Maybe you're looking to bulk up, increase your strength and muscle size… or maybe you're looking to burn off some unsightly excess body fat – you're in luck, because there's no better way to achieve these goals than the 5x5 workout routine!
In use for decades now, the 5x5 training regimen continues to be one of the most popular and widely used – and that's simply because it's been proven to be so effective.
Back in the 1950's, a man named Reg Park used it to build up 20 inch arms and achieve a 500 lb bench press. This is before steroids were even being used at all in the sport! Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was mentored by Reg Park, used it in training, laying down a solid foundation. In the 1970's, legendary football strength coach Bill Starr used it to train all of his athletes.
So what is the 5x5 workout program?
The name pretty much says it all – it's a set of exercises performed for 5 sets of 5 reps each. There are many ways you can go about this, dependent on your particular goals and stage of development. 5x5 training is best used with big compound exercises, generally done as a full body workout, though upper and lower splits can be just as effective – particularly for those who have been training for some time already.
Typical full body routines would involve a deadlift or squat combined with an upper body push and upper body pull. If desired, assistance exercises can be added, however these would generally be done for a more standard set and rep scheme such as 3 sets of 8.
What's great about the 5x5 workout routine is that it offers benefits to both the beginner and the more advanced, depending on the approach taken. Here are the three most common methods:
Sets Across Method
The sets across method involves doing all 5 sets of 5 reps with the same weight (post-warmup) and is ideal for beginners. Five reps is the optimal number for increasing strength, as well as being perfect for practicing technique. This is because form frequently deteriorates when done in excess of 5 reps, as opposed to using reps lower than this the weights tend to get too heavy, requiring form to be already established to prevent injury.
By doing 5 sets you'll have adequate volume to get a good muscle building response. While you could build muscle slightly faster by doing 6-10 reps, you'll likely reach a plateau sooner. Sticking with 5x5 you'll be able to continue to make progress for longer, giving you better results in the end.
When you begin training like this, it is essential to use relatively light weights to allow you to get a feel for the movements involved and to practice proper technique. The standard bare Olympic bar by itself at 20kg is fine for most of these. If you have been training for a bit already and think this is too little weight you can start a bit heavier, but be mindful to not go about around two thirds of your current 5 rep max.
Following this, add some weight to the bar on every exercise each time that you train. Adding 5kg to your squat and deadlift and 2.5kg to other lifts, you'll be able to quickly move on to using some bigger weights, and in turn your strength and size will increase. You'll be amazed at how much progress you can have in just 3-4 months time this way.
Ramping Sets Method
The ramping sets method involves you doing your first set with a fairly light weight, and then adding weight to the bar with each set, allowing you to work up to one top weight set of 5. As an example, you might start your exercise with 60kg for the first set, up to 75kg for your next set, then 90kg, then 105kg, and finally 120kg for your final maximum weight set.
Best suited to more advanced people, as doing 5 sets of 5 with the same weight will over time become too taxing and you'll be unable to recover from it properly, grinding your progress to a screeching halt.
You'll also be able to work up to a heavier final weight set. Your 5 rep maximum (5RM) will generally speaking be approximately be 85% of your one rep maximum (1RM). By working yourself up to one top weight set, you will be able to get close to this figure for your ending set. This is opposed to if you were doing all 5 of your sets with the same weight, and you could not plausibly do this with more than about 80% of your 1RM. While this is just fine for those starting out, when you get more advanced you'll be able to achieve greater strength gains by going a bit heavier.
Partial Ramp Method
With the partial ramp method, you ramp up your first two or three sets, and end with your final two or three sets with the same weight. This acts as a nice intermediate stage between the two previously mentioned methods. This is the way Reg Park did it back in the 1950's, and even today it's still the best way to do it for most people at an intermediate level of training.
When you reach the point where you are not able to finish all 5 sets of 5 with the same weight, just cut down your number of top weight sets to three. Make sure to do two work up sets first (a partial ramp) and this will in turn allow you to continue to make progress for much longer.
Once you find you can no longer complete 3 sets of 5, drop it down to two (adding an additional work up set). Drop down to just one top weight set and you'll be doing a full ramp.
Should you fail to do 5 reps on your single top weight set, give yourself two additional attempts – but if you're still not able to do it, it is time to de-load.
To do this, all you have to do is reduce the weight you are using for your top set by approximately 15%, and go back to doing three sets of 5 with this weight. Then build it back up as before, and you'll be at a new 5 rep max.
By starting out with the sets across method and leading into the partial ramp and full ramp and de-loading when needed, you should be able to make progress on a training routine of this sort for a long period of time. Possible a year or two, or perhaps even more than that – it's all up to you and what you want to achieve.
The Ultimate Workout to Build Muscle and Strength
The 5x5 workout routine worked for Reg Park, Arnold Schwarzenegger and countless others – and by doing a 5x5 routine as we have detailed it will work for you too! Honestly, there's no better way to build strength and muscle for a genetically typical drug free trainees.
The optimal way to put the method to use is to do two different full body workout, alternating these over three weekly training sessions so that each is worked three times every two weeks. Here's the recommended workouts:
Bench Press 5x5
Barbell Row 5x5
Overhead Press 5x5
Chin Ups 3x6 (or 3x8)
You may have noticed that in the deadlift we suggested you do just one top weight set of 5 from the start. Doing so should be enough for most people as the deadlift puts a tremendous amount of strain on the body. You can do three sets should you desire, and if you recover well enough. Though should you fail to complete all three sets, drop to one set right away.
For chin ups, just do 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps after completing two warm up sets. If you are not able to do full range chin ups, start out with partial chins and slowly but surely increase the range of movement until you can do full hang chin ups. Once you are able to do 3 sets of 8, start adding extra weights to them. In addition, you can use partial range chins as warm ups.
It is essential that you perform all of the exercises with proper form and a full range of movement if you desire the best results. Ensure that in your squat you go down until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor. With the bench press, the weight bar should touch tour chest. Partial movements will cause you to end up with muscle imbalances and tight muscles, which can result in injury further down the line.
If your current routine is not giving you the results that you're looking for, or if you are just looking for the ideal routine to get start with, try out the 5x5 workout!