The 5x5 Workout for Massive Gains in Strength and Size
The 5X5 Workout Routine
If you want to increase your strength as well as your muscle size, and maybe burn off some excess fat at the same time, there’s probably no better way of doing it than with a 5X5 workout routine.
The 5X5 system of training has been used for decades and is 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 body part splits or higher rep 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, a 5X5 workout is simply a program of exercises performed for 5 sets of 5 repetitions each. However there are a number of different ways you can actually go about doing this, depending on your goals and your stage of development.
5X5 training is best used with the big compound exercises, and it is normally done as a full body workout, although upper/lower splits can be just as 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 warm-ups), and 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 too. Granted you may build muscle a little faster by doing 6 – 10 reps, but you’ll reach a plateau much sooner. 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.
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.
What's your favorite method of training?
The Ultimate Strength And Muscle Building Workout?
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…
Bench Press 5X5
Barbell Row 5X5
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 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 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 lead to tight muscles and muscle imbalances, and this can result in injury further down the line.
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 the 5X5 workout a try to let me know how you get on. Or if you have any questions, just ask them in the comments below.