5×5 Workouts: Sets Across Vs Ramping Which method works the best in the long run?

The 5×5 program comes in two variations. One calls for keeping the weight the same for all five sets (sets across) while the other version is made of pyramidal sets increasing gradually to one heavy attempt (ramping sets).

deadlift-beginner-405lbs

I prefer the ramping method. It builds just as much stress while saving a lot of joint stress and time. Anybody who’s ever done 5×5 for sets across knows that they require a lot of rest once you reach heavy weights. I’ve heard of people taking 2 hours to complete routines like the so-called “Texas Method” {give me a break, ok?}.

Sets across are brutal because the volume is high and the the weight is heavy – two things that don’t mix well without abundant rest between sets and a lot of resilience. Question is, what do you benefit by repeating your 5 RM 5 times? Are you really getting stronger or just needlessly torturing yourself? Let’s look at classic example.


Lifters stats:

Squat max – about 350 lbs;
5 repetition max (5RM) – about 310 lbs;
Current working weight for sets across – 295 lbs;

Once you reach 85% of your 1 RM (1 repetition maximum) things are getting pretty serious. You start feeling like you are about to get “rekt” each time you pray in the squat rack. Every set feels like a torture, and the only joy you experience is when your workout is over. Why does that happen? Because the weight is too heavy for sets across. The intensity and the volume are too high.

On the other hand, ramping sets are much easier. The whole point of the first 5 sets is to help you warm-up and “feel the weights”. You prepare yourself for one or maybe two working sets and that’s it. The effort is much more concentrated and the weight receives more respect.

Training becomes way easier for the mind when you know that there’s going to be only one really heavy set. The workout takes significantly less time while building just as much strength as the sets across approach. That’s a fact. As long as your 5 RM is going up, you are getting stronger regardless of how much volume you’re doing. Your goal is to build strength, not work capacity.

At this point people will usually say: “But sets across offer more volume and muscle growth!”.

Are you serious? You are a natural bodybuilder talking about “growth”. When was the last time you added some muscle to your frame? Get real! Natural bodybuilders, I mean true natural bodybuilders, don’t grow past their first 1-2 years of training. Besides, total volume with the ramping method is quite high anyway.

Example:

5 sets of 5 with the same weight, which in this case is 295 lbs, equal 295 x 25 = 7375 lbs.

That’s the total amount of weight that you lift for all working sets.

Note: You can also add some of your heavy warm up sets to the above number. An example warm-up for sets across with 295 lbs could look like that.

{light warm-up with the bar and stuff not included]

Set 1: 225 x 5 = 1125 lbs

Set 2: 245 x 2  = 490 lbs

Set 3: 265 x 2 = 530 lbs

Set 4: 270 x 2 = 540 lbs

Set 5: 280 x 1 = 280 lbs

Total tonnage = 2965 lbs

Total tonnage including warm-ups = 2965 + 7375 = 10 340 lbs or 4,7 tons.

With the ramping method we have to also look at the warm sets. An example workout would look like that:

{light warm-up not included}

Set 1: 225 x 5 = 1125 lbs

Set 2: 245 x 5 = 1225 lbs

Set 3: 265 x 5 = 1325 lbs

Set 4: 280 x 5 = 1400 lbs

Set 5: 295 x 5 = 1475 lbs

Total tonnage: 6550 lbs or about 3 tons

In brief, we have a difference of 3790 lbs, but that could be further reduced by adding a back-off set for a set of 8-10 reps.

In our case 235 lbs seems doable.

235 lbs x 10 = 2350 lbs

This puts the total lifted tonnage at 6550 + 2350 = 8900 lbs which is 1440 lbs less than the sets across method.

In conclusion, the amount of tonnage you lift is slightly less with the ramping method. However, you save a ton of stress on your joints and central nervous system (CNS) while still getting stronger, which is the main point here. The fact that something is harder does not always mean that it will bring you more benefit in the long run. There are different ways to get from point A to point B.

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