STRENGTH BLOCK #3 – BILL STARR’S 5X5

We’re finishing an accumulation block where the theme was Advanced German Volume Training, where the primary focus to effectively build endurance and improve our work capacities. The improvements will be seen in the next strength block immediately.

We are shifting gears and heading into an intensification block. The theme of this intensification block is the 5×5. It will take us 4 weeks to go through this strength block cycle leading into the first KPI week of 2022!

THE HISTORY OF THE 5X5

THE 5×5 IS FOCUSED ON THE BIG THREE MOVEMENTS: SQUAT, BENCH AND DEADLIFT WITH THE PROGRAM DIVIDED INTO HEAVY, MODERATE AND LIGHT VERSIONS.

March’s King Strength and Performance strength block is the famous 5×5, a program invented by strength and conditioning legend and pioneer Bill Starr.

Bill Starr landed on the set and rep scheme because he thought it was the perfect balance of volume and intensity that would develop muscular size and strength at the same time.

For some historical context, Starr designed this program at the time when most of his athletes and lifters worked full-time, manual labor jobs outside of training. They’d do hard labor in factories and then after work, they had to go to the gym to train.

Starr had to be strategic with program design to get the most results for his athletes. By trial and error, he realized what we adapt to is the most important. And that it’s not about how much one can do, but about how much one can sustainably handle.

His methods became something of a legend and ushered a whole new world of strength and conditioning that took deep roots in all aspects of the physical culture.

WHAT MAKES THE 5X5 SPECIAL?

​The 5×5 program split is three separate days focused on the big three: Squat, Bench and Deadlift. The program is broken up into a heavy, moderate and light version.

This is important because it was one of the first great attempts to look at pattern development from a movement perspective and performance perspective. On one hand, you need a certain level of exposure to master the movement. On the other hand, you need a certain amount of intensity to perform optimally in the movement.

But if you push one exercise everyday at maximal intensity, you will break (which we imagine was a product of learning this the hard way). There has to be proper manipulation and variability in training intensity to accommodate proper recovery.

HERE’S HOW THE 5X5 PROGRAM WORKS

The 5×5 program has three days that start with a heavy version of Squat, Bench or Deadlift followed by a moderate version of Squat, Bench or Deadlift, followed again by a light version of Squat, Bench or Deadlift.

You push the weight as heavy as you can on each for 5 sets of 5 reps but the weight is deloaded based on the rage of motion, vector, distance from center of gravity, joints involved, and balance required.

DAY 1
HEAVY – BACK SQUAT
MODERATE – OVERHEAD PRESS
LIGHT – ROMANIAN DEADLIFT

DAY 2
HEAVY – BENCH PRESS
MODERATE – GOOD MORNING OR HIP THRUST
LIGHT – KB RACKED SQUAT

DAY 3
HEAVY – TRAP BAR DEADLIFT
MODERATE – FRONT SQUAT OR ZERCHER SQUAT
​LIGHT – Z PRESS

——————————————————-
TRANSITIONING INTO THE FIRST KPI WEEK OF 2022
BY ROBERT YU

Quarterly KPI Testing: What, Why, How
Everything relating to the gym’s quarterly KPI Testing: 

  • What’s a KPI
  • Why do them
  • Who can test & considerations by population
  • The movements and testing standards
  • Safety checklist

We wanted having an easier way to measure progress across the board in a way that related to strength. So we brainstormed and settled on the idea of King Performance Indicators (KPI), an acronym with a nod to the more businessy term Key Performance Indicator.

The Big Idea
What are a handful of assessments that we might perform on a semi regular basis, that can give us a sense that we’re generally progressing in the right direction? For trainers to know that clients are making real progress, and for our members and clients to see something tangible?The KPI movements

  • MAX STRENGTH
    • Back squat 1RM (1 rep max)
    • Bench press 1RM
    • Deadlift 1RM
  • STRENGTH ENDURANCE
    • Push-up for max reps
    • Chin-up max reps OR dead hang for max duration
  • GENERAL UNPLEASANTNESS / POWER
    • Assault bike half-mile sprint for time

Specific movement testing standards are in a (longer) section below.

Who can test?
Testing is completely optional and open to all active clients who have been training for at least 2 consecutive months with us, or who are otherwise cleared by a trainer (due to demonstrated competence, prior experience, etc.)If you have NOT been training with us for 2 months yet but would like to test, please speak with a trainer.
IMPORTANT: If you WOULD like to test but may have injuries past/current, or other restrictions of any sort that could be a concern, please let us know BEFORE attempting any testing for everyone’s safety and peace of mind.

Testing Standard Adjustments and Considerations
1-rep max testing is not necessary for everyone in the sense that for many clients the potential negatives may outweigh the positives. This includes:

  • Age/injuries: For clients 50+ or those with injuries/significant restrictions, we recommend testing 5RM instead of 1RM. Injuries may also affect the standards by which your attempt will be judged – e.g. clients with knee restrictions cannot be expected to perform by the same standards as those without. Please let our team and especially the trainer who’s instructing your session, know of any restrictions if you intend to test despite any injuries!
  • Client goals: The majority of our members can be said to have relatively general training goals: longevity, durability, injury-mitigation, aesthetics (and there’s nothing wrong with general!) Other clients have more specific training goals whether for specific races, events, etc. Check with your trainer for guidance on what may be best – in certain cases, it may be advised that you forgo KPI Testing entirely. What we’ve also done is build testing into the regular training schedule, especially for personal training clients.

The weight standards may be adjusted at trainer discretion, mainly for the following reasons:

  • Age (training / chronological): For clients with general training goals (longevity, durability, injury-mitigation, aesthetics), there’s no specific need to test or measure a 1RM and depending on history and capability may actually be ill-advised. Instead we may recommend a 3 or 5RM with a potential 1RM weight extrapolated via chart (which, yes, may have a degree of imprecision which we willingly accept in favor of safety and longevity – see following point).
  • By client goal: The majority of our members can be said to have relatively general training goals: longevity, durability, injury-mitigation, aesthetics. (And there’s nothing wrong with general!) For For this group, there’s no specific need to test or measure a 1RM and depending on history, capability, and current training may actually be ill-advised – for example if you have a work event or foot race coming up that you need to be top shape for. See section below about Training Vs. Testing.

What If I Don’t Want To Test?
It’s always optional! During each testing week, clients who do not opt into testing are still coached to follow a planned class program which is usually a deloading variation on the current or next month’s training. That program will available as always on TrainHeroic.Safety Guidelines & A Handy Checklist For You
Your trainer will review safety guidelines before each lift. Do not attempt any lift that you are not comfortable with, especially if you are feeling anything that you do not normally notice during your regular training.
Here are a few additional tips to follow:

  • Check your surroundings before setting up for each lift and remove all debris/equipment/phones that are not necessary.
  • Come to class early and ensure that you are warmed up appropriately before attempting any heavy lifts. For those cleared to test, we’re trusting that you have sufficient experience to understand what kind of warm-ups your body may need before lifting heavy.
  • Set up spotter arms before warming up for your squats and presses.
  • Have a spotter for your bench press attempts – ask your trainer and/or find a buddy.
  • Take sufficient rest periods as instructed.
  • Keep breathing. Before, during, and after your lifts. If you’re starting to notice light-headedness, take extra 
  • Beware ego. Or at the very least, make a decision about whether you’d rather prioritize a PR vs. longevity. It’s a fine line for riding the energy of your class and lifting rivals/buddies.
  • Have fun with it! We’ve found some people seem resistant to this but it’s worth mentioning anyway.

KPI Movement Testing Standards
Back Squat 1RM

  • Belt, lifting shoes are fine
  • Test with lighter weight first – aka follow your warm-up sets
  • Preferred Standard: top of thighs parallel with the floor. Note that we are not a powerlifting-specific gym. Those with restrictions/injury will squat to their ability (and may follow 5RM at trainer direction).

Bench Press 1RM

  • Bar must touch chest on descent
  • Elbows locked out fully at start and end of attempt
  • Butt and back must remain touching the bench. Back arch allowed but not mandatory.

Deadlift 1RM

  • Can be trap bar or straight barbell – we suggest testing with the most recent implement you’ve been training with
  • Full extension of hips at top of lift
  • Weight lowered from the top instead of dropped
  • Chalk, straps, belt, allowed

Push-Ups Max Reps

  • ​2-min time cap
  • Backs of triceps to parallel with ground
  • Full arm extension (or as close as possible) at top of each rep
  • The only rest positions allowed are front-leaning rest (push-up position plank), downward facing dog or modified cobra where both hands and feet must stay in contact with the ground
  • Same standards as Villain Challenge #3

Chin-Ups Max Reps

  • No time limit for chin-ups BUT test attempt ends once both hands have left the bar or any part of body touches anything other than hands on the bar
  • Must begin attempt from a dead hang with no tension
  • Reps are only counted when chin clears the bar and elbows at full lockout at bottom
  • Chalk allowed
  • Attempt ends once both hands leave the bar, or any part of the body touches anything other than touching your hands, chest, or neck to the bar.

For anyone who cannot yet perform strict chin-ups, instead perform the following:
Dead Hang Max Duration

  • Candidate will hang from the bar for as long as possible.
  • Chalk is only equipment allowed
  • Attempt begins as soon as candidate begins hanging from the bar and ends when both hands have left the bar (or any part of the body touches anything other than hands to the bar)
  • Thumbs over/under all allowed
  • You’re allowed to perform both the dead hang AND max rep chin-up KPI tests if you’d like. We’d suggest allowing for at least half an hour between the two attempts.
  • Timing must be performed by someone other than candidate

Assault Bike 1/2 Mile Sprint

  • Complete 805m in as fast a time as possible.
  • Attempt begins as soon as candidate begins to operate the assault bike (timer will begin automatically or the start button can be pressed by judge)
  • Attempt ends when candidate’s assault bike display reads 805m or upon voluntary withdrawal

Special Testing (Seasonal, etc)
Usually around end of year the gym is following the Greyskull LP training block, so an optional test is  often Villain Challenge #1 – details for that and the main 5 challenges are here.

Final Thoughts:
Testing Is Not TrainingI could write a post about this and might one day. This is an idea that’s been useful to me and one I like sharing with all clients: to treat your competition days as competition and your training days as training.
More specifically, training days are where you put strength (and whatever qualities you’re working on) into your fitness bank. Competitions – which can be actual races or events like testing, etc – are those occasions where you are SPENDING what you’ve saved in the bank.

People often mix up these 2 and make regular training too difficult (by adding in more of something into a training sessions, or not following prescribed weight, etc); and also by not pushing hard enough during competition.
Give yourself the recovery your body needs so you can get the best possible results when you test!
​And when you hit your new PRs…
​Have a buddy or trainer take videos! Then share them and tag us @kingstrengthperformance

(BTW if you want to avoid any potential critiquing from our team which usually have to do with failure to meet movement standards, ask input from our trainers’ before posting).

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