Are you new to the lifting scene and you’re looking for a program that will put you on the fast track to muscle growth, strength gains, and functional movement ability? Look no further than the 5×5 workout.
Used for decades by elite-level lifters and Average Joes alike, the 5×5 program has the scientific backing behind it, showing how effective it can be for leaps and bounds in your physique results. Best of all, the 5×5 workout structure is simple, making it easy to remember and allowing you to focus on your form and execution, not what’s next on the list.
It’s time to break down the format, exercises, and acute variables of this proven muscle-building system. But let’s start by answering the question, “What is a 5×5 workout?”
Introduction to 5×5 Workout Routine
Supposedly founded by Reg Park, one of the most famous bodybuilders of all time and personal inspiration to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 5×5 workout has been helping people build size and strength for decades. While there are now many variations of the 5×5 workout routine, the original was based on a few compound movements: squats, deadlifts, barbell rows, overhead press, and the bench press.
Just like the name hints at, the 5×5 workout program requires you to perform five sets of five repetitions for each exercise. This means that you’ll need to use a weight that allows you to complete up to three reps of an exercise with perfect form, but you need to give it your all to push out those last two reps. As we’ll discuss more below, this will be around 85% of your one-repetition maximum or the greatest amount of weight that you can use once with great form.
The 5×5 workout is designed so that each major muscle group will be targeted no less than twice per week with a focus on three times. Despite the heavy workload, the program still allows you to focus on rest and recovery to optimize results and avoid overuse injuries.
Who is This Workout Routine For?
Since the exercises are focused on compound movements, the number of exercises per workout never exceeds three, and the acute variables are so straight forward, the 5×5 workout plan is ideal for those who are new to weightlifting, and those who are looking for a simple and easy change to their current routine.
Benefits of the 5×5 Workout
With a focus on heavy lifting with more sets and fewer repetitions, the 5×5 workout has a few unique benefits when compared to a traditional exercise program.
The 5×5 workout is ideal for the newbie lifter looking for size because it focuses on compound lifts that have been shown to activate the greatest numbers of muscle fibers. What’s more, given the workload, the muscle is brought to complete fatigue, ensuring hypertrophy, or growth.
Now, there are studies out there suggesting weightlifters can achieve similar muscle building results using light weight (30% 1RM) with more repetitions (30 to 40 repetitions). However, what the study doesn’t take into consideration is the fact that lifting heavier weights for fewer reps, like with the 5×5 workout, helps to significantly increase strength AND muscle mass.
Continuing with the point above, the 5×5 workout is based on the idea that you’ll lift enough weight so that you can confidently complete three repetitions, but struggle to push out those last two reps. On average, this is going to be about 85% of your one-repetition maximum. Studies show that this set and repetition range and weight load is proven to trigger both muscle hypertrophy (growth) and strength gains.
Each 5×5 workout routine is comprised of only three exercises, making it one of the easiest programs to follow. The simplicity of these workouts is going to be great for the weightlifter who is just starting out as they won’t be overwhelmed by the learning curve.
What’s more, the focus on these compound movements helps to solidify a foundation in the fundamentals of fitness. In other words, all of your future workouts will be based on what you learn and perform with the 5×5 workout program.
Workouts Included in the 5×5 Workout Program
The 5×5 workout plan is designed to be performed in an alternating A-B-A and B-A-B format from week to week. In other words, we’ll separate the two plans below as Workout A and Workout B, and you’ll complete Workout A on Day 1, Workout B on Day 3, and Workout A again on Day 5. The following week, you’ll switch to the B-A-B format.
If you’re following a Monday, Wednesday, Friday lifting schedule, a full month of 5×5 workouts will look like this:
How to Properly Prepare and Perform the Exercises
The 5×5 workout consists of five total exercises with only the barbell squat being repeated in both workouts. Here’s how to perform each of the exercises:
Considered the king of all exercises, the squat targets your quadriceps (quads), hamstrings (hams), calves, glutes (butt), hip flexors, and, to an extent, your core.
Be sure to set up the exercise by using a squat rack. We do not recommend using a static Smith Machine as this doesn’t allow for free range of movement. Place the bar across your traps and NOT your neck. Keep your chest up and gaze forward as you bend your knees and kick your hips back.
Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel or just below parallel with the ground. Push off the ground with your feet and drive the hips forward.
The bench press activates your chest, front deltoids (shoulders), triceps, and, to an extent, your front abdominals (abs).
Place your hands just outside of shoulder-width on a barbell. Brace your core and bring your shoulder blades together. Push the barbell up, securing your grip, before lowering the bar to your chest. Focus the contraction in the chest as you push the bar back to the starting position.
The barbell row is excellent for targeting your lats (middle back), biceps, and, to an extent your rear deltoids and core.
Set up a barbell on a low squat rack at hip level. Wrap your hands around the barbell around shoulder-width. Stand tall with the barbell resting against the front of your legs. Bend slightly at the knees and kick your hips backwards. Keeping a flat back, pull the barbell up towards your upper stomach. Squeeze the middle back then slowly lower the barbell to the starting position.
Excellent for developing well-rounded shoulder muscles, the overhead press is a mass and strength builder that targets the entire set of shoulder muscles.
Place a barbell on a high squat rack at shoulder level. Wrap your hands around the barbell at shoulder-width with palms facing forward. Lift the barbell off the rack, keeping it at shoulder height. Press the barbell up and overhead. Squeeze the shoulders at the top of the movement then slowly lower the bar back to shoulder height.
If the squat is considered the king of all exercises, then the deadlift is the queen. This one movement targets your hamstrings, glutes, lower back, quads, calves, hip flexors, biceps, and, to an extent, your core.
Place a barbell on the ground. If you aren’t using weight plates, consider lying the barbell on top of stacked dumbbells or plates. The idea is to have the barbell off the ground to make it easier to pick up.
Align your feet with the shiny and smooth parts of the barbell, which will be right around shoulder-width. Bend your knees slightly and kick back your hips, lowering yourself until you’re able to grab on to the barbell. Secure an overhand grip with your knees on the inside of your arms.
Keep your chest up and gaze forward as you drive your feet into the ground. Bring the bar over your knees once they straighten, then drive your hips forward, squeezing your glutes. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
The 5×5 Workout Plan
Here is the complete 5×5 workout plan that you’ll use. Remember to follow an A-B-A or B-A-B format from week to week. Doing so allows for variety instead of focusing on the same three exercises like a powerlifter would.
What is the Stronglifts 5×5 Workout?
If you’ve ever tried to search for the 5×5 workout in Google, we can guarantee that you’ve come across something called the Stronglifts 5×5. Is there a difference between the traditional 5×5 workout and the Stronglifts 5×5? Not at all. They are the same program, but the Stronglifts name has picked up more attention because it was one of the first online resources to post about the 5×5 workout.
What can you expect as far as Stronglifts 5×5 results? Just like with the workout detailed above, the Stronglifts 5×5 workout is great for promoting strength, muscle growth, and functional movement patterns through compound exercises.
The 5×5 workout routine is one of the most basic yet effective programs for building muscle and strength simultaneously. We highly recommend this program for newcomers to the weight room as it can teach them the most important exercises in fitness: foundational compound movements.
Give this workout a try for 12 weeks, measure your progress, then determine whether you’ll give it another go or try to change things up. As always, keep us posted.