You know the drill; Saturdays are for addressing open questions.
Gabe, are 5x5s beneficial for women as well? All the workouts for women seem to be geared toward light weight and tons of reps. If I want to build muscle, shouldn’t I be lifting heavy just like the guys? Thanks!
I’ll answer your question with a few rhetorical questions of my own. Do women want to acquire lean muscle? Do women want to burn fat more efficiently? I’m supremely confident that both genders have a misguided belief that grabbing small dumbbells and doing reps to failure is a process optimal for fat loss. That’s understandable. We live in a fitness community obsessed with calorie burn. From builtlean.com:
Some believe heavy weights are only good for building muscle, but what about fat loss? Can lifting heavier help you burn more fat, or does it turn you into the hulk?
One study from the University of Alabama in Birmingham showed that dieters who lifted heavy weights lost the same amount of weight as dieters who did just cardio, but all the weight lost by the weight lifters was fat while the cardio group lost a lot of muscle along with some fat. The common belief is that high reps magically get rid of fat. While high reps with light weight to fatigue can create a muscular response, it does not necessarily remove fat better than low reps with heavy weight.
We preach using science around here, but we also endorse the use of common sense. The 5×5 workout is all about incrementally adding weight to the bar over time. Inevitably, both men and women will gain strength. If we grab light weights and “rep them out,” we are optimizing for endurance. Both outcomes, becoming more capable of moving mass and outlasting, can build confidence. However, which seems more likely to add muscle to our frames? Lifting 10 pounds, 20, then 25, then 30 times, or lifting 50, then 75, then 100 pounds 5 times? In order to support the strength gains, our bodies comply and lay down lean tissue.
When folks tell me about their endurance conquests and ask me why they are still “soft,” I ask them to take a peek at a distance cyclist or marathon runner, then at a football player or a sprinter. Which body is “harder?” Which is more densely packed with muscle? Now, let’s examine how each group trains. The marathon runners and cyclists prepare for events by adding volume. The football players and sprinters train in short, explosive bursts hunting for and gleaning power.
Training with heavier weights (5×5) won’t result in a woman morphing into JJ Watt. Much of the body transformation will be determined by how the woman eats and her hormones and her genetics. That said, she will likely lay down lean muscle tissue, burn fat more efficiently, be stronger and become more confident. I’ve never met a human of any gender who wouldn’t sign up for those outcomes.