5×5 Workouts: Sets Across vs. Ramping Sets


The 5×5 program comes in two formats:

  1. Sets across – keeping the weight the same for all work sets
  2. Ramping sets – building to a single work set

I prefer the ramping method because it builds just as much strength while saving a lot of joint stress and time. Anybody who’s ever done 5×5 for sets across knows that the workouts require a lot of rest once you reach heavy weights. I’ve heard of people taking 2 hours to complete routines like the Texas Method and Ice Cream 5×5.

Sets across are brutal because the volume is high and the weight is heavy – two things that don’t mix well without abundant rest between sets and a lot of resilience.

The question is – are you really getting stronger or needlessly torturing yourself? Let’s look at a classic example.

Lifter’s stats:

Squat max –  345lbs
5 repetition max (5RM) – 315lbs
Current working weight for sets across – 295lbs

Once you reach 85% of your 1 RM (1 repetition maximum), your 5×5 sets across workouts will turn into a spiritual experience. You will feel like you are about to get “rekt” each time you get under the bar.

Why does that happen? It happens because the weight is too heavy for sets across. The intensity and the volume are too high.

On the other hand, ramping sets are easier. The whole point of the first 4-5 sets is to help you warm-up and “feel the weights”. You prepare yourself for one or maybe two work sets and that’s it. The effort is more concentrated, and the weight receives more respect.

The stress on the nervous system produced by one work set could also be high but at least does not last long. The workout takes significantly less time while building about 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.

#natural potential

Besides, the total volume that comes with the ramping method is quite high anyway.


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

That’s the total amount of weight lifted for all work sets.

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

(light warm-up with the bar and light weights not included)

Set 1: 225×5 = 1125lbs

Set 2: 245×2 = 490lbs

Set 3: 265×2 = 530lbs

Set 4: 270×2 = 540lbs

Set 5: 280×1 = 280lbs

Total tonnage = 2965lbs

Total tonnage including warm-ups = 2965 + 7375 = 10 340 pounds or 4.7 tons.

Conversely, the workload of a session based on ramping sets could be as follows:

{light warm-up not included}

Set 1: 225 x 5 = 1125lbs

Set 2: 245 x 5 = 1225lbs

Set 3: 265 x 5 = 1325lbs

Set 4: 280 x 5 = 1400lbs

Set 5: 295 x 5 = 1475lbs (work set)

Total tonnage: 6550 pounds or about 3 tons.

In brief, we have a difference of 3790lbs which can be reduced even further reduced by adding a back-off set.

In our case, 235lbs seem doable. 235×10 = 2350lbs

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

In conclusion, the ramping method comes with a smaller overall workload. However, it reduces the stress on your joints and central nervous system (CNS) while still making you stronger, which is the main goal.

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