The 5/10/20 Method

by Nathan Tomasello

Blending heavy compound movements and high rep isolation exercises into killer supersets




- a set that includes another set or sets

-a combination of exercises done consecutively with no rest between

-the best way to get a massive pump, bro

Ever since I started lifting weights as a teenager, I have loved using super sets in my training.  By definition, there are two main ways to implement supersets, the first being to combine exercises together that target the same muscle.  An example would be a superset of shoulder flys and front raises. The second common method for superset is to take two exercises that are antagonistic - meaning that they work opposing muscle groups.  An example of this style would be to perform a set of dumbbell curls (biceps) and superset it with a set of DB skull crushers (triceps).

The great thing about whichever style of super sets you choose is you can accomplish more in the same time frame in the gym, and you are guaranteed to keep your heart rate up by taking less rest.  But with those benefits comes a down side - sometimes lifters mistake breathing hard for working hard, and without a solid structure in place you may not be getting as much out of your supersets as you think.  Due to the “cardio” effect and the inevitable muscle fatigue that comes with super sets, its common for people to dial it back a little. Form suffers. Sets of 8 become ‘6 and a maybe’.

Well today we are going to solve that problem.  Years ago I developed a rep scheme for super sets known as the 5/10/20 method.  In it’s simplest form, this is a 3 exercise superset for a single muscle group where you do 5 reps of the first exercise, 10 of the second, then finish up with 20 reps on the final exercise.  Of course there are a few exceptions, but I typically start with a heavy compound movement that works the entire targeted muscle group, such as DB Chest Press. immediately after the compound exercise I will move to 10 reps with an isolation type movement such as Chest Flys.  To end the superset I like to use body weight exercises for 20 grueling reps that mimic the initial power exercise (in this case it would be push ups). Now, the “exercise order” is not set in stone - I often use pull ups as the second movement, as 20 reps of those suckers would be too difficult to complete as the third exercise.  As long as you always put a heavy movement first for 5 reps and then follow it up with 2 complimentary exercises you are good to go. By sticking to the designated rep scheme you are guaranteed to get an incredible pump, increase your endurance and break thru any training plateaus you’ve encountered. So without further ado, here is a killer 3 day split comprised entirely of the 5/10/20 Method supersets.

Day 1: Pushing

5 DB Chest Press

10 Chest Flys

20 Push Ups

x 5 rounds

5 DB Shoulder Press

10 Lateral Raises

20 Rear delt Cable pulls

x 5 rounds

5 Overhead Tricep Extension

10 Tricep cable press downs

20 BW Skull Crushers

x 3 rounds

Day 1 is the “pushing” workout, where you will work chest, shoulder, and tricep exercises.  The first 5/10/20 begins with Dumbbell Chest Press for 5 reps (do 1-2 warm up sets of presses to work up to a heavy weight before starting the first round of supersets).  As soon as you complete the 5th rep, grab a lighter set of dumbbells and perform 10 chest flys, or use a set of cables for cable chest flys. Concentrate on isolating and squeezing the pecs on every rep, and then end the superset with 20 push ups.  Take a minimum of 2 minutes rest then repeat for a total of 5 rounds. Toward the later rounds if 20 push ups becomes difficult, break them into a few mini-sets to complete 20 reps.

Next up is a shoulder superset that begins with 5 heavy standing DB shoulder presses.  After your set of presses, grab a medium weight for 10 lateral raises then end with 20 rear delt cable pulls.

This 5/10/20 hits all 3 heads of the deltoids and after 5 rounds is going to leave your shoulders smoked.

This workout ends with a tricep superset, which utilizes a heavy overhead dumbbell extension for the power movement.  Make sure to choose a weight heavy enough that you can barely do 5 reps. Next transition to a cable machine for 10 press downs before ending with 20 body weight skull crushers.  In the later rounds as the triceps become fatigued you may need to perform the BW Skulls at a higher angle. Complete 3 rounds and then call it a day.

Day 2: Pulling

5 Lat Pull Downs

10 Pull Ups

20 Seated Row

x 5 rounds

5 T-Bar Row

10 Slant Rows

20 Straight arm Lat Pull Downs

x 5 rounds

5 Barbell Curls

10 Underhand Chin up 1/4 reps

20 Hammer Curls

x 3 rounds

Day 2 is your “pulling” workout consisting of back and bicep exercises.  The first superset begins with 5 heavy lat pull downs before going into 10 pull ups.  If pull ups are a struggle for you, you may want to switch the order of the exercises and do the pull ups first.  Either way, you will end with 20 reps of seated rows and complete 5 rounds. Make sure to take at least 2 minutes in between each round.  Next up is another back superset. This 5/10/20 begins with T-bar Row then transitions into a great body weight movement, the slant row for 10 reps.  To perform slant rows, place a bar in a power rack and lay underneath it, grabbing the bar with a wide grip and only your feet touching the ground. Keeping your body straight, pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar, making sure to squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top.  End with 20 straight arm pull downs and complete 5 total rounds. The last 5/10/20 for this day is going to absolutely torch your biceps, which are going to already be pumped from all of the pull ups and rows. Start with 5 heavy barbell curls then immediately perform 10 underhand chin up 1/4 reps.  For the chin ups, only complete the top 1/4 of the movement to emphasize the biceps, squeezing at the top. End with 20 DB Hammer Curls and complete 3 total rounds.

Day 3: Lower Body/Core

5 Split Squats each leg

10 Sissy Squats

20 Lunges

x 5 rounds

5 Med Ball Front Squats

10 GHR

20 Step Ups

x 3 rounds

5 Walk Outs

10 Ab Wheels

20 Stability Alternates each side

x 2 rounds

Leg day starts with Bulgarian Split Squats as your base power exercise.  Hold a heavy set of dumbbells and complete 5 reps on each leg. Next go to a power rack and perform 10 sissy squats.  Sissy Squats are an “old school” bodyweight quad burner from the golden era of bodybuilding. Grab each side of a power rack with an over hand grip and slowly lean back and bend at the knees, allowing your weight to come forward.  Once you are almost parallel to the ground, push thru your toes and extend your quads, bringing you back to starting position. After completing 10 reps, end the superset with 20 lunges. Rest at least 2 minutes and complete 5 rounds.  The next 5/10/20 begins with 5 heavy med ball Front Squats (you can substitute barbell if necessary), then transitions to 10 reps either Glute Ham Raises or Leg Curls. End with 20 bodyweight step ups per leg. After 3 grueling rounds it’s time to finish up with some core work.  After completing 5 Walk Outs (from your knees, or standing if you are advanced), grab an ab wheel and roll out for 10 reps. End with 20 stability alternates on each side, breaking it into a couple sub-sets if necessary. Complete 2 rounds of the Core 5/10/20

After doing days 1-3, take the 4th day as a rest day to let your body heal up, then complete another 3 day cycle.

I know what you’re thinking.  No Deadlifts? Where are the Back Squats?  I don’t get to bench?!?!?

Easy tiger.  Because of the exhaustive nature of the 5/10/20 Method, I don’t like to utilize it on some of the bigger barbell movements that utilize a lot of weight, and prefer to stick to dumbbell exercises.  This routine will not only be a shock to the system but will also give you a break from the “Big 3”. Use this routine for a week or two then go back to your normal routine. I guarantee you will be able to attack your normal routine with renewed energy and endurance after being challenged with these extreme supersets.  You can always take the 5/10/20 structure and throw it in as a single superset finisher at the end of any workout, rather than do the entire program. Be creative. This is one tool in your arsenal that you will want to introduce anytime it feels like things are getting stale.

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