Today I’ll share the most effective training program that I’ve used over the years for building strength and power. After over 20 years of training using nearly every program under the sun, this is the program that lead to lifetime bests in the squat, overhead press, bent over row, and other lifts. If you give it your all, I’m confident it will work for you too.
On the surface, training for strength is very simple: just keep challenging yourself with heavier and heavier weights, and that will certainly work in the beginning. The issue is that if you keep plugging away with near maximum weights week after week, eventually you will hit a wall and then start to slide backwards. You can read about different forms of periodization or conjugate methods designed to help get around that problem, but the best approach I‘ve found is simply to rotate light, medium, and heavy sessions. The work sets on each day are done for 5 sets of 5 reps. On the light and medium days, it will be very easy to complete all 5×5, but the key is to do all of the reps on all of the days as explosively as possible. By explosively, I mean lift the weight with as much speed and acceleration as you can while maintaining strict form, and lower the weight under control. If you do that, on your light and medium days you will build speed and power that will help you lift more weight on your heavy days which in turn makes you stronger for the next mini-cycle. On to more specifics…
Light day: 60% (of 1 rep max) x 5,5,5,5,5
Medium day: 60% x 5,5,5, 67% x 5, 75% x 5
Heavy day: 60% x 5, 67% x 5, 75% x 5, 82% x 5, 90% x 5 (the goal is a new 5 rep max)
Those are the work sets – make sure you are well warmed up so that you can give them your all. The percentages listed don’t need to be followed exactly, but try to be close. Rest as long as you need between sets to do the reps with maximum force and speed. If you complete all of the reps on the heavy day, bump up all the weights on all days by 5 pounds or so the next time through.
Use the above set/rep scheme for one main lift per workout, and follow it up with a few assistance exercises using a more typical 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps. Pick assistance exercises that target your weak points, and feel free to add more light assistance work if you feel you can handle it. For example, a routine to bring up your squat might look like this:
- Squat – use the percentages from above, going light week 1, medium week 2, heavy week 3, and repeat.
- Hack squat or front squat – 4 sets of 8-12
- Glute Ham Raise or leg curl – 4 sets of 10-15
- Standing or seated calf raise – 5 sets of 10-15
Another thing to keep in mind when using this program is that the speed sets I’ve described tend to build more strength in the bottom half of a lift where the acceleration occurs. As a result, I recommend that your assistance exercises for pressing lifts (e.g. bench press) focus on triceps to help strengthen your lockout.
For overall body strength and power, train the squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press in the manner I just described, with each lift done on a different day of the week. Do the main lift using the percentages listed above, and follow it up with a few assistance exercises that target your weak points. I’ve run this routine for 3-6 months at a time with good results, for example bringing my squat up from 420 to 500 lbs. without any knee wraps, assistance gear, or talent for the squat. With some talent, I’m sure you can do better! The routine can easily be tweaked to suit your goals and recovery abilities. Just remember the key is to do every single rep of the 5×5 as forcefully as possible, with 100% mental focus. Good luck!