T Nation

Question Before Pursuing 5x5

First post ever here! Hi everyone!

My question is this: Would it be wise to follow a traditional bodybuilding type of leg program prior to pursuing a powerlifting oriented one?

I don’t at all care about being bigger, just stronger and would rather pursue a power lifting program from the get-go. I read an article about strong lifts and then found similar information on similar programs. My legs certainly lack development as compared to my upper body and I’ve been working on rectifying that issue. They’re not necessarily disproportionately small, just weaker than they should be relative to my upper body. I started a generic 5x5 program a few months back but ran into some lower back problems when squatting/deadlifting as a result of poor flexibility/endurance in that region after the first few weeks of great results. Took some time off to rectify that issue and as I returned to my previous program, there is no longer an issue.

However, I don’t know if I’m rushing into a power lifting program without adequate…“experience”. I’ve lifted for a number of years(albeit inconsistently) and only recently came across the power lifting school of training, which frankly is what I’ve been searching for. I guess I’m wanting to know if I need to have certain qualifications before doing some power lifting based workouts, for example, in the way that it is suggested one squat 2x body weight before starting a plyometrics program.

Thanks for the help!

I would say there is no such thing as rushing into strength training. Whether your goals are strength, size, power, whatever, A solid base of strength is very very important, and takes a long time to build so you should start ASAP.

HOWEVER, what you can most definitely do is rush the training itself. Starting strength training, no matter your level of experience, is a great idea, but you have to be VERY patient in order for your muscle and connective tissue size and strength, as well as your technique and work capacity, to all develop in balance and at the same time.

So here is my advice. Look up 5/3/1 and follow that from the start. Follow Jim Wendler’s advice, and start with 90% of your 1rm. By starting with weights that are significantly lighter than you are capable of moving, you will give yourself time to practice the movements with good form, and will give yourself plenty of room to grow. The weights may feel light for the first few cycles, but after 4, 5, 6 months the workouts WILL start to get harder. If you are patient and put the work in at the light weights, your technique will be solid and you will be able to ride the progression for a long time. But if you let your ego get in the way and set your weights too high, the weights will get too heavy too fast and you will end up lifting with shitty technique, or not being able to make the reps. Patience is key with strength training. Just remember, it may be frustrating to take a few months/cycles to be working with light weight, but that will set you up for YEARS of gains. If you don’t have patience, you will end up spinning your wheels until you learn to check your ego.

Secondly, If you are interested in building more leg size as well, Boring But Big is the way to go (it’s a variation on the basic 5/3/1 protocol.) Basically, you start each workout with your strength work (5/3/1), then you do 5 sets of 10 squat/deadlifts after the heavier work. This will help you a ton. You will get in heavy work first, to help build strength, and then get a ton of volume in which will 1) help your legs grow, which will make you a better lifter, and 2) allow you to practice your technique a ton. Focus on doing that 5 x 10 with the best form you can, and just work your ass off. You do that (and eat and sleep enough), and in a year your squat and deadlift will be much, much better than they are now.

That’s what I’ve got for you. 5/3/1, boring but big. Be patient and work hard.

Largely agree with N.K. I started actual Westside programming a mere few months into training at all. Best idea ever for getting stronger. So I don’t think 5x5 is out of place.

My only caveat is to spend time doing volume and frequency…This is why I like higher volume programs as a beginner. That is the primary reason I do not like body part splits for newbs aspiring to be bodybuilders…Different thread entirely but point is, they start that way and assume it’s the only way to results, or that you can’t squat and bench 3x a week without roidzzz or something entirely stupid like that. I find that pushing somebody early in training like that breaks a mental barrier.

Note I am NOT saying you need to be doing maxes every other day in squats or anything like that. You do not. Please do not. My only point is that as a beginner the two things you need are volume and frequency. You will not likely get a ton from 1 rep maxes so early in training because you lack the intramuscular coordination, and it’s best to stick to lower rep ranges for strength, so that effectively leaves the 3-6 range for newbs. Spending time in the 5 range is great, and doing frequent work is great. It will be hard to overwork yourself as a newbie unless we are talking about low back issues from, as you said above, lack of endurance and mobility there. That of course needs to be watched out for.

And yes 5/3/1 is a good program overall. I am speaking in generalities here.

I personally would suggested a higher rep training program before jumping into a powerlifting scheme. Nothing dealing with size at all.
Reason being for beginners I feel like it’s better for them to get acquainted with the technique and movement with a lower percentage of there max than for example a 5 rep max.
Second reason being, I feel like it brings your conditioning up, and how wouldn’t that help going into a strength oriented program.
I mean it’s all personal opinion, 5x5 is a great program and is 5/3/1 so it wouldn’t hurt to go straight into it with full spirit.
Just be smart and avoid injuries, which happen with bad technique and heavy weights.
good luck as always

I would choose 5x5 over 5/3/1 simply because of the higher frequency - for me, regularly performing the lifts seems to be the best way to make improvements. As a beginner, why train four times a week and yet only perform each lift once? If powerlifting/strength gain is the goal, then practice and repetition of the lifts is important.

Thanks for all the suggestions guys! This has been incredibly helpful. I’m a beginner in the sense that I don’t lift particularly heavy weight (as far as squatting is concerned I think).

I’m 5’8" , 168 lbs right now but I bench about 270 and squat about 300, which I know isn’t much in the world of powerlifting but in general I think its okay. Obviously the leg’s are lacking. I’ve actually been lifting since I was about…15 (I’m 23 now) so I have plenty of experience with squatting deep/form, so that hasn’t been an issue to be honest. I never understood the guys that went in and squatted and it looked like a curtsy, yet racked on the weight. Going lower in weight doesn’t bother me at all as long as I can go deep and get a good range of motion, as I feel in the long term its more effective.

I kind of felt like maybe I should try a more volume based approach prior to power lifting as a result of listening to my own body(when my back was acting up) but wanted to confirm if that was even necessary at all.Now I went back to the 5x5 (prior to posting this question at all) and my back hasn’t been acting up…but I don’t want a recurrence of the problem. Is that also how most of you started? Traditional volume based approach before going into power lifting?