June 12, 2022 9 min read
The 5x5 workout program, also known as Stronglifts 5x5 workout, was designed to be the ideal combination of basic, foundational compound exercises to help you achieve maximum strength and build muscle by focusing on clean form and progressively adding weight throughout the workout program.
The 5x5 workout was developed by the late renowned strength and conditioning coach, Bill Starr, who believed that the 5 primary compound exercises (squat, bench press, barbell overhead press, barbell row, and deadlift) together can hit nearly all of the major muscle groups.
The 5x5 workout was designed for beginners to experienced lifters looking to increase muscle mass in a full-body workout and take their strength training program to the next level.
The 5x5 program takes patience. You might find it limiting at first, or be tempted to knock out more reps or sets, or do other lifts to supplement the workout. If you’re going to do the 5x5 workout, it's best to give it the college try and do it the right way—by starting light and progressively adding weight as the program suggests.
The 5x5 workout is precisely what the name suggests. 5 sets of 5 reps.
There is more to the 5x5 workout than abiding by five reps and sets, though. The 5x5 Stronglifts workout consists of 5 movements—the squat, bench press, barbell overhead press, barbell row, and deadlift.
The 5x5 workout is very barbell intensive.
You won’t need a single dumbbell for this weightlifting program. Every exercise in the program involves the barbell. This is because the barbell is the most valuable tool for lifting heavyweight. The 5x5 workout relies on the continuous progression of weight throughout the program.
The barbell back squat is the foundation of this plan, so don’t think about trying the 5x5 workout until you are comfortable with the back squat. While the row, barbell overhead press, and bench press are usually easily executed by beginners, the one heavy deadlift session of the week is another barrier to entry.
Keep in mind that the 5x5 workout is just a strength training program, not a recipe for the only exercise that you should ever do.
Going for a walk, hike, bike ride, playing sports, bodyweight exercises, and staying generally active is compatible with the 5x5 workout.
You can and should be active outside of the program. Just listen to your body and don’t overtrain.
Sometimes staying active doesn’t even have to be exercised. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) should be a part of everyone’s day, regardless of your training program. Moving around more throughout your day will help keep your heart rate and metabolism up. If overall health and fitness are your goals, then you will move in addition to a 5x5 workout program.
There are a few rules to follow to truly execute a 5x5 workout plan. The first is to follow the original Bill Starr 5x5 workout plan. This strength training program follows a particular schedule.
The 5x5 workout should be done 3 times a week. For this example, we will use Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Monday (Workout A)
Wednesday (Workout B)
Friday (Workout A)
One of these things is not like the other! Notice that the deadlift is the exception to the 5x5 rule. The original 5x5 workout plan is 5 sets of your one-rep max on the deadlift.
Because the 5x5 plan has you squatting 3 times a week, heavy deadlifts are appropriate. Training legs any more during the 5x5 would be counterintuitive. You want to avoid overtraining.
The one-rep max on the deadlift is intentional, as heavy deadlifts equip more muscle groups simultaneously than anything else. Safely and effectively going heavy on this lift is a game-changer for your gains and PRs.
If you aren’t ready for heavy deadlifts and barbell squats, practice these exercises and get comfortable with them before trying the 5x5 workout plan. These are the fundamental compound movements that comprise Bill Starr’s 5x5 workout.
The 5x5 workout is primarily for hypertrophy, or, muscle growth.
For beginning to experienced lifters, 5x5 is appropriate for those who want to increase both upper body and lower body strength, and also muscle mass.
Five reps are considered on the cusp of the “Maximum Strength” and “Hypertrophy” phases of the National Academy of Sport’s Medicine’s (NASM) OPT Model.
This makes 5 repetitions perfect for increasing strength and muscle size.
In a set, according to the OPT model, repetitions beyond a count of 5 starts falling into the strength-endurance training phase. In other words, consistently doing more than 5 reps in every set all of the time can set you back in terms of muscle growth.
To do the 5x5 workout the right way, you need to know the exercises and how to do them.
The barbell back squat is the crux of the 5x5 Workout. It is done 3 times a week in this program.
To perform the barbell back squat:
1) Set the rack for your height. You should be hunched over a bit when the bar is on your back so that when you stand up straight, you lift the barbell off of the rack. You should not have to stand on your tiptoes or do a calf raise to re-rack the barbell on the squat rack.
2) Add weight. Start light. The weight should not exceed 85% of your 1 RM. You will need to do 5 sets of 5 clean reps, with a full range of motion.
3) Put the barbell on your back. Make sure it is resting on your traps and not your spine.
4) Adjust your grip. Place your hands, with an overhand grip, a few inches wider than shoulder-width apart on each side.
5) Lift the barbell out of the rack. You should be hunched over just slightly at this point. Now lift the barbell off of the rack and take a few steps back, away from the rack.
6) Descend as deep as you can without falling forward or backward. Keep your spine in a neutral position. Generally, you want to make sure that your knees don’t go over your toes. If you have a long femur (upper leg) this rule of thumb may not be appropriate.
7) Come up and repeat for a total of 5 reps.
8) Rerack the barbell by walking towards the squat rack until it hits the rack. If you have to do a calf raise to get the barbell back on the rack, then it is set too high.
The bench press is arguably the most familiar lift in the 5x5 workout for beginners. As always, with heavy lifts on the bench press, you may want a spotter.
To perform the barbell bench press:
1) Find a bench with a rack.
2) Set the weight to 85% of your 1 RM.
3) Place your body so that the bar is just over the top of your chest.
4) Set your hand's shoulder-width apart, with the bottoms of your palms under the bar. Push off the rack.
5) Let the bar descend slowly towards your chest. Stop at your chest or just before you reach. Push the bar up and exhale on the way up.
6) Repeat for 5 sets of 5 reps. Rest for 60 seconds in between each set.
The bent-over barbell row is the preferred row for the Stronglifts 5x5 workout.
To perform a bent-over barbell row:
1) Grab a barbell. Add the appropriate amount of weight for your 1 RM.
2) Place your hands on the barbell just over shoulder-width apart with either an overhand or underhand grip. Traditionally it is done with an overhand grip in the 5x5 workout, but it is your call. The goal is back muscle engagement.
3) Bend at your knees just slightly, and then bend over at the hips while maintaining a neutral spine.
4) Pull the barbell up to your navel with your elbows pointed directly behind you.
5) Let the barbell down slowly, until you reach your knees, inhaling on the way down.
6) Repeat for 5 sets of 5 reps. Rest for 60 seconds in between each set.
The barbell overhead press is great for building strength and is an integral part of the 5x5 workout. It will help you gain muscle in your back, core, and shoulders.
To perform the barbell overhead press:
1) Set the weight on the barbell for 85% of your one-rep max.
2) Grab the barbell with a pronated (overhand) grip, just shoulder-width apart.
3) Do a barbell clean to bring it up to the starting position, swinging the bar up from your torso to your chest.
4) Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart.
5) Press the barbell over your head. The barbell will start in front of your head, and shift its way up to over your head at the top of this lift. Exhale on your way up.
6) Bring the barbell down just below your chin, slowly. Inhale on the way down.
5) Repeat 5 sets of 5 reps. Rest for 60 seconds in between each set.
Finally, we have a classic powerlifting exercise, the deadlift. In the 5x5 workout, you will only be doing 1 rep in each set. Therefore, 85% of your one-rep max is the bare minimum, but you don’t need to max out every time you first start the 5x5 workout program.
There needs to be room for progression and every rep needs to be perfect. An improper deadlift with heavy weights can lead to lower back pain.
To perform the deadlift:
1) Place the barbell on the ground or platform and et your weight. Anywhere from 100-400 lbs is common. Your starting weight will depend heavily on your ability and experience level.
2) In the starting position, grab the barbell with an overhand grip. Your hands should be just shoulder-width apart. You can do one overhand and one underhand as well. Use an overhand grip if you’re a beginner.
3) Get in a squatted position with the bar just under and in front of your knees. Look forward. Don’t look down when you deadlift, as it prevents you from keeping a neutral spine, thus potentially leading to injury or lower back pain. Doing this in front of a mirror is best, especially for beginners.
4) Push off with your feet until you can stand up straight, using the posterior chain muscle groups. The glutes and the hamstrings should be your prime movers in this exercise. Do not pull the bar up with your back. This is the most common deadlifting mistake with beginners. Visually, the deadlifts look like a pull, but it is more of a pushing exercise.
5) Since the deadlift is only a one-rep max in the 5x5 workout. Drop the barbell ( safely) when you complete each rep. This is a zero rep range. Repeat this for 5 sets. Rest for 60- 120 seconds in between each set.
1) The goal is 85% of your one-rep max. If you are lifting at 85% of your one-rep max, then you should be able to knock out 5 reps in a set. The only exception to this rule in the 5x5 is your deadlift, where you will be doing just 1 rep per set and you finish off your workout. Exceeding 85% effort will be appropriate in this movement.
2) Stick with 5 reps. Exceeding 5 reps might be great for strength-endurance training, but it isn’t the best for hypertrophy.
3) Aim for 60 seconds of rest in between sets. 1 minute seems to be the sweet spot, but you have up to 2 minutes if you need it. Do not exceed 120 seconds between sets when doing the 5x5, except for when you are transitioning from one movement to another.
3) Get your daily NEAT. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is important for staying lean. So how do we get activity without exercise?
NEAT occurs when we do ordinary things that require modest movements. These types of activities could be gardening, cooking, cleaning, shopping, or just getting up out of your office chair and walking around a little bit. NEAT is easy, and it used to be the way of life for everyone on Earth.
The problem is most of us in the developed world sit too much. If you get your steps in, you should be OK with NEAT. Aim for at least 10,000 steps a day for a healthy dose of NEAT.
Athletes, particularly runners and endurance athletes, will have to try harder to get NEAT, because of their improved heart rate efficiency. For a runner, a brisk walk might be considered NEAT for them, but it might be effective cardio for someone else. Yes, there is a cost to having great cardio—but having great cardio is always worth it.
4) Get your carbs in. Muscle growth requires carbohydrates. You aren’t going to see muscle mass gains if you are sticking to a keto diet. Your muscles will not only need glycogen to properly finish these lifts and progress, you will also need it for recovery, which is exactly what HYPERADE is formulated to do quickly.
5) Don’t Forget to Eat! Eating for recovery is essential, especially when you’re doing hypertrophy training. If you don’t eat within your anabolic window, you’re likely to see diminished gains. For a delicious yet effective post-workout protein source, try VEG-PRO Plant-Based Protein Powder.
For more information on protein timing, check out our article When is the Best Time to Take Protein Powder?
The Stronglifts 5x5 Workout is considered by many old-school bodybuilding enthusiasts to be “the perfect plan.” While it is complete in and of itself as a program, it should not be the end all be all of your strength training routines.
The 5x5 workout is an effective bodybuilding program that can be done seasonally. The barbell back squat, barbell bench press, overhead barbell press, the deadlift, and barbell row put together is enough to push your muscle growth up to the next level.
For more information on putting on mass, check out The Proven Muscle Building Workout Program for Mass.