means we’re skewing a little more strength and a little less physique. As we inch closer to that 1-rep max where we are training 100% strength, or if we go further north and say train an 8-rep lift where we might be 30% strength and 70% physqiue. Rough, probably inaccurate numbers, but effective enough to hopefully illustrate the overall point.

The lower the reps, the heavier the load, the more we train strength.

The higher the reps, the more moderate (not light) the load, the more we train physique.

5-rep splits the difference. 

Here’s a deeper look.

Functional Benefit – It creates strength.
A 5R set is usually at 75% and above for trained athletes, a percentage range that will build strength from a neuromuscular perspective for beginners and intermediate athletes. More advanced athletes can typically take the 5R percentage to a higher range (80%+), making it an effective “base building” or re-calibration for them. Advanced athletes need a consistent stimulus above 85% in order to continue to see strength adaptations, but you can’t always train at that range or you’ll burn out and become a low-rep specialist who can’t do anything else. This is why from a functional strength perspective, you can never go wrong training five heavy reps. 

Structural Benefit – It builds muscle and structure. 
There are two kinds of hypothesized forms of muscle growth. The first, in the sarcoplasm. This is hypertrophy where the cross-sectional area of the muscle increases but with no increase in muscle fiber density, and less increase in strength associated with it (other things not responsible for muscle contraction are increasing, like plasma). These are longer, more high-rep strenuous bouts of resistance training. These are typically your higher rep bodybuilding style sets, that you might see in a Friday BUILD.

The second is in the sarcomere. This is hypertrophy that does increase the density of muscle fibers and correlates to increase in strength and athletic performance, without a major increase in the cross-sectional area of the muscle. Stronger, and more dense muscle without getting “bigger.”

This is the 5R lift. 

Dare we fucking say it….it will increase that “toned” look that so many of you mistake for the outcome of light, high volume reps. The 5R is also enough volume to successfully strengthen and train connective tissue on an ongoing basis. 

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Conditioning Benefit – It improves the engine.
Heavy resistance training increases glycogen levels, ATP, and creatine, which are all used as energy in various conditioning systems but most notably in our “go” system for anaerobic workout. Because a 5-rep set can also be quite grueling from an aerobic perspective, you will also see longer bouts of conditioning improve through regular training of it.

In summary, the 5R will help in the following way.

  • Primary form of strength for intermediate athletes
  • Re-calibration for advanced athletes
  • Increases dense, performance muscle
  • Improves horsepower and endurance in conditioning systems

The 5-rep. Nothing fancy. Highly effective. Never out of style for any athlete or goal. 


Siff, Mel Cunningham. “Strength and the Muscular System.” Supertraining. Denver: Supertraining Institute, 2003. Chapter 1 Print.