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The 5×5 system is one of the oldest workout programs around. It has proven to be effective for beginners and intermediate trainees alike and is known to build good strength as well as muscle mass at the same time.

5×5 stands for 5 sets of 5 repetitions.

The program is based around compound movements like the squat, deadlift, bench press and overhead press.
A rep range of 5-8 reps per set is what will build muscle mass in most people, whereas lower reps (1-4) will primarily build strength. Anyway, to build bigger muscles, you have get stronger.

The problem with low-rep sets though is that they require weights so heavy that the potential for injury is greatly increased.

The 5×5 system therefore offers the best of both worlds, giving you progressive strength gains on a consistent basis while building good amounts of functional muscle mass all over the body at the same time.

The classic way to do the 5×5 is by doing two or three warm up sets with progressively heavier weights and then 5 work sets with the same heavy weight.The Basic 5×5 ProgramWeek 1:

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  • Monday – Workout A
  • Wednesday -Workout B
  • Friday – Workout AWeek 2:
  • Monday – Workout B
  • Wednesday – Workout A
  • Friday – Workout BWorkout A:

 

  • Squat – 5×5
  • Bench Press – 5×5
  • Deadlift – 1×5Workout B:

 

  • Squat – 5×5
  • Overhead Press – 5×5
  • Barbell/Dumbbell Row or Pullup – 5×5Example: Squat

If 225 lbs is your current work weight in the squat then you would do 2-3 warm up sets with lighter weights:

  • 12 x 95 lbs
  • 8  x 135 lbs
  • 5  x 185 lbs

And then 5 sets of 5 reps with 225 lbs.

  • 5 x 225 lbs
  • 5 x 225 lbs
  • 5 x 225 lbs
  • 5 x 225 lbs
  • 5 x 225 lbs

Repeat the same scheme with the other compound exercises like bench press and deadlift, weights adjusted accordingly. When doing squats and deadlifts on the same day it’s wise to do only one work set (1×5) in the deadlift, since it works very much the same musculature as the squat. Heavy deadlifts are very demanding – and productive.

It’s important to really stick to those 5 reps in each set. Don’t do 4 reps or 6 reps, just do 5 every time. Take 1-2 minutes of rest between warm up sets and 1-3 minutes between work sets.

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What About Additional Exercises?

Done seriously, the 5×5 program is very demanding. Keep in mind that you will start out with very light weights but keep adding weight to the bar every single workout or at least every single week.

You are always free to add more exercises like biceps curls, direct triceps exercises, ab work, calf raises and more. BUT this might very well overload your recovery capacities, making you hit a plateau sooner or later.

Don’t worry, doing the 5×5 with compound movements only will give you tons of muscle and strength all over your body without the need for extra exercises.

Variations Of The 5×5

You are free to experiment within the framework to see if that gives you better results. For example, you could include the warm up sets within the 5×5 scheme. It would then be something more like a 3×5 or even 1×5, since warm-up sets don’t count. Heavy work sets are what will build muscle and strength.

If you’re a beginner then always do the 5×5 with additional warm up sets beforehand, because you still need to learn good exercise technique.

Other options include reducing the intensity on the third workout by reducing the work weights by 50%. Or by doing only two workouts per week. Or replacing some of the exercises with similar ones that are equally productive. For example, people who have back problems can susbtitute the deadlift with trap bar deadlifts and the regular squat with hip-belt squats.

How To Progress

Keep adding 2.5 lbs per workout to the bar in the big lifts. If you stall, examine the reasons for that and make changes. You can switch to adding 2.5 or 5 lbs every week instead of every workout.

Since everybody is unique and has different bodies, metabolisms and lifestyles that affect recovery from hard workouts you might have to experiment a bit until you find the best 5×5 variation that works best for you. The key is whether or not you can continuously increase the weight on the bar every week while doing 5 sets of 5 reps without cheating.

If you can’t put more weight on the bar next week it means that you haven’t recovered properly. You have either consumed not enough calories and protein or you haven’t gotten enough sleep or you have tried to rush things in the gym too soon by lifting too heavy.

The bottom line is whether you’re getting a little bit getting stronger each week. As long as that happens, everything is fine and you don’t need to change things.

The beauty of the 5×5 workout program is that it can fit almost anybody. Hardgainers as well as beginners and intermediates will benefit most from it.

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