Extensive Stronglift 5x5 ten-month review
Table of contents
This is an attempt to write the "Be all, end all" of Stronglifts 5x5 reviews and it is therefore rather long. You can click the links in this table of contents to directly hop into what you are most interested in.
- Who should do Stronglifts 5x5
- What is the structure of Stronglifts 5x5
- How does Stronglifts 5x5 fit into the overall lifting theory?
- Exercise selection in Stronglifts 5x5
- What do you think of Stronglifts 5x5 instructions?
- What were your starting statistics?
- How often do you have to do Stronglifts 5x5?
- How much equipment do you need for Stronglifts 5x5?
- How much time do you need for Stronglifts 5x5?
- What do you think of the 5x5 app?
- Are the claims on the Stronglifts 5x5 webpage correct?
- What are the advantages of Stronglifts 5x5?
- What are the disadvantages of Stronglifts 5x5?
- Can you do Stronglifts 5x5 by yourself?
- How long will you make gains on Stronglifts 5x5?
- What would you recommend to eat on Stronglifts 5x5?
- Why did you stop Stronglifts 5x5?
- Would you recommend Stronglifts 5x5to a friend?
- What accessory would you recommend with Stronglifts 5x5?
- When to move on from Stronglifts 5x5?
- Would you recommend Stronglifts 5x5 for a bulk?
- Can Stronglifts 5x5 get you ripped?
- Stronglifts 5x5 for runners
- Stronglifts 5x5 for crossfitters
- Can you do Stronglifts5x5 twice week?
- What to do on off days for Stronglifts 5x5?
- Stronglifts 5x5 for teengers
- Stronglifts 5x5 to lose weight
- Why are there so many squats in Stronglifts 5x5?
- Why are there only 1x5 deadlifts in Stronglifts5x5?
- What are the biggest mistakes on Stronglifts5x5?
- What are good alternatives for Stronglifts 5x5?
- When would you finish Stronglifts 5x5?
Who should do Stronglifts 5x5?
If you are a beginner who wants to build muscle and strength with a barbell to the same extent this program is for you. It is one of the simplest cookie cutter programs out there and the exercise selection is also easy. Progression is clear and easy to follow. People who should not do Stronglifts 5x5 are:
- Only interested in muscle gain
- Only interested in strength gains
- Only interested in more explosiveness?
There is quite a broad body of evidence and studies out there that support that higher repetition ranges per set in the area of 8-15 are better for muscle gains. You also will have to take care of your calorie intake and eat a lot to grow if muscle gains are what you are after.
If your main interest is gaining strength for a specific sport it is very often more about having the right leverages and movement patterns to take optimum advantage of physics, rather than just sheer horsepower. If you are a beginner I would recommend working on your movement patterns specific to your sport. After that, you focus on making your body stronger to move with more force along that trajectory.
What is the structure of Stronglifts 5x5?
Squat 5x5x 100kg = 2.5t
Bench press5x5x100kg = 2.5t
Barbell row 5x5x50kg = 1.25t
Total = 6250kg / 6.25t
How does Stronglifts 5x5 fit into the overall lifting theory?
Is easy to do by yourself
No complicated computations
Easy barbell movements
Instructions are easy to follow
Uses a barbell
Introduces a positive feedback loop early to the beginner
Stays clear of complex ideas like RPE, Phased training, and active recovery
A stimulus within the maximal threshold of the adaptive system
A stimulus that is on average higher than recent historical stimuli
Exercise selection in Stronglifts 5x5
The exercises in Stronglifts 5x5 are the:
With this selection, you end up in a program that is slightly biased towards the world of powerlifting instead of bodybuilding or Olympic weightlifting.
The low bar back squat places the barbell lower on your back so that the barbell path is shortened and you can use your back more for the lift. Compared to the front squat and high bar squat you will get less hypertrophy for the legs out of this variation. This makes it a popular variation amongst powerlifters to maximize their one-repetition maximum.
The front squat is a possible substitute, but I would not recommend it to beginners. Correct execution of the barbell front squat needs considerable wrist mobility or willingness to tolerate some proper discomfort during the squat to set it upright. Most beginners will find this less than appealing. The front squat is a good lift, but in my opinion more technical than the barbell back squat and therefore better chosen when you start doctoring with things after running Stronglifts 5x5.
The high bar back squat would be a better alternative for more quad activation. Most beginners end up somewhere between the low bar and high squat variation. Usually, it is best just to start with what you are comfortable with and hammer out a solid movement pattern.
The flat bench press is the next movement in the line-up for Stronglifts 5x5. This is a great basic move for building up your chest and tricep. Anyone who wants to have a rounder chest should have more variation in their program including INcline bench press, decline bench press, and flies to attach the chest from all angles.
The Pendlay row is a solid row to improve the starting position of the deadlift and develop more speed of the ground. Some might argue, that the classic bodybuilding row starting from just below the knee is better for muscle development. While this is the better movement to focus on your back for mind-muscle connection in my opinion this is not the full picture. If you start picking Stronglifts 5x5 apart for exercise selection on rows you need to introduce Pendlay rows, yates rows, and one-arm dumbbell rows and rotate these in and out of the cycles to attack all angles. This would sacrifice the biggest advantage of the program which is its simplicity.
The deadlift can be one of the trickiest lifts to master out of the Stronglifts 5x5 line-up. The variations to discuss would be the sumo deadlift and the Romanian deadlift. The deadlift has been hyped as the biggest contributor of back strength and that no program worth its salt can be written without it. While it is a great exercise, there are other options to build a great back which people might prefer. Some of the are wide grip pull-ups and seated rows using different grip variations. A great program will play all of these notes, but is also more complex to follow.
The Romanian deadlift gives you more time under tension and therefore better hypertrophy results. However, I think the Romanian deadlift is even worse for beginners than the conventional deadlift. The challenge with a proper Romanian deadlift is that you have to reverse the momentum of the barbell just below the knee or just above the ground. Combine that with the tendency of beginners to overestimate your strength and you have high injury potential on your hands. Learn a proper deadlift first and then start playing around with the range of motion. If you want similar results with less risk try the kettlebell sumo deadlift instead for high repetition ranges.
I would also consider the sumo deadlift a more advanced version of the deadlift with less carry-over to other exercises than the conventional deadlift. If you choose this variation then it is usually better for very compact lifters with shorter leverages. The longer your arms and legs are compared to your torso the more likely it is that you are better suited to a conventional pull.
The barbell overhead press is a sloid movement that easily can be replaced with overhead presses with kettlebells or dumbbells depending on your preferences.
What do you think of the instructions?
The instructions are clear and good if you read them or watch the videos provided on Stronglifts 5x5. All of the proper form fixes are there with pictures, according to descriptions, fixes, and drills.
The problem with 5x5 is that it first emphasizes a lot that you do not need any help from professionals to become strong and how easy the program is, which is generally true. In consequence, this can lead to a lack of attention paid to proper form. Even though it is said in all of the documentation that good form is key for a good lift you tend to focus too much on putting more weight on the bar, rather than fixing your form first.
In addition, a lot of the faults in the squat and deadlift are very hard to spot yourself or even impossible to fix whilst looking at a mirror. (Mehdi makes this point himself about the deadlift). Especially with someone who was never under supervision whilst lifting the ease of progress and lack of check-ins with actual humans can be dangerous.
It happened in my case, which of course is self-inflicted, but it is like with the handbook for a PlayStation 4 you just got with GTA5. You don't really read the bloody thing, you just want to shoot helicopters out of the sky as soon as possible. The only difference is, that you potentially can harm yourself in a big way with 5x5 if bad form meets stupidity and I have seen some strange things in the gym... me included.
What were your starting statistics?
- Height: 185cm
- Weight: 80kg
- Bench: 20kg
- Squat 20kg
- Deadlift: 30kg
- Barbell row: 30kg
- Overhead press: 30kg
This is what the program starts at. Still, this is not the full picture. At the start of June 2014, I had already run a marathon and lost 15kg within a year. I have also been doing weightlifting and judo in my high school years in a semi-professional environment and had therefore at least some kind of base to start from.
I was able to do a pull-up, multiple push-ups and had done two months of bodyweight training prior with admittedly unimpressive results by that time. Bare this in mind, when you are considering 5x5, as these exercises are complex, demand flexibility in the hips and ankles, and are not necessarily for everyone.
How often do you have to do Stronglifts 5x5?
Three times a week. You will gravitate towards doing your exercises on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. However, I did not find that sustainable, as on Mondays the gym is packed with people. Especially when barbells and power racks are limited this can prolong your workout and waste your time and frustration levels go through the roof. Also Fridays most social activities is planned and it is hard to say no to friends or family who expect you to attend.
I switched to Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday a month into the program mainly because of these two reasons. I work full time and found that to be most easy for my lifestyle doing the routine after work on weekdays and on Saturday morning as an early riser before the rest of the family awakens.
In total I had to do 83 sessions in the gym to get to the level I am now. Which is surprisingly low in my book.
How much equipment do you need for Stronglifts 5x5?
The full list of equipment you could get for Stronglifts 5x5 runs is as follows:
The items you will definitely need are a gym membership and some form of lifting shoes.
The easiest way to start is a gym membership in your local area which provides a free weight area including a power rack, a barbell, and allows deadlifts. Powerlifting gyms or a gym with an extensive free weight area would be preferred. If your local gym only has one squat rack you might want to consider looking for one that has multiple. Otherwise, you might have to wait each time you hit the gym until the rack is free as each Stronglifts 5x5 session has barbell squats in it.
Avoid training in regular sneakers or runners. These shoes are laid out to cushion the impact your foot has when jogging and running. For proper lifting, you want the exact opposite and a solid sole. Your options for shoes are:
Converse chucks are a low-cost option for lifting shoes the work for the bench press, squat, and deadlift. They have a solid sole and can also be used to go outside. If you are a beginner and have an old pair ready I would say to stick with those and see how things go. If you want to buy new shoes specifically for lifting in the gym I would recommend looking at powerlifting shoes. Those are cheaper than weightlifting shoes and can be used across all lifts. Don't get a new pair of chucks as they are roughly the same price powerlifting shoes.
Hybrid shoes have been made popular through Crossfit. These shoes are designed to work as runners as well as weightlifting shoes. The sole is somewhere between classical runners and weightlifting shoes. Examples of these shoes are the Nike Metcon series, Reebok Nano Series, and No Bull trainer series. These shoes are a good compromise if you do Stronglifts as a supporting routine to what you would be normally doing in the gym.
Powerlifting shoes have a solid sole but no elevated heel. This makes them a great beginner shoe for Stronglifts 5x5 as you can use them for all three lifts without breaking the bank. I personally loved my Adidas Adipower shoes which I then upgraded to a combo of Nike Romaleos and deadlift slippers.
Weightlifting shoes have a solid sole and elevate your heel. This makes it easier to move your shins forward to squat deeper. Weightlifting shoes are the most expensive out of this line up around $200. They also can not be used for deadlifts as you want to stay very low to the ground to not lengthen the bar path unnecessarily. This is a good upgrade once you move on from Stronglifts 5x5 and now you are in it for the long haul.
Deadlift slippers are little covers for your feet as you are not allowed to lift bare feet in a commercial gym or at a competition. Other than that they don't do a lot and usually set you back about $20.
Whether you need a lifting belt for Stronglifts 5x5 can be debated. I think you should stay away from one as long as you can to build proper strength in your core, rather than relying on a belt. At least this is what I learned from my experience. Work with Stronglifts 5x5 without a belt until you start to stall considerably and then introduce it. In terms of belts your options are:
Single-pronged belts are the most common and least expensive. A good belt will be made of leather and set you back somewhere between $100 to $150. Avoid velcro belts as they often pop mid-lift and therefore are more a hindrance than a help on heavy lifts. A belt with a single pronged is a good beginner option and I loved my Rogue Ohio belt until I upgraded to a lever belt.
Double-pronged belts are an option, but I would not recommend them. It is annoying enough to close one prong on each set. Don'tmake your life harder by doubling up the hassle.
Lever belts are the deluxe version of belts for powerlifting. The lever makes it very easy to open and close them for each set. The only downsides are that they are very specific to one user and that the lever mechanic will get in the way of the Olympic lifts. This is a piece of equipment to aspire to in your gym bag 2.0. The Rogue Ohio lever belt is a good option.
Knee sleeves and wrist wraps are also an option, but of lower priority for beginning lifters. Focus on shoes and maybe a belt out of your budget.
If you want to build your own home gym I have an entire series of videos dedicated to the topic. Recommended shopping would be:
How much time do you need for Stronglifts 5x5?
Mehdi claims it only takes 30 minutes for each workout. This assumes no warm-up beforehand and also no warm-up sets, which are kind of downplayed a bit in his resources to my tastes.
The 30 minutes hold true at the beginning of the program until you start to get to the 100kg squat mark. Once you are there you will most likely do these two things, except you want to expose yourself to a high risk of injury:
- Implement a warm-up routine that loosens up your tendons and ligaments before hitting the bar
- Include warm-up sets with the bar
- Have longer pauses between sets
The warm-up sets with the bar are not included in the basic 5x5 app and cost a little bit. Implementing those is roughly 5 - 10 minutes per exercise. If you add a proper warm-up that is another 15 minutes added into the mix. The system also allows you to have either 1:30 minutes or 3 minutes of rest between sets if you struggled to hit the five repetitions. Now given you get close to your limits (which you will) that is 4x3x3 minutes of rest for a challenging workout which brings you to 36 minutes of rest in total. That blows the claimed 30 minutes of 5x5 right out of the window (but to be fair you will also not be a complete greenhorn anymore). 36 minutes of rest + 15 minutes of actual exercise + 10 minutes warm-up sets + 15 minutes warm-up without bar amounts to a bit more than an hour per workout. I found that to be a lot closer to what you actually have to invest if you take this seriously.
What do you think of the 5x5 app?
I used it all the time. It is one of the best apps I have on my phone. Easy to use, no fancy stuff, straightforward. All of the buttons work as they should, you get appropriate loading and deloading advice and a timer for rest. Also works fine whilst listening to music on your iPhone. The upgrades to the program are installed easily and billing works just fine.
I recommend getting the warm-up and arms package right out of the gate. The other programs (3x5 and 3x3) can be gotten in the package, but will not be used even a year into the program. At least that is how it was for me, it could be that you plateau earlier and therefore need to change sooner.
Are the claims that Mehdi makes on his website accurate?
A definite yes apart from some minor sales pitches he gives or sheer enthusiasm that it works so well. I let you be the judge of that. Mehdi promises you will get stronger and I did get stronger. The expectation to grow muscle was met. It is stated that the program is easy to understand and follow and it is. So overall, turn to the Stronglifts 5x5 website for advice and inspiration, it will pay off.
What are the major advantages of Stronglifts 5x5?
The main advantages of Stronglifts 5x5 are aimed at beginners. As outlined in the structure of the program it will work as it follows the most important principles of strength training. Where it falls short is in the more sophisticated areas of individual differences and fatigue management.
- Easy Structure
- Easy lifts
- Safe start
- Positive Feedback loop
The structure of Stronglifts 5x5 is very simple. You learn the lifts and then add either 5kg or 2.5kg per session to the bar. This does not need a lot of calculation or thinking which makes it easy for beginners to concentrate on progress and execution.
Another element is that the lifts are rather easy to perform as far as barbell movements go. The squat, bench press and deadlift are on the easier end of the spectrum compared to the clean, clean and jerk, and snatch. This gives beginners the opportunity to build a solid foundation to work with a barbell for the future.
One of the main advantages of Stronglifts is the safe start of the program. The empty barbell starting point regulates intensity down to focus on technique and not overloading too early. While more experienced lifters would deem this a disadvantage as this makes the first 3 - 6 months suboptimal for strength and muscle gains, I personally think that it is the right approach for beginners.
Stronglifts 5x5 also creates a positive feedback loop that makes you want to come back for more. IT is very satisfying to see each session that you are lifting more and more weight for a considerable amount of time before you have to deload.
The last advantage is that the basic program is free. For a free program and app you re getting a lot of value out of Stronglifts 5x5.
What are the major disadvantages of the program?
It does not help you to do a proper self-assessment upfront and is also spun in a way that can be dangerous especially for young adults or unfit individuals.
Young adults will be tempted to neglect any other advice they get because Mehdi presents his information as the ultimate undisputed gospel in some instances. While the results he has to show are impressive and real that does not necessarily apply to everyone. Especially teenage boys could be led to overtraining during puberty by the program, just because it is so easy to follow.
I would classify unfit individuals as people who cannot do a pull-up or push-up. Also, test yourself by lifting a 20kg plate as this is the same weight as the barbell you will use. If you cannot move the plate with ease and cannot do a pull-up or push up then focus on acquiring those skills first and progress with goblets squats to the bar increasing from a non-weighted squat to 5kg goblet 10kg, 15 kg, 20kg.
Reasonably fit people can fall into the trap of training with inefficiencies because you do not have a spotter as the program is self-explanatory. In my case this lead to scaling to a 137.5kg squat until realizing that it was… shit. I unloaded to 80kg and build back up from there with proper form and depth on the squat. It would have been better to get proper coaching to build a solid back squat right from the start.
What 5x5 also does not account for are imbalances in your physique. I always had a very strong upper body compared to a weaker lower body. If you only do 5x5 these imbalances will stay and scale. This led to me benching more than I squat at the end of the program.
I also got bursitis in my elbow from doing 5x5 and had to pause in February 2015 for antibiotics. I felt no pain but still, it is a condition that will stay with me for a foreseeable time to come. I recovered well and I am stronger than ever in 2021.
Last but not least the program can get very boring. It is not for everyone to do the same exercises over and over and over…
Can you do Stronglifts 5x5 by yourself?
Yes, you can, however, bear in mind the drawbacks I described under the disadvantages of 5x5 if you decide to travel down this path.
How long will you make gains on Stronglifts 5x5?
What would you recommend for nutrition on Stronglifts 5x5?
In the first 6 months, I did do nothing. After that, I implemented a whey shake in the morning and a complete protein shake in the evening from optimum nutrition mixed with water.
Why did you stop doing Stronglifts 5x5?
After 10 months I felt that I did not get further with the program. Also, an injury is usually a sign of wear and tear that can be attributed to overtraining and a need for change. Apart from that I also switched my gym and I felt it was time to try something new as I was also in the range of hitting plateaus. In all fairness, I could have pushed the envelope further by sticking to the program and also doing the 3x5 and 3x3 programs from Mehdi. I do not really want to at this stage and we will see what the conjugate method has in stock for me.
Would you recommend Stronglifts 5x5 to a friend?
A definite yes as long as
- You can do a pull up
- You can easily handle a 20kg plate
- You are not overweight
- You have no medical conditions which would prohibit you to lift
- You want to get strong
If you are obese, focus on diet first then maybe HIIT and Tabata workouts. They are intense and do not do too many repetitions for the same exercise which will help your joints. If you are slightly overweight like I was maybe consider running first to get back to your high school weight and then build up strength using 5x5.
What would you recommend to accompany Stronglifts 5x5?
On the off days, I personally did my running plan and HIIT or CrossFit-related exercises. If you only want to get stronger you do not have to do this, but If you want to be an all-around athlete I would recommend getting some cardio/high-intensity work in somehow.
Also if you have imbalances in your body do the necessary work on your off days to compensate for those.
When to move on from Stronglifts 5x5?
Would you recommend Stronglifts 5x5 for bulking?
Can Stronglifts 5x5 get you ripped?
Stronglifts 5x5 for runners?
Stronglifts 5x5 for Crossfitters?
Can you do Stronglifts 5x5 twice a week?
What to do on off days for Stronglifts 5x5?
Stronglifts 5x5 for teenagers?
Stronglifts 5x5 to lose weight?
Why are there so many squats in Stronglifts 5x5?
Why are there only 1x5 deadlifts on Stronglifts?
What are the biggest mistakes with Stronglifts 5x5?
What are good alternatives for Stronglifts 5x5?
When would you finish Stronglifts 5x5?
When you make no more gains / not get stronger anymore or get injured it is time to change the program. Also If you do not feel challenged by it anymore. Getting bored can also be a reason, but do not mistake a limited down in your mood as an overall dissatisfaction with the program. Be methodical about your choices for a training program, not emotional.
Further reading on Stronglifts
- Stronglifts for teenagers
- Stronglifts for crossfitters
- Stronglifts for runners
- Stronglifts for powerlifting
- Stronglifts for bulking
- How to bench press for stronglifts
- When to move on from Stronglifts
- What program to do after Stronglifts
- Can you do Stronglifts to get ripped
- Stronglifts 5x5 without a spotter
- Stronglifts 5x5 to lose weight
- How long should I do Stronglifts 5x5
- What to do on off days for stronglifts
- Stop making mistakes with Stronglifts
- Wendler 531 vs Stronglifts 5x5
- What equipment should I use for Stronglifts
- Stronglifts for intermediates
- Stronglifts vs CrossFit
- Stronglifts 5x5 diet
- Squat calculator
- Alternative review