Posted on

5×5 Workout: A Comprehensive Guide

You might want to build muscle, gain strength, burn fat, a beginner or looking to get back into the gym. You might have read up on some workout routines but haven’t decided which one is for you. Or you might not have a clue on what the best path forward is. If any of these resonate keep reading. A 5×5 workout program is exactly what you need.

5×5 training has been around for about 100 years. The program was said to have been introduced to the United States somewhere around the 1930s by Milo Steinborn. It was then adopted by Mark Berry. Gaining significant strength and size while training with this type of routine he later began to write about 5×5 training in his magazine Strength.

Almost 30 years later it was found that 3x Mr. Universe Reg Park was a fan of the 5×5 workout plan and used it as his regime. Known for his 600 lb squat, 500 lb bench press and 700 lb deadlift Reg Park was no stranger to serious gains. Reg Park was also Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mentor and showed him the ways of 5×5 lifting.

5×5 training is tied to several other well-known names. People like Canadian weightlifter Doug Hepburn who took gold in the 1953 Olympics, strength training coach to the NFL Bill Starr and even legendary late weightlifting coach Glen Pendlay.

What is a 5×5 Workout?

One of the most well-known and effective workout routines in existence. Hard enough to challenge even the fittest of the fit but engineered in a way that complete beginners can pack on muscle and build mounds of strength.

A 5×5 routine is a training program split into two lifting days, Day A and Day B. Each day will have its respective exercises. The 5 exercises are the squat, deadlift, bench press, barbell row, and overhead press. You’ll do 5 sets of 5 reps for each exercise on their respective day. That’s it. That’s a 5×5 lifting program.

Why a 5×5 Workout Program?

Why 5×5? Because it’s a tried and true method proven to work. The reason is at the core of the workout program. It is based on 5 compound exercises that activate multiple muscle groups at the same time which rely on progressive overload to slowly increase strength.

Progressive overload consists of adding weight in small increments. By increasing the load you place on your muscles, you put your body in the ideal state to evolve. If you are squatting 265 lbs and you successfully complete each set and rep with 265 lbs then the following workout your squat will increase to 270 lbs. Through progressive overload your muscles slowly adapt to the new stimulus. That’s why 5×5 training is so effective.

Other reasons the 5×5 workout program is effective is because it requires the use of free weights which force proper balance and stabilization. It requires you to use a barbell to complete each compound exercise meaning ultimately you can lift heavier weights with compound lifts versus isolation exercises. It’s a full body training program. Every muscle in the body will be put to the test.

What You’ll Need for 5×5 Workout Plan

In order to start training you’ll need access to a gym. Whether that be a box gym or a home gym it doesn’t matter. In order to train you’ll need some basic strength training equipment. Most gyms will have some form of a squat rack, bench press area, barbells and weights. What you’ll need to look for or get are the following items:

Fractional plates are important. You are going to need 2.5 lb plates. If your gym doesn’t have them it would be in your best interest to get a set. Throw them in your gym bag and carry them around with you. You’ll end up using them for most workouts. It’s these fractional plates that help with progressive overload.

A good pair of shoes with a hard flat sole is your best bet as they provide a solid platform. Weightlifting shoes aren’t necessary but can be advantageous especially in lifts like the squat. A popular shoe choice amongst lifters are Converse Chuck Taylor’s.

Optional equipment to consider would be a weightlifting belt and gym chalk. A weightlifting belt will help with stabilization however it should be noted that this can be used as a crutch. You shouldn’t rely on a weightlifting belt to complete your lifts.

Gym chalk is another item that might be useful. You won’t need it in the beginning of your 5×5 routine but as the weight increases it may have some benefits. Chalk helps to dry your hands so you can keep a firm grip on the bar, decreases calluses and creates a smooth lifting surface on the bar.

The 5×5 Workout Routine

As mentioned above the 5×5 workout routine consists of 5 compound exercises. They are the squat, deadlift, bench press, barbell row, and overhead press. Each of these movements are known as compound exercises. Compound exercises are any exercises that engage two or more different joints to fully stimulate entire muscle groups.

This routine is all about form. Once you get accustomed to the movements and you can correctly perform them with the proper form the routine then becomes about lifting as heavy as you can without breaking form. By doing so you build strength in the muscle and the tendons. The 5×5 routine is split into two lifting days, Day A and Day B. Day A consists of the squat, bench press and barbell row. Day B will consist of squats, overhead press and deadlift. Yes, you will be squatting a lot. Each day consists of 5 sets with 5 reps. Alternate your workout days for each week. Week 1 will begin with Day A and end with Day A (ex. A,B,A). Therefore week 2 will begin with Day B and end with Day B (ex. B,A,B) and so on.

Rest at least one day between workouts. Because this is an intense training program it’s essential that you’re getting enough sleep and keeping your stress levels low. This will help your body repair itself for the next training session. If you miss a workout just pick back up where you left off.

All of the exercises are to be done with a barbell and not machines, kettlebells or dumbbells. A barbell requires you to focus on form and activate all of the stabilization muscles necessary. Stick to the script. Don’t substitute exercises or change the order of exercises as this will decrease the effectiveness of the program. Start with squats and progress through each day’s workout. Squats are going to be the hardest and require the most energy. You’ll want to knock them out when you’re fresh.

When performing your sets use that same weight you started with to complete the entire set. Meaning if you started squatting 200 lbs all 5 sets should be 5 reps of 200 lbs. The next workout is when you increase your training load.

Rest periods during workouts are much longer as well. In order to properly lift heavier weights, give your body plenty of time to recover. Three to five minutes is ideal. This allows the muscles to be replenished with the proper nutrients needed and the body to have enough energy to maintain correct form for the next set.

Be sure to control the tempo of your lifts. Don’t go to slow on the descent or to fast on the ascent. Try to use a 2:1:2 tempo. Meaning 2 seconds on the descent, 1 second hold and a powerful 2 second ascent. When performing each rep take a big breath in and hold exhaling at the end of the exercise. This allows you to brace yourself and maintain proper form. Take a quick breath before the next rep and reposition if necessary.

It’s suggested to start with just the bar first. Get used to the movement and then begin to slowly add weight. Don’t worry about others’ opinions or if they scoff at you for going this route. Soon enough you’ll be way stronger than them.

At first warmup sets won’t be all that necessary since the training load will be rather light but eventually it’s a good idea to do a set or two with a lighter weight to get the muscles ready and activated for heavier loads.

Day A
Exercise Set 1 Set 2 Set 3 Set 4 Set 5
Squat
Bench Press
Barbell Row

 

Day B
Exercise Set 1 Set 2 Set 3 Set 4 Set 5
Squat
Overhead Press
Deadlift

 

What to Expect During a 5×5 Workout

A 5×5 lifting program is dead simple. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand how to do it. Two workouts, three exercises each, five sets with five reps and add weight every time.

When starting out it’s important to focus on form. Use light weights to begin. The light weights force you to focus on lifting with proper form. By lifting with proper form you’ll work on core and stabilization muscles which will help your body adapt to the new training. Starting light also allows you to slowly build strength and avoid plateauing too soon. The early phases are preparation for when you begin to lift much heavier in the coming weeks.

Expect your workouts to be short but intense. Your training days only consist of three exercises. Each exercise is compound exercise and works multiple muscle groups at the same time. It’s going to require a lot of focus and attention. Eventually the weights will get heavier and this will cause fatigue. By the time you’ve reached that point you’ll be done anyway.

Your training frequency will be a bit higher than usual. You’ll be squatting three times a week. This is partly because the legs are one of the largest muscle groups and trigger significant growth in the body. Even though the squat targets the legs it requires usage of every muscle group therefore more potential for increased strength and muscle mass.

As stated in the name 5×5 training focuses on 5 reps. That is because strength training protocols require you to lift more weight. In order to lift more weight repetitions are reduced allowing for maximum loads. The goal of strength training is to move as much weight as possible in the proper form.

At some point in time you will hit a plateau. It will happen and this is something you will have to deal with. In order to break past this point you will have to use what is called de-loading. De-loading is removing weight and working your way back up to your sticking point.

Let’s say you’re building some impressive strength and your lifts are going up each week. Then all of a sudden, you hit a wall. Your bench increased to 280 lbs but for some odd reason you just cannot make it past the mark. To start, pull off 5 to 10 lbs. Which would drop you back down to 275 or 270 and work your way back up.

If you get stuck again drop off about 15 lbs and work your way back up. You will be surprised to see how much stronger you will feel and how much more confident you will be under the bar.

Cardio can be performed while doing a 5×5 workout but keep it light and to a minimum if at all. Meaning whatever exercise you chose to do for cardio the intensity levels should be low enough that you can hold a conversation during the activity.

Proper Nutrition for a 5×5 Workout

Getting the proper nutrition is essential to recovery. Although it doesn’t have to be complicated either. When beginning a 5×5 training program a basic understanding of nutrition is a good thing to have. Nutrition can be defined as the process of assimilating food for growth and repair. Consult a registered dietician for assistance in types of foods or meal plans required for specific health and performance needs.

Energy Needs

The first thing to understand when learning about nutrition are the basic building blocks. A Calorie or kilocalorie is the energy required to increase one gram of water one degree celsius. When it comes to fitness a calorie can be the amount of energy required to gain strength, burn fat or build muscle. 5×5 workouts require a lot of energy so make sure you’re getting the right amount.

The number of calories spent on average in a given day is known as TEE or total energy expenditure, simply put, your body’s gas tank. RMR or resting metabolic rate is the amount of energy expended at rest to sustain bodily functions. RMR is the baseline level of calories required to stay alive if you did nothing else. RMR makes up approximately 70% of daily energy expenditure. A wide variety of factors affect these requirements such as age, sex, gender, genetics, hormones, body size, body composition, temperature, altitude, illness, medication, food, and even caffeine intake.

The energy required to digest and store food is known as the TEF thermic effect of food. Food is consumed, digested and then the nutrients are brought from the gut to blood. The increased energy is due to the processes required to bring nutrients through the blood. These processes make up approximately 6 – 10% of energy expenditure.

Estimating Needs

There are tons of tools and online calculators available to estimate your caloric needs. As well as a variety of common formulas and theories around the subject matter. The most common and simplest way is to estimate your RMR then multiply the RMR by an exercise variable to get the adjusted RMR. Expect about a 20% variance (over or under) in all methods of calculation. Any method you choose requires attention through the process. Weight measurements and body composition tests help with this process.

Basic equation

Weight (lbs) * 10 = RMR RMR * Activity = TEE

 

Example

180lbs * 10 = 1800 1800 * 2.1 = 3780 calories per day

 

Exercise variables

Very Light 1.2 – 1.3
Low Active 1.5 – 1.6
Active 1.6 – 1.7
Heavy 1.9 – 2.1

 

Protein

The most controversial macronutrient of them all and most important for a 5×5 workout. Proteins are made up of amino acids which are bound by peptide bonds; their main function is to build and repair body tissue. They also help with the synthesis of hormones, enzymes and peptides. In total there are twenty amino acids used to make up proteins. Out of the twenty there are two classes, essential and non-essential. The eight essential proteins are manufactured in the body. The remaining non-essential proteins are manufactured from foods. Proteins are broken down in the body and used according to need such as repair, growth or energy.

There is information that exists stating proteins are either complete or incomplete. Meaning they have all eight of the essential amino acids. This ideology has been traced back to the source and debunked. As long as you’re eating a wide variety of nutrient dense foods and meeting your macronutrient targets eating foods that are “complete” or “incomplete” doesn’t matter. What matters is providing the body with enough of the necessary amino acids in order to use them appropriately.

Protein needs are determined by activity levels, caloric intake, body composition and sports. Through exercise oxidation of amino acids and protein usage increases. When carbohydrates are restricted protein can be converted to glucose and then used as an energy source. The process by which amino acids are used for energy during fat reduction is called gluconeogenesis. Protein also assists in maintaining lean body mass and using fat for energy. One gram of protein is equal to four calories.

Recommended intake for 5×5 training

Strength Athletes 1.2 – 1.7g/kg (0.5 – 0.8g/lb)

 

Fiber

An indigestible carbohydrate essential for bodily function. There are two types of fibers. Soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber moderates blood glucose levels and lowers cholesterol. While insoluble fiber doesn’t digest. It passes through as is and helps reduce the chance of internal disease. The recommended intake for fiber is approximately 25 – 38g per day. Fiber also helps with satiety and regulates digestion.

Carbohydrate

Used as a primary source of energy, carbohydrates are vital for 5×5 lifting program performance. Therefore, carbohydrates should make up about 45 – 65% of total caloric intake. Complex carbohydrates should constitute most of this due to their nutrient density. During exercise the body draws on glycogen first then fat as an energy source. For maximal fat utilization to happen sufficient carbohydrates must be present in the diet. Carbs recommendations are estimated after protein and fat needs are calculated. One gram of carbohydrates is equal to four calories.

Carbohydrates in general as well as high carb diets increase the use of glycogen as fuel. Carb loading is a technique used by endurance athletes to increase the amount of glycogen stores in the body prior to endurance events by eating meals high in carbohydrates. Consuming a higher carbohydrate meal two to four hours prior to training gives at least one hour or more to digest a high carb meal. Exercise lasting more than 60 minutes can make use of intra-workout nutrition containing carbs as an energy source. Consuming carbs within 30 minutes of training can aid in the rapid repletion of glycogen stores.

Fats

Made up of triglycerides, phospholipids and sterols. Fat comes in two basic forms, saturated or unsaturated. Unsaturated fat is made up of a single double bond. This is known as monounsaturated. If there is more than one single bond present then it becomes a polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fat provides important essential fatty acids. Unsaturated fats are considered healthy fats and the ones necessary for proper function of many of the body’s processes.

Saturated fats are known for being unhealthy and increasing the risk for heart disease. Trans-fatty acids are by far the worst. They are hydrogenated meaning hydrogen has been added to harden the fat at room temp. Trans-fatty acids are heavily associated with health risks

Fats are the most concentrated source of energy. Fat should make up about 20 – 35% of macronutrients. One gram of fat is equal to nine calories. Fats help carry vitamins such as A, D, E, and K to the blood. Fats are part of the body’s cellular structure and necessary for specific functions. One benefit of fat is that it prolongs the digestive process and helps regulate blood sugar. By nature fat has a lower thermogenic effect.

Hydration

Water is an essential element to human life. The body is made up of approximately 60% water. Therefore it’s critical to remain hydrated. Dehydration impairs physical function and performance. Water helps endocrine glands, Improves liver function, helps distribute nutrients through the body, regulate body temperature and maintains blood volume. Do not rely on thirst to indicate hydration level. Men should consume an average of 3L per day. Women should consume an average of 2.2L per day. For fat loss drink an additional 8oz for every 25 lbs above the ideal weight.

To gauge approximate water consumption, find the average weight and make sure to reach that weight before any training session, meaning hydrate until fluid levels are reached. As a general rule of thumb, consume 14 – 22oz of water two hours before exercise. Drink 6 – 12oz for every 15 – 20 minutes while exercising and then 16 – 24oz for every pound of weight lost post exercise. Adjust water intake for climate and intensity.

Tips

When trying to reduce body fat decrease food intake and increase physical activity. Distribute nutrients across each meal through the day to help regulate energy levels and reduce cravings. Consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fats. Eat things like whole grains, high fiber foods and vegetables while limiting alcohol consumption. Carbs don’t have to be reduced to burn fat. Weight loss or weight gain is related to caloric intake not specific nutrients. When trying to increase lean body mass eat roughly four to six meals a day to stimulate protein synthesis. Ingesting protein and carbohydrates within 90 minutes post exercise helps replenish glycogen stores. For either goal do not neglect carbohydrates and fat.

Conclusion

There you have it everything you need to know for a 5×5 workout. From what it is, why you should be using this routine to build massive strength, where it came from, what you’ll need, what the routine looks like, things to expect and basic nutrition. Now it’s up to you to get in the gym and get lifting! Always stay true to form and lift with intensity. Make every rep count.

If you’re interested in online training or a personal consultation feel free to contact me.