How to do 5x5

I'm planning to write a short series of articles describing various training programs. My favorite is 5x5 so I'm starting with it of course
5x5
I'm planning to write a short series of articles describing various training programs. My favorite is 5x5 so I'm starting with it of course. Later will come descriptions of Max OT, Dogg Cr-app, HST, and a few others. Feel free to comment, complain, or contribute if you wish.

The program is simple, occasionally brutal, and of course...effective. It basically consists of just 6 basic lifts done in 3 full body workouts each week.

  • Monday: Squats, Benching, Rows
  • Weds: Squats, Military Presses, Dead-lifts, Chins
  • Friday: Squats, Benching, Rows

Note: Rows are pendalay rows. This is like a bent over row except it's done dynamically, from the floor, as an explosive movement. If you are afraid of killing your back out, it's OK to be a wuss and do seated cable rows.  Hell, right now I'm being a wuss and doing lat pulls instead of pull-ups with weights chained around my waist the way I used to do.

Notice that squats are central to this program as they are the only lift done 3x a week. Although I love to dead-lift best of all, the squat is KING as far as adding overall strength to your body. Squats in this program should be Olympic squats; i.e. feet about shoulder width apart (maybe slightly more) and done butt to calves (or at least hamstrings to calves) with good form. The bar is high on the traps. Lighter with good form and going full depth is better than going heavy, wide, low bar, power squats. A full description of Olympic squatting will be in a future article.

Monday is a heavy day where you try to get 5 all out sets of 5 reps working as heavy as you can.

Wed is lighter (squats) and you will use only about 80% of what you used on Monday for 5 sets of 5.

Friday is medium, you don't push as hard as you will when next Monday arrives but you do increase the weight for the last set over what you used on the previous Monday.

Courtesy of bill Starr bill Starr, perhaps the greatest strength coach who ever lived and popularized this in the 70's with his great book, The Strongest Shall Survive, which was aimed at strength training for football.

He had essentially two different programs which both are 5 sets of 5.

The first, which is more suitable for beginners, is to simply do 5 sets of 5 with similar weight jumps between each set so that your last set is your top weight.

This is especially good for someone who is just learning a particular exercise like the squat, because the amount of practice with light but increasing weights is a good way to practice form.

For more advanced lifters, he advocated a warm-up, then 5 sets of 5 with a set weight.

This is not outdated, and is a good program for gaining strength. Many elite athletes still use it during at least part of the year.

How to get started:


  • Find your 5RM.

  • Put this at week 4.

  • Plan your workouts for the next 8 or 9 weeks.


Take about 2.5% (or 5-10lbs) off each week and set your numbers up working backwards to week 1 to get your starting point.

For example if you 5RM for squat is 200lbs, it will look like this. You will have added 20lbs to your 5RM in 8 weeks...not bad. And this isn't an 8 or 9 week program. You just keep going until you can't progress anymore then reset the program using your new 5RM #'s. If everything is moving along nicely but one lift stalls then you will reset just that one lift. If everything seems to have stalled, then you are fatigued and need to recover so you can take a week or two off then reset the whole program. The 4 weeks of light work will get you back into form and let you continue recovery, preparing for the heavy weeks to come. Some people even do a period of 3x3 with the "big lifts" (squat, dead, bench, and row).

The description of progression below is based on the 200lb squatter, you can use it for ALL of the lifts, I just used squat for brevity, and you can crunch your own numbers.

Week 1: 185
Week 2: 190
Week 3: 195
Week 4: 200
Week 5: 205
Week 6: 210
Week 7: 215
Week 8: 220

Ramped sets

Monday Squat

5 sets of 5 using: 100, 125, 150, 175, 200

Wednesday Squat:

5 sets of 5 using: 80, 100, 120, 140, 160

Friday Squat:

5 sets of 5 using: 100, 125, 150, 175, 205
(then plan on next Monday using 105, 130, 155, 180, 205)

Set Weight
Better IMO.

Monday: Warm-up with 100, 150, 175 then do 200x5x5.

Wednesday: 160x5x5

Friday: 205x5x5

I do Heavy and medium days for my bench and row too.

The work I do on Wed is a little different. I use the same progression of adding about 2.5% each week and start out with my 5RM at week 4... but I just keep adding weight every week for as long as I'm able. No heavy, light, and medium days for these. When I can't add more weight, I reset for that lift and start over.

For those who want to work the mirror muscles, add them in too and train them either 5x5 like the rest or even 3x10...or whatever you want to do.

For my own training, I've added a few of the mirror muscles. They aren't mandatory to be specifically trained because the basic 5x5 will hit them all anyway. I just have the time right now and the extra won't hurt if it doesn't over-train me.

Here's how I do it:

Monday:
Squat, Bench, Row, Calf Raise, Crunch

Wednesday:
Squat, Dead-lift, Shrug, Overhead press, Lat pull (pull-ups are better if you can do them)

Friday:
Squat, Bench, Row, Curl, Skull Crusher

I've never seen anyone who did not get good results from 5x5 training. Is it the best? For me it is, for you it may not be. However, you won't know unless you try it.

After almost 2 years off from illness and injury this is the methodology I've chosen to use for my "rebuilding". Only 7 weeks into training and already there are visible results...quite pleasingly visible I might add. Already lats can be seen from the front in the mirror. Not quite the lats I noticed that day in the mirror behind the hot tub in march of '08... oh wait, wrong story for this forum.  But lats nonetheless...and after only 7 weeks.

Although this program was designed just for strength training there is no question that it also works great for bodybuilders too. Or even for someone like me, I'm not a powerlifter or a bodybuilder...just a guy who trains with weights along with cardio to make myself stronger and to look a little better while trying to maintain good health with a nice level of fitness.

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I run for my aerobic exercise. You can run, walk, dance; whatever you prefer. Just be certain to do aerobics at least 3 – 4 times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes each workout. If you are using HIIT or something on that order, obviously you will be spending less time getting in your aerobics.

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