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The definitive guide to strength training How to get strong fast

Der definitive Ratgeber für das Krafttraining Wie Du schnell stark wirst

After we looked at the basics of strength training in the first part of this article and looked at Starting Strength, one of the most popular and effective strength training programs for beginners, in this second part of this article series we will take a look at other popular and proven strength training programs such as 5 x 5 and the Texas Method.

5 x 5

In 1976, a book was published that changed the world of strength training forever. It was called The Strongest Shall Survive: Strength Training for Football and its philosophy was very simple. The author of the book - legendary Olympic and strength coach Bill Starr - described it as follows:

"The football player [and you can insert martial artist, MMA fighter or whatever here instead] needs to work on total body strength and should not rely solely on sport-specific exercises to increase strength.

In other words, the athlete should increase the overall strength of their legs rather than simply building stronger leg flexors. They should strive for an increase in overall strength in their shoulder girdle, not just stronger shoulder muscles."

The 5 x 5 program presented by Starr in this book focused on three exercises: Bench Press, Squats and Power Conversion (Power Clean).

Here is the original program:

Monday (heavy)

Exercise

Sets

Power Clean (Power Squat)

5

5

Bench press

5

5

Bench press

1

10

Squats

5

5

Squats

1

10

Wednesday (easy)

Exercise

Sets

Power Clean (Power Conversion)

5

5

Incline bench press

5

5

Incline bench press

1

10

Squats

5

5

Friday (medium difficulty)

Exercise

Sets

Power clean (power move)

5

5

Shoulder press

5

5

Shoulder press

1

10

Squats

5

5

Increasing the weights

For each exercise in a training session, start light and increase the weight progressively. The amount of weight you use varies from day to day.

A heavy training day looks like this:

- Set 1: 35% of your 5RM weight (the amount of weight you can perform 5 clean reps with, but no more).
- Set 2: 70% of your 5RM weight.
- Set 3: 80% of your 5RM weight.
- Set 4: 90% of your 5RM weight.
- Set 5: 100% of your 5RM weight.
- 10 repetitions set: 80% of your 5RM weight.

An easy training day looks like this:

- Set 1: 25% of your 5RM weight.
- Set 2: 50% of your 5RM weight.
- Set 3: 55% of your 5RM weight.
- Set 4: 65% of your 5RM weight.
- Set 5: 70% of your 5RM weight.
- 10 repetitions set: 55% of your 5RM weight.

A medium-heavy training day looks like this:

- Set 1: 30% of your 5RM weight.
- Set 2: 55% of your 5RM weight.
- Set 3: 65% of your 5RM weight.
- Set 4: 70% of your 5RM weight.
- Set 5: 80% of your 5RM weight.
- 10 repetitions set: 65% of your 5RM weight.

When and how to increase the weight

Starr recommends that you increase your 5RM weights by 2.5% per week for each exercise. If your 5RM weight on the bench press is 225 pounds at the beginning of the program, here's what it would look like:

Week 1

Your bench press would look like this on the heavy day:

Bench Press (heavy day)

set

% of 5RM

pounds

1

35%

80

2

70%

160

3

80%

180

4

90%

200

5

100%

225

10 repetitions

80%

180

To make this scheme work, round the calculated values down to 1 pound. Technically, 35% of 225 pounds is 79 pounds, but packing 79 pounds on a barbell is usually not possible, which is why you will use 80 pounds.

The rest of the exercises will follow the same pattern.

Week 2

Now increase the 5RM weights from the previous week by 2.5%. Sticking with the bench press example, your previous 5RM weight is increased from 225 pounds to 230 pounds.

Your bench press on the heavy day would only look like this:

Bench Press (heavy day)

% of 5RM

pounds

35%

80

70%

160

80%

185

90%

205

100%

230

Due to the small increase in your 5RM weight, set 1 and set 2 will remain at the same weight as the previous week and the weight of set 3 will be rounded up from 184 to 185 pounds, while the weight of set 4 will be rounded up from 205 to 207 pounds.

Week 3

In week 3, increase your new 5RM weights by another 2.5% and so on.

Rest between sets

As with Starting Strength, rest between 2 and 5 minutes between sets.

What should you do if you can't do the specified number of repetitions?

If you are unable to complete the required number of repetitions for a given exercise, Starr recommends a reset or unload.

A reset consists of reducing the weight to the weight you were using 4 weeks ago.

During an unload week, you train with reduced weights and reduced intensity to achieve a form of active recovery.

Stronglifts 5 x 5

Stronglifts 5 x 5 is a variation of Starr's original, developed by a guy called Medhi. This variation is simple and effective and you don't have to spend a lot of time in the gym.

You switch back and forth between two workouts

Like Starting Strength, Stronglifts consists of two alternating workouts.

Training session A

Exercise

Sets

Squats

5

5

Bench press

5

5

Barbell rowing

5

5

Training session B

Exercise

Sets

Squats

5

5

Shoulder press

5

5

Deadlift

1

5

You perform 3 training sessions per week

You train three times a week with at least one day's rest between training days.

Most people train on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but as long as you give your body a day's rest between training days, you can change the schedule as you wish (e.g. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday or Sunday).

You alternate between these two training sessions in the same way as with Starting Strength:

  • Week 1: A, B, A
  • Week 2: B, A, B
  • Week 3: as week 1
  • Week 4: as week 2
  • Etc.

How you should warm up

Mehdi explains the warm-up procedure as follows:

Start with 2 sets of 5 reps with the empty bar on squats, bench press and shoulder press. Then add 10 to 20 kilos and perform 2 to 3 repetitions. Continue to add 10 to 20 kilos and perform 2 to 3 repetitions per set until you have reached your 5 x 5 weight. Do not rest between these warm-up sets to keep your training sessions short.

Warm-up sets with the empty bar do not work for barbell rowing and deadlifts. The bar must start at mid-shin level for proper exercise form and you cannot hold it in the air. However, since you are performing multi-joint exercises, your entire body is already warmed up to a certain extent when you have to perform barbell rows or deadlifts. You can therefore start heavier with these two exercises.

Never train 5 x 5 with heavy weights without doing lighter warm-up sets first. The 5 x 5 weight will feel heavier and you may injure yourself. Start with the empty bar and work your way up so you can warm up your muscles and practice proper exercise form. This will make the 5 x 5 weight easier and reduce the risk of injury.

Pre-workout cardio is not enough and can actually work against you. It is not specific to squats and does not allow you to train the correct form of the exercise execution. You therefore need to warm up with the bar despite cardio. Even worse, too much cardio before training can pre-fatigue your legs, which will make it difficult to perform heavy squats. So warm up with the bar.

Once you're warmed up, you're ready for your heavy sets of 5 reps. Each set should be performed with 100% of your 5 RM weight.

When and how to increase the weight

The progression is simple and linear: you increase the weight on each exercise by 2.5 kilos for each training session. And yes, this means you increase the weight on squats by 7.5 kilos every week, which is very aggressive but doable for someone just starting out with heavy training. Of course, if you are an experienced strength athlete, then you will know that increasing the weight by 7.5 kilos per week is impossible.

Breaks between sets

You rest between 2 and 5 minutes between sets.

What should you do if you can't do the specified number of repetitions?

Mehdi recommends an unloading week if you can't increase further.

The best strength training programs for slightly advanced exercisers

If you have been following a strength training program for at least a year, then you are best advised to use one of the following programs.

The Texas Method

The Texas Method is an enormously popular strength training program that is particularly well suited for somewhat advanced exercisers. This training program was more or less accidentally developed by respected Olympic weightlifting coach Glen Pendlay and is more of a training template than a fixed program. Here is an overview of this training method.

You perform 3 training sessions per week

As with all the other strength training programs we've covered so far, the Texas Method involves three workouts per week. Monday is reserved for volume, Wednesday for light training and Friday for very heavy training. Friday is the day you try to set new personal bests.

Here is an example of a well-rounded Texas Method training program that many exercisers follow:

Week A

Monday (Volume)

Exercise

Sets

% of 5RM

Squats

5

5

90

Bench press

5

5

90

Deadlift

1

5

90

Wednesday (easy)

Exercise

Sets

% of the 5RM

Squats

2

5

70

Shoulder press

3

5

70

Pull-ups

3

MV*

Bodyweight

Hyperextension

5

10

N/A

Friday (Intensity)

Exercise

Sets

% of 5RM

Squats

1

5

PB**

Bench press

1

5

PB**

Deadlift

1

5

PB**

Week B

Monday (volume)

Exercise

Sets

% of 5RM

Squats

5

5

90

Shoulder press

5

5

90

Deadlift

1

5

90

Wednesday (easy)

Exercise

Sets

% of the 5RM

Squats

2

5

70

Bench press

3

5

70

Pull-ups

3

MV*

Bodyweight

Hyperextension

5

10

N/A

Friday (Intensity)

Exercise

Sets

% of 5RM

Squats

1

5

PB**

Shoulder press

1

5

PB**

Deadlift

1

5

PB**

* until muscle failure

** Personal best

You alternate between weeks A and B, which gives you the opportunity to repeatedly set personal bests on both bench press and shoulder press.

As you can see, the volume days and the light days are fairly straightforward. You warm up before each exercise and then perform the prescribed sets.

Fridays are reserved for personal bests and on these days you try to move heavier weights than ever before. You start each exercise with a specific warm-up program and then perform a set of 5 repetitions in which you try to set a new personal best. The weight for this set should be 2.5 to 5 kilos above your current maximum weight for 5 repetitions for the corresponding exercise.

So if your previous 5RM weight for squats is 130 kilos, then try to do 5 repetitions with 132.5 or 135 kilos on Friday.

The warm-up

You can use the same warm-up program as for Starting Strength:

You perform your first warm-up set with the empty bar and then increase the weight evenly over the course of several sets up to your working weight.

For example, if you perform 5 repetitions of squats with 140 kilos, your warm-up program would look like this:

  • Empty bar (20 kilos): 2 sets of 5 repetitions
  • 60 kilos: 2 sets of 5 repetitions
  • 90 kilos: 1 set of 3 repetitions
  • 120 kilos: 1 set of 2 repetitions
  • 140 kilos (work set): 3 sets of 5 repetitions

When and how you should increase the weight

The aim of the Texas method is not to increase the weight from training session to training session, but to increase it from week to week. And the progression is very simple:

You add 2.5 kilos to each of Friday's individual sets of 5 reps.

This results in a new 5RM weight with which you calculate your training sessions on Monday and Wednesday, while Friday is again the day for new personal bests. In this way, the weights you move in each training session will increase over time.

Rest between sets

As with Starting Strength, rest between 2 and 5 minutes between sets.

What should you do if you can't do the specified number of repetitions?

If you are unable to perform all of the prescribed repetitions in good form during Monday's training session, then it is recommended that you either reduce the volume on your Mondays to 3 sets of 5 repetitions with 90% of your 5RM weight on squats and bench presses, or reduce the weight by 10% to 80% of your 5RM weight. The bottom line is that you need more recovery.

If you can perform the Monday training session as planned but cannot set a new personal best on Friday, then it is recommended that you modify the Monday training session by increasing the volume (the total number of repetitions) or intensity (the amount of weight moved) of the workout.

Increasing the volume is easy. For example, instead of performing 5 sets of 5 reps with 90% of your 5RM weight for the first two exercises, you could perform 5 sets of 8 reps with 80% of your 6RM weight.

If you increase the load instead, you should keep the volume the same. If you do 5 sets of squats of 5 reps with 90% of your 5RM weight, that's 25 reps. You could increase the load by doing 8 sets of squats of 3 reps (24 total reps) with 95% of your 5RM weight.

If you want to learn more about the Texas Method...

As you may have guessed, the Texas Method and all its variations are far too complex to cover in full here. For more details, we recommend the book Practical Programming for Strength Training by Mark Rippetoe.

In the third and final part of this article series, we will take a closer look at Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 program, which is very popular with strength athletes all over the world.

By: Mike Matthews

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