If you’re looking for the best way to grow muscle or get strong in the gym, you might find yourself wondering what the best set and rep scheme is. Two common set and rep schemes are 5×5 and 3×10. So which is best?
The 5×5 and the 3×10 rep schemes can both be used to build muscle strength and size. While some lifts are better suited for one option over the other, the end results will be a function of intensity, consistency, volume, and frequency. When these are applied correctly, each rep scheme is effective.
In this article, I’ll go into more detail about the 5×5 and 3×10 rep schemes, loading protocol for each one, and which one is best for different types of lifters. By the end, you’ll be able to determine which rep scheme you should follow to help you achieve your goals.
What Is 5X5?
A 5×5 scheme means you are to perform 5 sets of 5 reps for a given exercise, with significant rest in between sets to recover.
Load and Rest
Because you are only performing 5 reps in each set, the load should be relatively heavy compared to higher rep schemes. 5×5’s are usually done with 81-87% of your max weight for that exercise.
In a 5×5 program, your first one or two reps should feel easier than usual, while your fourth and fifth reps should feel like it’s requiring about 90% of your max effort to complete them. This would be equal to what your effort would feel like if you had attempted 90% of your max weight for a single rep.
Because these sets use a heavier load, you should plan on 4-8 minutes of rest to fully recover before performing each subsequent set.
Because this rep scheme calls for heavier loads, it is ideally used with compound lifts, or lifts that use several muscles to complete the full movement. Examples are the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and some rowing exercises like barbell rows.
What Programs Use It?
5×5’s are commonly used in strength programs, as they have an impact both in developing muscle strength and size.
5×5 is the primary rep scheme of the “Starting Strength” program. 5-rep sets are also completed during certain weeks in Wendler’s 5/3/1 program. But it should be noted that 5/3/1 doesn’t follow a true 5×5 structure. However, certain variations may call for that rep scheme for secondary movements after the main lifts.
More broadly, powerlifting programs of all kinds will at least have periods of 5×5’s to build strength and muscle early in a training block.
Wondering how 5/3/1 stacks up against another popular powerlifting program, the Texas Method? Check out my comparison of the two programs in Texas Method vs Wendler 5/3/1: Differences, Pros, Cons.
Who Uses It?
The 5×5 rep scheme is very commonly used by beginner lifters, as it’s a good balance of using a relatively heavy load and keeping the rep range up.
That said, 5×5 never loses its ability to aid the intermediate and advanced lifter, so long as intensity, load, frequency, and volume are managed accurately.
Want to get advice on programming, technique, or competing? Speak with one of our coaches.
What Is 3X10?
A 3×10 scheme means you are to perform 3 sets of 10 reps for a given exercise, with short or moderate rest in between sets to recover.
Load and Rest
Because you are performing 10 reps in each set, the load should be relatively light or moderate compared to lower rep schemes. 3×10’s are usually done with 71-77% of your max weight for that exercise. It’s unlikely you will have tested your 1-rep max with every exercise, so this should be estimated in most cases.
In a 3×10, your first 1-6 reps should feel easier than usual, while your final 2-3 reps should feel like it’s requiring about 90% of your max effort to complete them. Those last reps should feel as if you had attempted 90% of your max weight for a single rep.
Because these sets use a lighter load, you should plan on 1-3 minutes of rest between sets.
Because this rep scheme calls for lighter loads, this rep scheme is commonly used with isolation lifts, or lifts that isolate a single muscle to perform the movement. Examples are bicep curls, tricep extensions of any kind, shoulder lateral or front raises, and pec flys.
However, compound lifts are also effectively trained with the 3×10 scheme, especially for hypertrophy when strength gains are not the immediate, primary goal. Compound lifts done on a 3×10 scheme are great for building muscle, burning total calories, and increasing work capacity/endurance.
Wondering if isolation exercises can benefit your powerlifting training? Check out Do Powerlifters Do Isolation Exercises? (Yes, Here’s How).
What Programs Use It?
3×10’s are present in nearly every program out there. While they are the primary rep scheme for most full-body programs (where you train something on your entire body from head to toe each training session) and general strength and conditioning programs, they are also common in powerlifting programs.
In powerlifting programs, you may see 3×10’s prescribed for isolated exercises, accessory movements, hypertrophy blocks, off-season strength and hypertrophy programs, and for added volume on a weak point such as the glutes or chest.
Who Uses It?
The 3×10 scheme is very commonly the “default setting” for most people in the gym, from beginners to long-time lifters. Because there is less of a load requirement, this scheme is great for beginners to safely get a feel for an exercise, learn proper technique, and begin to estimate their actual capabilities and target load.
For intermediate and advanced lifters, the 3×10 scheme will never go out of style because of its ability to push a muscle to failure or near failure with safer load levels and the hypertrophic effects of the higher rep range.
While powerlifters can (and should) train in higher rep ranges during certain times in their training cycles, it’s recommended to avoid training the squat, bench, and deadlift to failure. Find out why in Do Powerlifters Train To Failure? (Not Often, Here’s Why).
5X5 vs 3X10: Which Is Better For Muscle Growth?
While both rep schemes are used in programs to grow new muscle, 3×10 is the best answer when hypertrophy is the goal.
That said, this is only true if you are properly controlling for volume, frequency, consistency, and intensity.
For example, let’s compare two hypothetical lifters. One is on a 5×5 program and one is on a 3×10 program.
The lifter using the 3×10 scheme only used 50% of their 1RM (instead of the prescribed 75%), while the lifter performing 5×5’s used the prescribed 87% of their max. The 5×5 lifter will get better results because they’re actually doing it with the proper load and intensity. The same goes for volume, frequency, and consistency.
5X5 vs 3X10: Which Is Better For Building Strength?
Look at any legitimate strength program out there, and it’ll focus on lower-rep, higher load set schemes. Because 5×5 uses heavier loads, it’s superior for strength training. But don’t throw away 3×10 if you are just focused on getting stronger.
Building strength continually also means adding new muscle, so a lifter focused on strength would also want to include sets of 3×10 somewhere in their training, whether periodically in blocks or weekly alongside their 5×5’s.
Ultimately, if your immediate goal (or even long-term goal) is maximal strength, you will want more emphasis on 5×5 work than 3×10 work.
With all of that said, you can still build muscle even if you’re following a 5×5 program to gain strength for powerlifting. Find out how in Can You Build Muscle With Powerlifting? (Yes, Here’s How).
5X5 vs 3X10: Which Is Better For Getting Ripped?
This is a fun one, almost a trick question, because both of them would be equally effective for getting ripped. Crazy, right?
But the fact is that getting ripped really means getting lean, and getting lean is 100% a function of your diet, not your rep scheme.
When it comes to lifting while shredding, you simply want to continue using your muscles with intensity so that your body stays adapted to the load you’ve trained it to withstand each week. Therefore, it won’t atrophy the muscles it thinks you don’t need to maintain.
Secondly, you want to continue to expend calories so that you can shed fat and make your muscles more visible.
For this reason, a lifter who continues training 5×5’s with intensity would see similar results to a lifter who performs 3×10’s with intensity, so long as they are both in a total caloric deficit (eating less than your body needs each day), while keeping their protein intake high (above 30-40% of your total calories each day).
A lifter performing 3×10’s on their compound lifts would burn far more calories in a workout than by doing 3×10’s on isolation lifts only (assuming they perform the same number of total sets), which makes exercise selection a factor for shredding as well.
Where you’ll see a difference is in whether or not you can sustain 5×5 training while eating in a caloric deficit versus performing 3×10’s. If your energy levels are too low, or load feels unreasonably heavy, you’ll want to consider the 3×10’s.
Alternatively, if you have a hard time getting through 10 reps in a set, you might find a lower rep range is favorable with lower energy.
We cover ways you can get leaner and stronger at the same time in Powerlifting For Fat Loss: How To Do It (Ultimate Guide). Even though this article is written with powerlifters in mind, many of the principles in it can apply to all kinds of lifters.
Two Ways To Use 5X5 And 3X10 Workouts
There are two ways you can incorporate both rep schemes into your program – through daily periodization or through block periodization.
Daily Periodization Model
A daily periodization model means you add variation in your rep schemes or training goals throughout the week.
For example, you might train your bench press on Monday for maximal strength, relying on 5×5’s so you can use a heavy load. Then on Thursday, you train the bench press muscles again, but perform isolated chest, shoulder, tricep, and back exercises on a 3×10 rep range to grow those muscles over time.
Each week, you get your muscles stronger with the 5×5 range, you train them to grow bigger with the 3×10 range, and you maximize those results by splitting up your training into two workouts per week instead of jamming all the volume into a single workout.
Still not convinced that you should do high-rep training as a powerlifter? Find out why I recommend it in Do Powerlifters Do High Reps? (Yes, Here’s Why).
Block Periodization Model
In a block periodization model, you break your goals up into phases and train exclusively for that goal during the block.
For example, you might start your 12-week training cycle with a 4-week block of hypertrophy, focused on 3×10’s across the board for your compound lifts as well as your isolated lifts and accessory lifts.
In the next four weeks, your block changes to a strength-focused block where the 5×5 scheme is king, training all your new muscle to get stronger.
What To Read Next:
- Prilepin’s Chart For Powerlifting: How To Use It Effectively
- Bench Press Pyramid – What Is It, How To Do It, and Common Mistakes
There’s nothing magical about 5 reps versus 10 reps by itself. It only makes a difference if those reps are intense, they lead you to muscle failure or near failure with each set, you train them often, you train them consistently, and you perform enough total volume each week.
Assuming you are doing those things right, then the 5×5 scheme will be great for building strength, and the 3×10 scheme will be great for building size.
But remember, this is more of a Venn diagram comparison. There is considerable overlap between the two, so lifters should rarely exclusively train one over the other. Each rep scheme is capable of adding both strength and size when applied correctly.
About The Author
Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.