An In Depth Look: 5-4-3-2-1 Method

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I first read about this training Method via Charles Poliquin, who in turn refers to Mauro Di Pasquale applying it to his impressive Powerlifting feats, but it dates back to 1898 and first written about by Bob Hoffman.

It’s a neurologically demanding method due to the high percentage of 1RM utilised. It helps to teach & coax the body into being able to recruit high threshold motor units through heavier weights. Specifically for strength athletes or Dopamine dominant or impatient types it’s motivating/fulfilling to decrease reps and increase weights each subsequent set. With each set you have to dial in & focus that little bit more.Pasquale

When I apply it I like to use a larger percentage spread than traditionally written about (2-3% increase each set) depending on who I’m using it with & which lift. For example with a beginner I’ve had success with a wide spread the first week & then the following week make the % spread closer higher total kg and tighter %’s. E.g:

Week 1: 75% x 5, 80% x 4, 85% x 3, 90% x 2, 95% x 1

Week 2: 80% x 5, 84% x 4, 88% x 3, 92% x 2, 95% x 1 (Same Peak at 95%, but total kg lifted, average weight is increased)

Beginners are neurologically inefficient thus hitting a true 1RM three weeks in a row is unlikely. Also many people get too excited & start too high a % thus ending up in missing reps. Success with achieving the desired repetitions is important. Missing reps workout to workout is a sure fire way to limit strength progress.

Upper body workouts with this method I like to utilise antagonistic pairs (E.g. Seated Overhead Press & Chin Ups), but Squats & Deadlifts do not require this.

Additionally on the last set you can consider the option of repping out. Alternatively if its there & doesn’t hamper recovery complete a further set or two to 1RM. There is though much to be said about finishing your workout knowing there’s more there for next week. You’ve hit a very good weight, but easily and then delaying gratification & moving on.

For the assistance work or B series I would recommend you switch training zones to an increased time under tension of 30-40 seconds, also known as Functional Hypertrophy. 3-4 sets of that & 1 x extended/advanced/hypertrophy method would be brilliant. For example take Christian Thibaudeau’s 5-4-3-2-1 rest pause method: 5 reps, 10-15 sec rest, 4 reps, 10-15 secs rest etc.

This is a high percentage of 1RM you’re looking to achieve so within a Periodisation model I would recommend placing it in the last Intensification or second to last intensification phase. Earlier would limit the percentage of 1RM you might use.

Acc 1 (weeks 1 & 2)bench

Int 1 (weeks 3 & 4)

Acc 2 (weeks 5 & 6)

Int 2 (weeks 7 & 8): Here

Acc 3 (weeks 9 & 10)

Int 3 (weeks 11 & 12): or Here

For more Methods, Protocols & Full Programs check out the Program Design Templates here

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