What to do on off days for Stronglifts
The more experienced you are, the more you can do on off days on Stronglifts 5x5. Asking this question you are most likely a beginner. As a beginner, you should rest on rest days unless explicitly told otherwise by your personal trainer. Gradually increase your workload on off days once you get more advanced.
The path to take for your off days depends on your personal goals. I like to point this out when it comes to the training structure. If you struggle to decide what to do on off days on Stronglifts 5x5 revisit why you do the program in the first place. If your main goal is strength, Stronglifts 5x5 is a good place to start. If you prioritize getting muscle, maybe look at German Volume training.
The off days are designed into Stronglifts 5x5 on purpose. Use them. Beginners have a tendency to want to do too much too
Stronglifts 5x5 was designed and republished by Mehdi. You can find the details of the history of the program on the Stronglifts 5x5 website. I recommend the app if you are not using it already. You have three days of work and four days off in the week when on Stronglifts. So you can either train
- Monday, Wednesday, Friday or
- Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday
I prefer the second schedule to hit the gym as it is usually less crowded on these days. This leaves you with four days in the week on which you can go above and beyond.
Bodyweight exercises can be used in multiple ways to accompany 5x5 to get better results if you have the time and capability to do them. I see three major applications for using bodyweight exercises
- Establish better movement patterns
- Strength development for the lower back and abs
If you are too weak to use a barbell yet you have two options. Either use kettlebells to get used to the movement patterns of the deadlift and squat or a technique bar. A technique bar is a barbell which has been designed with less weight to learn and improve technique. This helps to develop good form on the squat, bench press and Deadlift.
Exercises like box jumps, medicine ball throws and boxing can be used to work on explosiveness. Strength is expressed as a combination of absolute power and how fast you can release it. Jumps, slams, and punches address speed and impact. This might help you in martial arts, wrestling, football, and rugby.
Finally, the program falls a little bit short on strength development for the lower back and abs. Exercises like glute ham raises and sit-ups can help to compensate for this.
I personally prepared for two marathons while doing 5x5, one in Frankfurt and one in Vienna. I ran my fastest marathon when I was not on a lifting program in Dublin in 2013 with 3:58. In my opinion, the take away is that lifting is a distractor from running.
There are only so many hours in the day/week to train if you have a full-time job. Therefore make your choice based on your goal and available time whether you want to run on off days or not. For a more rounded overall approach running is a good addition.
If you would like to do a program which fits with Stronglifts 5x5 and is easy to understand I would recommend Hal Higdon's Marathon 3 for the more ambitious amongst you. This program has been specially designed for people with little time. Hal Higdon also makes the point that you should concentrate on Marathon training fully for the best results.
While running on off days is a more rounded approach you can also focus on weak links on off days. This gives you more focus on strength. Weak links are the parts of the squat, bench press and deadlift which make you fail.
The squat is usually failed shortly after "The hole". The hole is the lowest part of the squat where you switch from the downward to the upward movement. You can work on explosiveness out of the hole by doing paused squats. Just squat to the lowest point with 50% - 60% of your one repetition maximum and pause for a count of 3. To start do 3 sets of 3 repetitions half a year into Stronglifts 5x5.
The bench press usually has two sticking points. The first is directly on the chest and the second in the middle of the lift. To fix the first make your pecs grow. Cable pulls and flys work well for this in the 8 - 12 repetition range for three to five sets. The second sticking point usually comes from a weak triceps. I like skull crushers and the Spoto press to fix this.
Long-term it also makes sense to incorporate additional core work. I developed a weak core and had to address that in year three of my training. Beginners do not use enough load to sufficiently activate the core during squats and deadlifts.
Last but not least mobility work. In year two of my lifting journey, this was my biggest weak point. Pay attention to sufficient mobility in the beginning. It is easier to fix things for beginners than to adjust two years into bad movement patterns. I recommend cossack squats with kettlebells to improve hip mobility.
All in all, you have a multitude of options of what to do on off days. The fitter you are entering the program the more extra effort you can put in without putting your health under risk. The less fit you are the more you should tread the off days as what they should be, days to rest and recover
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