Category Archives: Size

The 5-4-3-2-1 Workout Method for Size and Strength

By  On August 22, 2013 

There are so many different exercises and methodologies out there for gaining size and strength that it can be tough to understand what to do with it all. So, in this post I’m going to share with you the Performance U 5-4-3-2-1 Workout Method, which is a simple to understand, easy-to use, plug-and-play template used in the Performance U training approach for designing fully-comprehensive, Hybrid Training workouts for increasing size and strength.
54321
In this post I’ve provided you with everything you need to know in order to immediately implement the Performance U 5-4-3-2-1 Workout method into your programs (if you wish to do so).
Below you’ll find:
– A break-down of each exercise category used the 5-4-3-2-1 Workout Method.
– A list of our favorite exercise applications for each category.
– A sample 5-4-3-2-1 workout program for maximizing STRENGTH gains.
– A sample 5-4-3-2-1 workout program for maximizes SIZE gains.

The 5-4-3-2-1 Workout Method: 101

Each of the numbers “5,” “4,” “3,” “2,” “1″ represents a different category of exercises along with the amount of sets the exercise(s) in that category will be performed for. The numbers 5-4-3-2-1 also represent the order of which we perform the exercises in the workout.
Put simply, the exercises that we perform the largest number of sets of (5,4) are the most intense and most complex exercises. Therefore, they’re prioritized early in the workout. These are also the exercises that are done for the least amount of reps. And, as the less intense and less complex exercises for less sets (3,2,1) are placed latter in the workout. These exercises are done for a larger amount of reps since the weight load used is less.
Here’s a break-down of the set and rep range used in each category along with some of our favorite exercises to plug-into each:

FIVE – 5 sets of 3-6 reps using a compound lift or an explosive exercise w/ 2-3min rest between sets.

arnold-schwarzenegger-bodybuilding-quotes-282x300
Our top strength exercises to use in this category are: 
– Barbell Squats (Front Squats or Back Squats)
– Trap Bar Deadlifts
– Weighted Pull Ups or chin Ups
Our top explosive exercises to use in this category are: 
– Sprints (20-40yds) or Hill Sprints (6-10 second bursts)
– Long Jumps
– Vertical Jumps
– Medicine Ball Rotary Throws (Any of the three versions featured here)
Personal Trainer Notes: The cue when performing the strength exercises (above) is to “explode into the weight” on each rep. However, although the intention is to lift the weight (concentrically) as fast possible; since the loads used are heavy (relative the individuals strength level), the concentric aspect of these movements will not (visually) appear fast. 

FOUR – 4 sets of 6-8 reps using a compound exercise w/ 90sec – 2min rest between sets.

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Our top exercises to use in this category are: 
– Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)
– One Arm Dumbbell Rows (Free Standing or on Bench), or Barbell Bent-Over Rows
– Rope Climb or Peg-Board Climbs 
Personal Trainer Notes: The cue on these exercises is (also) to lift the weight (concentrically) as fast possible. The eccentric portion should be slower demonstrating deliberate control.

THREE – 3 sets of 8-12 reps using a compound exercise, an isolation exercise, or machine exercise w/ 60-90sec between sets.

three-amigos
Our top exercises to use in this category are:
– Lunges (Reverse, Walking, Anterior LeaningLateral w/ Cross Reach or from Deficit)
– Dumbbell or Barbell Presses (Flat, Incline, or Overhead)
– 1-Arm Compound Rows or 1-Arm Cable Rows or 1-Arm Dumbbell Rows (Off Bench or Free-Stranding)
– Hammer Strength High Row Machine
– Barbell Good Mornings, One-Leg RDLs (Barbell or Low Cable) or 45 Degree Hip-Extensions
– Barbell Back Squats
– Single or Double-Leg Hip Thrusts (Any version shown here)
– Cable Chops Low to High

TWO – 2 sets of 12-20 reps using an isolation exercise or machine based exercise w/ 60-90sec between sets.

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Our top exercises to use in this category are:
– Rear-Delt Flys (Machine or Dumbbell) or Band Pull Aparts
– Cable or Dumbbell Chest Flys
– Biceps Curls (any kind)
– Triceps Extensions (any kind)
– Plank Dumbbell Rows (aka. Renegade Rows)
– Stability Ball Hamstring Curls
– Stability Ball Push Ups or Push Up Variations
– Shrugs
– Calf Raises
– Shoulder Raises
– Pull Overs or Straight Arm Pull Downs

ONE – Metabolic finisher or Fitness Challenge.

Count-Sesame-Street
For the 1-set Finisher (aka. The Happy Ending) we might use:
-A timed set of basics exercises performed for high reps (x50-100) for time, like: push-ups, bodyweight squats, Band pull aparts, etc.
– A few sets of a Complex:  Barbell complex, Dumbbell Complex, Kettlebell Complex, Bodyweight complex or Band Complex.
– A few sets of a Hybrid-Locomotion Complex.

Adjusting the 54321 to YOUR Goal!

Although the 5-4-3-2-1 method is a Hybrid Workout template designed to improve both strength and size (regardless of how you spin it), it can easily be adjusted to target your efforts to emphasize size gains or strength gains.
If your goal is primarily to gain STRENGTH simply perform multiple exercises in each: 5 set and 4 set category. And, one exercise in the other 3,2 and 1 set category. Doing this spends more of your training time on the set and rep ranges that help you improve motor unit recruitment and improve force production most effectively.
If your goal is primarily to gain SIZE simply perform one exercise in the 5 set category and do multiple exercises in the 4,3 and 2 set range. Doing this puts more of your training time on the set and rep ranges that are more optimal for creating a stimulus for muscle growth.

Sample 5-4-3-2-1 Workouts

Each of the two sample programs below is divided into three workouts: A,B and C. You can use these programs as either a 3, 4 or 5-day training split depending on your time and preference. Once you finish workout C, just repeat workout A and so on…
Note: Make sure to combine these program with a good nutritional plan that’s geared toward gaining muscle (i.e. doesn’t put you in a caloric deficit).

Split for STRENGTH Gains

Day A – Upper-body PUSH
1. Bench Press 5 x 3-6
2. Barbell Push Press 5 x 3-6
4a. Skull Crusher 3x 8-12
4b. Front Delt Raise 2x 15
5. Push-ups (any variation you preffer) 1 x60-80 (for time)
Day B – Upper-body PULL
1. Chin Ups 5x 3-6
2. 1 Arm Dumbbell Row 5x 5-6
3. T-Bar Row 4x 6-8
4a. Gittleson Shrugs 3x 8-12
4b. Biceps Curls (any kind) 2x 15
5. Band Pull Aparts 1x 80-100 (for time)
Day C – Lower-body
1. Trap Bar Deadlift 5 x 3-6
2. Squat Jumps or LongJumps 5 x 4-6
3. Bulgarian Split Squats 4x 6-8
4. Leg Curls 3x 8-12
5. Calf Raise 2x 15
6. Bodyweight Walking Lunge x60-80 (30-40 per leg) (for time)

Split for SIZE Gains

Day A – Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
1. Wide-Grip Bench press 5 x 3-6
2. Dumbbell Bench press 4 x 6-8
3. Incline Dumbbell press 4x 6-8
5. Skull Crusher 2x 15
6. Push ups (any variation you preffer) 1 x80-100 (for time)
Day B – Back, Traps, Biceps
1. Chin Ups 5 x 3-6
2. Wide Grip Lat Pull Down 4 x 6-8
3. Barbell Bent Over Row (under-hand grip) 4x 6-8
4. Seated Row (wide grip) 3x 8-12
5a. Gittleson Shrugs 3x 8-12
5b. Biceps Curls (any kind) 2x 15
6. Band Pull a parts x80-100 (for time)
Day C – Legs, Glutes, Calfs
1. Trap Bar Deadlift 5 x 3-6
2. Front Squats 4 x 6-8
3a. Leg extensions 3x 8-12
3b. Leg Curl 3x 8-12
4a. Calf Raise 2x 15
4b. Pike Roll Outs 2x 15
5. Bodyweight Walking Lunge 1x 60-80 (30-40 per leg) (for time)

Final Thoughts on the 5-4-3-2-1 Workout Method

As you can clearly see by the two workout splits above:  there’s more similarities than differences between the exercises used in strength program and the Size program.
Aside from some emphasis differences in set and reps used, the biggest difference between the Strength and Size workout is the way I’ve classified each training day.
On the 3-Day workout split emphasizing Size gains, you can see I’ve labeled the workouts by the muscles trained that day. This is a great way to ensure each major (and minor) muscle group is trained and allowed optimal recovery between workouts.
On the 3-Day workout split emphasizing Strength gains, I’ve classified each workout by themovement pattern emphasized that particular training day. Since strength is more about performance, this classification system ensures each of the three main movements is trained and allowed to recover.

Complex Neuromuscular Training for Size and Strength

Squat and Sprint

Complex Neuromuscular Training for Size and Strength

Deadlifting for Strongman

What’s the best way to pack on pounds of lean mass? Heavy loads with long rest periods? High volume with short rest periods? A combination of the two, with a sprinkle of P-90X thrown in for flavor?
Though either approach can certainly “work,” you don’t have to look further than the nearest gymnastic training center to see that there are other effective ways to pack on appreciable muscle mass. Considering gymnasts often have some of the thickest arms and shoulders per pound of body mass of any athlete, it’s surprising you don’t see more gym rats hitting the rings or pommel horse.
And let’s not forget sprinters. Many 100m and 200m sprinters like Harry Aikines-Aryeetey from the UK have more beef on their arms, shoulders, and thighs than many gym rats could ever dream of building. On top of that, their muscles tend to have a “denser” look, possibly due to a higher concentration of contractile proteins than that of bodybuilders, where increased cell volume and intramuscular glycogen play a big role (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy).
I recall watching training footage of disgraced Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson before his performance enhancement drug scandal. For one particular workout, Johnson brought a squat rack onto the track and performed an extremely heavy set of back squats (I think he had over 500 pounds) for 3-5 reps, then immediately burst from the cage in a full speed sprint for 60m.
The reasoning behind this was to overload the nervous system in a sort of “pre-fatigue” manner with the back squats, and then have to generate power through the already tired legs to achieve top velocity.
To put it differently, he was working the fast-twitch fibers with high-force, low-speed contractions in the back squat, and then immediately hitting them with high-force, high-speed contractions in sprinting. It was two mechanically different activities requiring a high degree of neural activity to produce maximal force in a sort of bipolar manner.
This was interesting as much of the prevailing wisdom at the time regarding hypertrophy revolved around simply lifting heavier weights within an 8-12 rep range. As you got stronger you either lifted more weight or did another rep with the same weight in the subsequent workouts.
The idea of resistance and speed of contraction being inversely related didn’t take into account the muscle force production capacity, and the associated muscle activity to get it there.
Fiber Made Simple
This is why many athletes can generate huge muscle force components with relatively light resistance (baseball, punching, golf, etc.). If we were to crank up the resistance without significantly affecting the top-end movement speed, we’d see some explosive gains in size and strength.
So I started experimenting. I couldn’t take a squat rack onto the field, but I was able to position a squat rack and a cycle ergometer right next to each other. I’d set up the rack for a heavy set and then hop on the bike for a 6-second bout of very high speed sprint work that left my legs feeling like Jell-O.
After two months, both my squat weight and sprint speed were up significantly, along with noticeable growth in my quads and hamstrings. My acceleration and top speed in all the sports I was participating in was up, too.
I tried this workout again a decade later – being outside the fantastic adaptable teenage hormonal years – with similar results. I then tried it on a few of my “hard-gainer” clients, and found that with only two workouts a week in this scheme, both saw solid gains in size and strength.
One client gained 10 pounds of muscle in two months (going from 156 at 5’8″ to 166) without changing his diet, and after training hard for over a year. Another gained 14 pounds after already training for two years, but found that his diet definitely changed because he was eating almost anything that wasn’t nailed down.
By making the muscle contract in a high force/low speed and high force/high speed series, the body is put under a very high-intensity training stimulus, which provides three major benefits.
First, it extends the force production phase of the exercise beyond the 3-5 reps of the heavy squat and incorporates a cyclic natured movement that requires a high degree of muscle force production.
The increased time under tension of roughly 10 seconds of maximal power output will completely tax the creatine phosphate system and the neural systems’ ability to generate an impulse into the muscle for an extended period. The end result is a greater response from the endocrine system and muscle satellite cells to put everything back together, and a greater development and repair of muscle fibers.
Second, fast twitch muscle fibers, the ones that can grow to be the biggest within the body, are stimulated by both high force production and high speed production. By using a system that addresses both of these components, we’re getting the best variety of stimulation to the fast twitch fibers, as well as the highest intensity stimulation possible short of hooking our muscles up to a generator and redlining the sucker.
Third, although not a component of the exercise itself, the rest period is kept to just 90 seconds between bouts, allowing for an adequate recovery of strength and contractile energy sources while putting the body in the most advantageous position to pump out growth hormone and Testosterone.
Most powerlifting or high strength development workouts require the user to rest between sets for between 2-5 minutes, whereas keeping the rest periods short helps to continue the taxation of the growth hormone and Testosterone response within the body. What this means is that the maximal amount of weight lifted in a session is going to be slightly less as the sets wear on, so adjust the weights down as needed.

The Workouts

Deadlifting for Strongman

This program is meant to be used as a two-day-per-week substitution to an existing strength program for someone who has at least a year of good solid training under their belt. Make sure you have the finer points of lifting down for the specific lifts given, and that you have an understanding of the physical requirements for top speed sprint work. For those willing to give it a try, get ready to hate life for a few hours each day.

Workout One

Set
Exercises
Reps
Weight
Speed
Rest
1
Squat
10
60% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint*
80% Top speed
2
Squat
5
80% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint*
90% Top speed
3
Squat
3
90% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint*
Top speed
4
Squat
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint*
Top speed
5
Squat
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint*
Top speed
Set
Exercises
Reps
Weight
Rest
1
Chin-ups
5
Body weight
90 sec.
Jumps for max height
5
2
Chin-ups
3
45 lbs.
90 sec.
Jumps for max height
5
3
Chin-ups
3
45 lbs.
90 sec.
Jumps for max height
5
4
Chin-ups
3
25 lbs.
90 sec.
Jumps for max height
5

Workout Two

Set
Exercises
Reps
Weight
Distance/Speed
Rest
1
Squat
10
60% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint on rower
100m < 80% Top speed
2
Squat
5
80% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint on rower
100m < 90% Top speed
3
Squat
3
90% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint on rower
50m – Top speed
4
Squat
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint on rower
50m – Top speed
5
Squat
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Sprint on rower
50m – Top speed
Set
Exercises
Reps
Weight
Distance/Speed
Rest
1
Bench press
10
60% 1RM
90 sec.
Resisted run device
25m < 80% Full speed
2
Bench press
5
80% 1RM
90 sec.
Resisted run device
25m < 90% Full speed
3
Bench press
3
90% 1RM
90 sec.
Resisted run device
25m – Full speed
4
Bench press
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Resisted run device
25m – Full speed
5
Bench press
3
87% 1RM
90 sec.
Resisted run device
25m – Full speed
These workouts are insanely intense, but considering the goal is to increase peak strength, peak velocity, and build muscle, you need to create a systemic strain on the muscular system that evokes the largest response in growth hormone and Testosterone.
Alternate these two days once each per week with at least two days in between. For instance, workout one would be on Monday, and workout two either on Thursday or Friday. This will give your nervous system a chance to recover before going into the next workout.
Once the first month (four times through each workout) is in the books, add 2-5% to each lift you’re performing for the second month. For instance, on day one, set 3 of back squats will move from 90% 1RM to 92% 1RM. For the theoretical lifter who maxes out at 315 pounds, this means the weight they will move from 285 up to 290 pounds. A 5% increase would mean going from 285 to 300 pounds.

Deadlifting for Strongman

This systematic increase in resistance is necessary to keep the relative intensity high throughout the workouts. Do not perform heavy squats on any other day of the week, although after the second week you may not be able to even walk, let alone squat on the alternate days.
What this workout program lacks in variety must be made up for in raw aggression. As T NATION contributor Tony Gentilcore says, you have to intimidate the weights when doing this program. Yell, scream, kick, and claw to get every rep out, and put every ounce of your being into every second of the sprint work. Since the rest intervals are only 90 seconds long, you won’t have full recovery before beginning the next set, so it will definitely be a mental test to get through these workouts. That said, the end result should more than make up for going through hell and back.

References

Shoenfeld, B. (2010) The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and their Application to Resistance Training. J. Str & Cond Research Vol. 24 issue 10, pp. 2857-2872.
Rahimi et al. (2010). Effects of Very Short Rest Periods on Hormonal Responses to Resistance Exercise in Men. J Str. & Cond Research Vol. 24 issue 7, pp. 1851-1859.

Cristea et al (2008). Effects of Combined Strength and Sprint Training on Regulation of Muscle Contraction at the Whole-Muscle and Single-Fibre Levels in Elite Master Sprinters. Acta Phsyiol. Vol 193, issue 3. Pp. 275-289.h


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