Monthly Archives: September 2014

5×5 4ever!

I really like the 5×5 scheme for strength, quite simply, it straight up works. Progress always happens and when used well I’d defy anyone to not succeed with it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a million and one ways to gain strength and they all work to a greater or lesser degree but for me, 5×5 is one of the best! At its most basic you do 5 sets of 5 reps and a load of around 80-90% of your 1 rep max and gradually push that weight higher. But as we all know, nothing is ever as straightforward as that!


Depending on your energy levels, recovery from your last session and a variety of other factors, your training session quality can be awesome, awful or anywhere in between the 2, and as such a little leeway in your training loads can help a lot.

Lets look at some of the ways to manipulate 5×5 and get you great results…

Feeling strong 5×5 – Great when you start on 5×5 and are conservative in your initial loading, generally I’ll use this when clients go onto 5×5 for the first time. Each set is a little heavier than the last and the next week, the starting load is the load for set 3 in the previous week. Depending on the starting point, this may last up to 4 weeks. Good for building strength and confidence under load.

For example:

Bench press

Week 1

Set 1 – 60kg

Set 2 – 62.5kg

Set 3 – 65kg

Set 4  – 67.5kg

Set 5 – 70kg

Week 2

Set 1 – 65kg

Set 2 – 67.5kg

Set 3 – 70kg

Set 4  – 72.5kg

Set 5 – 75kg

Slow loading increases but good progress quite quickly.

Straight 5×5 – Load up the bar with around 85% of your max and crunch out 5 sets of 5 good reps. Increase the load a little next time, Repeat each session until you cant…

Testing your limits 5×5 – Increase the load if you feel good in the first couple of sets. For example, your training plan says deadlift at 150kg for 5×5,  so your working sets might look like:

150 x5 – felt good,quick off the floor,

150×5 – Still quick off the floor, no issues

155×5 – felt good,

160×4 – slower off the floor, struggled on rep 4

150×5 – Back down and finished strong.

Overall a good increase on your planned 5×5 at 150 (overall volume up) Next time start at 155 and see what happens.

Build up to 5×5 – This is great for really going after bigger numbers, start with a set of 5, increase the load a little for a set of 4, then again for a set of 3, 2 and finally 1. Might look like this:

Week 1

Set 1 – 100kg for 5 reps

Set 2 – 105 x 4

Set 3 – 110 x 3

Set 4  – 115 x 2

Set 5 – 120 x 1

Week 2

Set 1 – 100kg for 5 reps

Set 2 – 105 x 5

Set 3 – 110 x 4

Set 4  – 115 x 3

Set 5 – 120 x 2

This at first doesn’t look like a big increase but when you look at the volume (reps x load) you see a big improvement – 1600 kgs moved in week 1 against 2050 kgs moved in week 2. I would be happy with a 25% increase each week if i could get it!

You continue until you hit 5 reps at each load and then bump the loading up a bit and repeat. It take some time and stalls may happen but you get stronger.

So 4 possible options on 5×5 but remember ,there are a lot more options in how you manipulate the loading to match your training strength on the day. Play around with it, be patient and consistent and watch your strength levels skyrocket!

Stay strong


5 awesome challenges…

I like a good challenge, something to make me push a little harder and push my limits a little further back. I love training, gradual but consistent increases in load and volume to get stronger every week, but sometimes you just want to see what you are capable of with this stronger body that you’ve made!

I’ve picked 5 challenges that I have tested myself with and that you can use to mix up training or test yourself with…


1. Dan Johns 310 lb deadlift challenge. Really, brutally simple. Load the bar with 310 lbs (140kg), set a timer to 30 mins and see how many reps you can do.

My advice is pace yourself, it’s easy early on to get lulled into a false sense of security at how easy it feels and try to crunch out big sets, but trust me, that will come back to bite you in the ass! Last time I did this one I did 3-6 reps every minute then rested for the remainder of the minute. My total was 110 reps.

If you can’t comfortably lift 140kg for 10-12 reps, pick a weight that is around 65-70% of your 1 rep max.


2. Never ending pushups… for bodyweight exercises you can’t go wrong with push ups. This challenge is simple. Start off standing up, then drop down and do a single pushup. Stand back up, then back down for 2 pushups, back up to standing and down again for 3 reps. Keep going, increasing the reps each set until you can’t get a full set out. My record is 14.

Short and sweet.


3. Front squat tabatas.  Shorter and sweeter than the pushup challenge, Tabata in this case refers to the 8 rounds of  20 seconds of work/ 10 secs of rest that you will use on this finisher, not the high intensity protocol by Professor Izumi Tabata although the intensity is definitely there!

Like the rest of these challenges, this is brutally simple. Load the bar, front squat for 20 secs, rack it and then 10 secs later, do another 20 secs. Repeat for 8 rounds.

Rules: aim for a minimum of 8 reps per 20 secs of work. And 10 secs rest means you unrack the bar after 10 seconds, not you start your elaborate setup after 10 secs and squat for maybe 15 secs! Be accurate with the timings or you aren’t really doing the challenge!

Oh, and go light, 40 kg is enough! If that is too much this works great with the goblet squat too.


4. Bodyweight for reps. 5 exercises, bodyweight load, as many reps as you can!

Load a bar with your bodyweight, then perform as many of the following as you can in 1 set of each in any order you want:

Romanian deadlift

Hip thrust

Back squat

Bench press

Pull up

Loading: Guys body weight for all exercises, ladies half bodyweight for the bench, full pull ups or 2/3 bodyweight, full bodyweight for everything else.


5. Farmers carry for distance. 5 mins, 40kg in each hand, walk as far as you can! Not much else to say about this one. Pick em up and walk!

Have fun and let me know how you get on!


Stay strong!


Tagged ,

4 of my favourite things…

By things I mean exercises, 4 of my all time favourite exercises for both myself and for my clients, and hopefully 4 that you will incorporate into your programs to get great results!

The list of exercises that are great is long and full of options for all your fitness and strength needs. I’ve picked 4 that I think give the best bang for your buck in the least time and the least fuss. That said, if you ask me this time in a couple of weeks, I’ll probably add another exercise or switch out one for another, but as of right now, this is the list.


1. Deadlift.

The King of lifts. You versus the bar. It comes off the floor or it doesn’t. Simple.

Done well it looks freaking awesome and works pretty much every part of you, done badly and your back will let you know about it. Technique is key, hips back and a below your shoulders. weight towards your heels, grip the bar like you want to crush it, and rip it off the floor.

Check out this fantastic deadlift set up video from Tony Gentilcore at Cressey Performance.

2. Pullups

You versus gravity. Pull yourself up and lower yourself under control, repeat.

Grip, lats, biceps, core all get a workout from these and doing them well gives you major strength gains.

Easier said than done though! My usual progression for clients is:

  • assisted pull up machine, not ideal but helps to build the initial strength and movement pattern needed.
  • Trx pullups from your knees. This allows you to get some assistance from your legs as needed and gain more strength.
  • Eccentric pullups, jump to the top position and slowly lower yourself back down over 5-10 secs.
  • Full pullups


3. Pushups.

Very underrated, underused and mistakenly so. Doing pushups well regardless of your self decided level of ability, is impressive. Unfortunately you are more likely to see this…

Than this…

If you struggle with maintaining good form, start with holding a pushup plank for time, hold the top of the pushup, tighten your lats, push the ground away, tight glutes and abs and your head in a neutral position. Then start on a high incline, and do 3 sets of 8-12 good reps, lowering the incline over time until you reach the floor.

4. Farmers carries.

Pick up a weight, walk with it, put it down. grip, core, hip stability and even a cardio hit. What more could you ask for?!

Stuart McGill, Canadian spinal research legend, has called farmers carries as walking planks as an indication of their ability to improve core strength and stability.

The trick to doing these well is to gradually increase loading over time while maintaining great posture and controlled walking style. At least as much as you can!

Try to stay in a neutral position with your spine in a neutral position and tight midsection, challenge yourself with loads but don’t lose quality of movement. If you can build the load up to betwen 50 and 100% of bodyweight per hand and carry it well for a decent time or distance and I can guarantee you will reap the benefits.


Try this short, intense workout if you are pushed for time:

A. Deadlifts – 4 sets of 5-7 reps and around 85% of your 1RM,

B1. Pullups 3 sets of as many pullups as you can, supersetted with,

B2. Pushups 3 sets of 10-20

C. Farmers carry – 3 to 6 sets of 20-40m with as heavy a load as you can with good technique.




Train smarter not longer

The title should really be – Train smarter and harder, not longer, but the shorter version sounded better 🙂

There is a tendency for gym goers, particularly beginners, to go into the gym for way longer than needed, doing endless sets of various exercises with weights that are too light and not leaving until exhausted, bored or the gym shuts. Need less to say, their desired results don’t come flooding in…


The problem, as I see it, has a number of factors:

1. No plan to follow.

How many folks do you see in the gym wandering aimlessly from machine to machine, or doing randomly combined exercises and looking lost at the end of a set? My guess is the vast majority. These folks get no results, because they literally have no idea of where they want to get to, never mind how to get there.


Find a plan, (the internet has approximately a gazillion), or get a trainer and follow his or her plan for you. All the way through. Don’t stop after a week and switch to something different. See the plan through and then, and only then,  move on to the next stage of training.


2. Not pushing hard enough.

cute at the end

Training sessions don’t need to have you lying on the floor at the end feeling burst and feeling like you are gonna puke your pre workout all over the floor. However, you should feel like you have done some actual, good, hard work and achieved something during your sessions. If you leave the gym having not broken a sweat or struggled at least a little to get to the end of a set, then you’re not doing yourself any favours.

Challenge your limits. Sweat a little, it won’t kill you to get out of breath and sweat.


3. Not recovering well enough.

Training is awesome, you get stronger, leaner and fitter, it can boost your confidence and mood, and improve you mental strength, whats not to love!? However the stresses you put on your body to enable all these wonderful things needs to be dealt with to allow the adaptations and improvements to be made to allow you to be better able to handle the next round of stresses. This is where good food, good sleep, staying hydrated and foam rolling/ massage etc come in.

Take some time off and your progress will be a lot faster than if you don’t. Trust me when I say that if you don’t, your body will force you to eventually. I usually suggest no more than 2 days training followed by a recovery or active rest day.


Hope this helps you start to make the necessary changes to your training to get the best out of it. Any questions, please just ask!


Stay healthy