5×5 Workout 101
It is the regime that is heralded by the greatest bodybuilders of all time. Reg Park used it, Arnold Schwarzenegger used it. In short, it would be harder to name those who haven’t! So if you are looking for a simple weightlifting program that will make the weight you are lifting increase massively, or you yourself are looking to increase your gains, a 5×5 workout is a good option. That’s probably an understatement, it’s a great option. Let’s break it down, what it is, why it works, what are the best exercises to use. If you want to skip to the end and straight to the workout program itself, be our guest.
5×5 is generally three exercises per session, for three sessions per week. Some people like to add a fourth movement, but that is optional. The real nuts and bolts of these programs are in the three big lifts. You may see variations with deadlifts being there twice a week, to be frank, here at Fat Shredding we’d discourage the overtraining in that regard. In any case, let’s get to the nitty gritty.
To decide if this program is for you, we need to evaluate your goals. If you are a beginner, then it could possibly be the best place for your to start on your fitness journey. We’ll tell you why in just a moment. In a 5×5 program, the movements used are mostly just the most basic, and most important movements that you can do in the gym. It doesn’t start with reverse Suisse ball crunches or tricep kickbacks. It starts with the big movements, Squats, overhead presses, squats, more squats and then maybe a few more for good measure. Those who skip leg day aren’t recommended the regime, let’s put it that way.
Mastering these movements early on is extremely important. It will also build into your mind that these are the movement that will build your physique. Leave the machines and the cables, they will come later. What this is going to teach you is how life inside the gym should be. Simple, powerful and heavy. The strength you will accumulate from this program will be surprising. Many people find that their lifts can get to a respectable figure, often doubling or more within the first few months.
Just strength gains?
The benefits of this program are not limited to just strength. You will add some serious size. Why did you ask? You will be squatting three times per week. These squats will not be light, and over time, your legs and entire body will respond with huge growth. If you commit to it’ll be impossible not to gain huge strength and muscle growth, and what that means is considerable size. So even if your goal is for impressive hypertrophy, this program can help you out too.
As is with any good program, if you work hard and eat right, the fat will melt. The same is true with 5×5. Interestingly, this program is often used among people who are just starting out in the gym, there is often a grand reduction of fat and increase in muscle mass. But that’s a given. The more muscle you have, the easier it is to burn fat. Here’s what you need to remember though, whilst muscle is made in the gym, fat, for the most part, is burned away in the kitchen. For optimal results, you need to work on both. You need to feed the muscles and burn the fat, it’s as simple as that.
For The Advanced Lifters
The 5×5 workout is traditionally marketed at lifters with less experience, but there is always a time and a place for it. There are also variations such as Stronglifts Madcow, or Elliot Hulse’s Advanced version. Both are interesting and can help out even very experienced lifters. We’ve mentioned it before, but there are plentiful variations. Just head over to the bodybuilding forum and you’ll find thread after thread with gym goers posting their results.
What this all comes down to is that it’s always nice to take a step back from your training and really “go back to basics”. There is really nothing more basic than this, and to get back in touch with the bare bones of the iron game can be a refreshing change. And you may very well make some decent gains through it too.
Why does it work?
The theory behind the 5 reps is simple. This is the optimal range whereby maximal strength is developed. For big powerful bodily movements, much of the strength comes from the Central Nervous System (CNS). After a low number of reps, the CNS begins to flag, and the movement becomes slower and harder.
This is why 5×5 encourages you to stay within the low rep range of 5. In this range you are able to overload your CNS repeatedly without it failing. This doesn’t mean that it is 100% CNS working when you are at the gym. Wrapped around your skeleton and nervous system is muscle. These muscles will be contracting and exerting to lift the weight. Also, take into consideration that these same muscles will be stressed three times per week, with weights that are far heavier than weights used in most bodybuilding programs. So, while 5×5 is primarily a strength program, it builds huge amounts of muscle too.
Which exercises shall I use?
This is the easy part. Pick big, COMPOUND movements. These usually are: Back Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, Overhead press, Bent over row etc. These movements and ones like them are fantastic because they allow you to use plenty of weight, and the weight increments you can increase by are large. You can continual grow stronger on these movements until you are a giant. If you picked movements like bicep curls and deltoid raises, then the amount you can increase on these movements is going to be limited.
Give me a program!
There are plenty, here is the Stronglifts program below:
Start with workout A. Two days later you do workout B. So first week is A/B/A, second week B/A/B, third week A/B/A, and etc.
- Squat 5×5
- Bench 5×5
- Barbell Row 5×5
- Squat 5×5
- Overhead Press 5×5
- Deadlift 1×5
- Start off with 50% of your 1RM on lifts.
- Add 2.5kg to each of your lifts each week.
- If you can’t make the 5 reps one week, do a “deload”. This is there you take a day where your training is all brought back to 50% of your 1RM again.
- After this “deload” session knock your weights down 10%, and start the cycle again of adding 2.5kg.
Remember that progress with your strength and physique won’t come all at once. Don’t be demotivated when you hit a wall. Look at all the progress you have made, and keep going.
There are many other 5×5 program variations that you can try. The basics will always be the best. and they have proven results. The classic bodybuilders used them and it’s still a cornerstone in lifting to this day. As you progress in your physique, you will look fondly at the 5×5 program as the time where you really got to grips with the Iron Game, and started to become much stronger and fitter.