Why 5×5 Is The Most Powerful Training Method

Note by Mehdi.This is a guestpost by Olympic Coach Glenn Pendlay MS USAW.

Mehdi, Reg Park, Bill Starr and others all have 5X5 versions named after them, and each of these has been tweaked, modified, and sometimes bastardized by numerous others till people are using programs they are calling “5X5″ that are as far from the original as a triceps kickback is from a heavy deadlift.

Let me make one thing clear. 5 sets of 5 do not make a program, and 4 sets of 6 do not break a program. 5X5 is and always has been more about an idea and a philosophy than about blindly sticking to one set and rep scheme. It’s a logical way to progress in strength and to adapt your program as you pass from rank beginner to intermediate, and some people, on to an advanced lifter.

5X5 was originally described as a simple linear progression (StrongLifts 5×5, Pendlay 5×5). Within the past 15 years, some of the proponents of “5X5″ style training have publicized and popularized more advanced programs that are appropriate when linear progression stalls, and these programs (weekly variation programs such as Madcow and WFW as well as more advanced methods such as the Hormonal Fluctuation Model or SL Advanced) have come to be thought of as being under the umbrella of “5X5″ training as well.

It is with the inclusion of these Intermediate and Advanced methods under the umbrella that 5X5 has truly moved from a simple program to a true training system. What Mehdi calls the StrongLifts Ladder of Strength“ and what I always called just beginner, intermediate, and advanced is really a continuous journey.

This progression from shorter to longer “periodization” is how I train a wide range of athletes including football players, sprinters, shot putters, Olympic lifters, and many others. From 1999 to 2009 I had 97 national champions, all from a team that at any given time might have had as few as 10-15 kids on it, at other times 20-30. At one time I had 7 kids start as sophomores in high school, by the time they had graduated, 5 were national champions.

The most recent (and maybe the most useful) addition to the 5X5 family is the WFW method, called that because it was first used by the WFW Olympic weightlifting team. In fact I believe the first person to use the WFW method was National champion and Pan-American medalist Donny Shankle… who snatched 172.5kg which is an American record. He also recently clean and jerked 463lbs…

Other lifters who relied heavily on this 5X5 variation were

  • Junior World team member and national champion Josh Wells
  • National champion and Junior Pan-Am champion Justin Brimhall
  • Junior World team member and Collegiate and Junior national champion Trey Goodwin

Currently, Caleb Ward (13 American records already, and he’s only 20 years old) and Jon North (number 1 lifter in the 94kg class in the US, member of the 2010 Pan-Am team, and only 5kg away from one of the oldest American records on the books, a 165kg snatch in the 94kg bodyweight class) are relying on this 5X5 program to develop leg strength.

And this system doesn’t just work for teenagers or 20 somethings. I squatted 606lbs for a set of 11, totally raw and not even wearing a belt when I was a few years past 30 following this program. I have had 40 something lifters win National Championships using this program, including one who lifted more at age 44 after 20 years of inactivity than he had when he was a 20 year old Division 1 football player! I have a world champion and masters world record holder who won her first world championship at 60 years of age, and another masters lifter, age 46, who is not doing the best lifting of her life and regularly lifting 5-7kg over the world records in her age group.

So, properly programmed, this 5X5 system will work for virtually everyone. It’s an adaptation of stuff Bill Starr has done decades ago but with a LOT more long term planning thrown in. It’s a realistic and workable way to plan the first 2-3 years of your training, and a method by which I have regularly gotten guys from complete beginner to national champion in those first 2-3 years.

This is not simply about doing 5 sets of 5, 5X5 is a complete system of training. It is a philosophy, a structure, a framework. When you are a beginner, the details are mostly filled in for you, as you advance, you fill in more and more of the details yourself. This is fitting, because your need for individualized training increases as you advance, and so does your experience and ability to judge what to do for yourself. 5X5 is a proven and time-tested program that works.

Beginning with the second article in this series, I will show you exactly how I have used this system, when and why I switch from one program to another, what tweaks I use when things aren’t going perfectly, and how I keep progress moving along and your strength moving up month after month.

Author Info: Glenn Pendlay is a world famous Olympic Coach of 97 national champions and the “hidden genius” behind StrongLifts 5×5. Glenn has so far produced more than 20 medalists in international competitions and his athletes have broken over 13 American records. For more info check www.pendlay.com.

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