What is the best 5x5 workout
Probably the most widely adopted all-purpose 5x5 workout is Stronglifts. There are other options which might have more impact but are either harder to learn or more suitable to seasoned athletes.
What else to consider for 5x5
What are your goals
Before we go into the details of the 5x5 workout, let me ask you a couple of questions:
Why do you want to work out?
Why do you want to change your physique?
What happens when you do?
What happens if you don’t?
These questions will make all the difference between your success and failure. Research shows that people who write down and reflect on their goals are more likely to achieve them. So what are you doing reading this blog? Sit down, plan your goals with purpose and execute. Many people go about their lives like this:
What do I want
How do I get it
Why do I want it
This is a good way to lose track and get confused. What you want changes hundreds of times a day depending on who you are with, where you are and what you do. If you make this the center point of your life you will in a hundred directions and arrive nowhere. Your resources will be spread thin and your time scattered between too many activities. Something interesting happens when you flip the running order of these questions:
Why do you want something
How do you get it
What needs to be done
This way your innermost desires will be in focus. Your life will get more purpose and your thinking will become more cohesive. Your thoughts and actions will become more connected and success will be the result. If you want to know more about how this works on a psychological level read Daniel Kahneman's thinking fast and slow. Simon Sinek's TED talk on the golden circle will change your life.
A good place to start is to keep a journal and structure your goals and days. I found that the self journal is the best to accomplish this. Since I use it my salary has increased by 30% and have managed to create a happier life with my wife. Took us two years but it worked.
What is the 5x5 workout
There are quite a few 5x5 programs out there and even more advanced programs usually make use of sets of five in a longer cycle. Sets of five are a good tool as they are situated between the two big theories of lifting for building strength and mass. Building strength is usually associated with doing sets of 1 to 3 repetitions at a high percentage of your one-repetition maximum. Building mass is usually associated with 8-12 repetitions per set at a lower percentage of your one-repetition maximum. The percentage of your one repetitions maximum to determine the weight you put on the barbell is also called intensity. Some of the most popular 5x5 programs are Stronglifts, Starting Strength, Madcow and the Texas method. All of these use sets of five with different exercises or intensities.
When you talk about the 5x5 workout many will refer to the Stronglifts 5x5 workout. This is a program which takes the concept of doing 5 sets with 5 repetitions with increasing weight. It is usually done with a barbell for the three big lifts. The three big lifts are the squat, bench press and the deadlift. The Stronglifts 5x5 program is one of the easiest to follow as the app is well designed and the instructions are simple and straight forward. I would recommend the Stronglifts program to any of my beginner friends who want to increase their fitness with a focus on barbell exercises.
Another famous 5x5 program is Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. This program is structured just like 5x5 while some of the exercises are chosen slightly different. Instead of the barbell row, you will use the clean. The rest basically stays the same. Starting Strength is a great program for beginners under professional supervision. A strength coach will help with translating the complex instructions of Mark Rippetoe to the beginner. Completely left to your own devices, starting Strength might be a bit overwhelming to navigate when you go beyond the basic program. You will learn more from Rippetoe's instructions of you are willing to absorb it. I personally would not recommend it to beginners who are unsupervised as the drop off rates seems to be higher as with Stronglifts.
Madcow is the follow-up program to Stronglifts after a year to one and a half years of training. The program still works with sets of five but replaces the linear progression of the beginner program with longer cycles for recovery. Linear progression means that you will increase the weight on the bar each workout. Once you have gained a little experience this increase will shift to months or even quarters.
The Texas Method is the follow-up program to Starting strength. It is very similar to Madcow in its structure with a few different accents. As soon as you stop progressing on starting Strength the Texas method is the next program recommended by Mark Rippetoe.
These are the four most famous 5x5 programs. Because of the popularity of the concept and its success, there are many other variations which take the core idea and slap on some extra accessory work here and there.
Pros of the 5x5 workout
The pros of the 5x5 workout are its simplicity, effectiveness and modular structure. This makes programs with 5x5 at its core ideal for strength and muscle beginners or as a built-up phase for seasoned athletes.
Most 5x5 programs are structured in a way that says “do the prescribed repetitions. If you completeness add weight. If you fail, repeat. If you fail too often deload. Rinaldi and repeat”. This has the advantage that you do not need a complex excel spreadsheet to determine how many plates to put on the bar. You will also have no need to look over weekly, monthly or even yearly cycles to understand whether you are getting stronger or not.
The 5x5 programs are effective as they make you stronger and build muscle at the same time. If you want to get above average in both areas this is probably one of the most effective ways to spend time with a barbell or dumbbell.
The 5x5 approach can also be scaled and used as a module for most other workout routines. As long as you can modulate the weight used the 5x5 sessions can also be paired with CrossFit or running schedules depending on your training goals.
Cons of the 5x5 workout
The cons of the 5x5 workouts are its lack of specificity, boredom, and lack of auto-regulation. This makes it a suboptimal training method for athletes and professionals of advantages stages.
As 5x5 sets are the middle of the road approach to weight training, athletes and professionals might be better off spending their time with other rep schemes. If you are into developing maximum strength and explosiveness you might be doing well to mix in more work in the 2-4 repetition range. If you need to build mass you might want to change gears to 5x10 or even German Volume Training. Professional athletes will most likely use 5x5 workouts as a module in a built up to a peak or offseason, but not as the only tool in the box as it lacks the specificity at the extreme edges of weight training.
Another factor to consider with 5x5 workouts is the mental challenge. If you do 5x5 for many years and that is all you do the program will get very stale and you might not be in the mental place anymore to train as hard as you can. There are many believers in weight training for the concept of “shocking the system” and radically switching things up from time to time. Even though empirical evidence for this is hard to come by, I can see the merit of sharpening the mind and body bu doing something unexpected and different.
The last disadvantage of 5x5 programs compared to more sophisticated approaches is the lack of autoregulation. Autoregulation means that you will alter the program with fewer or more work on a given day depending on how you feel. 5x5 workouts treat all days the same whether you are on steroids or have a hangover. A program with autoregulation will allow you to push yourself beyond the prescription on good days and take it down a nudge on bad days. This can be especially important in professional settings where travel, performance and other training commitments enter the mix.
Alternatives to the 5x5 workout
The main alternatives to the 5x5 workouts are
German Volume Training will be a full commitment to muscle growth. This is a great program for teenagers who have all the right ingredients to grow fast as long as they are supervised. German Volume Training has a 10x10 structure at its heart. This means you will do a lot of work and ingrain good technique if you are taught well. It will also mike you swell like a balloon, given the right diet to go along.
Wendler 531 is, in my opinion, one of the best choices of a cookie-cutter program for busy athletes. The routine is usually done within half an hour, includes autoregulation and has a one month cycle. This does not make it too boring, addressed athleticism and strength while not eating up too much time. Only con is that it does not work a lot in absolute one repetition ranges as it does not have peaking blocks. As long as you are not a powerlifter or weightlifter who competes that is not relevant.
If you have no coach to do your programming for you but want to do the best you possibly can, Juggernaut Training Systems is the best alternative I have found. They offer a powerbuilding and powerlifting AI template for about $30 a month. This program will help you with autoregulation, fatigue management, and peak blocks to get the maximum out of your training time. I used Stronglifts 5x5, Wendler 531 and Smolov in the past and got injured on all of them. With JTS this has gone down considerably and I can train longer and harder until I have to take a break.
What is the best 5x5 workout
It all depends on your needs but I would say that it is Stronglifts. This is because it is the easiest to understand and learn and applicable to the broadest audience of fitness enthusiasts. A close second would be the starting Strength routine designed by Mark Rippetoe.