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Sets And Reps - The High And Low Weight Workout

Big weights! Wicked pump! I always get caught between two minds whenever I hit my workout at the gym. One side of me says to lift heavy to get big and the other says that form should matter more than my weight poundage. This is an issue that used to cause me to get quite twisted every time I would prep a workout training cycle. I know each technique has its merits, so I used to be swayed back and forth never staying with either method long enough to see the results. With the low weights I get to move some decent poundage's and my ego gets gratified but alas, there is no killer pump. When I stick to the perfect form method with lighter weights I get great pumps but I never feel like I am really working hard enough to get anywhere because my weights are so light. So in my search for the perfect weight workout, I decided to combine the two methods and get the best of both worlds.

Seems obvious when some one else says it doesn't it? I love the pump from drop sets and isolation exercises and I love the feeling of grunting under large loads, so why not do both in a workout?

What I do is put in two exercises of 5x5 with 1 minute to 2 minutes rest between sets and then move on to one or two more exercises for 3 or 4 sets a piece with the odd drop set or super set in order to finish the workout with a great pump. I stay with the same weight on the 5x5's until I get all 5 sets of 5, usually hitting 4 or 3 reps on the last two sets in the beginning. When I finally complete the full 5x5 I up the weight by 5 to 10 pounds and start over. This ensures that I don't get lazy and that I am always getting stronger, so that's the first rule of muscle mass realized.

Once I have trained the muscles with between 85-100% of my one rep max, I've stimulated strength gains through enhanced neural drive and hit my type IIB fibers hard. Now onto the second group of exercises. I squeeze and pump the muscle, trying to fill it with blood while keeping in my mind that weight is a secondary concern. Here is where I hit the type IIA fibers with a slightly higher time under tension developed from the intensity techniques. The weights for this type of training are usually within 70-80% of your one rep max. Whenever I reach the point that the lighter weights no longer fatigue the muscle at around 10-12 reps, I bump it up a notch. Chasing the pump I rest no longer than 30-45 seconds causing me to hit a totally different set of fibers and making sure that all life has been thrashed out of the muscle. The best of both worlds in one workout!

The 5x5 method can also be seen as a lazy mans periodization, as the intensity varies from week to week depending on if I am trying a new weight or if I am still trying to get my "5's" at an already accustomed to weight. The high intensity at the end allows me to get nutrients and blood into the muscle, gives me my time under tension and stretches the fascia while the body part is still stuffed full of the goods.

So in effect this routine develops the type IIB fibers through high tension multiple sets making me stronger by increasing relative strength though enhanced neural drive. Then moves on to hit the type IIA fibers through a slightly higher time under tension given to me by the extended sets. This makes me larger by increased hypertrophy, stimulating increased muscle glycogen, ATP and Krebs cycle activity. The only variable to fill in after this is your nutrition habits, but that's a topic for later discussion. Here is an example of this type of weight workout. None of the set totals include your warm ups:



DB Bench press 5x5

Dips 5x5

Incline flyes super set with incline smith presses for 3x failure on both. Anything past twelve reps and you should bump up the weight.


Barbell curls 5x5

Incline dumbbell curls 10/8/6

Rope pulley hammer curls drop set - 4 sets



Squats 5x5

Front squats pyramid up 12,10,8,6

Leg extensions 3-drop sets, each drop being 10 reps (10-10-10)


DB or barbell, stiff leg deadlifts 5x5

Lying Frankenstein curls (toes down on way up and toes out on way down) 4-drop sets, each drop being 8 reps (8-8-8)


Standing calf raises 3-drop sets of 10-10-10 per set.

Seated calf raises for 4 sets of 40-50 seconds each



Standing presses 5x5

High pulls from the hips 5x5

Face down incline laterals superseted with reverse cable crossovers for rear delts - 4 sets to failure


Close grip bench 5x5

Low pulley behind head extensions off bench (Vince Gironda style) 4x8

Superset of kick backs and close grip pushups with elbows wide 3x 10



Deadlifts 5x5

Weighted chins 5x5

Drop set low cable rows with under grip for 4 sets


4 sets of crunches supersetted with hanging leg raises

Take the next two days off and then restart the cycle.

There are several ways to manipulate this schedule depending on your recovery ability and other stress factors in your life. Some of my clients respond best if they drop the second exercise of 5's or alternate it with a 10/8/6 rep scheme.

For maximum recovery I like to take a day off after every workout, especially if you're hitting the cardio hard. If this is something you may like to try than you can get away with another exercise per muscle group as you won't be hitting it again for a while, just watch for signs of over training.

The other popular way to split this workout, fits nicely into the workweek. Split your workout to fall on Mon-Tues-Thurs-Fri. Take the weekends off to recharge.

Don't worry about wilting away between workouts because as a natural bodybuilder the more rest the better. If you are going the assisted route, then you can add in a set or two extra here and there. It's far more productive to be slightly under trained than over trained. However if you give every workout your all on this routine, you will look forward to the rest!

Ray Burton is the owner of the Fitness Site and the Fat To Fit email course. Take a look for more great workout information.


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