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 5×5 – 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 5×5.

Both methods have die-hard advocates. Both methods have produced monsters in classical and recent eras. But which one prevails when it comes to muscle-building results?

A Japanese study confirmed that when adding a high repetition set at the end of a 5×5 program, hypertrophy gains averaged 8 percent better than just doing the 5×5 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.” So, in short, a combination of the 2 methods yields the best results.

Put it All Togther

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 with lighter weight 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 works because of post activation potentiation (PAP), meaning the heavy lift allows one to produce more force on the subsequent light set(s).

The Workout

Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Barbell Back Squat* 5 5 3-4 min
Barbell Back Squat** 1 20  
Leg Extension*** 5 12 1 min
Nordic Leg Curl**** 3 4 1 min

*Start light. Second set should increase in weight, third set should be your top weight. Try and maintain that weight for the remaining two sets.
**Use a weight you normally can do 12-15 reps with. Take 2-3 deep breaths between reps when it feels like you are close to failing.
***Maximum intensity without sacrificing form.
****5-second eccentric.