Why The 5-4-3-2-1 System Works...
This system is most useful on multi-joint exercises like the bench press, squat, deadlift, etc. because these systems require the use of the largest volume of muscle over the entire body and therefore have the greatest stimulatory affect. The idea with this rep system is that you can greatly increase the resistance from what you would normally use in the straight set format. In this instance you can get up to poundage that you are capable of for a 1RM.
Some recent research has shown that the amount of muscle hypertrophy is directly correlated to the total load employed. The more weight you handle the more muscle you stimulate to grow, end of story. The old myth in bodybuilding of using the 8-10 rep range to gain mass just doesn't really hold much water in the real world. Muscle grows in response to increasing demand in the way of resistance.
How The 5-4-3-2-1 System Works...
That having been said there is also evidence that a 1RM is not the way to go for maximum muscle stimulation on its own. This is because it takes the muscle some time during a workout before it can put forth a maximum effort. Here enters the 5-4-3-2-1 method. The sets before the maximum attempt are centered more around the idea or acclimation than they are true work sets. For the sets of 5 and 4 reps I will deliberately ask that you NOT go to failure. Now calm down my young HIT padowan learners!
This is not blasphemy! I have not lost my mind, yet. We will get to the hard stuff I assure you. We want the 5 sets to be sets of increasing resistance until at the final 1 and 2 rep sets you are using maximum weights. Remember that it is total load that causes hypertrophy so we want to make sure that we use maximum weights possible at the end of the series when the weights are at their heaviest. Without further ado, lets get down and dirty!
Begin by warming up thoroughly with a weight about 70% of that of your first work set. After you are warm load the bar to a weight that you could do comfortably for 5 reps. Taking only 2 minutes from the start of the first set to the start of the second set add 5-10 percent to the poundage and attempt 4 reps. Again allowing only 2 minutes from start of one set to the start of the next set, add a further 5-10 percent to allow only 3 reps. Continue this progression until you are doing a final set of only 1 rep. This type of workout will be very rapid and extremely demanding. It has the added benefit of building up poundage and hence, muscle tension, as the sets progress.
- After you are warm, do 5 confortable reps.
- Take 2 minutes rest, add 5-10 % more weight, do 4 reps.
- Take 2 minutes rest, add 5-10 % more weight, do 3 reps.
- Take 2 minutes rest, add 5-10 % more weight, do 2 reps.
- Take 2 minutes rest, add 5-10 % more weight, do 1 reps (One Rep Max).
Use this system on only two or three of your main exercises for your entire body as it can be very stressful if used for the entire training regimen. Of course I recommend using it on the Big 3 (squat, bench press and deadlift) as these exercises are the best bodybuilding weapons we have in our arsenal. If you use this system in conjunction with an abbreviated weight training program I have no doubt that you will be surprising everyone, including yourself, with the amount of muscle you gain over the next few weeks.