The 5×5 workout emphasises strength, but overall, it’s great for muscle hypertrophy and fat loss too.
I was 150 pounds soaking wet. It was the summer before my Junior year in college, and I was determined to put on some muscle mass. I remember walking into the old school bodybuilding dungeon that is Greg Long’s gym in Feasterville, Pennsylvania. For those unfamiliar with Greg, in the 80s, he won the title of Mr. U.S.A., Mr. Universe, Mr. World, and Mr. International. As Greg had gone to school with my grandmother, I felt comfortable asking him,
“What is the best way to gain muscle mass?”
Greg looked at me and without thinking twice replied,
“For your body type, nothing beats 5 sets of 5 reps. Just make sure you use heavy weight.”
I did as Greg said and as classes started back up in September, I was 165 pounds and getting a lot of attention from classmates.
What is this classic training system that allowed me to put on 15 pounds of lean muscle mass in one short summer? Let’s review the details, acute variables, and sample program of the 5×5 system.
What is the 5×5 System?
Few lifting methods have been around as long the 5×5 system, and it’s no surprise. When you want well-rounded results, to build strength, pack on impressive lean muscle mass and burn fat, this is the way to lift. It is said that the first guy to write about the 5×5 system was Reg Park, one of Schwarzenegger’s mentors. In fact, simply doing a Google search with his name and the term “5×5” will produce what is supposed to be his original program. Regardless, the value of this system became readily apparent many years ago and continues to transform physiques to this day.Ed Corney placed 2nd in the 1975 Mr Olympia – Lightweight category.
Who Will Benefit Most With the 5×5 System?
I would recommend this lifting methodology to most fitness enthusiasts but especially for two groups of people: beginners and those who have reached a plateau. Yes, advanced lifters would benefit from this system but not in the same way. The amount of muscular hypertrophy that is a result of this system will elicit a much more noticeable response from someone who has little experience with bodybuilding or someone who needs to shock their system. If you’ve been hitting the weights hard for years and consider yourself a veteran of the weight room, you would need a more extreme type of challenge to encourage a high rate of hypertrophy.
Breaking it Down
Just as the name suggests, the system demands that you perform 5 sets of 5 reps. As simple as this seems, there is much more to it including the volume, tempo, and rest periods needed to maximise muscle growth.
The amount of weight that you use is going to make the difference between gaining and maintaining. You need to select a weight that is going to burn you out by the last repetition. You should be struggling, with good form, to complete the set. With that said, that amount of weight typically falls within 75% to 85% of your one-rep max.
Intensity is just as important as volume. The amount of weight you will be using will necessitate a constant demand to push yourself to reach that last repetition. Yell, get mad, or do your own weird breathing trick, just make sure you bring the intensity each time.
Often times, this is one of the most abused and misused elements of a training system. To ensure maximum hypertrophy you want to take your time. This isn’t a CrossFit workout. Follow the following format:
- 3 seconds in the concentric phase (lifting the weight)
- 1 second in the isometric phase (pausing at the top of the movement)
- 2 seconds in the eccentric phase (lowering the weight)
Your resting period between sets should be no more than 60 seconds. If you are using the 5×5 system with Super Sets then you should be resting no more than 90 seconds. As short as these breaks may seem, they are the ideal times to ensure a high level of muscular hypertrophy.
Tips & Tricks to Maximise Muscle
1. For your last set of an exercise, grab a lifting partner and complete a failure set using 90% to 100% of your one-rep max. Remember: A failure set REQUIRES your partner to be attentive as it’s almost a guarantee that you won’t be able to push out 5 reps of that volume on your own.
2. If you are a veteran of the weight room but still want to give this a try, I would recommend using Super Sets during your workout. Super Sets involve pairing two exercises together and performing them one after the other with no break in between. For instance, I would do 5 reps of chest press immediately followed by 5 lat pull-downs.
3. Nutrition is critical if you want to see impressive gains in size and strength. Focus on nutritious whole food meals spread out every 2 to 3 hours. Take a wholefood based multivitamin to fill in the nutritional gaps. You also have the option of using supplements. But remember food should always be your number one priority. Listen to what Rich Piana has the say on the topic Food vs Protein Powder.The king of aesthetics – Frank Zane.
[toggles] [toggle title=”5×5 Sample Workout (Difficulty: Intermediate)” color=”Accent-Color” id=”b1″]
Super Set 1:
Flat Bench Press – 5×5
Triceps Kickbacks – 5×5
Super Set 2:
Decline Bench Press – 5×5
Triceps Pushdown – 5×5
Super Set 3:
Incline Bench Flys – 5×5
Alternating Dumbbell Curls – 5×5
Super Set 1:
Barbell Squats – 5×5
Dumbbell Lunges – 5×5
Super Set 2:
Single Leg Squats – 5×5
Dumbbell Calf Raise – 5×5
Super Set 3:
Leg Curl – 5×5
Seated Calf Press – 5×5
Super Set 1:
One Arm Row – 5×5
Preacher Curl – 5×5
T-Bar Row – 5×5
Arnold Press – 5×5
Lateral Raises – 5×5
Forearm Curls – 5×5
Saturday & Sunday: Rest
All In All
If you are serious about putting on muscle, then you may not need this lecture but I’m giving it: The 5×5 method is a workout that will give back to you only what YOU put into it. It’s going to get tough, but you need to push yourself. Not just in the gym but also in the kitchen to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to grow. Stay dedicated to this system for at least 6 to 8 weeks, and I’m sure you’ll be happy with the results.
For a more detailed breakdown of the 5×5 visit stronglifts extensive guideline.