Absolutely, I’ll give the short version so I don’t type a novel here as I tend to do. We were eating at an incredible high end Japanese buffet after the gym, and fortunately I wound up sitting next to Arash, he’s the nicest guy, very humble and very meticulous with his training and nutrition. I asked him some advice about bringing up some weak points, and he asked me a question.
"What’s best, heavy weight with low reps, or low weight with high reps?"
Not sure what to say and not wanting to sound like a noob, I came up with the best answer I could, which was, "optimal weight that allows you to get the rep range you want a control the weight?"
He responded with, "heavy weight, high reps." I told him I typically used higher rep ranges, and he then went on to suggest that I work lower rep ranges, try using 5x5 for the first exercise of my session, and really get my strength up for a while. Then, come back to the 8-12 area so I can lift heavier in that rep range.
Hearing this was kind of like a slap to the back of the head, an “aha” type moment. So I thought to myself, man to do heavy weight, high reps, I’m going to need to get stronger and step my game up.
So, I started doing 5x5 for the first exercise of my sessions, including:
Chest - Incline DB Press
Back - Close grip pull downs/weighted pull ups (depending on which back workout)
Shoulders - Seated DB Press
Arms - Barbell curls/weighted dips
Legs - back squat (here I did 6-8 reps to avoid too much spinal compression as I have some lower back issues)
I know it’s a basic principal to an extend, but I’ve never done 5x5 before. I was very focused on lifting as heavy as I could with good form, with kind of a new drive and intensity to break to that next level. There was no way I was going to be able to complete 5 sets of 5 properly without being very focused, in my mind and body.
@dt79 this next part hits a little bit on the rep ranges.
Around this time, I also started reading more articles in various magazines and got more of an insight to the workouts of the pros, who all seem to sit in the 8-12 rep range for most exercises. Granted this is just what they write and might not be always what they do, but the numbers were very consistent. The more I saw, the more it seemed 8-12 is really the money zone. Of course there are times to go lower or higher, but 8-12 seemed like the staple and typically I would go higher in a lot of my exercises. So, after my 5x5 sets, I would keep everything 8-12, no higher than 12. When I would do my 8-12 sets, I would keep that same intensity I used for 5x5.
Sure enough, my strength really started improving relatively quickly along with some good physique changes. I was finally eating again after my show, I think it was the right combination of my body soaking up the nutrients after a long prep, and also stimulating my muscles with more weight and intensity than usual. Right now I’m sitting at 162, but am a hell of a lot leaner and bigger than I was last time I was 162 in February.
When I would do, let’s say, shoulder lateral DB raises, I used to do around 15 reps, usually with 15lb dumbbells. I would keep very strict form, straight arms, etc. So the first 5-6 reps I would focus on my delt and have good execution, but the weight didn’t really start feeling heavy until around 10 or 11 reps, the pump came and I pushed as hard as I could after that. Now, I’m using heavier weights, 25 pound dumbbells typically for laterals, and still have good form, but I really force myself to lift the heaviest weight I can while keeping the initiation and tension in my delt. From the first rep the weight feels heavy, but with serious mental and physical intensity, I can feel a good pump pretty much from the start.
Here’s a little video example that might illustrate better what I’m talking about. The first video is from a series of videos I made last spring for marching band students to get in shape for the season; basically a “starter” split program for high school and college aged students. This is from the “shoulder” video, in the first exercise you can see more how I used to execute lateral raises. *Note, I still think beginners should start lateral raises with this type of form and execution. @dt79, I think having a good pump in the 8-12 rep range requires a solid MMC, and the ability to really initiate the movement with the desired muscle, not just feel it tense during the exercise. A lot of times we see people doing delt raises, initiating with the knees or body momentum, THEN engaging the shoulders, rather than starting the movement with the delt. A little body english is ok, but every exercise needs to have the desired muscle tense at the very beginning and very end of each rep.
This next video is one I made a few days ago, the last exercise of my shoulder workout, which is dumbbell lateral raise into barbell upright row. You can see the form isn’t as strict, but it still controlled, and overall intensity is higher.
At first glance it may just seem like I’m using more weight, therefor trying harder, but for me there was a significant change in my mental and physical approach, allowing me to go higher and stay controlled after building up some more strength.
Recently I went back to the 8-10 rep range for my first exercise with 3 working sets, but I will alternate between that and more of a strength based 5x5 focus again probably after 6ish weeks, or when I feel it’s time for a change. The weight I’m using for all of my exercises has gone up since I’ve used that method and really demand more of myself, and my physique is growing in new ways as well as a result.
Well I ended up typing a novel anyway lol, I hope this helps and gives some more insight, but if there’s anything I can be more specific with let me know!