In the early days of "iron sports" athletes possessed a balanced blend of superior aphysique, functional strength, and athleticism. Training routines consisted of utilizing Spartan equipment and rudimentary volume and intensity schemes. In reality there was no "scheme" or tricks employed; only knowing that you had to work hard and heavy and supply the body with sufficient calories. The staple program for each and every one of us iron enthusiasts has been the the 5x5 (5 sets of 5 reps) program. Bodybuilding legends such as Reg Park and Franco Columbo knew the key to igniting a thick and muscularly dense foundation that heavy, low rep training would yield. In fact, it was Arnold Swarzenegger that credited Reg Park with introducing him to the 5x5 method to build the foundation of his classic physique. Early era strongmen a la Paul Anderson and contemporary Doug Hepburn based their world record weightlifting performances around squatting, pulling, and pressing with low rep and moderate volumes to build a surplus of strength for the Olympic weight lifts. Both Anderson and Hepburn would advocate the use of multiple sets of 3-5 reps in the major strength building lifts. In Hepburn's early publication he would extensively use the 5x5 scheme as his bread and butter for the squat, deadlift, and press. Even one our most well known strength coaches, Bill Starr (also a competitive weightlifter who dawned a extremely muscular physique) conceived the modern day standard for developing and measuring an athlete's strength in his book, The Strongest Shall Survive. The program here revolved around the squat, bench, and power onclean performed at 80% plus intensities, three times a week. Suffice it to say most modern day S&C programs (that are worth their sand) would not be in existence without the Starr 5x5. It is amazing how genius minds think alike; which is certainly no different for the trailblazers of the iron game.
The foundations of building muscle, strength, and power in today's world may seem more complicated and advanced. In a physical culture that is migrating toward one that wants the most result with the least amount of exertion; it is easy to see how information (or misinformation for that matter) can easily distort the correct mindset for contemporary physical development. Well, the cold and well needed dose of reality is that NOTHING has changed! We must know that high level physical development entails a discipline and dedication to hard work, proper nutrition, and paying your dues with the basics.
The following is a modern day program that pays homage to the beautifully simple 5 sets of 5 method. Note all exercises are performed with a barbell.
A. (Main Lift) Back Squat 5x5, start at 65-70% of a 1 rep max and work up to a last set where there is one rep left in the tank. Increase next week's poundage by 2.5% for each set.
B. (Primary Assistance) Bent Over Row: 5x5-8. Use 60% of your deadlift 5 rep max and perform 5 reps in the first week and add a rep each week until you get to eight. Then increase the weight by 2.5%. **the 60% is a guideline and can add more or less depending on performance.
C. (Vanity Lift) "Elbows Out" throat press: 5x6-10. Performed like a "skull crusher" except the bar is lowered toward the throat with the elbows carrying out to the side. Simply pick a weight that allows for 10 hard reps but never to absolute failure.
A. (Main Lift) Bench Press: 5x5.Same parameters as Squat.
B. (Primary Assistance) Pull-up: 5x5-8. Same as bent over row. Use a weight belt with a chain or rope to hang additional weight on if needed. If pullups are too difficult secure a heavy duty band across the safety pins of a power rack or support your feet on a bench or stool.
C. (Vanity Lift) Barbell Rollouts: same as throat press. This exercise is like the ab-wheel drill except you will use a barbell with round plates so that it rolls.
A. (Main Lift) Deadlift: 5x5. Same as squat and bench.
B. (Primary Assistance) Standing Military press: 5x5-8 Same as bent over row and pullups.
C. (Vanity Lift) Barbell Curl: 5x6-10. Use a palms up or palms down grip and have at it.
Get more programs that are good for beginners from Vince DelMonte.