John,

Recently came across one of your post on Talk to Me Johnnie regarding linear progression, and that in order for it to work, there needs to be fifteen repetitions of each movement. As of right now I'm not looking to gain any more mass in my lower half because I already have large legs as it is. Instead of doing my squats for 3x5 would the linear progression work if I did 5x3 to focus on strength more with minimal growth? If that would work, would I do 1x3 of deadlift rather then the normal 1x5? I understand you are very busy but if you could give me some insight it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again for the great programming and information.

Julian C.

LEGS TOO LARGE? WTF?#1

Really? Legs too large? Are you serious? Have you not read anything I have posted on this site in the last two years? Personally, I think your problems run much deeper if you are worried your legs are too big.

Hell, even if this site was dedicated to bodybuilding, and we had a burning desired for symmetry and men painted brown, we would still squat to have massive legs. Tom Platz, who had the biggest legs anyone had seen, squatted daily.

I realize you are at a pivotal junction in your life and training, and I feel obligated to point you down the right path. The following exert is from the 3rd edition of Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe, which should be available in the next few weeks. It discusses the training effect different reps ranges on the body, and the need for keeping 5s in the program to drive adaption.

"How many reps should a work set consist of? It depends on the adaptation desired. Five reps is a good number for most purposes, but an understanding of the reasons for this is essential so that special circumstances can be accommodated correctly.

When you’re trying to understand the nature of any given set of variables, it is often helpful to start with the extremes, the limits of which can reveal things about the stuff in the middle. In this case, let’s compare a one-rep max, or 1RM, squat to a 20RM squat and look at the different physiological requirements for doing each set.

The single most important contributing factor to the successful heavy one-rep attempt is the ability of the muscles involved to produce force. The heavier the weight, the more force required to move it, as should be obvious. The one-rep set doesn’t take very long to do, so muscular endurance is not a factor, and neither is cardiovascular capacity, for the same reason. Even a bone-on-bone limit attempt doesn’t take more than a few seconds. The only thing the muscles must do is produce sufficient force to overcome the weight on the bar as it moves through the range of motion of the lift one time. So, in response to 1RM training, the body adapts by getting better at producing high amounts of force, one rep at a time. It does this by adjusting the components of the system that produce the force: the nervous system, the neuromuscular system, and the muscles themselves, specifically the components of the muscle that actually produce the contraction.

There are other adaptations that are secondary to the main ones, but they all involve helping the body perform a brief, intense effort. Psychological adaptations enable the lifter to overcome his fear of a heavy weight. The heart adapts by getting better at working with a huge load on the back, and the blood vessels adapt by becoming capable of responding to the demands of increased peak blood pressure. The tendons thicken to better transmit force, and the ligaments thicken and tighten to hold the joints together under the load. The skin under the bar gets thicker, the eyeballs get used to bugging out, and new words are learned that express the emotions accompanying success or failure with a new PR squat. But the primary adaptation is increased force production.

On the other hand, a heavy set of 20 reps is an entirely different experience, one of the most demanding in sports conditioning. A set of 20 squats can usually be done with a weight previously assumed to be a 10RM, given the correct mental preparation and a certain suicidal desire to either grow or die. The demands of a 20RM, and therefore the adaptation to it, are completely different. A 20RM is done with about 80% of the weight of a 1RM, and even the last rep is not really heavy, in terms of the amount of force necessary to squat it. The hard part of a set of 20 is that the last 5 reps are done in a state resembling a hellish nightmare: making yourself squat another rep with the pain from the falling muscle pH, an inability to catch your breath, and the inability of your heart to beat any faster than it already is. The demands of a 20RM involve continued muscle contraction under circumstances of increasing oxygen debt and metabolic depletion.

In response to this type of stress, the body gets better at responding to the high metabolic demand that is created. Systemic adaptations are primarily cardiovascular in nature, since the main source of stress involves managing blood flow and oxygen supply during and after the set. The heart gets better at pumping blood under a load, the vessels expand and become more numerous, and the lungs get better at oxygenating the blood – although not in the same way that a runner’s lungs do. The main muscular adaptations are those that support local metabolism during the effort. Glycolytic capacity increases. The contractile part of the muscle tissue gets better at working under the acidic conditions produced by the stress of the long work set. Psychologically, 20RM work is very hard, due to the pain, and lifters who are good at it develop the ability to displace themselves from the situation during the set. Or they just get very tough.

It is essential to understand that the 1RM work does not produce the conditioning stress that the 20RM work does, and that the long set of 20 reps is not heavy in the same way that the 1RM is. They are both hard, but for different reasons. Because they are so completely different, they cause the body to adapt in two completely different ways. These extremes represent a continuum, with a heavy set of 3 more closely resembling 1RM in its adaptation, and a set of 10 sharing more of the characteristics of a 20RM. Sets of five reps are a very effective compromise for the novice, and even for the advanced lifter more interested in strength than in muscular endurance. They allow enough weight to be used that force production must increase, but they are not so heavy that the cardiovascular component is completely absent from the exercise. Sets of five may be the most useful rep range you will use over your entire training career, and as long as you lift weights, sets of five will be important."