Tuesday, March 10, 2020

5-4-3-2-1 Blastoff For Old School Strength And Size - By Burt Gam

Over the years numerous so called "training systems" have been utilized, some with good results and others not so much. Many of these simply disappeared as fads or got lost in the shuffle. One of the best ones in my opinion is known as the "5-4-3-2-1 weight training system". It was very popular back in the day by experienced trainees and was known to produce spectacular gains in strength. One of its earliest writings appears to have originated with the "Father of American Weightlifting" Bob Hoffman and the "York Barbell and Dumbbell System. How Bob stumbled upon it is unclear, but his belief was that the way to might and muscle was to perform 15 quality repetitions of a given exercise, similar to 3x5 or 5x3 training methods.

This comparison may have been somewhat flawed since these training methods theoretically produced different training effects. Nonetheless it has been proven to be quite effective. It was used frequently in the 1960s and 1970s by lifters seeking maximal strength gains. It was a favorite among powerlifters, and in fact was used by former powerlifting champion and writer Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale. In 1969 he wrote about this training method in none other than Bob Hoffman's Muscular Development magazine. This system has endured the test of time as a tried and proven method with a strong emphasis on the concept of progressive overload. When I first became "serious" about lifting and sought to educate myself, I bought and read a book called "Inside Powerlifting" by Dr. Terry Todd in 1977. The program was mentioned in the book and became the foundation of my training program for the core lifts. My main purpose at that time was gaining maximal strength which at that time was also useful in my job as an Air Force Firefighter. But something unexpected happened. I actually got a lot bigger too! Over the years this period of growth was probably the largest I have ever experienced. So I figured that this program was for real. To be fair, some of this growth was probably attributed to expected large initial gains. But it was clear to me that although being quite taxing it flat out works for strength and probably was useful as a hypertrophy tool as well when not overdone.

What makes it so great? First off is simplicity. This system is very easy to implement and track progress on the main lifts based on the principle of progressive overload. The idea is to perform several warm-up sets of an exercise with light to moderate weights before proceeding to the work sets. The first work set is the lightest weight performed for 5 reps with a weight you could do for say 8 reps or so. Each successive set diminishes by one repetition with a concurrent increase in weight by about 2.5-5 percent depending on your strength level. This process continues for each subsequent set and culminates with the last set performed for 1 repetition with the maximal weight possible. After successful completion of all reps the next workout would see an increase in the amount of weight for each set and the process continues. This is called "Neural Preparation" because it teaches the muscle to prime itself for a maximum effort while reducing the risk for injury. Psychologically, this system is useful because in the lifter's mind those dreaded reps are diminishing with each set so each set seems more palatable even though the amount of weight on the bar continuously goes up. Because of this, each set becomes more intense, so intensity is the main driving force for growth rather than volume. It is always emotionally gratifying to set personal records on a fairly frequent basis, and this method can produce those kinds of results.

One limitation of this training method is that it seems to work best when used on multi-joint compound lifts like "The Big Three", presses, rows, and so forth. It does have some limited uses on certain isolation exercises such as barbell curls, but those types of exercises seem better suited to more traditional set and repetition schemes utilizing more volume. It also might be a good idea to rotate out every so often to that type of training to alleviate boredom and add some variety and give the body a rest from the grind. Care should be limited to the number of exercises assigned to this protocol in a given workout to one or perhaps two, as it is very intense and overdoing could increase the risk of injury or cause gains to stagnate. The following is a sample program using the "5-4-3-2-1 Training Method".


1. Deadlifts 5x5
3. PULL UPS 3x6-8
8. AB WORK 2x15


3. LEG PRESSES 3x8-10
4, LEG CURLS 3x10-12
7. CALF RAISES 3x15-20
8. AB WORK 2x10-12


1. SQUATS 5x5
3. LEG PRESSES 3x10-12
5. LAT PULLDOWNS 3x12-15
6. DUMBELL FLYS 3x10-12
8. AB/CORE WORK 2x 8-10

Now it should be apparent that there are a number of ways to implement this program and allow for flexibility of program design depending on individual preferences. Variations could include experimenting with different exercises for strength or hypertrophy emphasis, rotating core exercises every so often, alternating this program each week with more traditional programs, adding/deleting exercises for variety and so on. It is fine to be creative since there is really no one right way to run this program as long as the basic guidelines are followed. Experiment and learn as you go along.
Finally, it is important to realize that no one program works forever no matter how good it might be. But this program is a great staple in any intermediate or advanced program. Although I was "technically a beginner when I did this program in 1977, I soon realized how taxing it was and required adequate warm-up to avoid injury and really was better suited for more advanced lifters than myself. This program is best run after perhaps a year or more of solid training and gaining technical experience and perfecting exercise form. This disclaimer is important because as previously stated the program can be brutal and is not for the faint of heart. But if you are fairly advanced and would like to rejuvenate a stagnating program and gain some decent "OLD SCHOOL" size and strength, why not give the "5-4-3-2-1 Weight Program" a try. You will be very happy with your gains I promise you.

Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com

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