Depending on your weight training program, your workouts can either help you build muscle strength or muscular size. It’s the volume of your workouts, or the number of sets and repetitions, that will determine the benefits you receive. The expression 3x5 indicates how many sets and repetitions you should complete in your workout.
The first number indicated, which in this case is three, tells you how many sets your workout program calls for. A set is a predetermined number of repetitions of an exercise you’ll be performing continuously before stopping. For example, if you perform 10 pushups consecutively before stopping, you have complete one set of 10 pushups. In the case of a 3x5 workout, you’ll perform an exercise for three rotations, or sets. You’ll complete the predetermined number of repetitions of the exercise for one set, followed by a period of rest, and you’ll cycle through this routine a total of three times -- or for three sets -- for each exercise.
The second number indicated tells you how many repetitions are performed in each set. Each single movement of an exercise is called a repetition. Doing one pushup, for example, is one repetition of that exercise. In the case of a 3x5 workout, each of your sets is to consist of five repetitions. Therefore, you’ll perform five continuous repetitions of an exercise, followed by a period of rest. Let’s say the 3x5 workout is assigned to the squat exercise. You’ll perform five repetitions of the squat, then rest, then perform five more repetitions, followed by rest, then perform a final collection of five repetitions, to complete your assigned training volume of 3x5. Between each of the three sets, rest three to five minutes to allow your muscles to recover.
A weight training volume of 3x5 is designed to increase muscular strength. When you perform exercises for three to five sets of for six or fewer repetitions, you are providing the stress that will increase the amount of force your muscles can produce, according to Dr. Helen M. Binkley of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. If you’re looking to build muscular size instead, you should increase your workout volume to include three to six sets of about 12 repetitions.
Importance of Weight
Even if you’re performing each exercise at a volume of 3x5, you still won’t effectively build muscular strength if you use a weight that’s not heavy enough. The intensity of the weight is just as important as your training volume. If you perform five repetitions, but do so using a weight with which you could complete 12 repetitions, you won’t provide enough stress to invoke changes in strength. As your strength increases, adjust the weight you’re using so you’re always challenging your muscles.
Kim Nunley has been screenwriting and working as an online health and fitness writer since 2005. She’s had multiple short screenplays produced and her feature scripts have placed at the Austin Film Festival. Prior to writing full-time, she worked as a strength coach, athletic coach and college instructor. She holds a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton.