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Functional Limitations/Training Experience/Goals

Log onto any website forum that discusses exercise and weightlifting and you will see people talking about the 5x5 program.

“How do I set up a good 5x5 routine?”

“Can I do rows instead of powercleans?”

“Can I use the deadlift instead of the squat?”

While these questions are easy to answer, they are actually the wrong questions. The real question should be:

“How do I know if 5x5 is the right program for me?”

Now that is LOADED question!

First of all, that question would be virtually impossible to answer without being there to assess the person and determine what their functional limitations are and what is appropriate for them. I know there are books out there that are written on the 5x5 program and all sorts of templates based of the original, but really, you have to make sure the program is right for you. Programs in books are only as good as the paper they are written on. The templates give you a good outline to work from and after that, it is up to you to add or subtract exercises or movements in order to personalize the program to your needs. THERE IS NO PERFECT PROGRAM!

Part of taking a program and individualizing it is having a good assessment (which is really tricky if you don’t have someone to conduct the assessment) and the other part is having a clear idea of what your goals are and what you are looking to get out of the program.

Here are two examples of poor application of this program that I have seen lately:

1) I am preparing for an Olympic distance triathlon and I want to use the 5x5 program as my lifting program.

This is situation an issue of serving to many masters. On the one hand, you have this goal of completing an Olympic triathlon, an event that is totally endurance based. On the other hand, you want to train for strength using a 5x5 program. Obviously, if you try and do both you are either (a) not going to have great results for either goal or (b) end up getting injured because you are overtraining.

If you have a goal of doing an Olympic triathlon (or a marathon or a distance bike event or something along those lines), the most important part of your training is preparing for the event. You have to get into the pool or lake and swim, you have to long time in the saddle on your bike and you have to get out and do your miles running. You can’t worry about trying to hit a 5 rep maximum each week. Your body can not work in all directions at once, and choosing two goals that are on opposite ends of the spectrum is a great way to stay mediocre (at best).

Pick your goal, construct your plan, and achieve.

2) I am doing 5x5 but I don’t have great technique on the lifts and lack fundamental strength to properly execute them.

This situation is all about rushing into things, not analyzing your functional limits and thinking that you are more advanced that you really are. I know, most people think they are total experts when it comes to training. NOTE: IT IS OKAY TO BE A BEGINNER!! Being a beginner is great! You have this wonderful opportunity to do things right and to really develop a solid base of strength and fitness. It is that base that is going to allow you to keep exercising (injury free) for a long period of time.

This situation is actually a situation that I saw at the gym for the past 3 weeks (although I haven’t seen the kid after that?). This kid would come in and bench 5x5, deadlift 5x5 and perform 1-arm DB rows, 5x5. All of the exercises were done with horrendous form. He would un-rack the bar, bounce it off his chest and grind out rep after rep with his elbows and shoulders moving all over the place, absolutely no control whatsoever. Then he would pull these miserably slow deadlifts with a rounded back that made him look like a question mark (good thing he was wearing his weight belt!). Finally, he would walk over and do some 1-arm DB rows with the 100lb DBs, using all the momentum he could muster to get the DB moving and up towards his abdomen (plyometric rows?).

Obviously, he was not advanced enough to be performing these exercises and had some significant limitations. He lacked core strength (something I will talk about in the next entry) and couldn’t maintain a tall and tight posture. He lacked shoulder stability and was unable to control the weight on the bench press. He was unable to properly row the DB (something that I see all the time. A really abused exercise is the 1-arm row). He didn’t understand the technique of these exercises.

This kid would have benefited more (after a proper assessment) from doing basic things, dropping the weight and really learning the technique. He would have built a solid base and would have easily progressed over the weight he was currently using in a very short time. But, his ego got in the way (as it does with most of us) and he ended up, in my opinion at least, wasting a ton of time in the gym.

When putting together your program, really think about these things:

1) What are your limitations
2) What is your goal
3) What is your experience level
4) How big is your base

If you can answer those questions honestly and ego free, you are going to be way ahead of about 95% of all the people in the gym.