One of the most popular muscle and strength-building programs of all time is the 5x5 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: 5x5 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 5x5 for Muscle and Strength.
Want to learn more? Here's what you need to know about 5x5 training.
What Is 5x5 Weight Training?
Rather than doing a lot of different movements for each muscle group, 5x5 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 5x5 for Muscle and Strength in BodyFit, add a third variation build around a third set of lifts, like box squats and incline presses.
Is 5x5 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 5x5 will reliably produce an increase in muscle mass, as well, provided you are eating enough calories to support this muscle growth. This version of 5x5 also contains some higher-rep accessory work that will help add muscle mass along with strength.
Is 5x5 for Beginners?
Sure, it can be. But while 5x5 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 5x5 Workouts?
The biggest mistake people make in 5x5 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 5x5 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, 5x5 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 5x5 Program?
Stick with 5x5 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 5x5 Training?
The classic 5x5 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 5x5 program.
As with any systematic, heavy lifting program, you need to ensure you have proper pre- and post-workout nutrition while doing 5x5 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.
5x5 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 5x5 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!