The 5-4-3-2-1 Workout Method for Size and Strength

There are so many different exercises and methodologies out there for gaining size and strength that it can be tough to understand what to do with it all. So, in this post I’m going to share with you the Performance U 5-4-3-2-1 Workout Method, which is a simple to understand, easy-to use, plug-and-play template used in the Performance U training approach for designing fully-comprehensive, Hybrid Training workouts for increasing size and strength.

In this post I’ve provided you with everything you need to know in order to immediately implement the Performance U 5-4-3-2-1 Workout method into your programs (if you wish to do so).

Below you’ll find:

– A break-down of each exercise category used the 5-4-3-2-1 Workout Method.

– A list of our favorite exercise applications for each category.

– A sample 5-4-3-2-1 workout program for maximizing STRENGTH gains.

– A sample 5-4-3-2-1 workout program for maximizes SIZE gains.

The 5-4-3-2-1 Workout Method: 101

Each of the numbers “5,” “4,” “3,” “2,” “1” represents a different category of exercises along with the amount of sets the exercise(s) in that category will be performed for. The numbers 5-4-3-2-1 also represent the order of which we perform the exercises in the workout.

Put simply, the exercises that we perform the largest number of sets of (5,4) are the most intense and most complex exercises. Therefore, they’re prioritized early in the workout. These are also the exercises that are done for the least amount of reps. And, as the less intense and less complex exercises for less sets (3,2,1) are placed latter in the workout. These exercises are done for a larger amount of reps since the weight load used is less.

Here’s a break-down of the set and rep range used in each category along with some of our favorite exercises to plug-into each:

FIVE – 5 sets of 3-6 reps using a compound lift or an explosive exercise w/ 2-3min rest between sets.

Our top strength exercises to use in this category are: 

– Barbell Squats (Front Squats or Back Squats)

– Trap Bar Deadlifts

One Arm Push Ups

– Weighted Pull Ups or chin Ups

Our top explosive exercises to use in this category are: 

– Sprints (20-40yds) or Hill Sprints (6-10 second bursts)

– Long Jumps

– Vertical Jumps

– Medicine Ball Rotary Throws (Any of the three versions featured here)

Medicine Ball Reverse Scoop Throw

Personal Trainer Notes: The cue when performing the strength exercises (above) is to “explode into the weight” on each rep. However, although the intention is to lift the weight (concentrically) as fast possible; since the loads used are heavy (relative the individuals strength level), the concentric aspect of these movements will not (visually) appear fast. 

FOUR – 4 sets of 6-8 reps using a compound exercise w/ 90sec – 2min rest between sets.

Our top exercises to use in this category are: 

– Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs)

Knee Tap Squats

Dumbbell Uppercuts or Angled Barbell Presses

– One Arm Dumbbell Rows (Free Standing or on Bench), or Barbell Bent-Over Rows

– Rope Climb or Peg-Board Climbs 

Personal Trainer Notes: The cue on these exercises is (also) to lift the weight (concentrically) as fast possible. The eccentric portion should be slower demonstrating deliberate control.

THREE – 3 sets of 8-12 reps using a compound exercise, an isolation exercise, or machine exercise w/ 60-90sec between sets.

Our top exercises to use in this category are:

– Lunges (Reverse, Walking, Anterior Leaning, Lateral w/ Cross Reach or from Deficit)

– Dumbbell or Barbell Presses (Flat, Incline, or Overhead)

– 1-Arm Compound Rows or 1-Arm Cable Rows or 1-Arm Dumbbell Rows (Off Bench or Free-Stranding)

– Hammer Strength High Row Machine

Barbell Good Mornings, One-Leg RDLs (Barbell or Low Cable) or 45 Degree Hip-Extensions

– Barbell Back Squats

– Single or Double-Leg Hip Thrusts (Any version shown here)

Pike Roll Outs

– Cable Chops Low to High

TWO – 2 sets of 12-20 reps using an isolation exercise or machine based exercise w/ 60-90sec between sets.

Our top exercises to use in this category are:

– Rear-Delt Flys (Machine or Dumbbell) or Band Pull Aparts

– Cable or Dumbbell Chest Flys

– Biceps Curls (any kind)

– Triceps Extensions (any kind)

– Plank Dumbbell Rows (aka. Renegade Rows)

– Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

– Stability Ball Push Ups or Push Up Variations

– Shrugs

– Calf Raises

– Shoulder Raises

– Pull Overs or Straight Arm Pull Downs

ONE – Metabolic finisher or Fitness Challenge.

For the 1-set Finisher (aka. The Happy Ending) we might use:

-A timed set of basics exercises performed for high reps (x50-100) for time, like: push-ups, bodyweight squats, Band pull aparts, etc.

– A few sets of a Complex:  Barbell complex, Dumbbell Complex, Kettlebell Complex, Bodyweight complex or Band Complex.

– A few sets of a Hybrid-Locomotion Complex.

Adjusting the 54321 to YOUR Goal!

Although the 5-4-3-2-1 method is a Hybrid Workout template designed to improve both strength and size (regardless of how you spin it), it can easily be adjusted to target your efforts to emphasize size gains or strength gains.

If your goal is primarily to gain STRENGTH simply perform multiple exercises in each: 5 set and 4 set category. And, one exercise in the other 3,2 and 1 set category. Doing this spends more of your training time on the set and rep ranges that help you improve motor unit recruitment and improve force production most effectively.

If your goal is primarily to gain SIZE simply perform one exercise in the 5 set category and do multiple exercises in the 4,3 and 2 set range. Doing this puts more of your training time on the set and rep ranges that are more optimal for creating a stimulus for muscle growth.

Sample 5-4-3-2-1 Workouts

Each of the two sample programs below is divided into three workouts: A,B and C. You can use these programs as either a 3, 4 or 5-day training split depending on your time and preference. Once you finish workout C, just repeat workout A and so on…

Note: Make sure to combine these program with a good nutritional plan that’s geared toward gaining muscle (i.e. doesn’t put you in a caloric deficit).

Split for STRENGTH Gains

Day A – Upper-body PUSH

1. Bench Press 5 x 3-6

2. Barbell Push Press 5 x 3-6

3. Angled Barbell Press 4x 6-8

4a. Skull Crusher 3x 8-12

4b. Front Delt Raise 2x 15

5. Push-ups (any variation you preffer) 1 x60-80 (for time)


Day B – Upper-body PULL

1. Chin Ups 5x 3-6

2. 1 Arm Dumbbell Row 5x 5-6

3. T-Bar Row 4x 6-8

4a. Gittleson Shrugs 3x 8-12

4b. Biceps Curls (any kind) 2x 15

5. Band Pull Aparts 1x 80-100 (for time)


Day C – Lower-body

1. Trap Bar Deadlift 5 x 3-6

2. Squat Jumps or LongJumps 5 x 4-6

3. Bulgarian Split Squats 4x 6-8

4. Leg Curls 3x 8-12

5. Calf Raise 2x 15

6. Bodyweight Walking Lunge x60-80 (30-40 per leg) (for time)


Split for SIZE Gains

Day A – Chest, Shoulders, Triceps

1. Wide-Grip Bench press 5 x 3-6

2. Dumbbell Bench press 4 x 6-8

3. Incline Dumbbell press 4x 6-8

4. Shoulder to Shoulder Press 3x 8-12

5. Skull Crusher 2x 15

6. Push ups (any variation you preffer) 1 x80-100 (for time)


Day B – Back, Traps, Biceps

1. Chin Ups 5 x 3-6

2. Wide Grip Lat Pull Down 4 x 6-8

3. Barbell Bent Over Row (under-hand grip) 4x 6-8

4. Seated Row (wide grip) 3x 8-12

5a. Gittleson Shrugs 3x 8-12

5b. Biceps Curls (any kind) 2x 15

6. Band Pull a parts x80-100 (for time)


Day C – Legs, Glutes, Calfs

1. Trap Bar Deadlift 5 x 3-6

2. Front Squats 4 x 6-8

3a. Leg extensions 3x 8-12

3b. Leg Curl 3x 8-12

4a. Calf Raise 2x 15

4b. Pike Roll Outs 2x 15

5. Bodyweight Walking Lunge 1x 60-80 (30-40 per leg) (for time)

Final Thoughts on the 5-4-3-2-1 Workout Method

As you can clearly see by the two workout splits above:  there’s more similarities than differences between the exercises used in strength program and the Size program.

Aside from some emphasis differences in set and reps used, the biggest difference between the Strength and Size workout is the way I’ve classified each training day.

On the 3-Day workout split emphasizing Size gains, you can see I’ve labeled the workouts by the muscles trained that day. This is a great way to ensure each major (and minor) muscle group is trained and allowed optimal recovery between workouts.

On the 3-Day workout split emphasizing Strength gains, I’ve classified each workout by the movement pattern emphasized that particular training day. Since strength is more about performance, this classification system ensures each of the three main movements is trained and allowed to recover.

Learn How To Program Like A Pro

Using My Must-Have Programming Charts

Learn how I how I quickly and easily create programs that get results and keep clients coming back for more by downloading my 2 must-have programming charts and watching the included video lesson.

With these two charts, you’ll be able to combine the most important functional movements with isolation exercises for the perfect balance of strength, hypertrophy and performance.

In this video lesson you’ll discover:

And much more!

If your goal is to write better programs for your clients and save time while doing so, then you’ll want to sign up for this free lesson!