Workout Tips

Bigger, Faster, Stronger

Follow this formula to optimize strength, size and performance.

josh bryant thumbnail by CSCS, MFS, PES


In the 1930s, weightlifting pioneer JC Hise discovered what was considered a mass-building miracle by doing one all-out set of 20 reps on the squat. Perry Reader carried the torch and shared this method with the masses in the 1950s and 60s. Entire books have been written on the 20-rep squat methodology. To this day, the 20-rep squat method has disciples.

The five sets of five reps methodology – widely known as 5x5 – was popularized by Reg Park, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mentor and hero, and one of the best bodybuilders of his era. Bill Starr, world famous strength coach and author, has been a very vocal advocate of 5x5. Popular high school and college training methodology, Bigger Faster Stronger (BFS), has adopted this method as the nucleus of their strength program.

Both methods have die-hard advocates. Both methods have produced monsters in classical and recent eras. Who’s right?


A recent Japanese study confirmed that when adding a high repetition set at the end of a 5x5 program, hypertrophy gains averaged 8 percent better than just doing the 5x5 alone. Furthermore, greater strength gains were induced with inclusion of a high rep back off set and the acute growth hormone response was greater.

The researchers concluded: “The results suggest that a combination of high- and low-intensity regimens is effective for optimizing the strength adaptation of muscle in a periodized training program.”

Back Off Benefits

A number of old school bodybuilders and powerlifters advocate a back-off set. In other words, after the heavy weight has been lifted on a given exercise, do a high-rep set to finish things off. 

It is important to do the heavy weight first for a couple reasons. After the all-out heavy-weight set, you will be able to do more reps with the subsequent lighter weight. This is a trick that has been used by smart NFL combine specialists for years: warm up to 275-315 pounds on the bench press before doing an all-out repetition max at 225. This works because of post activation potentiation (PAP), meaning the heavy lift allows one to produce more force on the subsequent light set(s).

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