5 X 5 training is a classic way of improving strength as well as muscle size. It has been around for a while, there are many different ways in which to use 5 X 5 training. All, however, are based on the principle of using 5 sets of 5 reps.

Why 5?

5 X 5 refers to the number of reps and sets used, 5 sets of 5 reps.

It seems to provide a good balance between volume and intensity.

Volume is essentially how many reps and sets you do. This important because your body needs to do things a number of times in order for it to respond and adapt. It also allows you to become more proficient in the movement.

Intensity, in lifting terms is how heavy the weight is. The body will only respond and adapt to things it finds hard to do, so lifting sufficient weight is important in increasing muscle size and strength.



The best ways to implement the 5 X 5 method

There are a number of ways in which you can use the 5 X 5 method to suit your needs. Which makes this method effective for all levels of lifter.

The 5 X 5 method first came about when Reg Park published ‘Strength and Bulk training for Weightlifters and Bodybuilders’ in the late 1960’s. We won’t go into much detail here because it’s probably not the best way of implementing the 5 X 5 for strength, but we couldn’t write an article about 5 X 5 without mentioning Reg. However, his methods are a great old school way to pack on some muscle if you have enough time for the number of exercises and sets he prescribes. Click here to find out more and see the program for yourself.



One of the most popular strength programs for beginner lifters is the Stronglifts 5 X 5 program. The Stronglifts 5 X 5 program is a simple program based on just 5 exercises. The Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Overhead Press and Bent Over Row.

The program calls for 3 workouts per week and each session is made up of 3 of the 5 exercises. Each workout is designed to work the whole body.

There are 2 set workouts.


Note that for the deadlift the stronglifts protocol calls for just one set. According to stronglifts this is enough, doing any more sets is too tough on your body, we don’t agree with this unless you’re either a total beginner or an elite level deadlifter. Those of you who are new to strength programs but not to lifting, we’d recommend doing 3 – 5 sets of the deadlift. It is no tougher on your body than a squat, if done correctly.

The first week will consist of Workout A – Workout B – Workout A in that order.

The Second week, Workout B – Workout A – Workout B in order. With at least one rest day in between each workout. Its suggested you work Mon, Wed and Fri. You’ll rest on Tues, Thurs, Sat and Sun.

This program uses simple progressive overload in the form of the amount of weight lifted.The idea is that you start with a weight for each exercise that you can easily do 5 sets of 5 reps. Then each time you do the exercise you add 2.5 kg to the weight you used last time. It will start off easy and progress to a more challenging weight. This constant increase means your body has to continually adapt in the form of getting bigger and stronger.

This program is a good starting point for beginners who need a simple program to follow, however at some point, your progress will plateau at this point you’ll need to move onto a more advanced more diverse program. This program is not recommended for those of you considered intermediate lifters. Lifters that have been using weight properly for 2 years or more should use a slightly different variation of the 5 X 5 method such as those described below.


Intermediate Lifters

The Big Four 5 X 5

For those of you at a more intermediate level try using the 5 X 5 method in a bodybuilding style 4 day split, but focus on the big 4. For example, Monday – Squat, Wednesday – Bench, Friday – Deadlift, and Saturday – Overhead Press. Then move on to accessories that work muscle groups associated with the main lift, use a high number of reps for your accessories and isolation work (12 – 15). For example, after the deadlift move onto some hamstring curls.

Example layout:


A Big Hairy Programming Suggestion

Use the 5 X 5 method for the big four as suggested above. Start below your 5 rep max then add 2.5 kg to each lift each week. Do this for 6 weeks.

Then for the next 6 weeks instead of doing 5 sets of 5 reps at the same weight, work your way up to a top set. This is basically using 4 sets as a challenging warm up before doing a heavy set at your 5 rep max. You should try to increase the weight used each week. Do this for another 3 weeks, then deload. Your accessory lifts should also increase slightly in weight and you should use fewer reps (8 – 10).

If you are a powerlifter or would like to try for a 1 rep max. Do two weeks of working up to a top set of 5, then a week of working to a top set of 3, followed by a week working to a top set of 2 and finally a week of minimal or no lifting. Then compete or go for your one rep maxes. This is a very basic linear periodisation layout. Effective for newer lifters and beginner powerlifters.


Madcow’s 5 X 5 also uses top sets which are referred to as ‘ramping sets’. Madcow’s 5 X 5 method is a great progression from stronglifts 5 X 5 once you’ve stopped making progress. It’s also a good program for an intermediate lifter looking for a different strength program. Madcow’s method uses the same exercises as stronglifts with a more varied rep scheme. To read more about Madcow’s 5 x 5 and its layout click here.

5 X 5 for Powerlifters and Strongmen

Using the 5 X 5 to work your weakness. This is a great offseason way to train. Instead of working the competition lifts themselves (Squat, Bench and Deadlift) pick a variation of that lift that works a weakness of yours. To start do this exercise for a fairly easy 5 x 5 (by this we mean you could have done 5 sets of 6 – 7 reps but stopped at 5), repeat for 4 – 6 weeks adding 2.5 kg each time. This is a sure fire way to bring up any major weaknesses you have which are holding you back in the main lifts.

For example, if you have trouble locking out the bench press you may have weak triceps, try doing a 5 X 5 floor press for 4 weeks.

Or try alternating different variations of a main lift that work the same weakness. For example, to improve the bench lock out and weak triceps try; week 1 – floor press, week 2 – JM press, Week 3 – pin presses, then repeat that cycle again for a total of 6 weeks. Now try a 5 rep max on the full bench press and feel the difference. If you are a more experienced lifter it is suggested that you keep some form of main movement in your training when trying this method, e.g doing 3 sets of 8 reps at a light weight after the variation, to keep the movement pattern fresh in your body and mind.

Strongmen should consider using 5 X 5 or working to a top set of 5 on the big four, then moving on to event training. This allows for overall strength to be built along with crucial event practice. This method is great for those with experience in lifting but are new to the strongman scene.

Powerlifters and Strongmen may also use the 5 X 5 method alongside a program they are already running. Simply complete your main movement for that day followed by a 5 X 5 of your main accessory movement. This is a great addition to a high volume phase or offseason training.


Maintainance for Intermediate and Experienced Lifters

Using 5 X 5 on the big four is an effective way of maintaining strength and size if you find yourself in a phase of life that doesn’t allow for much training time or time to plan your training.



5 X 5 training can be implemented in many ways. These methods are great for total beginners looking for a simple and effective program to follow. 5 X 5 training can also be used and modified to suit more experienced lifters who want to continue their progression or need a transitioning program to help them move into the strength sports world.

Try following one of the programs mentioned in this article and increase your strength. Or for more specific programming needs contact us for a personalised program, bighairystrengthprograming@gmail.com.