If you’re looking to gain muscle and strength, you’ve likely heard about the importance of following a consistent training plan. One popular method is the 5×5 training scheme, which is the basis of the Starting Strength program and many other popular powerlifting and strength-building programs.
What is the 5×5 workout program? The 5×5 workout program is a strength training scheme that involves performing five sets of five reps for a given exercise. The goal of this program is to increase strength and muscle mass by focusing on heavy compound exercises such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press, but it can be applied to any compound lift.
But the 5×5 training scheme isn’t for everyone, so you’ll want to read on to learn the benefits, tips, and sample workout routines. You’ll also learn which lifters should consider the 5×5 workout and who shouldn’t.
Let’s dive into the finer details!
Overview of the 5×5 Workout Program
Some of the most popular 5×5 routines are the Starting Strength 5×5 program, the Stronglifts 5×5 program, and the Madcow 5×5 program.
The idea behind the 5×5 workout plan is that by performing five sets of five reps, you’ll be able to lift heavier weights than you would if you were doing more reps per set. This will help you build more muscle and strength over time as you progress the program to add heavier loads and get stronger and more capable.
The 5×5 scheme could be applied to any exercise but is best applied to compound lifts or lifts that use multiple muscles to complete the movement. Examples of compound lifts are the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and rows.
On the other hand, isolation exercises are those that work only one muscle. They are usually better suited for higher reps per set — often around 8-10, and sometimes even more. I’ve written on the differences between a 5×5 and 3×10 scheme, which you can read about in our article.
Since the 5×5 scheme tends to be more taxing due to the ratio of weight for reps and total sets, you’ll want to give yourself plenty of rest between sets.
These aren’t the type of workouts where you’ll focus on short rest and keeping your heart rate up or working up a sweat, but rather allowing yourself maximal time to recover from each set so you can put maximal effort and focus into your next set.
The same goes for your training frequency. Lifters consistently training on a 5×5 program will need ample rest days a week to be ready to put effective, intense training in. This usually means 2-3 rest days a week.
Learn more about the importance of rest days when strength training in Do Powerlifters Lift Every Day? (No, Here’s Why).
8 Benefits of a 5×5 Workout Program
A 5×5 strength training program offers a range of benefits to lifters of any level, but here are the top 8 that come to mind for me:
1. Increased Strength
The biggest benefit of 5×5 routines is that they can help you to increase your strength, plain and simple. By focusing on heavy compound exercises and lifting heavier weights, you’ll be able to challenge your muscles in ways that explicitly develop strength, assuming you are including proper intensity.
2. Muscle Hypertrophy
The 5×5 workout scheme is also effective for building muscle mass. By performing multiple sets of heavy compound exercises, you’ll be able to stimulate muscle growth and promote muscle hypertrophy, so long as your training is combined with a caloric surplus to facilitate hypertrophy.
We discuss how much you need to eat to build muscle in How Many Calories Should I Eat To Gain Muscle? (Complete Guide).
3. Time Efficiency
The 5×5 training scheme is a time-efficient way to build strength and muscle. Because you’re only performing five sets of five reps per exercise, you can complete your workout relatively quickly compared to other training programs.
4. Progress Tracking
When it comes to tracking your progress with lifting, 5×5 programs make it very easy, which can be motivating. By increasing the weight you lift each week or every few workouts, you can see progress over time and stay motivated to continue pushing yourself.
The best program is the one you can stick with, and seeing results is a great way to stay consistent week over week. The 5×5 scheme can give you just that.
5. Improved Bone Density
Strength training is not only beneficial for building muscle but also for improving bone density. A 5×5 weightlifting program is particularly effective for this, as it involves lifting heavy weights that place stress on your bones and stimulate bone growth.
The heavier loads and lower rep schemes challenge your muscles so that they benefit from the training much more than schemes with lighter loads for higher reps.
6. Increased Metabolic Rate
Strength training can also help to increase your metabolic rate, which can aid in weight loss or maintenance. The 5×5 training scheme, in particular, is effective for this because it involves lifting heavy weights that can help to boost your metabolism.
It’s important to note that the increased metabolism will affect your goals, whether they are to grow your muscles or reduce your body fat. Each of these goals is possible with the 5×5 scheme, but your nutrition needs to correspond with your goals.
A caloric surplus will be required to compensate for the higher metabolic rate you experience from lifting on a 5×5 scheme consistently and provide additional fuel and nutrition to build new muscle.
A caloric deficit will be required to cut fat, but it may not be as severe once your higher metabolic rate kicks in as a result of following this training scheme.
7. Improved Joint Health
The 5×5 training scheme can also help to improve joint health and stability. Because the program focuses on compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups, you’ll be able to improve the stability of your joints and reduce the risk of injury.
The heavier loads stimulate your joints to trigger a response to improve their strength, making you a healthier and more stable individual all around.
8. Increased Confidence
Finally, the 5×5 training scheme can help to boost your confidence. As you lift heavier weights and see progress over time, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in your abilities.
So, you get the confidence that comes from sticking with a training program and seeing results. But with a 5×5 scheme, you also have the confidence that you’re moving decently heavy weight and capable of even more once you start reducing the rep ranges!
5 Tips for Creating a 5×5 Workout Program
If you are interested in creating a 5×5 workout program, here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Exercise Selection
As discussed, the best 5×5 workout program focuses on compound exercises. Choose exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, overhead presses, and rows.
Once these exercises are done, you can move on to accessory movements that incorporate the same muscles used in the compound lifts. But you’d do them for a higher rep scheme that is more appropriate and effective for isolated muscle exercises.
For example, after 5×5 squats, you can add quad exercises like seated leg extensions or lunges for 3×10. After the bench press or overhead press, you can add exercises that target the shoulders, pecs, triceps, upper back, and biceps for sets of 8-15 reps.
2. Follow a Progressive Overload
The program should utilize the principle of progressive overload, which is essential for continued progress and gains in strength and muscle mass. Gradually increase the weights used in each exercise as you progress through the program.
Your body will respond to meet the demands put on it. Once you’re strong enough to meet the demands of the first weights you used, you need to add more weight, so your body has new stress to respond and adapt to.
If you’re brand new to lifting, you may want to start with the empty barbell and add 10 pounds to lower body lifts and 5 pounds to upper body lifts each week.
If you have some experience lifting, I recommend starting with a training max that’s 90% of your current one rep maxes and following the progression guidelines above.
3. Use Proper Form and Technique
Proper form and technique are essential for avoiding injuries and ensuring continued progress. Start with light weights and focus on proper form and technique before increasing the weight used in each exercise.
Form and technique will always be challenged as you increase the weight, and improvements will always be required. Expect small breakdowns in form as you increase the weight and continue to measure and improve it as you go.
4. Get Adequate Rest
Rest days are essential for recovery and ensuring your muscles have time to repair and grow. Make sure to plan rest days each week, depending on the intensity and frequency of your workouts.
For most lifters, 3-5 days a week of training is appropriate, leaving you 2-4 rest days to spread out as needed.
5. Fuel Your Body with Proper Nutrition
Proper nutrition is essential for building muscle mass and increasing overall strength. Make sure to eat a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
If your goals with a 5×5 are to add muscle, you’ll need to eat that balanced diet in a caloric surplus. If your goal is to reduce fat, you’ll need to eat in a caloric deficit while keeping your protein high to avoid losing too much muscle mass.
Even though you may need to eat more to support your training, you shouldn’t eat a lot of junk and calorically-dense foods. Learn more in Do Powerlifters Eat Whatever They Want?
Sample 5×5 Workout Program
Download a sample 5×5 workout spreadsheet, make a copy, and plug in your numbers to set up a program.
I’ve included a sample program for two weeks of training below. It’s based on personal bests of a 315 squat, 225 bench press, and 415 deadlift, but you can try this sample workout with your own weights by plugging them into this 5×5 workout program. Simply click File > Save As to save a copy of the file on your own drive and make it editable.
The 5×5 calls for 80% of your one rep max in week one, then increased by 2.5% in week two, and so on.
This program can be run for 8-12 weeks, but you’ll eventually hit a week where you can’t make the 2.5% jump. In this case, the protocol is to keep the weight where it is for another week or two and attempt to bump it the following week.
The second exercise is a back-off set or variation of the main lift, so it’s still generally a squat, bench press, or deadlift movement. However, there’s some kind of change that makes it unique, like pausing the rep, a closer or wider grip/stance, or using a specialty piece of equipment, like a safety squat bar or cambered bar.
These should be intense, but you’ll typically use a lighter weight than your working sets. This will allow you to focus on the pieces they address, whether it’s form and control improvement or emphasizing a muscle or stage of the range of motion, for example.
The third exercise is an isolated or accessory exercise to support the muscles used in the compound lift. You may choose to add two of these to your workout if you have extra time and energy.
Because these aren’t appropriate to measure a one rep max, the sheet won’t calculate your weight. You’ll need to select your own weights, record them, and progress them intuitively each week to increase the load.
After 8-12 weeks, you should have a deload week, where you train with less than 50% of your maxes for light reps. This will allow your body to recover while still moving and staying active.
|Reps x Sets||Weight|
|Seated Leg Extensions||3x10||Your choice|
|Bench Workout||Bench Press||5x5||180|
|Close-Grip Bench Press||4x8||146.25|
|Rope Tricep Pulldowns||3x15||Your choice|
|Bent-Over Row||3x10||Your Choice|
In the second week, the program adjusts up slightly to look like this:
|Reps x Sets||Weight|
|Seated Leg Extensions||3x10||Your choice|
|Bench Workout||Bench Press||5x5||186|
|Close-Grip Bench Press||4x8||152|
|Rope Tricep Pulldowns||3x15||Your choice|
|Bent-Over Row||3x10||Your Choice|
Who Should Follow a 5×5 Workout Program?
The 5×5 workout program is an excellent choice for individuals looking to build overall strength and muscle mass. It is designed to be progressive and focuses on compound exercises. As such, the 5×5 program is well-suited for individuals who want to see significant gains in strength and muscle mass in a relatively short period of time.
Some specific groups of people who may benefit from a routine like the 5×5 Stronglifts program include:
The program is simple and easy to follow, making it a good choice for individuals new to strength training. The focus on compound exercises ensures that beginners build a strong foundation in overall strength.
Beginners also see adaptations and improvements faster than developed lifters, making this a fantastic choice to get the most out of those newbie gains!
Individuals with Limited Time
The program is efficient and can be completed in a relatively short amount of time. By focusing on compound exercises, individuals can complete a full-body workout in just three days a week.
Of course, you can expand the frequency to 5 days a week, and add whatever additional exercises you want after completing your 5×5 sets, making it flexible as well!
The 5×5 program can be an excellent way for athletes to build strength and muscle mass that can help them perform better in their sport. The program can be tailored to the specific needs of the athlete, depending on their sport and position.
This can be suitable for mid-season and off-season training.
Individuals Looking to Build Muscle Mass
The program is designed to promote muscle growth and can be an excellent way for individuals looking to build muscle mass. By focusing on compound exercises, the program ensures that multiple muscle groups are targeted simultaneously, resulting in increased gains in muscle mass.
While the Internet will commonly tell you that high-rep sets are the only way to grow muscle, it’s simply not true. Sets of five reps on compound lifts, when done with proper intensity, will absolutely grow muscles when combined with a caloric surplus.
Who Should Not Follow a 5×5 Workout Program?
While the 5×5 workout program can be an effective way to build overall strength and muscle mass, it may not be suitable for everyone.
Here are a few groups of people who may not be good candidates for the program:
Individuals with Chronic Health Conditions
If you have a chronic health condition such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes, it’s important to consult with a doctor before starting any new exercise program. The 5×5 program can be physically demanding and may not be appropriate for individuals with certain health conditions.
Individuals with Injuries
If you have an existing injury, it’s important to consult with a doctor or physical therapist before starting any new exercise program. The 5×5 program may exacerbate existing injuries.
You may also have an injury that is just fine to work around while doing a 5×5 program, so keep that in mind and seek the advice of a professional!
The 5×5 program is designed to promote strength and muscle mass, which may not be as important for endurance athletes such as runners or cyclists.
Endurance athletes may benefit more from a program that focuses on cardiovascular and muscular endurance.
That said, these athletes might find value in a 5×5 program during their offseason to build and develop new muscles for the upcoming race season.
Individuals with Specific Fitness Goals
If you have specific fitness goals, such as improving your cardiovascular endurance or flexibility, or something outside of the intended results of building strength and muscle mass, a different type of exercise program may be more appropriate.
Even within the world of strength training, your goals may be better suited to a more specific bodybuilding or powerlifting program that addresses those goals more specifically.
Results You Can Expect When Following a 5×5 Workout Program
When following a 5×5 workout program, you can expect to see improvements in strength, muscle mass, bone density, and overall fitness. You may also notice changes in your body composition, including increased muscle mass and decreased body fat.
But most folks starting a 5×5 program really care about the strength gains! So what kind of expectations can you set for yourself?
Since the 5×5 scheme is the staple of the Starting Strength program, let’s use its linear progression model as an example.
In this linear model, you will add linear increases to the barbell each week for your 5x5s, meaning an equal jump in added pounds week after week.
In the chart below, I add 5 lbs each week to each lift.
Let’s say you are like this sample lifter, with the ability to squat 95 lbs, bench press 65 lbs, and deadlift 135 lbs, all for 5 sets of 5. You are able to successfully follow this linear progression for 12 weeks. By week 12, you’d be able to squat 150 lbs, bench press 120 lbs, and deadlift 190 lbs, each for a 5×5.
Now as far as disclaimers go, this is a chart, not real life. It’s true that beginning lifters can add linear increments to their weights and see progress, but every situation varies based on many variables.
It’s impossible to tell you exactly how much progress you’ll make with any given program, so don’t worry about knowing beforehand exactly where you’ll end!
What IS certain is that if you follow a sound 5×5 program, put in the work, and follow the principles of progressive overload, you will be stronger after 12 weeks and beyond!
While that expectation isn’t an exact number, that’s exactly the outcome you should look for. It’s worth pursuing, even if you can’t predict the exact pounds you’ll be able to move.
From there, you can start adjusting variables, look at progressing in a non-linear progression using percentages, or changing programs to keep the progress going.
What To Do After 5×5
After completing a 5×5 workout program, you may want to consider transitioning to a more advanced strength training program to continue building muscle and strength. This might include programs such as Wendler 5/3/1 or the Westside Barbell method.
Be sure to give yourself time with the program before making changes. Eight to 12 weeks should be the minimum, so you can assess your results and determine if something new is needed or if you can continue the program with heavier weights.
When you are ready to check out a new program, check out my individual program reviews, including the Candito Powerlifting Program and the Juggernaut AI app.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Should You Do a 5×5 Program?
The length of time you should follow a 5×5 program depends on your individual goals and progress. As a general rule, it’s recommended to follow the program for at least 8-12 weeks before deciding whether to continue with the program or switch to something else.
Is a 5×5 Program Good for Beginners?
Yes, the 5×5 program is an excellent program for beginners who are new to strength training. The program focuses on compound exercises that target multiple muscle groups simultaneously, making it an efficient and effective way to build overall strength and muscle mass.
Is the 5×5 Workout Program Suitable for Women?
Yes, the 5×5 workout program is suitable for both men and women. While women may have different fitness goals and require different nutritional needs, the program can be effective in increasing overall strength and building muscle mass.
Can I Do the 5×5 Workout Program at Home?
Yes, the 5×5 workout program can be done at home if you have access to a barbell, weight plates, and a squat rack or power rack.
Do I Need to Take Supplements to See Results From the 5×5 Workout Program?
No, supplements are not necessary to see results from the 5×5 workout program. While supplements such as protein powder may be helpful in supporting your overall nutrition and fitness goals, they are not a substitute for proper diet and exercise.
The 5×5 workout program is a popular and effective way to increase overall strength, build muscle mass, and improve athletic performance. By following the tips and guidelines outlined above, you can create a 5×5 workout routine tailored to your individual needs and goals.
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced lifter, the 5×5 workout program can be a valuable addition to your fitness routine. However, it’s important to remember that the program is just one part of a comprehensive fitness plan that should include proper nutrition, rest, and recovery.
About The Author
Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.