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5-System: Run the Rack for More Muscle

Add intensity to any workout and any bodypart for new muscle gains with my 5-System for Running the Rack. Dumbbell curls, dumbbell lateral raises, dumbbell rows, dumbbell presses, you name it – choose your exercise and increase your results.

5-System: Run the Rack for More Muscle

Shocking a bodypart by “running the rack” is a great way to spur new muscle growth in a particular area, and I’ve got a new twist on the popular dumbbell training method – I call it my 5-System for Running the Rack.

The “5” in the name signifies two things: 5 reps at a time, and running the rack up and then back down in 5-pound dumbbell increments.

The 5-System can be done for virtually any bodypart and any dumbbell exercise – curls, one-arm rows, lateral raises, front raises, shrugs, overhead triceps extensions, just to name a handful.

I recommend doing one-arm versions of the exercise you choose so that the non-working arm gets a rest (albeit it a brief one) while the other is working. And I’m not talking about alternating arms every other rep (as in alternating dumbbell curls) – I mean using only one dumbbell at a time and doing all reps with one arm while the other arm gets a full rest without holding any weight.

So, here’s how the 5-System works…

First, pick an exercise and select a weight that’s relatively light for that move. For example, in my video I start with a 25-pound dumbbell doing the 5-System with curls. For me, 25 pounds is light for a one-arm curl, but it’s all relative. If 25 pounds feels fairly heavy and “light” for you means a 10- or 15-pound dumbbell, then start there. You want to start light, but not too light that the first several sets are super easy.

With your starting weight, do 5 reps with one arm, then 5 with the other. Stopping at 5 reps will feel too easy at this light weight, but definitely stop there – don’t worry, it will get challenging very soon.

Without resting, go straight to the next heavier dumbbell (30 pounds in my curl example) and repeat the sequence: 5 reps on each arm.

Continue “running the rack” in this fashion – 5 reps per arm at each 5-pound dumbbell increment – until you can no longer do 5 reps per arm with good form. (Feel free to do a couple cheat reps with a little body English with the heaviest weight to reach 5 reps, but keep it to a minimum.)

When 5 reps per arm is no longer happening, it’s time to run the rack in the opposite direction. So let’s say I wasn’t able to get 5 reps with good form with the 55-pound dumbbell. I set that weight down and go immediately to the 50-pounder for reps.

Now, on the way back down you may not reach 5 reps at every weight, especially on those first couple sets where the weight is still pretty heavy; remember, your muscles will be fatigued at this point. On these sets, just go to failure if you can’t reach 5 reps (doing 4, 3, 2 or 1 reps), then switch arms and go to the next lighter dumbbell.

Just like you did running the rack on the way up, rep out at each lower weight in 5-pound increments, hitting 5 reps per arm or (if you can’t hit 5 reps) failure.

When you’re back to your lightest weight (25 pounds for me in the curl example), rep it out to failure, whether that means 4, 5, 8 or 10 reps. All those 5-rep sets leading up will have your muscles screaming at this point, so that last set to failure with the lightest weight will be your burn out.

And that’s it – up and down the rack once is enough, trust me!

As for how the 5-System can be worked into a routine, just plug it into any bodypart workout. Depending on your level of training, one time through the 5-System can either be your entire workout for that muscle group or the last exercise for it. As an example, I might do the 5-System for dumbbell curls after doing two other biceps exercises (ie, barbell curls and cable curls) for 3-4 straight sets each. That said, one time through a grueling 5-System running of the rack could very well stand on its own as a full workout for that bodypart – especially if you’re short on time.

Bodypart Specific

As I mentioned above, the 5-System can be done for about any dumbbell exercise you want. To give you some ideas, below is a list of some of my favorite 5-System exercises. I generally prefer using standing exercises with the method because it allows you to move quicker between sets without spending extra time getting up and down off a seat or bench. But you can certainly use non-seated exercises too, particularly if you want to train chest using the 5-System method, since there's really no standing chest exercises you can do with a dumbbell. 


One-Arm Dumbbell Row

Dumbbell Pullback


Dumbbell Curl

Hammer Curl


One-Arm Dumbbell Press (flat bench or incline)

One-Arm Dumbbell Flye (flat bench or incline)


Dumbbell Step-Up

Dumbbell Stationary Lunge

Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squat (rear foot up on a bench or box)

One-Legged Squat


Dumbbell Lateral Raise

Dumbbell Front Raise

Dumbbell Bent-Over (rear delt) Raise

One-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press


Dumbbell Shrug


Standing Overhead Dumbbell Triceps Extension

Dumbbell Kickback


Here's a recent video I did introducing and explaining the 5-System for Running the Rack:

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