Set intervals on Madcow 5×5

Your set interval is how much weight you add between the ramp sets of Madcow 5×5.

Smaller set intervals increase volume. They make each workout harder to perform. Madcow 5×5 defaults to set intervals of 12.5%. This is the recommended setting for most people.

Set intervals control jumps between sets

Madcow 5×5 uses ramp sets. You’re not doing five sets of five reps with the same weight like on Stronglifts 5×5. You’re not doing straight sets. You’re doing progressively heavier sets of five reps.

Madcow 5x5 ramp sets

Say your top set is 275lb on the Squat. You have to do five ramp sets of five reps in workout A. Your set interval is 12.5%. Subtract 12.5% from each set, starting from the top. Like this…

  • Set 5: 275lb
  • Set 4: 240lb == 12.5% less than 275lb
  • Set 3: 205lb == 2×12.5% less than 275lb
  • Set 2: 170lb == 3×12.5% less than 275lb
  • Set 1: 135lb == 4×12.5% less than 275lb

In this example the weight increases by 35lb per set. Each set is harder than the previous one. The fifth set – your top set – is the hardest.

That same 12.5% set interval setting will result in smaller weight jumps on exercises where you lift less weight. Say you Overhead Press 125lb. Here’s how your workout B would look like…

  • Set 4: 125lb
  • Set 3: 110lb == 12.5% less than 125lb
  • Set 2: 95lb == 2×12.5% less than 125lb
  • Set 1: 80lb == 3×12.5% less than 125lb

This adds 15lb per set. If you added 35lb like in the Squat example, you would go 125, 90, 55lb. That would be like going 275, 200, 120lb on the Squat – the jumps between sets would be too big. Using a percentage based set interval scales nicely with each exercise.

You shouldn’t do all these calculations yourself. Let the Stronglifts app do it for you. Enter your best lifts in the app and start Madcow 5×5. We’ll add weight every week for you and calculate your ramp sets. Just follow what the app says while we do all the math.

Set intervals control volume

Smaller set intervals increase the volume of each Madcow 5×5 workout.

Your volume is set × rep × weight. Compare the volume of different set intervals with the same top weight…

Set intervals15%10%5%
Set 15×110lb5×165lb5×220lb
Set 25×150lb5×190lb5×235lb
Set 35×190lb5×220lb5×245lb
Set 45×235lb5×245lb5×260lb
Set 55×275lb5×275lb5×275lb

5% set intervals increase volume by 27%. This workout will be harder than if you’d use bigger set intervals of 15%.

Madcow 5x5 volume small vs big set intervals.

Smaller set intervals increase the volume of your workout by decreasing the weight jumps between sets. This increases the weight of your ramp sets. Compare bigger and smaller set intervals…

Set intervals15%5%
Set 15×110lb5×220lb
Set 25×150lb5×235lb
Set 35×190lb5×245lb
Set 45×235lb5×260lb
Set 55×275lb5×275lb

Here’s the difference:

  • 5% sets intervals == four sets with 235lb or more
  • 15% set intervals == two sets with 235lb or more

If you want to increase the volume of Madcow 5×5, you can easily do so by using smaller set intervals of 10 to 5%. You can do this inside the Stronglifts app when you set up Madcow 5×5.

Pros and cons of smaller set intervals

Here are the pros and cons of smaller set intervals…

Pros small intervalsCons small intervals
More volumeLess Intensity
Longer workouts
Harder workouts
More fatigue

Smaller set intervals add volume by increasing the weight of each ramp set. These heavier sets create more fatigue. You get more tired before doing your top set for the day. This can prevent you from completing your reps on the top set and adding weight the next week.

The smaller your set intervals, the more your ramp sets turn into straight sets. A set interval of 0% is doing five sets with the same weight. A 5% set interval isn’t exactly the same but almost. Compare…

Set interval15% ramp5% ramp0% straight sets
Set 15×1105×2205×250
Set 25×1505×2355×250
Set 35×1905×2455×250
Set 45×2355×2605×250
Set 55×2755×2755×250

The volume is about the same with set intervals of 5% and 0%. But you can lift heavier with 5% set intervals. The first three sets are lighter than 250lb. They create less fatigue. That fatigue is even lower with 15% set intervals, making the top set of 275lb even easier to lift.

Intensity matters more than volume for gaining strength. Volume also matters. That’s why you’re not doing pyramid sets on Madcow 5×5. You’re not dropping the reps as you add weight. You’re keeping them constant. Compare the volume…

Squat workout APyramid setsRamp sets
Set 15×1355×135
Set 23×1705×170
Set 32×2055×205
Set 41×2405×240
Set 55×2755×275

Pyramid sets decrease the volume by 37%. The first four sets create little fatigue. This makes the top set of 5x275lb most easy to lift. But your goal on Madcow 5×5 isn’t to max out. It’s to build strength. You need to do some volume for that. You just don’t want to do so much volume that you create fatigue for the top set of the day.

This is about finding a balance between getting enough volume without sacrificing intensity on the top set. Pyramid sets would lower volume too much. Small set intervals would increase it too much.

Small set intervals have a few more drawbacks…

  • You’ll need more rest between sets. Each set is more fatiguing. Instead of resting 1-2min between the first two ramp sets, you’ll need 3-5min. That can easily add 20min/workout.
  • Failure to rest enough after the heavier and harder ramp sets makes you more likely to miss reps on the next set. You achieve more reps if you rest 5min vs 1min between sets.
  • Each workout will be harder and more tiring, probably causing more soreness. Some can handle it, others not.

Which set interval should you use?

Madcow recommended 10-15% set intervals. His spreadsheet defaulted to 12.5% set intervals. This has worked for many people.

The Stronglifts app defaults to these same 12.5% set intervals. You can pick bigger or smaller set intervals if you want. You can do this when you set up Madcow 5×5 in the app (home – programs).

The second time you do Madcow 5×5 you can try a smaller set interval of 10 or maybe 7.5%. This will increase the volume of each workout. But keep in mind your weights will be higher the second time. You’ll be stronger. That heavier weight will already increase your volume.

My goal is to share the truth about lifting weights. Please contact me if you have questions, suggestions or corrections.

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