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Increase Strength with the 5% Solution
Are you looking for a way to gain a considerable amount of strength in a short amount of time? How about 8-10% in less than six weeks? Here's a proven repetition / set scheme that will help you increase your strength on most compound exercises that involve multiple muscle groups, such as the squat, pull up, bench press, shoulder press, deadlift, row, etc. Olympic strength coach Charles Poliquin has written about this method in his book, Modern Trends in Strength Training. It's already helped us, and now we're sharing it with clients!
What is it?
In short, you are going to complete 5 sets of a chosen exercise at the same weight. Then, each subsequent training session, you will increase the amount of weight you use for your sets by roughly 5% for the particular exercise, while reducing the number of repetitions performed in each set, by just one. By the end of 6 sessions your overall strength will have increased by about 10%.
Note: Each of these strength sessions should be 5-7 days apart. If you are on a program that has you working upper body twice a week, you might opt to do pullups only once every 5-7 days and do a seated row or dumbbell row during your other upper body workout. Select a 3-rep-wide range bracket from the following: 3-5, 4-6, 5-7 or 6-8. For relative strength focus, you might choose 3-5 for your bracket; for more muscle mass development you might choose 6-8.
Can you share an example?
Let's do an easy one using 100 pounds as the weight example. Perhaps that would be using 100lbs for the bench press. Perhaps you can already do 8 reps. Let's say that you opt to try the 4-6 rep range. In the first workout, you need to start with a weight that you will be able to do 6 repetitions 5 times, for 5 sets of 6. A quick estimate is take the weight that you can do for 7-8 reps (1-2 repetitions more than the number of reps for the 5 sets).
The first session, you would then bench press 100lb for 6 reps for 5 sets. Then the second session, the person would add 5% (in this case, 5lbs) and do 1 less rep (for 5) on each set. The third session, you'd add another 5lbs (5%) and do 4 reps (1 less) each set. On the fourth session, you will return to 6 reps, but this time you'll use the weight you used in session two (for the 5x5) and continue for 2 more sessions adding 5% and reducing reps by one. It would end up looking like this.
Bench Press (able to do 1 set of 8 reps at 100lbs)
Session 1 100lbs for 6 reps for 5 sets
Session 2 105lbs for 5 reps for 5 sets
Session 3 110lbs for 4 reps for 5 sets
Session 4 105lbs for 6 reps for 5 sets
Session 5 110lbs for 5 reps for 5 sets
Session 6 115lbs for 4 reps for 5 sets
If you were to do session 7 (remember, ONLY do this for 6 workouts!) you would be doing 10% more weight than session 1 for the same number of reps and sets. After 6 sessions, change exercises so your body will not plateau. Always remember to include a general and specific warm-up before your first 'work' set.
Can I use this method with Pullups?
You certainly can!! However, for it to work, you need to be able to already do 7 pullups, so that you can work in the 3-5 rep bracket. If that's the case, then the only other hitch is that you need to have some sort of weight belt or adjustable ankle weights so that you can add weight to your body. Let's say that you weigh 150 pounds and can already do 7 pullups on a good day, but you'd really like to be able to do 15 bodyweight pullups and feel confident with a 25 pound pack while alpine climbing some hard routes.
In this case, 5% of 150 is 7.5 pounds. So your workout sessions for 4-6 weeks might look like this:
Session 1 bodyweight (150lbs) for 5 reps for 5 sets
Session 2 bodyweight +7.5 lbs for 4 reps for 5 sets
Session 3 bodyweight +15 lbs for 3 reps for 5 sets
Session 4 bodyweight +7.5 lbs for 5 reps for 5 sets
Session 5 bodyweight +15 lbs for 4 reps for 5 sets
Session 6 bodyweight +22.5 lbs for 3 reps for 5 sets
At this point, you'd want to cycle out of pullups, and perhaps in another 2-3 weeks, try a "max reps" set to see if the number of pullups you can do at once has increased. It did for me! And by the example above, you'd be very close to being able to pull yourself and your pack up an overhung route! Try it and let us know how it goes!