Stronglifts 5×5

Stronglifts 5×5 is a beginner lifter program, put together by Mehdi Hadim. It’s a simple program, which involves the major compounds listed below.

  • Bench Press
  • Bent-over Row
  • Deadlift
  • Squat
  • Overhead Press

That’s it! Whenever you step foot in the gym, you’ll be doing a subset of those exercises. The focus is on doing these heavy compounds multiple times a week, to build up a solid base of strength, before tailoring a program at an intermediate stage to your specific goals, whether they be in powerlifting, bodybuilding, olympic lifting or anything in between. Many beginners add too much complexity to their routines early on, playing with all sorts of rep ranges and assistance exercises, missing the one chance a trainer gets to progress in a truly linear fashion. You’d be amazed by the amount of muscle you can put on in 6-12 months following Stronglifts 5×5 and subsequently Stronglifts 3×5 by the letter – much more so than any beginner attempting a bodybuilding split.

Photo: Embhoo

So what do you do?

You visit the gym 3 days a week, typically Monday, Wednesday & Friday, and alternate between 2 worksouts, workout A and workout B. All exercises are performed with a barbell.

Workout A

  • 5×5 Squats
  • 5×5 Bench Press
  • 5×5 Bent-over Rows

Workout B

  • 5×5 Squats
  • 5×5 Overhead Press
  • 1×5 Deadlifts

It’s that simple. Simply warm-up, then do 5 sets of 5 repetitions for each exercise, except for deadlifts where you work up to 1 set of 5 repetitions. This is because deadlifts are so intense on your body, that it takes longer to recover – and 1 set will typically create enough stimulus after 5 sets of squats to develop your lower back.

The key to progression is adding weight to the bar every session. You should always be aiming to add 2.5kg (or 5lbs) to the bar each session on every exercise. If you miss a rep or more in any session, so for example say one session you squat 50kg for 4 sets of 5, then in your last set you can only manage 4 repetitions – then repeat the same weight again in the next session, going for 5×5 again. Once you manage to successfully complete 5×5 for that weight, increase it by 2.5kg again the following session. If you fail to meet your 5×5 weight target 3 sessions in a row,¬†then decrease the weight by 10%, and start working up again – you should progress through your previous sticking point. This is called a reset. After your 3rd reset, you will want to progress to Stronglifts 3×5 for that particular exercise, as 5×5 is likely too much volume for the level you have reached.

How do I decide what weights to use in my first session?

If you have never lifted before, start with just the barbell. It is important to learn the form for the various exercises above – loads of information about the individual lifts can be found online and throughout this website, to teach you how to do the lifts properly. The only way to establish good form is by repeating the exercises over and over again, starting with a weight that isn’t taxing for your body. You will soon progress to heavier weights, as you will be adding significant weight to the bar every session. It’s better off to start off too light, than too heavy.

If you’ve lifted before, take your previous 5 rep maxes, and halve them. Start here. You will soon make your way back up to your earlier numbers, and smash through them. If you start too high then you will stall very quickly and make very little progress, so leave your ego at the door!

How should I warm-up before an exercise? 

Warming up is important, in order to avoid injuring yourself. Stretches have been proven to in some cases actually reduce strength – so avoid those. The best thing to do to get started is to do some light cardio for 5-10 minutes (say walking at 5-6km/h). Before your 5 sets of 5 repetitions for each exercise, do some lighter repetitions, but not enough to wear yourself out. Typically when I warm up I start with 30% of my 5×5 weight, doing 8-10 repetitions, then move up to 60%, doing only 5 repetitions, and finally 80%, doing only 3 repetitions. This should be enough combined with the light cardio to warm up your muscles for your 5×5 sets. If the weight you are lifting for your main 5×5 sets is too light for you to be able to do 30% or 60%, don’t worry – just do the lightest you can possibly do for those sets.

Isn’t squatting 3 times a week, and benching/rowing twice a week over training?

Don’t believe everything you’ve been reading in the men magazines or some of the Bodybuilding websites! You can train the same muscle groups multiple times a week without over training, especially as a beginning when the weights are low and your body can recover very easily. As you progress you reduce the volume, which is the reason for the next step of progression to Stronglifts 3×5.

What should I eat?

You can’t gain substantial strength without eating well too. Start at 3000kcals a day. If you don’t gain weight and strength whilst sticking to this routine, up it to 3500kcals, then 4000kcals if you really struggle. This is not an ideal routine for cutting, as you will struggle to make significant strength increases.

Where can I find more information?

Mehdi has more information over on his website, found here. You can also download a spreadsheet template from his website, for planning your Stronglift workouts.

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