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Sometimes my gym boss wants me to do 8-12 reps per powerlift set. I hate that. I like 5 reps/set and 5 working sets. That's 25 tough efforts.
Since powerlifts (more or less including deadlift, barbell squat, military press, bench press, pullups/pull downs, dumbell or barbell row) are the core of any strength-building or strength maintenance program, approaching them right is critical for effectiveness.
Generally speaking, high rep exercises of any sort are more aimed at muscle endurance and maintenance than at strength-building. Of course, we want both, but it's a matter of emphasis and there are plenty of ways to build muscle endurance other than heavy powerlifts.
So for pure strength (bone and muscle), I want to push to my limits and show some improvement each month. So, for each powerlift session, I want to do one warm-up set then 5 sets of 5 reps ramping up in weight to finish at my absolute limit of 5, or just past it (thus needing a spotter just in case). Pushing the envelope.
I understand that my boss sometimes likes to push the powerlift reps with lesser weight, but 5s feel right to me. With 8-12, I just find myself wanting to get it over with. That's not the right attitude.
To use the example of chest strength, if I do bench 5X5 one day, and a few sets of 30 pushups on another day, the former is 100% strength, and the latter 20% strength and 80% endurance. All good for fitness.
So you're calling all your sets, from after the initial warm-up set to the heaviest set, working sets? And you're doing 5 reps in each of those sets? Do you ever feel that all those reps at the lower weights affect your ability to complete the top set?
Who said anything about a 1RM effort? It's very rare that anyone should have those as a regular part of their programming. Very generally, 3 sets of 5 is a good top working set goal for most lifts for building strength.
And sure, all those low weight reps stress the muscles, but how do they add more than minimally to the stated goal, which is to add strength?
Yes, he's calling them working sets and he's had this discussion with you before. Many top trainers call all of the sets in a 5X5 program with increasing weights each set working sets. For the record, I don't. If the goal for the session is maximum strength, I call a working set anything above 80-85% of 1RM depending on the exercise. If the goal is power, it's a different story, i.e. a working set for power could be 50-60% 1RM x 3 reps. If you're working Oly lifts, the intensity and reps may be different (see Glenn Pendlay). If you're working endurance, strength endurance, etc., the reps and intensity ranges are different still.
1. Everybody's goal isn't limited to max strength.
2. Energy system training is just as important as strength (unless your job is powerlifting)...and I don't think you qualify as a professional powerlifter!
3. For some sports/jobs/activities max strength is far down on the list a qualities to be trained. The false idea that "a stronger X is a better X" is not supported by either science or empirical observation. Please see recent WSJ article regarding Noah Syndergaard: https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-pitcher-called-thor-learns-how-less-is-more-at-the-gym-11553338800
“Chasing huge strength gains on some of the classic weight room exercises won’t always carry over to an endeavor like pitching, which is a high velocity, low-load challenge.” Eric Cressey.
Cressey understands why you can throw a baseball farther than a BB. You failed that test!
I used to coach wrestling. Our kids worked strength, but more importantly, they worked strength endurance. I can't count the times we sent a well conditioned kid out on the mat against a stronger kid with bulging muscles and watched our kid humiliate him. For most activities (except power lifting), there is a limit to the amount of time you should spend on max strength and it is more productive to work on other qualities (speed, power, endurance, and especially technique).
Like Crossfit, Starting Strength has become a cult worshiped by dangerous people (defined as someone who knows just enough to think he knows everything).
To be clear - From the standpoint of maximum strength, I don't think your overall program is optimal. However, I suspect that your training is more geared towards overall fitness rather than becoming the strongest guy in the gym (to the detriment of other fitness attributes).
Right now I'm using lighter sumo deadlifts for cardio effect during training. 100 lifts per session in six sets with focus on form. Squats, hip thrusts, and bench are a little heavier. My main goal is to keep the posterior perky.