ton of emails asking if 5 rep sets build
"hypertrophy" (which we used to call "muscle
mass" or "size" or even "bulk" when I was a
Apparently, the internet training ninjas are
saying that five rep sets build strength but
not mass. Why else would so many readers be
asking about this?
So let's clear things up.
Back in the 1920's, 30's and 40's, there were
a ton of guys who trained for Olympic
weightlifting competition rather than for
bodybuilding. They did low reps. Fives, threes,
doubles and singles. They all built plenty of
impressive muscle mass. Some men, such as Steve
Stanko gained well over 50 pounds of muscle on
a low rep weightlifting program. (Stanko went
from 140 and change to more than 220 pounds,
which is close to 80 pounds of muscle if my
math is right.)
I guess someone forgot to tell them that low
reps don't build mass.
One such man was John Davis, who favored 8 sets
of 2 reps for some of his exercises, and 5 x 5
for others. He ended up weighing 225 to 235
pounds of solid muscle, and won six World
Championships and two Olympic gold medals in
It's a shame that no one ever told Davis to
do higher reps to build muscle mass.
In the 1950's, a man named Reg Park did lots
and lots of low rep training. He preferred to
do 5 x 5 on most of his exercises. On bench
presses, he did 5 x 2 ( five sets of two reps).
He ended up being the biggest, most muscular
bodybuilder of his generation -- and a three
time winner of the Mr. Universe title.
I feel sorry for Reg Park because no one told
him that he was wasting his time trying to
build muscle on 5 rep sets.
I also feel sorry for Doug Hepburn. He built
himself into 280 pounds of human gorilla by
using low reps (mainly fives, triples, doubles
and singles). And he was strong, too. He set
World records in the press and won the World
Weightlifting championship in 1953.
It's too bad poor Hepburn never knew that he
was wasting his time on all those low rep sets.
And then there was poor Paul Anderson, another
man that got old-fashioned training advice and
did lots of low rep training -- and ended up
becoming the biggest, most massive athlete
in the entire world -- and a World record
holder and World and Olympic champion.
Anderson is yet another man who never learned
that he was wasting his time doing low reps.
And there were many others who used multiple
sets of low reps to build lots and lots of
strength and mass. in fact, that was pretty
much the way they did things "back in the day."
By the time I started training -- back in the
late 1960's -- it was well-accepted that the
best programs for building muscle mass were
5 x 5, 5 x 6 and 6 x 6 programs.
Higher reps -- ten and up -- were for "cutting
down" and gaining definition.
That information came from Peary Rader's old
Iron Man magazine --- which was widely regarded
as featuring the best and most useful (and
the most honest) training advice of any magazine
of the era.
And many top writers agreed. Men like John
McCallum and Bradely J. Steiner often pushed
5 x 5 for gains in muscle mass.
Even the Russians agreed. The Russians have done
a HUGE amount of research on weight training and
weightlifting -- and they concluded that the
optimal number of reps for building muscle mass
was (get this) 4 to 6 reps!
With the advent of powerlifting, we saw plenty
of men do low rep work on squats, benches and
deadlifts (and a few assistance exercises). They
all got strong -- and most of them got pretty
thick and pretty massive. Many low rep power-
lifters carried more muscle than the top
bodybuilders of the era.
So, I'm sorry if I continue to promote 5 x 5
and similar set/rep systems for building a good
combination of strength and mass. I grew up
seeing plenty of proof of its effectiveness.
I also learned first hand that low rep training
builds mass. I went from 180 pounds to 225
pounds by doing sets of 5 reps in some of my
exercises -- and by doing singles in the others.
Low reps work because they require you to recruit
as many muscle fibers as possible to move a
heavy weight. The result is TREMENDOUS growth
And yes, I KNOW it's old-fashioned -- and I KNOW
the internet honchos say "it's only good for
building strength" -- but I also know the history
of the Iron game -- and I know that multiple sets
of low to medium reps have been working for a very
long time. And they're going to continue working
for a very long time.
As always, thanks for reading and have a great
day. If you train today, make it a good one!
Yours in strength,
Views 849 Comments 4
|04-23-2014, 12:00 PM||#2|
Join Date: Mar 2014
Training Exp: off and on
Training Type: Powerbuilding
Man as much as I hate to admit it the 8-12 for size was my believe up until last year. Ive been working out and reading weight training material for 20 years. I think its the bodybuilding crap you read. I read Swartzeneggers encyclopedia of body building were he did 25 sets of chest 10-12 reps, and reps 6 and below were for strength only. I'm sure its not going to be the only thing I've been wrong about for most of my life.
|04-23-2014, 12:54 PM||#3|
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Hastings, Florida
Training Exp: 1.5 years
Training Type: Powerlifting
Fav Exercise: DEADS
Fav Supp: Condense
Best Gym Lifts...Dosen't matter....they don't count!
Best Meet Lifts:
Squat = 325
Bench = 210
Dead = 353
Total = 888
The iron is there during my times of happiness, sadness and anger. The iron is there available through the 4 seasons and inclement weather. The iron is there to either comfort me or motivate me. The Iron manages to show me how strong I am or how humble I need to be. The iron does not yell, but it always demands respect. The iron is not a disciplinarian, but when disrespected, I feel it for a long time. The iron does not love or hate, but we definitely share a strong bond. And no matter how far I stay away or for how long, the iron is there, waiting to be lifted.
|04-23-2014, 01:47 PM||#4|
traps *and* abs ;)
Join Date: Feb 2013
I've gone back and forward on this one. As of late, even before I saw all the recent stuff like this that's been going around, I've kinda come to the conclusion - mostly by listening to my body, and taking note of changes, etc. - that yes, low-mid reps can be just as effective for muscle-building purposes. Maybe slightly more so.
But what I've found in practice, so far, is that rest-pause is king. So the "magic" might be more in controlling the rest periods, than predetermining the reps, per se. And of course, there's overall volume. And technique. And frequency.
And hey, what the hell do I know! Got a lot to learn here...
6'2", ~100kg (~220lbs). 40yo, training (with a few breaks) since my late 30s.
Squat 160kg (352.7lbs), Bench 112.5kg (248lbs), Deadlift 220kg (485lbs), Strict Press 75kg (165.3lbs)
My training log
|04-23-2014, 03:26 PM||#5|
Join Date: May 2012
Location: England UK
Training Exp: 2
Training Type: Fullbody
Fav Exercise: Benchpress
Fav Supp: protein powder
good read made me chuckle
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