Why the 5-Rep Works and Is Our Barbell Strength Foundation
The reason that we like the 5R set as the basis of fitness is because of the combined functional, structural, and conditioning components of training that it provides.
- 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” 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.
- 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. 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. This is the 5R lift. Stronger, and more dense muscle. So while it will not add the same kind of size as higher-rep, bodybuilding ranges (which targets the sarcoplasm), it will create dense, performance-enhancing muscle. The 5R is also enough volume to successfully strengthen and train connective tissue, which we don’t just abandon once we exit Phase 1. It’s smart to always train our structure to match our function.
(Note: Bodybuilding rep ranges with compound lifts are very effective for building strength in advanced athletes when used as a complementary measure. Think about it like this. The 5R is good for both structure and function, but skews more function. The 8-10R is good for both structure and function, but skews more structure. Individual need and training age will dictate benefit of higher-rep bodybuilding schemes.)
- 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. That covers our Drag Race Car (ATP-PCr system) and our Mustang (Glycolytic) system right there. Perhaps even some Prius (Aerobic)?
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 in conditioning systems
The downside is that it will create soreness and fatigue, but that can be managed by not being too ambitious in your training around it for the rest of the week.
The 5-rep. Nothing fancy. Highly effective. Never out of style for any athlete or goal. The 5R is a highly effective range for all-around function and structure. So long as you do not confuse the 5-rep set as the ideal format for absolute performance, and see it as a combination of different positive attributes, you can truly appreciate it for what it is. Good fitness. Progress for days.
Siff, Mel Cunningham. “Strength and the Muscular System.” Supertraining. Denver: Supertraining Institute, 2003. Chapter 1 Print.