The problem with standard hypertrophy programs, beside their built in boredom, is the inability to jack up intensity. We tend to let accumulated fatigue, which is good in the case of high rep squats, to limit the load. By breaking apart the sets just a little bit, you can add more weight to the bar and actually cut rest periods between what we traditionally called “sets.”
For example, I have shared an interesting way to do the German Volume Training, the ten sets of ten, workouts. Rather than letting reps 60-100 dictate the load, we play with this rep scheme: 2-3-5-10. We use the same weight each “set” and rep and strive to do a total of five of these clusters. It adds up to 100 reps, with only five sets being that rep reducing tough set of ten. What is amazing about this program is that you often find that you put the bar down or in the rack and almost immediately do the double because that set of ten was hard but “anybody” can do two. Oddly, the triple is done quite quickly and, as I often think, “might as well do the five, too. So, between those hellacious tens, you nail ten more reps with surprising little rest.
If hypertrophy honestly is “time under load” or “time under tension,” it logically follows that more load (because you are NOT doing ten sets of ten and roasting yourself in the process) in less time would lead to greater muscle mass. Now, you don’t have to do 100 reps. Oddly, I have found that doing three clusters (2-3-5-10-2-3-5-10-2-3-5-10) seems to be enough for any athlete. It is better to leave a little in the tank, especially for a drug free athlete, than to go to the edge with this magic 100 rep barrier.
What is actually more exciting is a very interesting variation on the five by five workout. The reps simply drop out the last set of ten, so we have 2-3-5. There are two very innovative changes that seem to really work well in the ‘big lifts,’ the Bench Press, the Military Press, the Squat (all its variations) and the Deadlift. As I noted in a previous article about “five sets of five, the big issue is, of course, what do “you” mean by 5 x 5? Since writing that article, I am even more confused about the dozens of variations of what I used to consider the simplest workout for bulk and power.
Here are the two innovations: first, stick with one weight throughout the workout. Of course, you know that, but with this rep scheme of 2-3-5-2-3-5-2-3, you can handle far more load than the traditional five sets of five. You are not held back by that heavy last set of five that often forces one to take a lighter first four sets. Certainly, some of the options, like the Wave, that I offered in my first article have value, but this has been an issue for many of us for years. Yes, I realize that someone is going to post something like “I thought 5 x 5 was obvious,” then add a whole new variation that no one has ever seen before.
With this first option, the lifter only has to deal with two big sets of five. So, try to find a weight that forces you to give it all (obvious note: get a good spotter on the Bench and Squat) on that second set of five. The same odd rest issue shows up: for whatever reason, and I am sure the science guys know the biology behind this, it is a quick recovery to get that double in after the heavy set of five. And, once again, since you have nothing better to do, that triple often happens out of breath. I would suggest only timing the whole duration of this variation and see how fast all 25 reps are finished. Honestly, it goes fast even with a serious load. Small reminder: this is not a powerlifting workout! It is intended for the use of our audience interested in a nice mix of power and bulk. Again, if you have more plates on the bar and the workout finishes faster, isn’t that hypertrophy training?
The second option is really opening my athletes eyes. It is so simple of an adjustment, many will dismiss it and note that “I’ve been there, done that.” Well, good for you. Let’s review the second option.
First Cluster: 2-3-5
Now, ADD weight!
Second Cluster: 2-3-5
Add more weight.
Third Cluster: 2-3-5
Add more weight.
You can use the first Cluster as a warm up of sorts and what is funny is that the program begins to take on the one of the earliest recognized programs in lifting, the DeLorme Workout. Doctor Thomas DeLorme worked with some guys rehabbing from World War II and found that weightlifting worked wonders on injury rehabilitation. Originally, he thought that 70-100 reps were the key but later discovered: “Further experience has shown this figure (the number of sets in a workout) to be too high.” The number of sets was reduced from 7-10 to a much more realistic three sets. During the first set weight was at 50% of the persons 10 rep max. The second set it was increased to 75% and it finished at 100% of the subjects 10 rep max. This became known as the “DeLorme Technique” although a guy named “Watkins” also authored the study.
This second variation can reflect those numbers except we focus on the five rep max (a number in many people’s experience that rewards bodybuilding training more than higher reps). Try this variation in a simple workout after any kind of intelligent workout. I have been training my athletes with the second variation (40 total reps, three plate changes) with the Front Squat, Bench Press and Power Clean (or Power Curl, a curl grip clean using the legs) mixed with some Hurdle Walkovers and some Farmer Bar Walks. This is not a fancy workout, but the load really impacts the athletes. If you can do some kind of Hurdle Walkover or hip mobility work during a training session that has a squat and deadlift or clean variation, I strongly recommend it. I also like to finish this workout with a Farmer Walk, but keep it within reason.