Hitting a training plateau is a normal part of strength training. However, if you want to continue improving, something in your training needs to change.
While there are a number of excellent beginner training programs that yield impressive results, you will reach a point where you will need to move onto a more advanced program.
Intermediate and advanced programs tend to utilize greater training volume and intensities to force the body to continue to improve.
This article will outline a highly effective intermediate program known as Madcow 5×5. This is an intermediate program that can allow you to move beyond any training plateau.
Understanding Training Plateaus
For beginners, the first few months of strength training are very exciting and motivating. They’re also typically able to make great advancements in their training.
Due to the fact that the beginner’s body is unaccustomed to the training stimulus, regular strength training causes rapid adaptations to the neuromuscular system.
As a result, movement and strength capabilities will significantly improve.
To maximize these improvements, most beginner programs follow linear periodization. This involves gradually increasing the intensity as the weeks pass by.
By increasing the intensity of training, the body must continually adapt in order to deal with the demands of strength training.
However, these large improvements do not last forever. As the body becomes more highly conditioned, progress begins to slow and stall.
At this point, the body is better equipped for dealing with the training stimulus and, therefore, may fail to adapt further.
Even though you’re putting in hard work at the gym and being consistent with your nutrition, changes may not be forthcoming.
Hitting a training plateau can be frustrating and disheartening. However, training plateaus are very normal and no cause for concern.
In order to move beyond a training plateau, it may be necessary to move to a more advanced strength program.
The purpose of this is to provide the body with a new training stimulus which will force it to start adapting once again.
Origins Of Madcow 5×5
This intermediate training program is called the “Madcow 5×5,” named after the creator of the program. “Madcow” was a user on a website known as EliteFitness.
To this day, it is still unclear who Madcow actually was and he has seemingly disappeared from online forums, having not been active since 2007.
It is believed that Madcow was often in contact with legendary Olympic coach Glenn Pendlay.
Based on what was learned from Pendlay, Madcow began publishing material online for other users to view and apply to their training.
Two of the most notable works of Madcow were the intermediate and advanced training programs that he published (Madcow 5×5).
By looking at the programs, the impact Glenn Pendlay had is quite clear. There are elements of the Madcow 5×5 that are similar to Pendlay’s “Texas Method”.
In addition, there are large similarities between the Madcow programs and the 5×5 programs designed by Bill Starr.
Bill Starr was another highly-regarded coach who worked with professional football athletes. His programs often incorporated heavy strength work with bodybuilding-style training.
Building Strength With The Madcow 5×5
The majority of strength-focused training programs use heavy weights and low repetitions as the foundation of training.
One commonly used training volume scheme is the 5×5. This simply refers to performing five sets of five reps per exercise.
Many view the 5×5 as the perfect amount of intensity and volume for bringing about substantial improvements in strength.
Over the years, a number of studies have investigated the impact of different rep ranges and load on muscular strength.
Research indicates that performing heavy sets leads to a greater improvement in strength than moderate or high reps (1).
More specifically, the results from studies suggest that a one to six rep range should be used (2). Exceeding six reps may not yield the most optimal improvements in terms of strength.
That said, it must be stated that moderate and high repetition work certainly has its uses. For optimizing muscle hypertrophy, sets of six to twelve are recommended.
Ultimately, if you are serious about improving strength, look to utilize programs that involve heavy lifting and low repetitions. The Madcow 5×5 serves as a perfect example.
The Madcow 5×5 Program
Download the Madcow 5×5 Excel / Google Spreadsheet below.
Unlike many other training programs, Madcow 5×5 was not designed to be performed for a specific number of weeks.
Although the spreadsheet indicates that it is to be run for twelve weeks, it can really be run for an indefinite amount of time.
If you have completed a beginner program before, you’ll likely be familiar with strength testing. Testing your strength prior to beginning a new resistance program is crucial.
The main purpose of strength testing is to allow you to tailor your program to your current strength levels and ensure that you are using the correct loads in your training sessions.
Failing to test ourselves and guessing the weights to use is not recommended. The weight that you select will likely either be too light or too heavy.
Using a weight that is too light will not cause optimal change, while an excessively heavy weight will significantly increase the chances of sustaining an injury.
There are a number of ways to assess strength with the most common method being the one-rep max test (1RM). This involves lifting as much weight as possible for one repetition.
While the one-rep max is often seen as the ultimate strength testing method, submaximal tests can be equally effective at evaluating strength.
Madcow 5×5 differs from many strength programs in that it utilizes submax testing. Instead of a one-rep max test, a five-rep max test is performed.
Once the tests have been completed and results noted, the spreadsheet will automatically estimate your one-rep max.
In the same way that most strength programs focus on heavy weight and low reps, they also tend to use similar foundational exercises.
There are two types of exercise – compound and isolation.
Compound exercises involve movements that activate many muscles and cause movement across more than one joint. Isolation exercises focus on only one muscle group or joint.
Studies have demonstrated that compound exercises tend to be superior to isolation exercises for strength development (3).
This explains why compound exercises tend to be the foundation of strength programs, including the Madcow 5×5.
The five primary compounds that are utilized in the program are the squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and row.
Accessory exercises tend to involve lighter loads and a higher rep range. Adding isolation exercises to your training can facilitate improvements in strength by eliminating weaknesses and imbalances.
Although accessory work is not prescribed within the intermediate program, it is recommended that some are performed.
The program follows linear progression which means that, as the weeks progress, the intensity increases (4). This is done by adding weight to each compound lift.
Five lbs should be added to each lift on a weekly basis. This will ensure that intensity is gradually increased over the twelve weeks.
As the name suggests, five sets of five reps are required for the majority of sets in the workout. However, it’s crucial to note that these are ramped sets.
Ramped sets involve starting at a light weight for set one and gradually adding weight as you progress through the five sets.
The first four sets are intended to be very manageable. However, by the time you reach set five, you will be lifting heavier weight.
In order to manage fatigue and promote recovery, maximal sets are not always required.
For example, the program has you squatting three times per week.
Performing maximal squats three times per week is not recommended. Therefore, the second squatting session is significantly lighter than the first and third sessions.
Madcow 5×5 Workouts
There are three workouts per week to be completed. Each workout focuses on three out of the five compound exercises.
During day one, you will perform squats, bench, and rows utilizing five ramped sets of five reps each.
Day two, sees a slight reduction in volume with only four sets of five reps per exercise. The exercises to be performed are the squat, overhead press, and deadlift.
Day three follows a similar structure to day one but increases intensity and volume to maximize strength adaptation.
The structure on day three deviates from the conventional sets of five reps with two intense sets of three and eight reps.
This format is repeated throughout the twelve weeks of the program.
Here’s the template we recommend you to follow…
|Squat 1×5*||Squat 2×5*||Squat 1×3*|
|Bench Press 1×5||Overhead Press 1×5||Bench Press 1×3|
|Bent Over Rows 1×5||Deadlift 1×5, 1×5||Bent Over Rows 1×3|
Other Powerlifting Programs
- nSuns 531 LP Powerlifting Program Guide with Spreadsheets
- The Starting Strength Linear Periodization Program
- The Greyskull Linear Periodization Program (GSLP) Good or Bad?
- The Juggernaut Method: Unstoppable Strength Training Program
- The High Bar vs Low Bar Squat Debate
Q1) What is the Madcow 5 x 5 Training Program?
A) Madcow 5 x 5 is an intermediate linear progression strength training program. The program contains three workouts per week that revolve around three compound exercises.
Q2) What’s the difference between the intermediate and advanced versions
A) In the intermediate program, the workouts follow the same weekly structure and the intensity gradually increases each week. Every four weeks a new 5RM will be achieved.
The advanced variations contain two main blocks – one high volume and one low volume. Also, your 5RM will be tested at the end of week four and a deload week is scheduled for week five.
Q3) Is Madcow 5 x 5 a bodybuilding or strength-based program?
A) Considering the influences of Pendlay and Starr, Madcow is more strength-based. However, significant muscle size can still be added by following this training plan.
Q4) Who should use Madcow 5 x 5?
A) The Madcow 5 x 5 is ideal for those who have been using a beginner program but have now hit a training plateau.
Madcow 5×5 is seen by many as a premium resistance program. While there is nothing particularly radical, the training plan sticks to the fundamentals of strength development.
The program is a perfect fit for those who are looking to take their training to the next level and consign training plateaus to the past.
1 – Bj, Schoenfeld; Md, Peterson; D, Ogborn; B, Contreras; Gt, Sonmez (2015 Oct). “Effects of Low- Vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men”. Journal of strength and conditioning research. PMID 25853914.
3 – Paoli, Antonio; Gentil, Paulo; Moro, Tatiana; Marcolin, Giuseppe; Bianco, Antonino (2017-12-22). “Resistance Training with Single vs. Multi-joint Exercises at Equal Total Load Volume: Effects on Body Composition, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Muscle Strength”. Frontiers in Physiology. 8. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.01105. ISSN 1664-042X. PMC 5744434. PMID 29312007.
4 – Lorenz, Daniel S.; Reiman, Michael P.; Walker, John C. (2010-11). “Periodization”. Sports Health. 2 (6): 509–518. doi:10.1177/1941738110375910. ISSN 1941-7381. PMC 3438871. PMID 23015982.
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