You can train for size gains. You can train for strength gains. But you can't do both at the same time, right? Experienced lifters know that if you optimize hypertrophy, you won't get as strong as you possibly could, and if you optimize strength you won't get as big as you possibly could. Why? Because they require different approaches.
Research has shown that training for maximal size or maximal strength is dependent on a variety of factors like rep ranges, loading, tempos, rest periods, and a million other variables that training micromanagers try to track with their FitBits. But what about those of us who aren't content with just one or the other? Is it impossible to get the best of both worlds within a given training cycle? Or even within the same workout?
The truth is, you can maximize your gains in one while still getting a whole lot closer to the other than you currently are now. That's where the 5-10-20 method comes in. But first, the basics. This is a method made up of tri-sets. Here's how those work.
Tri-Sets for Greedy Gainers
The tri-sets you'll use in the 5-10-20 method will contain a variety of rep ranges and varying degrees of intensity during each set. Tri-set training involves doing three exercises for the same muscle group to recruit as many motor units and exhaust as many muscle fibers as possible.
- The first exercise: Do a basic compound movement. That's non-negotiable. Take advantage of your ability to move some real weight while the muscles are still fresh. Not only is heavier load training optimal for improving strength, it also produces an acute hormonal response resulting in elevated levels of testosterone and growth hormone.
- The second exercise: Here you'll do another compound exercise for the same muscle group but you'll use a different plane of movement. For example, if you used a flat bench press for the first exercise, you'll use an incline bench here.
- The third exercise: This will be the isolation exercise. Use a machine or cables to help prevent injury as fatigue sets in and as you approach muscular failure. For years it was thought that training with higher reps wasn't advantageous for muscle growth. But new evidence suggests that training with lighter loads (30% 1RM), can be just as effective at building muscle when training in the 25-35 rep range.
The 5-10-20 Method
Think of 5-10-20 as the reps within your tri-set. You'll do 5 reps of the first exercise, 10 reps of the second exercise, and 20 reps of the third exercise.
1 – The first exercise
This is your first heavy compound movement. Do it with a weight that's 75-80% of your working 1RM for five reps. Avoid the urge to do more and train to muscular failure. Keeping 1-2 reps in the tank will allow you to train with greater intensity for the duration of the set.
Note: On your final round of this tri-set, empty the tank. At this point your muscles will be plenty fatigued, and grinding out an additional rep or two won't have the subsequent effect of derailing the rest of your workout because you took a flamethrower to the CNS too early.
2 – The second exercise
Now that the muscles and joints are fired up, shift gears to more of a traditional bodybuilding-style rep range: 8-12 reps or about 65% of your 1RM.
Since the muscles are already going to be fatigued from the previous heavy set, selecting a weight that would normally cause you to fail around 12 reps is the sweet spot. Using a weight that's too heavy is going to be counterproductive, and it'll interfere with your heavier load training on your next few rounds. But choosing a weight that's too light will impede performance and have a carryover effect on the next phase of the set.
3 – The third exercise
Pick an isolation exercise and a weight that'll allow you to crank out the reps – about 20. This will force as much blood as possible into the muscle, driving up lactic acid production. Use either machines or cables. Avoid going too heavy or too light. Failing at 12-15 reps is no good. But then again, neither is doing 20 when you really could've gotten 50.
Example: Chest Workout
Complete these three exercises one after another, then take a 90 second rest period. That's your first round. Do three total rounds.
Flat Barbell Bench x 5
Incline Dumbbell Bench x 10
Cable Crossover x 20