T Nation

Building Strength - 5x5 or 3x5


This may be a stupid question, but can someone explain to me the pros/cons to 5x5 versus 3x5 lifting programs? Obviously I can lift heavier at 3x5 but does a 5x5 build more strength or endurance in the long run?


You’re correct.

You’ll unlikely be able to complete 5 sets of 5 reps with weights above a certain percentage of your 1 rep maximum. From what I’ve read however females can lift more reps at a higher percentage of their 1 rep max than men. I think it was something to do with men having the capability to engage more muscle fibres when they lift allowing them in general to have greater levels of absolute strength but fatigue accumulates more quickly.

In addition most rep guidelines that you can find put the number of reps required to build pure strength at around 9-15 per exercise (3×3 or 3x5 for example). Using reps in this range in theory will allow you to improve your strength without adding much size to your muscles whereas reps between the 24-40 rep range are most suited to hypertrophy with the lower end of that range also contributing to improvements in strength. So 5x5 (25 reps in total) in theory will give you a good balance of strength and size.

If you’re looking to build endurance then advice states that you should train in lactate inducing rep ranges for each set (20-25).

Powerlifters tend to stick to the lower (pure strength) rep ranges the majority of the time as the lifts are so physically taxing when you start lifting heavy that your joints get beaten up and your nervous system gets fried very quickly. Lifting more reps with a very heavy weight is an injury waiting to happen.

All that being said however, if you stick to a particular rep range for too long you get to a point of dimishing returns, so cycling through the various rep ranges periodically can help to get things moving again.


No such thing as a stupid question, jayteebee. 3x5 versus 5x5 simply comes down to volume. If you’re taking a good two to four minutes of rest between your sets then yes, you would probably be able to put up the same weight for an additional two sets. However, keep in mind the concept of progressive overload. An example of progressing would be using 70% of your 1RM for 3x5 one week, then for 4x5 the next week, then for 5x5 the next. There is no right or wrong answer, it just comes down to how you increase your volume over time.


Thank you!


Thank you!

I did a 3x5 today instead of my normal 5x5 due to time constraints and felt like I had waaaaaay more in the tank. It made me wonder whether going a little heavier at 3x5 would help build as much strength in the long run as keeping with my slow increase pace with the 5x5.


You can wonder all you want playing the “what if?” game, but I wouldn’t worry too much. Pick a plan and stick to it long enough to know if it is working for you or not.

Your long-term success as a lifter will have very little to do with choosing between those two set/rep schemes today.


In short with 3x5 you can go heavier and push up your max strength more quickly than you can with 5x5 but you’ll sacrifice much of the hypertrophy benefit you get from 5x5 .


I’ll also second what twojarslave said in that you need to stick to a plan to know if it’s working for you and that doing 3x5 today will have no effect on your overall success.

As long as the plan you choose aligns with your goal and you put in the effort with training and nutrition you’ll be successful.


I know I’m kinda late here, but there’s also the concept of building a base of strength which means using more volume. Then you reduce the volume to learn how to display the strength you developed with your base work.

Another way to look at it is that you develop the structural components of strength, then you develop the more neural parts. Granted, you’re doing some of both with both rep schemes. The difference is that of emphasis.

You could have a month where you do 5x5, then next month do 3x5 or if you really want to emphasize the CNS component 5x3 and repeat with 5-10lb more for each block the next time around.


What powerliftee trains like this? Most I know spend the majority of their time in the off season, not in season. This means phases with greater volume and higher rep ranges ro BUILD strength, while lower rep ranges are used to realize the strength that was built in the off season.


Inexperienced powerlifters without decent coaches train this way. I used to. Now, I am less inexperienced and exactly as @T3hPwnisher says spend most of my time in what passes for off season. It works better. Less beat up, more strength, better recovery.


For the sake of argument, you can build up volume by doing lots of low rep sets. That is how most Russian lifters train (look at any of Sheiko’s programs) and there are some Ameircan coaches who follow that methodology as well. Matt Gary says he rarely programs sets over 5 reps. It’s hard to maintain proper technique with higher reps, even if your technique doesn’t actually break down there will still be some deviation from your normal movement pattern. The drawback is that it is less useful if hypertrophy is the goal, you can get more muscle growth out of less total volume if each set is closer to failure (like 1-3 reps away).

Of course there is no reason that you can’t combine high reps with multiple low rep sets. And if your training consists of heavy triples year round then you are probably not going to get very far like that.


It’s very confrontational in here. I joined this forum as I have a real love for lifting and I thought being part of a community with similar passions would be a lot of fun but this seems to me to just be one upmanship or some sort of appengade measuring contest. I was generalising to make a point about the difference between various rep ranges. I have also posted in other threads to say that you shouldn’t stick to a single training modality. I’m not just regurgitating what I’ve read either, I have sought the knowledge of people who really do know what they’re talking about. I know a guy called Jack Greenhalf who lives close to me and trains and instructs at a gym that I have been to when I am on leave from work. On numerous occasions I have asked him about his training and he certainly has incorporated training with heavy weights for low reps into his routines.


I apologize if you read my tone as confrontational, as that was not my intent. It was a question, as I have not seen many powerlifters train in the way that you said powerlifters train.

“he certainly has incorporated training with heavy weights for low reps into his routines.”

Absolutely. That is the intensification phase during the inseason.


Appreciate the response dude. I am not familiar with Russian training, so it is always fascinating.


I was just revising Periodisation and was unsure how it would apply to Powerlifters since the seasons aren’t set as much (as in yearly). Would the transition/off season be after the meet or event then sort of general all round training without too much intensity. Then the Pre-season would be driving up intensity and more specificity involved, Then in-season be the meet or…?


For a serious competitior, the seasons tend to be. You pick 2 to 3 big meets and plan for them.


I meant as in not set how a rugby Season is from September to April where they are playing matches. Whereas Powerlifters don’t have a set date when they all are competing but instead they choose one date and train till then. Would the In-season just be the specific day they compete then?


No matter what you need to build a base. 5x5 can be run in a lot of different ways. Five rep sets have long been the “go to” and for good reason - they work. Do ramp up sets to a top set of 5 (example: 135x5 185x5 225x5 275x5 315x5) or a pyramid (135x5 185x5 225x5 185x5 135x5). You could do 275x5 for two sets in the first example instead of going to 315. There’s so many different ways to do it.

3x5 could look like this (135x10 185x3 225x2 275x1 315x3x5).

Personally, doing anything above 5 is something other than strength. I usually keep the higher rep stuff for things like good mornings or barbell rows, etc after the main work or on a different day altogether.

At our gym, we mostly use 5’s. The results are a SHW with a 2625 total in single ply which is #4 all time total in single ply. A 275’r with a 1983 total and easily should be hitting 2000. A 220’r raw with sleeves totaling 1500 and a couple of 242’rs totaling 1500 raw all competition totals.

It’s just hard work. It’s being committed. 5’s are good. Stick with them in some fashion the majority of your training.


I don’t think I’m understanding you. Powerlifters should have a specific date that they are competing, as the big meets tend to happen around the same time, so they can set up their training around those dates.

In season would be the period leading up to the meet. Some people run 12-16 week cycles of intensification and peaking. Outside of that window is typically the off season.