How to Use Lower Volume Training to Increase Lean Muscle Mass

The 5 Sets of 5 Reps Bodybuilding Training Method

A man cleaning weights in the gym

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One popular plateau breaking method is the 10 sets of 10 reps (10x10) bodybuilding training plan. However, like all routines, if used for too long the body adapts and bodybuilding progress comes to a screeching halt. To break through another plateau, you can try the 5 Sets of 5 Reps Method (5x5). This method has been used in bodybuilding circles for years for the purposes of breaking through plateaus and accumulating new lean muscle mass. The inventor of this method is thought to be the former Mr. Universe Reg Park who was Arnold Schwarzenegger's bodybuilding idol and inspiration. Reg used this method quite successfully back in the fifties and sixties.

The 5x5 method works by improving the connection between the central nervous system and the muscles. In order for muscles to contract the brain has to send them a signal to do so. For this signal to reach the muscles, it has to travel through the central nervous system. When you train with heavy loads that only allow you to perform around 5 repetitions, for instance, you are training the body to become more efficient at recruiting more muscle fibers in order to move the weight. This is what is called improving your neural connections and this is the way in which strength increases. The perfect time to implement this method of training is following a high volume phase like the 10x10. Why is it important to train for strength after a high volume phase? Because this sort of training offers the following benefits:

  1. Your hormones respond, and testosterone levels go through the roof in response to the longer rest in between sets and the heavier weights.
  2. Hypertrophy (muscle growth) occurs by the body increasing the actual diameter of the myofiber (the muscle fiber size) through increased protein synthesis. In other words, the actual protein content of the cell increases as well as the thickness of the muscle filaments. However, in this phase, strength gains come first and hypertrophy later.
  3. Since your body’s recuperation abilities were built up to the maximum by the previous phase and the volume has gone down dramatically, these extra recuperation abilities are used to increase strength and build more muscle mass. The reason the body does this is in order to be prepared for another stressful period like the one it just went through.

Not unlike the 10x10 method, the goal of the 5x5 routine involves doing 5 sets of 5 reps, using the same weight. At first, you won't be able to do 5 repetitions for all 5 sets but once you do, then it is time to increase the weight. The perfect weight to select is one that allows you to perform 5 reps for the first set and perhaps even the second. The third, fourth and fifth you may fall back to 4 reps and on the last one perhaps all you can do is 3 reps.

Is there a need for more exercises once you do the one exercise for 5 sets of 5? It may not be necessary, but it is helpful to do an additional exercise using the 5x5 method to ensure that the muscle has been stimulated from a couple of different angles.

Here is one recommended 5x5 training plan. For each day's set, do the first set of the first exercise, take the rest time, do the second set, take the rest time, and so on through the entire list. Then, work your way through the exercises for a second set each, with the corresponding rest time. Continue this pattern until all the sets are done. This allows you to rest more between sets of the same exercise, but to do so efficiently.

Day 1 Chest & Back (Monday/Thursday)

Modified Compound Triset #1:

  • Incline Bench Press 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
  • Wide Grip Pull-up to Front (Palms facing you) 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
  • Weighted Rope Crunches 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)

Modified Compound Triset #2:

  • Chest Dips 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
  • One Arm Dumbbell Rows 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
    Lying Leg Raises (with a small weight in between feet) 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)

Day 2 Shoulders & Arms (Tuesday/Friday)

Modified Compound Triset #1:

  • Upright Rows 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
  • Close Grip Bench Press 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
  • Preacher Curls 5 sets x 5 reps (90 seconds rest)

Modified Compound Triset #2:

  • Rear Delt Rows 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
  • Triceps Pushdowns 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
  • Incline Hammer Curls 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)

Day 3 Legs (Wednesday/Saturday) 

Modified Compound Triset #1:

  • Squats (alternate one set medium and next set wide stance) 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
  • Lying Leg Curls 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
  • Calf Raises 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)

Modified Compound Triset #2:

  • Leg Press 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
  • Stiff Legged Deadlifts 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)
  • Calf Press 5 sets x 5 reps (60 seconds rest)

The longest these routines will take you is 60 minutes if you keep to the prescribed rest periods.

Bodybuilding Diet and Supplements

In order to benefit most from this routine, remember that you have to nourish yourself! Weight training provides the spark for muscle growth while food provides the raw materials required for making bodybuilding gains. It is important to think about your diet and consider how to bulk up naturally.

A good supplementation program is imperative in order to recover and make the best possible gains from such a demanding bodybuilding program. Some popular supplements include creatine monohydrate and my glutamine.

Rest and Recovery

Don’t forget that muscles grow when you rest, not while you are at the gym. Therefore, make sure that you get your 8 hours of sleep or at the very least 7 hours each night and make up any lost sleep over the weekends. Not meeting your sleep requirements on a consistent basis leads to sleep deprivation, a condition which besides creating constantly low energy levels, promotes a hormonal environment that increases the muscle destroying (and fat depositing) hormone cortisol and lowers your muscle producing hormone testosterone.


Well, here you have a great companion to the 10x10 program or any other high-volume program that you have been following. If you are ready to change your high-volume workout routine for a lower volume, give this program a try. As long as your nutrition, supplementation, and rest are in order, it will not fail to give you the bodybuilding gains that you are looking for.

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