Boys Get Ready For The Final Answer:   5X5 Vs.3X5

by Vladi
Last Update  On December 4, 2011
If you go on any popular strength training related site you will see a lot of question regarding rep schemes. The most popular battle however is between 3x5 and 5x5. In this article I will try to precise the difference between the two but you will have do decide what's best for you. I can't do that because I don't know you. Let's go. Fire some questions.

"Bro...Pavel Tsatsouline recommends 5x5 in many of his programs. Why?"

The 5x5 have been around since forever. It allows you to lift relatively heavy weights compared to a more classic approach such as sets of 8-10 reps which is considered more bodybuilding orientated. However at the same time 5x5 equals 25 while 3x5 equals 15.
In other words if you go for 5x5 you are also doing more volume than 3x5 and many people believe that more volume builds more muscle although it's not that simple. Back to your question - I don't know why Pavel Tsatsouline prefers 5x5 over 3x5. My guess is that he wants to get the best of both words - hypertrophy and strength training. Next question, please.

"Bro...Stronglifts is 5x5 and Starting Strength is 3x5. What's better?"

This is a classic. Stronglifts recommends 5x5 for one very simple reason - the creator of the program wants to build a strong Google presence. In other words more people will type 5x5 instead of 3x5 in Google and this will lead to a higher site traffic which translates to more income from the ads you see on the web-page. However this has nothing to do with training, right? As far as I know StrongLifts make you start with 5x5 and when it gets tough and workouts start taking 2 hours you switch to 3x5 and than later to 1x5. In other words you are doing 5x5 only in the beginning when most of the people will probably be lifting up to 90 pounds. This is the only way you will be able to handle 5x5 squats three times a week. Unless you are superhuman you won't survive on that program for long and that's why you are forced to shift to 3x5 which is basically Starting Strength. So, what's the benefit of 5x5?

If you are beginner there is almost no benefit when it's programed that way. At the beginning it's so easy may even do 10x10 and survive but when the intensity goes up and you are lifting more weight that's when the real problems start and to this day I haven't seen anybody who can handle that kind of volume for so long. So, my opinion is that for the purposes of a strength program 3x5 will be better. However 3x5 tree times a week can also be dangerous if you keep it for too long. I have a friend who has severely injured his hip form doing too much work. As always - Listen To Your Body and don't be afraid to back up a little.

"Bro...but according to Mehdi from StrongLifts doing 5x5 at the beginning will allow you to practice form and techniques more thanks to the extra two sets?"

Well. Your first job is to learn the lifts. You have to do it no matter what program you are doing. And a few extra sets might be beneficial but in my opinion they are not necessary because the weight won't be demanding and the true form mistakes won't show right away. In other words everybody can lift 50 pounds with a perfect form but it's hard to do when you actually can hurt yourself. If you suck at some of the lifts just practice with light weight in order to improve your weak points. You may need to do way more than two extra sets.

"Bro....what’s going to build more muscle - 5x5 or 3x5?"

I don't think either 5x5 or 3x5 is good for bodybuilding type of training. I don't care what the gurus say.  5X5 and 3x5 are usually done with very heavy weight and up to 10-15 minutes of rest between sets. I've personally needed 15 minutes between some heavy 3x5 work. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to lift the weight for one rep. However so much rest is a problem when it comes to muscle growth.

When you are training you want to damage your muscles and you want to keep your rests short because otherwise the muscles recover and there is not enough stimulation. As a bodybuilder your goal is not to lift the most weight - it's to damage your muscles and that's done with short rests. Of course if you are untrained you will grow from almost everything but after your newbie gains end everything gets a lot more harder and you have to make a choice - weightlifting or bodybuilding. Listen to your heart and not to somebody else when you make that choice.

"Bro...why sets of 5 are so famous these days?"

They are famous because 5 seems like the perfect number to many coaches. It's low enough so that you lift some heavy weight and it allows some hypertrophy work although in my opinion anything below 6 is just too low for a “bodybuilding” set. For example I used to train my calves using very high intensity - sets of 5-7 reps. However nothing happened. When I started doing high reps - around 20 - I finally felt good about my calve training. Looking back it makes perfect sense - the calves are bot a strength muscle. They can lift heavy weights because of the great leverage but they were build for endurance. There job is to transport you from A to B. In other words you have to find what works for you and what doesn't. You may grow from from low reps but than again some genetically gifted persons will grow without lifting weight at all.

The reason why sets of 5 are so popular is because of the Internet gurus such as Pavel Tsatsouline, Mark Rippetoe, Mehdi from StrongLifts and who not. They are pretty famous on the Internet and far too many people think they know everything when if fact you should always build your programs around your needs and body differences. There is no one size fits all. We are not robots.

There is nothing magic about 5 - you can replace it with 4 or 6 and it will work in similar way. It's a number and your body cannot count. It can only struggle and that's what you have to make.

"Bro..than what do you recommend for muscle mass - 10x10...hahahah....u MAD?"

I like to do two warm-up sets and than up to two work sets to complete failure and if the exercise allows it a few forced reps with accent on the negative. I'm a big fan of High-intensity Training because my body cannot recover from too much volume and frequency. There will always be a joint that will start calling. When I keep the intensity and the rest periods high I can survive and recover. I also try not to go below 6 reps if my goal is hypertrophy. Also if I fail at 6 reps I will rest for only 10 seconds and perform 1-2 reps. But than again I usually do only one workset. It works for me. Will it work forever? Probably not. You have to experiment. I cannot say: Do 3x10, 8x8, 10x10 or whatever and make you believe that you will see results. You have to try and listen to your body signals in order to determine whether it's effective for you or not. Also the mirror never lies.

Conclusion: 3x5 is better for strength work because it allows you to lift heavier weights while 5x5 builds more muscle on paper thanks to the added volume. However both are not optimal for hypertrophy work and doing either of the rep schemes with demanding weight three times a week can cause potential injuries.

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