I wanted to write a bit on some of the ideas floating around about strength and I thought this was a place it made sense to do so.
Lots of well meaning people, including myself, have worked hard to convince people that if you want to get bigger than getting stronger should be your goal. 5x5 has become this very popular means of working on these two goals together as it is a happy medium between intensity and volume. However people have begun to lose sight of what strength work really is compared to general strength/mass goals. For all the great info in this particular thread, the emphasis on "workload" has sort of missed the point when it comes to strength.
Recognize, of course that I still realize the purpose of it was to adress the "what is 5x5 good for question" and not meant to be a strength training treatise.
In the end to get your strongest you have to let go of the middle ground approach and actually except strength as a primary goal. Hypertrophy is a side effect of strength work period, especially in the long run. You will have to use all rep ranges at some point or another and in some way or another to get your strongest. But if you want to REALLY get strong then INTENSITY is the number one parameter, workload be damned.
All the emphasis on microtrauma and local musular recovery misses the point of strength. Trainees get way too focused on physiological details. Physiological details are the favored stomping ground of the guru who doesn't really know training and programming. Yes, you can get stronger without gaining a whole lot of mass and sometimes people can get WAY stronger without a lot of apparent mass, but in general, if you eat a lot you get big.
But the "detail" oriented mind will tell you that absolute strengh is neural in nature so...you won't get big. Well...neural improvements mean more muscle fibers called into action more quickly. Sounds like a recipe for getting big especially when you put them to work with more workload.
Probably olympic lifters are the best example. You really need to look at the physiques of the light and middle weight O lifters. NOT the heavyweights
The message people recieve in terms of rep ranges in the popular literature tends to go like this: If strength is your only goal then you only need to work in the 1 to 4 rep range. Or sometimes people say 1 to 5 or 6. BUT if hypertrophy is your goal you have to work in the 8 to 12 rep range. Somebody who writes somethng like that, you can rest assured, has never spent much time engaged in strength training. If you try to work primarily in the 1 to 4 range you will find yourself falling short of your goals at the least, and getting injured, burned out, or simply losing strength at the worst. Not to say that the primary means of gaining absolute strength isn't going to be in that range.
It makes sense that we would find a middle ground in terms of intensity and volume. Somewhere between 4 to 6 reps and 4 to 6 sets. 5x5, being right in the middle seems a sensible way to go.
But when it comes to strength, the middle ground can only take you so far. It is most appropriate for the beginner to intermediate and even if you want to do "advanced" 5x5's you are STILL trying to realize strength/mass goals simultaneously rather than true strength goals. You are just doing in the way of a person who can handle more workload.
People have the idea that you need a certain amount of work to get stronger. So that you have to give up intensity for volume. People have the idea that you have to stick to certain rest periods. That you need a certain amount of density. NONE of this is true. The best idea I can tell you in terms of maximal strength work is to get as much work done at the highest intensity possible. BUT instensity IS the number one in strength. Volume has to go before that. Maybe I could simplify this as follows: If you can lift a relative heavy weight more times than you normall would be able to do with the "volume/density" approach, this will lead to great strength gains. After that the name of the game is to find a way to do it without losing ability, etc..
There is a lot more I could say about this but the primary thing I want to point out is that throwing 5x5 at something and calling it 'strength' is not going to get the job done forever. It's not "strength" it's strength for bodybuilders (in the long run I mean). You want to realize your truest potential you will have to work at intensities at above 85% and spend a lot more time in the 90% or above range.
The question of whether 5x5 is good for strength or mass isn't really the question. The question is what is good for the individual. For an absolute novice 3x8 is good for strength and mass. For a bit. It's the same with any volume/intensity relationship. I spent a lot of time doing 5x5 interations telling myself I wanted strength. I am quite certain that the last few could have been better spent on a program more focused on absolute strength.
IMO, working on absoute strenght qualities will allow your "hypertrophy" gains to be reached much more easily. And NO you don't have to work "strength phases" and "hypertrophy phases". Most coming here are interested in mass. There are some that say they are interested in strength first and mass second. Now, IF you are not a beginner intermediate and you are being truthfull about that goal, then a 5x5 program is NOT necessarily the best choice for you.
Hypertrophy and strength are not so different but ultimately the training is. Don't tell me you want strength but then be unwilling to lift heavy. You will only get so strong and no more after a point.
The next post I think will be a bit about neural fatigue and the realities of it in terms of CNS intensive training and it's relationship to intesity and workload.