I mentioned in my first book that I experimented for awhile with working mesocycles of conjugate style training into a 5thSet macrocycle. This didn't really play out as a good deal in the long run, for a number of reasons. Mainly it was because while strength seemed to increase at a good rate, I couldn't make it through a full macrocycle (about six months) that type of raw training without getting too banged up to make progress. It's fair to say that I have a high level of recoverability and I was having issues with recovering, so I didn't even bother testing this type of protocol on anyone I didn't think was above average in that regard. The results were not favorable in every case; tendinitis and overuse injuries left and right (even women). There is an argument to some of this being due to the amount of assistance work I prescribed, but I honestly do not believe that was the issue. Around that point, I abandoned the endeavor.
With that said, programming is largely about context and selecting the right tool for the job, so I didn't do away with the idea entirely. I simply put it back in the toolbox, along with what information I had gathered from the experiment.
Around June of 2016 I suffered a moderate tear to the belly of my right pec major and after a short period of laying off it entirely (about ten days, actually), I began rehabbing it. I won't go too far into the details, but it involved a bunch of reverse band benching with light weight for high reps, some manual therapy and using an SSB to squat (squatting with a straight bar would irritate the pecs.)
Towards the end of the year, after about four months of limiting weight on bench press to 185 pounds and performing very high reps, I found myself severely detrained in my capacity for absolute strength. I knew that over the course of one mesocycle of 5thSet, my strength would return so quickly, I'd be working with a ridiculously low percentage of my true 1RM by the end, it would be silly.
This is one of the few times, in my opinion, where using a method which revolves around percentage of 1RM would be less than ideal. That is when the 1RM is likely to change dramatically in a brief period. This is almost never the case in someone who has been training consistently for any length of time.
I knew it would be relatively safe, given my level of development (a relatively lean and muscular 290 pounds), to chase the strength as it came for a bit, at least until it leveled out and I could return to a more sensible and specific long-term program. That is to say: 5thSet.
Rather than explain, in great detail, when and how I think it would make sense for you to do this, I'm simply going to recount how I did it while coming back from this injury. And I promise I will tackle the particular answers to those questions in the new 5thSet book, which will drop later this year.[Please don't email or message me to ask when it will be available. I've taken the month of February off from traveling to finish putting it together and I'm doing my best, but I won't release it until I feel it is truly complete. Stay tuned to elitefts.com and you will know before it goes live.]
Rehab Weeks 1-16
I didn't touch a weight, stretch or massage the pec at all. I ate, slept, cursed the name of every god and plotted my reemergence, to spite them.
During this three week period, I performed extremely light, full ROM, reverse band bench press three times per week. I set the band tension so the bar was basically weightless at my chest; so that it would touch my chest without me pulling down, but just barely. Of course, throughout the movement, the tension would increase slightly as the bands deloaded. My thinking was this would preserve range of motion and allow me to pump plenty of blood into the muscle, to speed the healing process, without aggravating the injury. It had proven effective in the past.
I performed 4-5 sets of 25-35 reps in each session, using pain as a guide for when to stop each set. After week 4, I removed the reverse bands.
At this point, I returned to using strictly bar weight with no assistance from bands. I started with 95 pounds for 4 sets of 25 reps on the first week. I did two pressing sessions per week and each successive week I added twenty pounds to the bar until I got to 185 pounds.
Everything was recorded and reviewed to ensure I didn't favor the other pec and develop bad habits.
I used Donnie Thompson's Bow Tie by Spud for 5 minutes after warming up, before the sets I outlined above. Then I'd throw it on again between each set, while the muscles were full of blood. I've continued this protocol ever since, and I attribute the pec healing as well as it has to that fact.
I believe this protocol has completely eliminated fascial adhesions in my pecs, which (one could assume) have contributed to the myriad pec injuries I've suffered over the last two decades.
Somewhere around the 16th week, I came up with a game plan for my return to 5thSet training.
Other Rehab Considerations
I used the SSB to squat with one of the new 5thSet protocols, throughout the rehab phase. The same protocol was used for rack pulls from below the knees after the first four weeks. Both of these were performed in one session each week from there out, and very minimal assistance work was employed, nothing involving the pec directly. 5thSets were capped at ten reps for both movements and training maxes were dialed back. The objective for these lifts was to emphasize recovery while preserving hypertrophy and strength as much as possible, throughout the body.
Conjugate/5thSet Mash Up
The program outlined below uses 9-day microcycles, rather than the 7-day "weeks" I'd been using throughout my rehab. This is an integral component of 5thSet framework, so I had to reintegrate it before moving forward with heavy weights.
Squat and deadlift were split back into their own days and spread out the way they would be on a traditional 5thSet template. The 2nd Pressing Day was reintroduced with incline dumbbell presses for sets of 30 reps used as the main movement.
For Phase One of this program, I did a conjugate-esque type of sequence for the main pressing day.
What I mean is: I selected the four mechanically similar variations of a bench press, which I believed would have the most carryover into the competition lift and rotated them, performing a different movement each microcycle for four microcycles. Four microcycles covered all four movements and completed one mesocycle. At that point the mesocycle was repeated and new PRs were set for each lift.
In each session, a movement was trained for progressive triples to singles. That is to say, triples were performed with progressively heavier weight until they felt difficult and from that point forward singles were performed. I'd continue with progressively heavier singles until I felt like I might not make the next lift. Then I cut it.
The movements were:
- Bar Weight + 80 Pounds of Chain
- Bar Weight + Red Shoulder Saver Pad
- Bar Weight + Monster Mini Bands
- Buffalo Bar with Straight Weight
MSM was performed after the main movement and was the Red Shoulder Saver Pad, performed using the hypertrophy protocol, even on the cycles where it was the main movement. The rest of my assistance work was the typical stuff you'd find on a 5thSet template.
During the first mesocycle, my best two lifts for each movement were, respectively:
- 365, 375 pounds bar weight
- 450, 460 pounds bar weight
- 385, 405 pounds bar weight
- 440, 450 pounds bar weight
Then in the second mesocycle, my best two lifts for each movement were, respectively:
- 415, 435 pounds bar weight (S4 compound)
- 460, 480 pounds bar weight (no sleep)
- 410, 420 pounds bar weight
- 470, 480 pounds bar weight
I was beyond ready for a deload by now and as you can see my capacity for absolute strength was nearing what is normal for me. So it was time for Phase Two: transitioning back into 5thSet training for bench.
I'd say it was safe to extrapolate from the previous mesocycle that my training max should have to be set at around 500 pounds to pull percentages for the 5thSet template I wanted to run for the coming mesocycle. That is exactly what I did.
For Phase Two, I made some minor adjustments to the squat and deadlift days, like adding some secondary MSM's (mechanically similar movements), but the rest stayed the same.
I switched my main pressing back to the new 5thSet protocol I'd been using prior to the injury and it's been smooth sailing from there. As I write this I am about to begin the last session of this mesocycle, before the scheduled deload and I could not be any more ready for it.
If you found this peek at my training interesting or helpful, please feel free to share the article.