Benefits of a 5x5 Workout

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If you've been around the weightlifting world for any period of time, chances are you've heard fellow gym-goers talking about 5x5s. The 5x5 workout program has been around for decades, originated by the late Olympic weightlifter and coach, Bill Starr, a legend in the world of strength training. The catch, of course, is that if you don't know what the 5x5 workout is, the weight room chatter won't immediately clarify the concept, or tell you why the workout format is worth following.

Here's what you need to know.

5x5 Workout Basics

The 5x5 workout concept is straightforward. You're simply performing five sets of five repetitions, or as the name implies, 5x5. Aside from the simple set and rep scheme, the workout itself is also very nuts-and-bolts, typically consisting of just three exercises, each of which targets multiple muscle groups in a compound fashion. Modern iterations of the program incorporate a number of different moves into each week's schedule, but Starr's original version remains popular today. The way he set up his schedule is as follows:

  • Monday: Squat, power cleans, bench press
  • Wednesday: Squat, power cleans, incline bench press
  • Friday: Squat, power cleans, overhead press

The trick is that on each day, Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, a different lift is targeted, requiring you to increase levels of resistance to near-max weight. The other two lifts for a given day use progressively less resistance.

The result is that each exercise ends up having a heavy, medium, and light day, allowing for less stress on the joints and more time to recover from each near all-out effort.

Newer versions of the program include everything from pull-ups to weighted dips and hip-thrusters to lunges. Many workouts also incorporate additional exercises for each day's workout, targeting the core and other smaller muscle groups like the biceps, calves, and triceps.

Benefits of a 5x5 Workout

The beauty of the 5x5 workout is its simplicity. The programming is easy to follow and just about anyone, from beginner to advanced lifter, can use it to increase strength and size. Also, weightlifters following the program don't have to carry long lists of exercise, set, and rep schemes with them to the gym—as long as they can remember the three exercises they want to perform, the set and rep scheme is pretty hard to forget—it's always five sets and five reps of each exercise.

Apart from its simplicity, the structure of the 5x5 program carries benefits as well. The low number of reps per set means you can load on the weight and use higher levels of resistance than you could if you were following a more traditional set and rep scheme of eight to 12 repetitions per exercise. And the more weight you lift, the greater muscle damage you'll experience during a training session. This sounds like a negative outcome, but as long as you're listening to your body and not pushing yourself past your limits, incurring muscle damage during a workout is actually a good thing. As your body rests and repairs post-workout, it adapts to the stimulus provided during your training session, building itself back through muscle protein synthesis so that it's better and stronger than it originally was.

It's also important to recognize the types of exercises included in the program. While the number of exercises per workout is low, each exercise is compound, targeting multiple muscle groups at the same time, requiring them to work together in a chain-like fashion. This type of full-body engagement is functional, crossing over to everyday movement patterns, while simultaneously requiring significant energy output to perform. The result is a workout that helps maintain function in all areas of life while burning a significant number of calories. While you could apply the 5x5 set and rep scheme to just about any exercise, you achieve the highest benefits when sticking with movements like the original exercises that are compound and functional.

Before You Hit the Gym

The 5x5 workout program can certainly be beneficial, but take a word of caution before you load up the bar: to remain successful and injury-free, you have to perform each exercise with perfect form. Compound movements, while incredibly beneficial, also require a significant amount of coordination, a baseline level of strength and flexibility, and in the case of power-movements like the power clean, the ability to lift heavy weights with explosive speed and control. It's highly recommended that you seek assistance from a coach or trainer when first starting this style of program, especially considering the heavy resistance involved. You want to be absolutely sure you're performing each exercise correctly, and with the right level of resistance, so that you don't end up injured.