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A Look at the 5X5 Program

The 5x5 Program Ascending Ramp Examples

Training, like most things in the universe, tends to follow fads and trends.  Popular programs go out of style and others become the ‘next best thing’.   Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad.

In recent years, people have gotten fairly fascinated with what is a truly classic program: the 5×5 program.  Since this system happens to be an excellent way of training, this is one of those cases where the fad isn’t a bad thing at all.

In this article I want to look briefly at the history of the 5×5 program as well as at some of the various interpretations that have been used over the years.  One source of confusion comes in that there are so many different ways to interpret 5×5 (depending on the goals and status of the lifter) and just saying that you’re doing “5×5” doesn’t really give all of the details.

So let’s look at the details.

The History of the 5×5 Program

I’m not sure if anybody can say for sure who first did a program consisting of 5 sets of 5 repetitions; it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if lifters in the early 20th century didn’t do something similar since they seem to have tried just about everything at one point or another.

However, almost without exception, the program can be mostly attributed to Bill Starr in his book The Strongest Shall Survive: Strength Training for Football.  Even if others had done it before him, he was assuredly the one who did the most to popularize it.  Even decades later this is still an excellent book and I highly recommend it.

Now, here’s an amusing bit of trivia that I bet most aren’t aware of; and that is how Starr actually came up with 5X5 in the first place.  Quoting Starr himself:

The researchers found that 4-6 repetitions of 4-6 sets, increasing the weight on each successive set, produced the most significant increase in strength.  Terrific, I simplified the formula to five sets of five reps as that was the exact median and it was easy to remember.

In recent years, strength coaches such as Glenn Pendlay and Mark Rippetoe have re-popularized the 5X5 program and it is often recommended as a beginner training program.  There are many other write-ups (including the Madcow writeup of 5X5 programs) out there as well.

Basically, the 5X5 program is here to stay and there’s a good reason for that: it’s an excellent program for many applications.  It may not be the be-all, end-all that some seem to think it, but there are definitely a lot worse ways that the average trainee could train than this.

What is the 5X5 Program?

In the simplest terms 5X5 refers to a program made up of 5 sets of 5 repetitions.  As I noted above, Starr came up with this by simplifying data showing that 4-6 sets of 4-6 reps was about optimal for strength gains.

In many situations, repeat sets of 5 are a good choice.  They allow the trainee to train with a heavy weight but still get a decent volume in.   With higher repetitions, lighter weights would be required.  With heavier weights, the repetitions per set would have to drop.

As I discussed previously, sets of 5 are actually in the range that I commonly use for hypertrophy anyhow.  Generally speaking a maximum set of 5 will be about 85% of maximum and lifter will use a bit less if they are doing more than one set.

That’s a weight that provides sufficient tension to get maximal muscle fiber recruitment; 5 reps also allows sufficient work to be done with that weight.  High tension plus metabolic work is a winning combination for both strength and size.  Especially combined with load progression over time.

As well, since the metabolic fatigue from a 5 rep set tends to be fairly low (compared to higher repetitions sets), technique is often much more stable compared to higher rep sets.  When fatigue starts to hit on higher rep sets, lifters without stable technique often get sloppy.  Stopping at 5 reps avoids much of that.  This means that sets of 5 (or lower repetitions in general) can be useful to learn new exercises.

I would note that this can also go the other way around, especially as the reps get lower than 5 and the weights get heavier.  Groove becomes much more critical as the reps get lower; whereas lifters can often save a lift that is out of position when the reps are higher, their technique has to be much more consistent to do low reps without getting into problems.

The 5X5 Program for Powerlifting

I should note that there are critics of the 5X5 for certain applications, notably competition powerlifting.  The usual criticism is that 5X5 doesn’t provide enough heavy first reps to prepare someone for powerlifting.  A routine based around triples, doubles and singles are often preferred since this not only lets you go heavier but you get more properly done first reps which is a key to optimal powerlifting performance.  There is much merit to this approach.

However, I don’t recall the 5X5 being explicitly recommended for powerlifting so I’m not sure it’s a particularly valid criticism.  5X5 is a good way of building basic strength (and some decent size if you do it right) and that’s what it’s typically presented as.

Admittedly, some on the web (as people on the web are wont to do) have tried to make 5X5 the ultimate training program for all applications but that has more to do with people on the web than how 5X5 was ever really presented or meant to be used.

However, even saying that the program is 5X5 still doesn’t get into the details and that’s what I want to talk about next since there are at least 4 different interpretations of the 5X5 program that I’m aware of (and some folks have probably come up with more).

The Beginner 5X5 Program: Ascending Ramp

The beginner 5X5 program is actually an ascending pyramid or ramp from a light weight up to a single top set of 5 repetitions.  This was how Starr described his original program although I’m not sure it was exactly keeping with the research he was basing it on (it’s been years since I saw the original paper he based his recommendations on).

So a beginning lifter might do something like 45X5, 65X5, 85X5, 105X5, 125X5.  At every workout, they might try to add 5 lbs to the top set (or to each set) as their strength and technique improves.  For the most part, only the top set is a working set.

I say “for the most part” because when you work out the percentages being used, the top three sets actually end up being in a range that is sufficient to stimulate gains in beginners (roughly 60%+ of maximum).  But at this point I’m getting even more nerdy than I can stand so I’ll stop there.

As the lifter progress, often the top three sets end up being fairly stressful and one common modification of the beginner 5X5 approach is to cut the reps on the intermediate sets.  So rather than performing 5 reps each set, a lifter might go 5, 4, 3, 2 and then really give it their all on the top set of 5.

By limiting fatigue on the earlier sets, the lifter can give the top set more effort.  This approach is commonly only used towards the end of a beginner 5X5 program when the lifter is starting to move some decent weights.  Rank beginners should be performing all 5 reps on each of the 5 sets for technical and practice reasons as much as anything else.

Using the 5X5 Ascending Ramp for Learning a New Exercise

Now, I really like this interpretation of 5X5 for certain applications.  Training beginning lifters is one of them and this ties into an issue of teaching and motor learning.

When beginners are learning a new lift, they need to do a lot of perfect repetitions in order to not only learn but ingrain good technique.  The 5X5 ramp/ascending pyramid is a good way to do with this and have often used it to teach new movements.

So the lifter might start with the bar and perform do 5 perfect reps (ideally the lifter is being given coaching cues throughout).  Then depending on the movement and the trainee, weight (5-20 pounds) are added and 5 more reps are done; again with coaching being given.

If the lifter starts to get sloppy, I’d personally have them stay with the same weight for the remainder of the sets.  If technique stays solid, more weight is added until all 5 sets are done.  At the next workout, the lifter would start a little bit higher on the first set and pyramid up again (hopefully to a new top set).    A series of workouts might look like this:

5x5 Ascending Ramp Examples

Just gradually adding weight to every set so long as technique is staying stable at the heavier weights.

I’d note that a key to this is that the lifter is getting feedback from a coach more or less constantly at this point.  It’s no use to just go through the motions of 5X5 while adding weight on each set and thinking you’re doing it correctly.

One very large danger of un-coached lifters using the 5X5 is a tendency to go too heavy too quickly when there isn’t a coach to save them from their own impatience.

In any case, if there is a coach doing things right, each day the lifter should be getting 25 technically good reps (with technique improving over a series of workouts) with progressively heavier weights.  I you do the math, across three workouts per week, that’s 75 reps, across a 12 week cycle that’s nearly 1000 good repetitions (again, assuming the coach ensures that they are doing them correctly).  That’s the way to learn a movement.

Other Benefits of the 5X5 Ascending Ramp

As well, training this way not only helps with technique improvements but starts to teach the lifter how to push and focus more as things get heavier.  Each set with a heavier weight requires them to get a little bit tighter, concentrate a bit more, be a little bit more intent on keeping form solid as things get difficult.  Exerting effort in the weight room is learned skill like any other and this type of program is a good way to start teaching that to newbie lifters.

I’ve also used the 5X5 ascending ramp for reintroducing an exercise after a long layoff.  Things usually move faster (because technique is already established) but starting light and pyramiding up lets lifters get their groove back faster than trying to go too heavy too fast.  Over a handful of workouts, lifters can regain their technique and a lot of their strength by using a 5X5 ascending pyramid and adding weight on each set (and then starting a bit higher the next workout).

Reiterating the above, with this type of approach the early sets are basically always light enough to be done perfectly which is good for reinforcing proper technique.  As well, the gradually increasing loads teaches the lifter to maintain proper form and focus as things get a little bit more difficult.  As well, the top set is still stimulating strength gains so there is usually quick progress (positive feedback being a key aspect of keeping trainees continuing to train when they first start).

Again, the biggest potential drawback is that, left to their own devices, un-coached lifters will invariably add too much weight too quickly and their form will go down the toilet.  Or they’ll get hurt.  In that situation, using a higher repetition range (to limit the weight that can be used) may be a safer approach than the 5X5.

But, as noted, the 5X5 ascending pyramid is primarily for beginners; at some point, a single top set is no longer sufficient to stimulate much in the way of strength or size gains and more volume is needed.  Which is when folks typically move to the other common 5X5 interpretation.

The Intermediate 5X5 Program: Sets Across

The common next step after the beginner 5X5 ramp is what is usually referred to as 5X5 sets across.  The “sets across” means that the same weight is used for each of the 5 sets of 5.  Those sets are done after an appropriate warm-up so the lifter will be doing more than 5 total sets in practice.

Depending on the work weights, anywhere from 3-5 warm-up sets might be done prior to the 5 heavy work sets.  This can make for a long day which is why this is usually only used for a handful of exercises per workout (with additional work being done for a handful of higher repetition sets).

I’ve seen some routines where people wanted to try to do 5X5 sets across for a whole bunch of exercises, by the time you add in warm-up sets, the daily workout volume ends up way too high for most of it to be productive.

After doing warm-up sets, the goal of 5X5 across is to do all 5 sets of 5 with the same weight.  This pretty much requires that the load be less than the 85% value I threw out above; someone would have to have one hell of a work capacity/recovery ability to do 5 true maximal sets of 5 in a row.  Typically 75-80% of maximum might be used.

One general rule of thumb that is often imposed is that if you get less than 14 total repetitions across 5 sets (the goal is 25 reps), the weight is too heavy.    Usually this happens when the first set of 5 is too close to a true maximum.  Under those conditions, most experience fairly large repetition drop-offs with each set.

Another that is often applied is that if a lifter goes to the gym and sees a huge rep drop off after one set, they should call the workout and go home.  So if someone warmed up and then did 5 reps, 5 reps and then only got 2 reps, they should be done for the day.  This is a situation where the lifter is probably too tired to train effectively but not so tired that they can’t dig themselves deeper into the hole of insufficient recovery

Progressing 5X5 Sets Across

In this approach to the 5X5 program, when all 5 sets are achieved with the same poundage, the weight on the bar should be increased as the next workout.  How much would depend on the movement and weight being lifted by 5-10 lbs on bench, squat and deadlift and 2.5-5 lbs on everything else would usually be appropriate.

Once lifters get some training momentum going, especially if they are eating enough, they may find that they get all 5 sets of 5 for several workouts even as they add weight.  Or they might find that they add weight and don’t get all 25 reps, maybe they only get 23 (5,5,5,5,3).  In that case, they should stay at the current weight until all 25 reps are achieved before increasing.

Basically the goal of the 5X5 sets across program is to get a good whack of volume with heavy but not maximum weights and then letting the workout autoregulate itself such that getting all 25 reps means going up.  This is often coupled with a second workout, usually a 5X5 ascending set to a top set in the same week.

Other 5X5 Interpretations

While I think it’s safe to say that the above two interpretations are the most common (other approaches to 5X5 being more about cumulative loading patterns than individual workouts), there are at least two others that I have seen and/or used that I think are useful and worth discussing.  Both are simply truncated versions of the 5X5 sets across.

The Truncated 5X5 Workout: Warmups + 2 Sets Across

In one version, only 2 sets of 5 are done at the same weight, often after 3 lighter warm-up sets.  The program is still technically 5X5 but only 2 heavy sets are done.    When I have personally done programs like this I was never married to it having to be 5 total sets per exercise or 5 reps per set, especially on warm-ups.  I’d do as many warm-ups as I needed, usually dropping the repetitions as I went to my two top sets.

A typical workout might look like this

135X5, 185X3, 225X1, 265X1, 275X5, 275X5

So it’s technically 6 sets, 4 warm-ups and 2 work sets, with the repetitions dropping during the warm-up sets to conserve energy for the two grinder sets of 5.  Since only 2 sets of 5 are being done in this approach (this was John Christy’s default program), both can be much closer to limit sets than the standard 5X5 sets across.

So whereas 5X5 sets across might require the lifter to work at 75-80%, a 2 sets of 5 program can be 80 or even 85% of maximum if the rest interval is long enough.  This can make for some grindy and gruelling (both physically and mentally) workouts since they are all basically maximum sets.  If you want to go really nuts, you can do your 2 grinder sets of 5 and then follow it up with a set of 20-reps, at least on squats.

The Powerbuilding 5X5: 3X5 plus 8X10

A program at least similar to the above was presented by John McCallum.  Here you did 2 warm-up sets of 5 to 3 heavy sets of 5 at the same weight.  As with the 2X5 variant, those sets are worked much closer to maximum. This was usually followed by some higher rep pump/volume types of training for maximum growth.  In one of his more insane programs, the 3X5 heavy sets was followed by 8 sets of 10 with a 30 second rest.  Power bodybuilding or pure insanity?  You make the call.

When is the Truncated Approach Appropriate?

I find that the above two interpretations can be good when:

  1. A lifter is working with extremely heavy weights (very near a true 5 repetition maximum).
  2. A lifter has poor work capacity or poor ability to repeat sets with a heavy weight.

Both of these are actually related to the same reason: in both situations, trying to perform 5 sets of 5 with the same weight would mean reducing the weight so much that the optimum range (in terms of the percentage of max) for gaining strength or size is eliminated.   If you can only get all 5 sets of 5 by working at 60-65% of maximum for some reason, I don’t see that as particularly productive.    You’d be better off doing fewer heavy sets and working at a higher percentage under most conditions.

Yeah, sure, work capacity can be improved but, realistically, some people just suck at doing repeat sets with heavy weights, a couple of heavy sets and they are done for the day.  In that case, cutting the volume to keep the load up (and then making up the volume with higher rep work) may be a better option.  Both the 2X5 and 3X5 interpretations accommodate that.

The 5X5 Decreasing Set Approach

A final approach to 5X5 I want to mention basically combines the 5X5 Sets Across and 5X5 Truncated 5X5 together in a more or less auto-regulatory way.  Essentially the trainee starts with the 5X5 sets across workout, attempting to perform all 5 sets with the same weight as described above.

So long as they are able to get all 5 sets of 5 they add weight to the bar.  They continue doing this for as long as they can.  However, at some point many lifters reach a point that no matter how long they wait, they can’t ever get all 5 sets of 5 when the weight goes up.

In that situation, I recommend dropping the 5th set entirely so the workout becomes warm-ups to 4 sets of 5 at the same weight.  So long as they get all 4 sets of 5 they keep adding weight.

5x5 Decreasing Set Example

Eventually the same thing happens and they are only getting 5 reps on the first 3 sets and can’t ever progress the 4th set to all three repetitions.  So drop the 4th and make the workout warm-ups to 3 sets of 5. and continue adding weight.

When that stalls, drop to 2 sets of 5.   Many will be able to keep pushing the weights up on 2 sets of 5 for extended periods.  When they finally stall on the second set, drop to a single top set of 5.  When that stalls, deload by reducing bar weight by 15-20% and start over.

Approached this way, the 5X5 program becomes an auto-regulated volume to intensity taper.  You get the volume when you’re capable and gradually drop volume as the intensity goes up, hopefully reaching a new peak/5 rep PR at which point you back cycle and do it again.  Or change rep range.  Or take up golf.  Or….

Summary of the 5X5 Program

So that’s a look at the history and basics of the 5X5 program, along with some variations and alternate interpretations.  While the program is not the be-all, end-all that many think it is, it is a solid approach to training that can be useful under certain circumstances.

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50 thoughts on “A Look at the 5X5 Program

  1. John McCallum’s “Keys to Progress” is a much more popular book than his “Keys to Inner Progress” which is more of “Chickensoup for the Lifter’s Soul”.

  2. Ryan

    I confused two book titles when I wrote the piece, it’s been corrected. Keys to the Inner Universe is Bill Pearl’s book, the McCallum book I wanted was The Complete Keys to Progress.


  3. great article!
    im doing pretty well on 5×5 (3 top sets). but after a few month of linear progress im stalling. would you prefer just to lower weights and go on with the same system or change to a more more repetitions system?

  4. John

    there are many ways of approaching it. Perhaps the simplest is to backcycle the weight, drop the work weights by perhaps 20% and then build back up over the course of a month. That often is more than sufficient to get progress moving again. Mark Rippetoe discusses this at length in Practical Programming.

    Changing to another repetition range is also workable, but that would depend on the goals of the trainee in this case.


  5. Right now I’m using a simple program Paul Wrenn told me about.

    You basically do 5 sets of 3 reps with a given weight, then work your way up to 5×5 with that weight (for example, 5×3 the first week, 5×4 the second, 5×5 the third).

    Once you reach 5×5, you ad 10 or 20 lbs and start over with 5×3 (these five sets do not include warm-up).

    I ad some training volume with other movements after doing five sets on the main lift for that workout (either squat or bench).

  6. How much rest time is allowed between sets on the 5X5? And, does it vary with the different interpretations you’ve mentioned?

  7. What is the ideal time that one should rest between sets?

  8. It really depends on the interpretation and how close to limits each set is. If you’re failry submaximal, there’s not a whole lot of reason to sit around endlessly between sets. 1-2 minutes might be fine. When it gets very heavy (nearer max on each set), you might need 3-5 minutes between sets to get the best quality.

  9. This seems a good article and I understand the 5×5 a lot more.

    How often should the same muscle group be targeted on a 5×5 program? once per week, twice?

  10. You mentioned in the article that you agree w/ Rippetoe that deadlifts should be done w/ one work set to avoid overtraining. How can you reconcile that statement w/ the 5×5 versions floating around in the web that recommends doing sets across for deadlifts?

    Nice article by the way.

  11. Jamie: You’d have to ask the folks recommending 5X5 across on deads what their rationale is. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t read minds. But 5X5 sets across on deadlifts is a massive workload for most people unless the intensity is kept pretty low.

    Matt: Addressing frequency would take another article but the typical interpretations usually hit everthing at least twice per week (and some will work full body three times per week, usually on a heavy/light/medium kind of system).

  12. Great article. Explains why my workouts are 2hrs long and stay that way no matter how I try to speed them up.

    I read about the 5×5 across long ago and forced all my workouts into it. I use a 6 rep max, and am able to do a full 5×5 across, usually having to take one knee between sets so I don’t pass out. I do it for everything except pull ups, for which I do a ladder that totals 105 (trying to double Arnold’s recommended daily allowance of 50 per session).

    The thing is, my body got used to it after about 6 months until I recently started lifting 6 days out of 7 (I got a candida infection, though I’m male, and went on a no-carb diet to starve the yeast, so I increased my training out of fear I’d lose muscle.)

    Once I increased to 6 days a week I’ve found myself unable to finish the 5×5 across. (And I’ve gotten joint issues.)

    But unless you get stupid like I did, it seems you can adapt to a full 5×5 across.

  13. Just for historical significance… Almost certainly Reg Park was the first to formalize the 5×5 scheme. One of Park’s chores as a child was to shovel coal for his grandparents and he would do 5 scoops on one side and 5 scoops on the other, back and forth – this was so he could keep working without tiring on one side quickly. When he was in serious training (before 1951) he surmised that to get bigger he must get stronger, so he remembered his shoveling procedure and dropped the reps from the then popular count of 10 down to 5 and did 5 sets to get enough total reps (but only 3 with the top weight). At that time (late 1940s/early 1950s), multiple sets per exercise were also somewhat of a rarity. A few years after that Park was building up to just one top set of 5 reps, and spent the rest of his career training himself and others with various interpretations of what he always considered “his 5 by 5”. Park began writing about 5×5 in the early -to-mid 1950s in his “Reg Park Journal” in the U.K. Starr didn’t appear on the 5×5 scene until more than at least 10 years later.

  14. I’m doing 5×5 across and am LOVING it. And I do only 5 exercises with it per workout 3 times per week. 4 out of 5 are compounds. I even start one workout with deadlifts for 5×5 and have gained 20lbs on it in a month. It is a taxing workout but strength gains are nice and I believe mass gains will catch up with strength gains.

    I really don’t get that 1×5 for deadlifts only.. not much use out of that. But, Rippetoes does know his stuff..

  15. I’m currently doing a slightly adjusted version of stronglifts 5×5 to get in shape for rugby in the fall, due to a collarbone fracture about 2 months ago. Stronglifts happens to be a 5×5 across type of workout. As it stands now, I’m working with much lighter weights [struggling around 185 last workout but still made it, will probably stall soon] when I was previously up around 225 for the back squat. Would switching to a 5×5 ascending benefit short term hypertrophy/strength gains due to higher weights, as well as allow me to recover my strength faster due to a lower volume?

    I find your system of slowly blending a 5×5 across into a 5×5 ascending as one stalls very intuitive as well, something I was already considering halfway through this article. Good to have some instant affirmation!

  16. I try to do 5×5 straight across, but sometimes wear out near the end. Instead of doing a truncated last set, I drop the weight a little – take 10 pounds off say. Is this a good idea or not? It is better to stay at the higher weight and do fewer reps?

  17. Cord: As noted in the article, not everyone can get 5X5 with the same weight. One approach is to simply drop the last set. Dropping the weight is ok too.

  18. My confusion with the 5×5 is at what point do you switch to lower reps (if at all) and how close to your 1rm do you train the 5×5. I’m at 75% of my 1rm for bench with the 5×5, when should I retest my 1rm and should I switch to 5×3 at 80% of 1rm? Thanks. Great article.

  19. Your second question about loading is answered explicitly in the article.

    As to the second, switch reps when you stop progressing with the higher reps.

  20. Thanks, I’ll read it again.

  21. Thanks again. I read “Some Last Comments”, that answered everything. This was a great article and i appreciate that you didn’t fill it with technical language, it was comprehensible. Can’t tell you how many times I overhear people at the gym talking like they have a PHD yet they are lifting the same or less then the year before. Peace.

  22. Great article, thanks again.
    You mentioned people who likes to do a bunch of their excercises 5×5, which leads to long hours at the gym and unproductive/ less productive training.

    My program divided into 2, day one is lower-body workout, and day two upper body. I like doing the “main exercices” (DL/Squats, Bench press, Chins/ Cable row) in a 5×5 fashion, alternating antagonistic excercises.
    What amount of sets and reps do you suggest for all the other excercises? Using common sense, I’ve gone with 3×6 (again, alternate supersetting). With two or three heavy exercises after the main ones.

    My goal is strenght gains to support my MMA-hobby.

  23. I would probably move accessory stuff to higher rep ranges, 2-3 sets of 8 or even higher (e.g. 10-12). If for no other reason than to limit joint stress (5X5 can pound on things and too much heavy work makes connective tissues fall apart).

  24. Thank you Lyle,
    so in order to gain pure strenght and explosiveness, would you say that a gym program consisting of 5 sets for 5 (across) and three sets of 8-12 for accessory moves like incline BP, one-arm DB row, dips, bicep curls, straight-leg DL’s, leg press machine (or whatever you call it in English) etc. should work fine?
    Or am I approaching this from the wrong direcion?

  25. All your compound exercises should be 5 x 5 (dead lifts, squats, SLDL, bench, dips, pullups, etc) followed be isolated exercises at 3 x 8-10 (calf raises, curls, tricep extensions, shoulder raises, etc) to fill in any gaps.

  26. Great article!

    I am wondering, I have been doing a set of 8 then 6 then 4 then burnout (15-20) on my chest workouts (flat bench, incline, decline, db etc). I have experienced great results. Four and a half months ago when I started working out again after a couple years off I was only starting with about 165 lbs and ending with 185 lbs (for the set of four) on the flat bench. Now, after alittle over four months of only working out 3-4 times a week, I am starting with 240 lbs and ending with 260 lbs. I have consistently been able to add 5 lbs almost every week.

    What do you think about this set/rep range? I am hesistant to change what has been working so well for me but I imagine eventually I need to switch up my routine or I will hit a ceiling.

    On a side note, I am training for strength and mass gain for football.


  27. Great site.

    My experience with 5×5 is so far very rewarding (2 months with constant gains).
    My current stats: Squat / Standing press / Pullup or Chinup: 96Kg / 51Kg / BW+16Kg or +17Kg. Weight: 65 Kg, Height 1.65m

    I do 5×5 sets across, 3 times per week: squat, standing press, pullup or chinup.

    Problem: Press stalled, I’m going to alternate with bench, and try an inverted pyramid, with a -2% each set. Suggestions?

    Have fun and thanks Lyle!

  28. For whatever reason, presses seem to stall sooner than other movements in my experience. I suspect some of this is due to fatigue from emphasizing other movements and some of it is due to the same weight jump being a relatively higher percentage of what’s on the bar (microloading can often get people past this but you need access to 1.25 lb plates which are hard to come by). As an old adage, if you want to improve your press, press more. And figure out your weak point (start, middle, top) and fix it with specific movements. Good luck.

  29. What’s your take on the everlasting debate of free weights vs. machines?

  30. My take on the topic is not relevant to the comments section of this article but I will eventually write an article expressing it. You might check “Leg press vs. Squats for Big Legs” in the interim for some commentary specific to that dumb debate.

  31. I’m currently following the 5×5 Madcow linear program and loving it. However, i’m finding the jumps each week for the deadlift and bench press a tad too high. I was wondering if the calculated 1RM on Madcows spreadhseets for these lifts is a bit off. Of course any caclulated 1RM is not going to be exactly right, but I was wondering if there are any equations out there for specific lifts that might be more accurate. I think currently it uses the Epley Equation for all lifts, which i understnad is great for heavy low rep work, but I noticed that the NSCA has done more specific equations for the deadlift, squat, and bench press, detailed here, and the coefficients for the deadlift and bench are significantly lower than the squat. I’m thinking from my experience this more accurately represents the smaller weight increments required in the deadlift and bench comparedto the squat.

    Just thought i’d put this out there and see what peoples views are on it. I would have put this to Madcow directly, but i cant seem to find a contact address for him.

  32. All estimations equations are only that: estimations. They might be reasonably accurate on average but for any individual can be way off. Which is why you always have to adjust any of this based on real world changes. If the jumps are too big FOR YOU, that’s all that matters TO YOU. Use smaller jumps per week.

  33. It seems like a waste of time to do 5 x 5 of the same weight or increase weight each set. it seems you should warm-up and would be able to do your heavier weight in set 1 and 2 with fatigue setting in, dropping weight off on the remaining sets. It doesn’t seem like you are getting everything out of your sets if you can add weight each set while doing same reps. Something has to give? less reps, or less weight each progressive set

  34. 5×5 total load

    Progressive workout 50 + 55 + 60 + 65 + 70 = 300 * 25 = 7500

    70 + 65 + 60 + 55 + 50 =300 * 25 = 7500

    so total load is the same either way, but I bet that you would be able to lift heavier then 70 if you started at that rather than doing 4 sets progressing to 70. Which in turn by lifting heavier at start then you would lift more total load than by doing progressive sets.

  35. it depends entirely on what the goal is. Covering ascending vs. descending pyramids vs. straight sets is the topic of a yet to be written article. I’d also suggest my warmup series since I address this issue there.

  36. I’m sorry I thought the goal in your article discussed was to get stronger. I was just wanting your thoughts on which one is better? straight sets vs descending pyramids vs ascending

    My belief is descending is better or focusing workouts on Time Under Tension. My belief is momentum does nothing but make it easier on the muscle to move weight. I feel motor units are recruited with slow twitch recruited first, then type 11a, then type 11ab, then type 11b the fast quick fatigue muscles last. Sure you will get progressively stronger with anyworkout that is a progressive overload but which one is safer? more effiecient? I’m just curious on your thoughts on High Intensity Exercise. Thanks

  37. hey bro, what do you think of doug hepburns routine? claims you can keep getting gains without stalling for about 2-3 yrs…..

  38. Im currently doing this 5×5 workout plan and im getting major results and incredible gains. Before i used to look scrawny and weak, but now in look more filled out and actually have mass to fill out my frame. In the beggining of my quest i weghed about 123 lbs. but now i weigh 156 and i sure its pure muscle because i could see my six pack and im not super beefy and fat. Everybody should try this 5×5 workout plan and man up and start doing something about it and stop talking about it. Pussies!

  39. I have experimented with this for the squat bench and deadlift. I feel it is excellent for a beginner because it builds strength and size. However for someone who has been in the game a long time on the squat and deadlift I feel that it does not help gain strength because the volume is too high and the weight has to be a litle lower. It also drains you so it is difficult to add exercise variation or assistance exercises because you just want to go home after a set of 5×5 deadlift. I feel alot of people benefit from exercise variation such as pause squats speed squats front squats lunges hyperext kb swing etc with also need to be trained hard at some point. For bench it is 5×5 is great because building a big bench requires high volume and benching heavy weights all the time is dangerous. I still use the 5×5 for squat and deadlift but I do it no more than two weeks and I use it as a conditioning tool and mass builder for the legs. Then I switch to more of a HIT program for squat and deads with maximal load for a set of 5 next week switch to 3s and finally a 3 rep max if Im ready to go for it

  40. I noticed you talk a lot about sets and reps. But I see nothing about rest between sets. How long should you rest between sets? Also how can I gage my starting weight as a beginner. I turn 65 this month and have lifted off and on most of my life. I need to get back into it again so help me out.

  41. Thank you so much for this article. I have been doing StrongLifts 5×5 for the last few months. You said it when you said that 5×5 across can become a ‘grind’. It eventually ground me down. This article rearranged my thinking, thankfully, and I am going to go to 2X5 starting next week. I am looking forward to less mental and physical stress on myself, as I increase my strength.

  42. I tried the StrongLifts version of 5×5 a few months back and abandoned it. I found increasing the weight every exercise was too difficult. I have just re-started my own particular version of it. I do 5×5 of Squats, Bench Press, Deadlifts, Military Press and Barbell Rows. I now do all 5 exercises twice a week. I up my weight once a week – not once a workout. I also add in dumbell/isolation exercises for my triceps and biceps. I do an exercise class eg circuits or cardio once a week too.

  43. It’s good to see Casey Butt’s input on Reg Park. Casey has written quite a bit in varous places about Reg’s training.

    Yes most people think the Reg Park 5×5 is strictly two incremental warmup sets and three stabilizer work sets. But in some of Reg’s 1950s training articles, his 5×5 is made up of three incremental warmup sets and two top sets; and in other articles, as Casey mentioned, Reg’s 5×5 is four incremental buildup sets to one top work set.

    If you own Reg’s Strength and Bulk Course from Superstrength Books, in which most of the exercises are done for 5×5, you’ll find a sample page of a training diary, with each exercise done for three buildup sets, and two top sets. This is despite his description of 5×5 elsewhere in the book, which details the familiar format of two warmup sets and three top sets.

    Also, all this talk that the 5×5 format comprising four buildup sets and one top set being for beginners only, Reg Park as mentioned at times used this format long after he was a beginner, as did Bob Peoples. After trying almost everything imaginable, Peoples always came back to the single top set format. He applied this to the deadlift, squat, the three Olympic lifts, and the alternate DB press.

    Peoples did 5×5 or similar, sometimes 5×3, or a greater amount of buildup sets, but usually 3-5 reps. He found attempting multiple sets of his top set a waste of energy. His top set was usually all out, and so there wasn’t really a second chance to do it again.

    As the weights get heavier, you end up doing more sets, in order to bulid up. The 5×5 becomes 6×5, 7×5, and higher. It’s fine; the first few sets go quickly, and you are on your way into the later heavier ones. You can still regard the system as the 5×5 format.

    In building up my one hand DB press in 5×5 format to one all out set, that top set is enough. It would take a long rest to attempt that weight for those reps again. I work up to that one set, the current maximum in a cycle, and that’s it. I am able to slowly progress using this system, and am at a new high for a two-inch handled DB at the moment. When I’ve mastered these five reps, I’ll add 1.25 lbs to the DB.

    Once you are going all out on your top set, it’s hard to see trying to do three of those top sets. You’ve already warmed up and built up through four or more incremental sets; you then go all out on the top set for five. It’s enough work.

    To use a constant weight straight across through 5×5, or three top sets within 5×5, the weight surely has to be less than that used in a single all out top set. Different forms of 5×5 or 5×3 etc. seem to work best for different exercises. For DB presses and Trap Bar deadlfts, one very hard or all out top set is enough to make progress with. On pullups, I use five straight across sets at the moment.

  44. Great article I have found too many trainers complicate things by using too many exercises. I keep it simple using 5 — Deads, Bench, Squats, Bent Overs and Cable pulldowns. Whole set takes about hour and half. I have just got back into training 3 weeks ago , off for 6 months due personal reasons but enjoying training again. I think 100kg for squat and dead and 50kg for bench not bad for a 64 year old.

  45. “Eric on May 27th, 2015 7:18 pm”

    Eric: You mention a one hand DB press and DB press with 2 inch handle. Is that a standing/sitting overhead press or a DB bench press lying on the bench?

    Kind regards

  46. I would like to know if 5×5 program with drop sets Will build more muscle size?

  47. I’m not 100% sure what you mean by drop sets since they can mean different things but I would do more volume with multiple higher repetition sets for optimal hypertrophy.

    So 5X5 on the bench and add 3-4 sets of 10-12 on a second exercise.

  48. Are the percentages based off of 5rm or 1rm?

  49. 5RM. So 85% is 85% of the top weight you use on the heavy day. IF you do 100kgX5X5 do 85kgX5X5 on 85% day.

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