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The 5x5 Workout Routine for Massive Gains in Strength and Size

Author:

David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.

5X5 workouts build size and strength

5X5 workouts build size and strength

The 5X5 Workout Routine

If you want to increase your strength as well as your muscle size, there’s probably no better way of doing that than with a 5X5 workout routine.

The 5X5 system of training has been around for decades, and it's still one of the most popular training protocols around for the simple reason that it is so effective.

Reg Park used it in the 1950’s to build 20 inch arms and a 500lb bench press before steroids were ever used in the sport. Arnold Schwarzenegger (whose mentor was Reg Park) later used it in his training to lay down a solid foundation well before he ever used more conventional "bodybuilder style" training. And the method was further popularized in the 1970’s by legendary football strength coach Bill Starr, who used it to train all his athletes.

What Is The 5X5 Workout Program?

As its name suggests, the 5X5 system simply involves performing a group of exercises for 5 sets of 5 repetitions each. However there are a number of different ways you can go about doing this, depending on your goals and your stage of development.

5X5 training is best done with the big compound exercises, and it is normally set up as a full body workout, although an upper/lower split or even a push/pull/legs split can be equally effective - especially for those who have been training for a while.

A typical full body routine would involve a squat or a deadlift together with an upper body push and an upper body pull. Assistance exercises may be added afterwards if desired, but these would usually be done for a more conventional set and rep scheme such as 3 sets of 8.

The 5X5 workout routine offers benefits for both the beginner and the more advanced trainee, depending on the approach taken; the three most common approaches being as follows:

The Sets Across Method

This involves performing all 5 sets of 5 reps with the same weight (after your warm-ups), and it is an ideal beginners workout routine.

5 reps is the optimal number for building strength, and it’s also perfect for practicing technique. The reason for this is that form often deteriorates when done for much more than 5 reps, whereas when using reps lower than this the weights tend to get too heavy, which means that form needs to already be established in order to avoid injury.

And by doing 5 sets you’ll have sufficient volume to elicit a good muscle building response as well. Granted you may build muscle a little faster by doing 6 – 10 reps, but you’ll reach a plateau sooner too. By using 5X5 you’ll be able to continue to make progress for much longer, so your eventual results will be better.

When you start with this type of training it’s important to use relatively light weights so you can get a feel for the movements and practice proper technique. Even just the empty Olympic bar (20kg) is fine for most exercises. If you’ve been training for a while and feel this is too light you can start a bit heavier, but don’t go above about two thirds of your current 5 rep max.

Then simply add some weight to the bar on each exercise every time you train. By adding 5kg to your squat and deadlift and 2.5 kg to your other lifts you’ll quickly progress to using some respectable weights, and your size and strength will increase accordingly. In just 3 – 4 months you’ll be surprised at how much progress you’ll be able to make.

The Ramping Sets Method

This involves doing your first set with a fairly light weight, and then adding weight to the bar each set, so you work up (or ramp up) to one top weight set of 5.

For example you might start an exercise with 60kg for your first set, then increase to 75kg for your next set, then 90kg, then 105kg and finally 120kg for your final maximum weight set.

This works better for more advanced people, as doing 5 sets of 5 with the same weight will eventually become too taxing (as the weights become much heavier), and you’ll find you’ll be unable to recover from it properly. So your progress will grind to a halt.

Also you’ll be able to work up to a heavier final weight set. Your 5 rep max (5RM) will usually be about 85% of your one rep max (1RM). And by working up to one top weight set you’ll be able to get close to this figure for your final set. Whereas if you were doing all 5 sets with the same weight you could not realistically do this with more than about 80% of your 1RM. This is perfectly fine for beginners (say those in their first year or two of proper training), but when you are more advanced you’ll get better strength gains by going a bit heavier - at least occasionally.

The Partial Ramp

This is where you ramp up your first two or three sets and then do your final two or three sets with the same weight.

The partial ramp is an intermediate stage between the above two methods. It's the way Reg Park did it in the 50's, and it's still the best way to do it for most intermediate level trainees.

When you get to the point where you are unable to complete all 5 sets of 5 with the same weight, just reduce your number of top weight sets to three. But do two work-up sets first (i.e. a partial ramp). This should enable you to continue to make progress for much longer.

Then, when you find you cannot complete three sets of 5, drop down to two (and add an additional work-up set). And finally drop to just one top weight set; so you are now doing a full ramp.

When you then fail to do 5 reps on your single top weight set, give yourself two more attempts. And if you still aren't able to do it, it's time to de-load.

To do this, simply reduce the weight you are using for your top set by about 15%, and go back to doing three sets of 5 with this weight. Then just build it back up as before, and you should hit a new 5 rep max.

All in all, by starting with the sets across method and moving through the partial ramp to the full ramp, and then continuing by de-loading when necessary, you should be able to make progress on a training routine of this sort for a long period of time. Maybe a year or two – or perhaps even more.

The Ultimate Strength And Muscle Building Workout Routine?

It worked for Reg Park, Arnold Schwarzenegger and countless others, and doing a 5X5 workout routine as described here will work for you too. In fact there’s probably no better way to build muscle and strength for genetically typical, drug-free trainees.

Probably the best way to put the method into practice is to do two different full body workouts, and alternate these over three weekly training sessions, so each is worked three times every two weeks. The recommended workouts are as follows…

Workout A

  • Squat 5X5
  • Bench Press 5X5
  • Bent-Over Row 5X5

Workout B

  • Deadlift 1X5
  • Overhead Press 5X5
  • Chin-Ups 3X6-8

You’ll notice that in the deadlift I have suggested you do just one top weight set of 5 from the beginning. That should be enough for most people as deadlifts put an enormous amount of strain on the body. But you could do three sets if you wish, and if you recover well enough. But when you fail to complete all three sets, drop to one set immediately.

And for chin-ups, just do 3 sets of 6-8 reps (after two warm-up sets). If you can’t do full range chin-ups, start off with partial chins, and gradually increase the range of movement until you can do full hang chins. Then when you can do 3 sets of 8, start adding extra weight to them. You can also use partial range chins as warm-ups.

It’s important to perform all exercises with proper form and through a full range of movement if you want to get the best results from them. So ensure that in the squat you go right down until the tops of your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. And in the bench press the bar should touch your chest (it’s the bottom part of the movement that works the pecs most anyway). Partial movements give sub-par results, as well as leading to tight muscles and muscle imbalances, which can result in injury further down the line.

When you have been doing this program for a while, you could add a couple of extra exercises to it if you wish. Barbell curls can be added to workout A for 3 sets of 8 - 10; and parallel bar dips can be added to workout B for 2 sets of 10 - 12. This will give your arms some additional growth stimulation.

So if you are not getting the results you want with your current routine, or if you are looking for the ideal workout routine to get started with, give this 5X5 method a try and let me know how you get on with it. Or if you have any questions, just ask them in the comments below.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: So should I do workout A and then the next day workout B? How should I plan my weekdays?

Answer: No; always have at least one day off between workouts. This is designed to be a three day per week routine, so you can do either Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, or any other combination as long as you never train two days in a row.

Comments

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on September 14, 2020:

Thanks, Oscar. You are right, of course, I should take a bit more care to use appropriate photos, but I couldn't find one of Reg Park that was available for use. I'll have another look at some point.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on September 14, 2020:

I always like to warm up for the big exercises (squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press) with a light set of 10 first, then increase to about 55% of my top weight for 7 reps, then 75% for 5 and finally 90% for 3. This last set is not essential for bench and overhead press, unless you are quite advanced. For anything else, just a couple of warm-ups is fine, maybe for 8 reps and then 5 reps.

Oscar Ortiz on September 10, 2020:

Hello again David,

I myself love 5 x 5 workouts, also 7 x 2 and variations such as 5, 5, 3, 3, 2, 2... or 5,4,3,2,1 (Steve Stanko's style).

Now, the reason of me stopping by is because of the anchor image in this posting.

Same as the mismatched Robby's pic for the FBW article, Dorian Yates is NOT the poster child of 5 x 5's.

Even though Reg Park didn't invented it, he made it pretty popular through his 1960 training course "Strength & Bulk Training for Weight Lifters and Body Builders". He would've been just perfect.

Dorian Yates' photo, on the other hand, is more appropriate for a High Intensity article. Him or the most famous proponent of it, Mike Mentzer.

Thank you for your time.

Keep up the great work!

Toni on September 09, 2020:

Thank you and hello again!

What kind of warm-up do you recommend to the 5x5 exercises?

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on September 09, 2020:

Hi Tony. I always do a light warm-up first, and then 7, 5, 3 as work-up sets, with about 55%, 75% and 90% of top weight. Then finally do the working set.

Toni on September 09, 2020:

Hello!

Is deadlift 1 x 5, performed as full ramp?

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on November 11, 2019:

Yes; I would do 2 or 3 cycles, each about 8 weeks in length. Then switch it up. Though, personally, I'd probably do a period of lighter training before going back to Wendler.

Tim on November 10, 2019:

Finished Wendler's 5/3/1 for seven cycles and made great gains. I thought it would be good to change it and started doing Park's 5x5 for beginners. I am using the Partial Ramp and so far the program is great this at 51 years old. My question to you is how long should I cycle through this program? I was thinking between 4 and 5 months and then back to 5/3/1.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on October 21, 2019:

If you are only in your second week of training you should not be struggling with anything. You should be using light weights and practising your form. Then add weight gradually and you will progress well. It will be the right workout for you if you want to build a good solid base of strength and size, on which you can further build and refine later on.

Darren on October 18, 2019:

How can i know this is the workout for me?

Ive never been athletic. Im in my second week and im struggling with the bench press and overhead press. I use an app to follow and set the plan.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on March 28, 2019:

Well, it was very sensible to condition your body with calisthenics and cardio before starting weight training. But now you are training with weights you need to focus on that, which means limiting the amount of cardio you are doing, if you want to get the best results.

Also, why are you just doing workout A? Alternate workouts A and B to give better balance and improve recovery. Train hard, but not excessively so. That is, don't train to failure or grind out the last rep. Eat a calorie surplus with plenty of protein, and ensure you get enough rest and sleep. If you are not gaining weight, you may just have to eat more.

However, bear in mind that a month is not very long, and to see decent gains will take much longer than that. Best of luck.

Larry on March 27, 2019:

Hey just got into exercising and working out. I conditioned my body with cardio and calisthenics. Working my way into this five by five. I'm 5'7' and only 120lbs. Doing the A workout for about a month, still tough to gain weight though and I eat well and often. Any ideas to help with the gains?

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on November 21, 2018:

No, this is an absolutely basic routine consisting of a squat or deadlift together with an upper body push and an upper body pull. Chest is still being trained three times every two weeks, but you could add parallel bar dips to workout B if you wish, as stated later in the article.

Paul on November 21, 2018:

There is no training for chest on workout b.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on November 04, 2017:

I'd suggest Texas. But you might want to replace power cleans with rows (for sets of 5) and you could add an assistance exercise or two at the end of each workout if you want.

Steve on November 03, 2017:

What about after madcow?

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on May 25, 2017:

Be careful with that back John. Make sure your technique on all the lifts is spot on, don't ever miss reps or grind reps, and maybe reduce your overall volume a bit if you need to. All the popular 5x5 programs I know of have you squatting three times per week, but I think alternating with deadlifts is better for most people, with the possible exception of absolute beginners. Or you could squat twice per week and dealift once per week.

John Gunderson on May 25, 2017:

Do you know of verison of 5x5 (like your example) I can look up where your not squating 3 times per week? I had a lot of back pain with starting strength and stronglifts.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on May 24, 2017:

Yes you do John.

John Gunderson on May 24, 2017:

When you become an intermediate and ramp, do you still rotate two different (a/b) workouts?

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on May 07, 2017:

You can't realistically do a routine like SL 5x5 at your age, on a calorie deficit and with a sub-optimal sleep pattern. Definitely cut back to 3x5, and for deadlifts just work up to one set of 5 at your top weight. But if you're still feeling tired take a week off and resume as stated. Or do the plan here where you are not squatting three times per week.

Tanveer on May 07, 2017:

I m 51 and 117 kg keeping my calories intake at 1800 per day. Doing SL 5x5 for 1.5 month. Now feeling tired as I have to my job in two shifts. My sleep is 5 hours in splits. Should I continue or use some other plan like 3x5. Kindly guide

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on January 30, 2017:

Sorry Steph; I only just saw your comment as I wasn't notified of it for some reason. Your routine is ok, but I think training 6 days per week will become too much after a while. You'd be better doing a routine like this 4 days per week, or using the rotating 5 day cycle (2 on, 1 off,1 on, 1 off). But personally I still think upper/lower splits are the best way to train for most people.

Steph on July 23, 2016:

What about working out 6 days a week (Push/Pull)? I've been doing the following and have seen gains in strength. I'm wondering what you think about my routine:

Day 1- Bench Press, Standing Bicep Curls, Weighted Dips, EZ bar Curls

Day 2 - Low Row, Triceps Press, Pull ups, Tricep Extensions

Day 3 - Squats, Shoulder Press, Leg Press, Arnold Press

Day 4- Bench Press, Standing Bicep Curls, Dips, EZ bar Curls

Day 5 - Low Row, Triceps Press, Pull ups, Tricep Extensions

Day 6 - Deadlift, Shoulder Press, Lying Leg Curl, Arnold Press

Rest on the 7th.

Your feedback is appreciated.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on May 05, 2016:

Just rest as long as you need to fully recover; but about 3 minutes should suffice.

Frank on May 02, 2016:

How long of rest between sets and between exercises?

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on October 28, 2015:

Glad to hear you are making good progress Chris. Yes your recovery should be better with a full ramp, but I don't like to stay on that. Best to alternate between the full ramp and partial ramp, going back to partial ramp when you de-load.

Chris V on October 24, 2015:

Perfect. Now I have an idea on how to ramp.

Now I am doing partial ramps, 2 warm up sets, 3 working sets. Progress has been good.

5'8", 165 lb.

Current 3x5 stats:

Squat: 215 lb

Deadlift: 220 lb

Bench press: 175

Press: 80 lb

Rows: 120 lb

The only thing I hope is that when I do finally switch to full ramp, that my recovery would be a whole lot better.

Thanks, David.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on October 24, 2015:

20% is far too low. Madcow's version is good, though I personally like to start just a bit higher, at 55%.

So it would be 55, 67.5, 80, 90, 100 - or thereabouts; it doesn't have to be exact.

Chris V on October 23, 2015:

Thanks for writing back.

How do you ramp up? I know Reg Park uses 60% and 80% of 5 rm for sets 1 and 2. But what about ramping to a 1 top set? What is a good percentage?

How about 20%, 40%, 60%, 80%, 100%?

Or Madcows' version, 50%, 62.5%, 75%, 87.5%, 100%?

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on October 22, 2015:

Thanks Chris

You'll need to increase your number of reps for the most part, and add in some extra exercises to increase your total volume. Check out my hub on the upper/lower split, or look at my blog for push/pull/legs if you want a more "bodybuilding style" of workout routine.

Chris V on October 21, 2015:

Great Article!

After I have built a great strength foundation and I decide to focus more on hyperhrophy, how do I go about it in terms of sets and reps?

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on September 02, 2014:

Glad to hear about your success Joe. Yes the Stronglifts program is a really good one.

Joe on September 01, 2014:

I have started a 5x5 strong lift program and in one months time, I feel the difference from when I was doing bodybuilding type of exercises.

I only work out 3 times a week. 20 minutes of warmups and stretchings.

approx 60 to 70 minutes trainning. 1 day: sqats,bench, presses.

2 day: sqats,bb rows,dead lifts. 3 day: sqats,bench,presses.and so on. always 5x5. always 2 minute rests. always finish with full body stretches. So approx 2 hrs of well spent time. Lost sme weight and getting stronger.

O

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on June 29, 2014:

Yes it is frustrating isn't it? Hope it all goes well when you start back.

James Miles on June 29, 2014:

Good news and thank you for the swift response!

I'll chat with the osteopath next week and see when I can get back in the gym. Not exercising has been the most frustrating thing and the all body work out seems a good way to maximise my return!

Thanks again.

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on June 29, 2014:

Hi James

Sorry to hear about your back injury. Sounds like you were doing good before that. Substituting the exercises you suggest for squats and deadlifts does not defeat the entire purpose. You will not get the same overall size and strength gains but you will still have a decent workout and should still make good progress.

James Miles on June 29, 2014:

Hi,

I've been training for a few years, naturally slim but managed to go from 12 stone to 14 stone, no real fat gains either but definitely hit a plateau towards the end. I had an accident last year (not gym related) where I damaged a disc in my back and so no exercise for a while.

Appreciate you aren't a doctor (and I will seek medical advice before starting to go back to the gym) but I like the look of this routine but also know I will be unable to do squats or dead lifts anymore. If I replace these with cable split squats and sitting hamstring isolation exercises, does it defeat the whole object of the routine (and your other full body routine)?

Thanks in advance for any advice!!!

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on December 30, 2013:

The old school 70's routines are excellent when you are a bit more advanced. But first build a good strength foundation with a routine like this 5x5 system. After 6 months you could try 8 sets of 3, ramping the weight up each set, for a couple of months. Then you could go back to 5x5 for a while, but when you are getting quite strong don't try to do all 5 sets with the same weight. Ramp the weights up instead. And take a week off every 4 months or so to allow full recuperation. Hope that helps.

Giovanni Velasquez on December 30, 2013:

I've been weight training for about 9 months but I feel as if I don't have a strong foundation and really would like to get much stronger would this 5x5 be ideal or not I was going to do an old school 70's routine

BeBrown on May 03, 2013:

Thanks for the visit, I've linked back to here :)

David (author) from Birmingham, UK on May 03, 2013:

No, not at all. I'd appreciate it. Stronglifts is a good program. I'll take a look at your hub too.

BeBrown on May 02, 2013:

Goo, informative hub. I have just written a hub about the stronglifts 5x5.Would you mind if I placed a link to this hub?

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