One of the most popular muscle and strength-building programs of all time is the 5×5 protocol. Lifters were swearing by it 50 years ago, and in recent years, it has only gotten more popular. Why? Because it’s simple, sustainable, and it straight-up works.
But there’s a catch: 5×5 works best as a long-term commitment of at least a month or two, not a once-in-a-while thing. That’s why it’s best to follow a classic program, like Bodybuilding.com’s 5×5 for Muscle and Strength.
Want to learn more? Here’s what you need to know about 5×5 training.
What Is 5×5 Weight Training?
Rather than doing a lot of different movements for each muscle group, 5×5 training hits just a few movements hard with 5 sets of 5 reps, sometimes followed by optional higher-rep accessory work. Here are two common protocols to alternate:
Some protocols would just have you alternate those two workouts in an A/B/A, B/A/B style. Others, like 5×5 for Muscle and Strength in BodyFit, add a third variation build around a third set of lifts, like box squats and incline presses.
Is 5×5 Good for Building Muscle?
This training approach is designed to hit your muscles hard three times per week, then allow enough time to promote growth and recovery. It has been most popular among strength-seeking lifters, because it has you training in the strength-building sweet spot of 70-80 percent of your one-rep max (1RM) on big lifts. It’s a great idea to use a 1RM calculator to find out your percentages.
But this is more than just a strength program. A well-designed 5×5 will reliably produce an increase in muscle mass, as well, provided you are eating enough calories to support this muscle growth. This version of 5×5 also contains some higher-rep accessory work that will help add muscle mass along with strength.
Is 5×5 for Beginners?
Sure, it can be. But while 5×5 is sometimes advised as a beginner program, it’s probably best used by intermediate lifters who have a base of training. No, you won’t be maxing out, but the intensity and volume are higher than many bodybuilding-focused programs.
For many beginners, it’s better to start off with a program built around sets of 8-10 reps, like Strength and Muscle for Beginners.
How Heavy Should I Lift in 5×5 Workouts?
The biggest mistake people make in 5×5 training is going too heavy.
During the first week of the training program, you should err on the side of caution and use weights that feel light enough to allow you to hit every rep without much of a struggle. If you know what your one-rep max on the big lifts is, start 5×5 with around 65 percent of that max. After the first week, bump the weight up 5-10 pounds for the following week, and again the week after.
That may not sound like much, but it’s enough to keep you progressing! Remember, 5×5 works when you hit all your reps, not when you miss them. Failure has no place in this plan!
How Long Should You Do a 5×5 Program?
Stick with 5×5 training for at least four weeks. If you hit all your reps, you should hopefully be setting new rep maxes and seeing a significant increase in both strength and muscle.
If you’re still making gains, stick with it for another four weeks. After that, it’s a great time to switch the movements, or try another workout program.
What’s the Best Nutrition for 5×5 Training?
The classic 5×5 workouts work best when you are eating adequate calories. Using a calorie calculator to make sure you’re in a slight caloric surplus is a great idea while following a 5×5 program.
As with any systematic, heavy lifting program, you need to ensure you have proper pre- and post-workout nutrition while doing 5×5 training. You may not get very sweaty doing sets of 5, but rest assured, your body is working hard!
The workouts are going to take a lot out of your body, so providing them with the nutrients to fuel the activity as well as recovery from it is essential. Aim for a gram of protein per pound of body weight each day, and don’t be afraid to see the number on the scale go up along with the weight on the bar.
5×5 and protein are a match made in gains heaven. Hit your reps and earn your shake!
A Timeless Approach for Strength and Size
If you can set your ego aside and do the work, you will join the legion of 5×5 believers on BodySpace and in the Bodybuilding.com forums. Then, you can always return to it in the future whenever you want to see the weight on the bar go up!