Saturday, February 12, 2011

5 x 5 and all the fuss

I get a lot of 5 x 5 questions, what I think about it, can it be used to get bigger and stronger and how it fares with other programs, etc so forth and so on.

If you don't know what 5 x 5 is (I don't know how you couldn't) just Google MadCow 5x5 or Reg Park 5 x 5 or whatever.

I wonder if Reg ate mad cows?

Anyway, most people love the 5 x 5 programs, but it does have it's detractors.  Like almost any and every program it has its strong points, and it has short comings.  I will go over what I think the strong and weak points of 5 x 5 training is.  Mainly I'm talking about the MadCow version.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Strong Points of this kind of training -

Big, Proven Movements - I think one thing that should jump right out is that the main focus on the big, time tested movements.  Look, if you get strong on the exercises listed above, you're going to be strong everywhere top to bottom.  This is one of the cores of my own training philosophy.  You don't need a lot of shit to get as big and as strong as possible.  5 x 5 isn't about assistance or weak point bullshit.  It's about getting strong on the basics.  I know that mantra has been repeated about eleventy billion times but it can never be overstated.  Squat, Deadlift, Bench, Press, Chin, Dip, Row.  That's the entire arsenal.  And 5 x 5 covers most of that.

Focus on Strength - Your training should always be focused on getting stronger.  Not "training for looks".  Not much else to say on this topic.  I don't even care if you are a bodybuilder.  The guys who won the Olympia more than any other, were guys whose training foundation was based around powerbuilding type training.  Arnold, Franco, Lee Haney, Dorian, Coleman, etc.

You know this douchebag has never ran a strength oriented program

A Progression Scheme - 5 x 5 doesn't leave you dwindling in the wind with just some sets and reps thrown out there.  There are spreadsheets for both the intermediate and advanced versions.  Whether or not you like the progression scheme is a different story.  At least it gives you one.  And it actually works well if you program conservatively.

Great after a layoff - The two times that I have run 5 x 5 have both been after layoffs and it worked beautifully in getting me back to a good level of strength quickly.  Once was after an injury and the other time was after my appendix ruptured.  Both times it worked really well.

Short Comings of 5 x 5 -

Rigidity - Rigidity is a real word.  I had a DBA (database administrator) use it on me one time, and I thought he made it up.  It's real.

Anyway, the rigidness of the program means that it's not really a "philosophy" of training, but a program.  And if you have read my articles you know what I say about programs compared to philosophies.  A program is like bottled water, a philosophy is like a well.  One you can only drink from short term, the other forever.  5 x 5 is a program, and because this program limits the entire rep range on the big movements to 5 reps, it will indeed have limits on the potential of what it can do.  That potential will vary from person to person.  However sets of 5 are not the be all end all of strength training no matter what some fat out of shape tub of shit on a message board tells you.  You know who I'm talking about...

"Oh I only do singles and the highest my tubby ass goes to is 5"

"I don't go over 5 reps and look at how jacked I am"

Do not listen to this fat ass about training.  Training in a big rep range over the course of your training life will be required if you want to maximize your potential.  Period.  Especially if you are not built for a lift, or need hypertrophy in certain areas.  Even Kirk Karwoski who lived and breathed sets of 5 for building his squat (he was built to squat more than maybe any other human that lived), did high rep squats at times.

Overuse - Some guys get worn down more easily than others.  And pressing three times a week, squatting three times a week may beat some guys up worse than others.  I cannot train that way.  I could when I was detrained and was not moving heavy weights, but when I am at a decent level of strength (for me) I would lose strength at a fairly rapid clip training this way.  This will vary from person to person.  Also don't underestimate the mental side of how repetitive this kind of training is.  In the end, if you don't enjoy training a certain way, you won't get the most out of it.  And some guys simply don't want to squat and press three times a week and then row or clean twice a week.

Generic Application - 5 x 5 isn't really a bodybuilding program, nor a powerlifting program.  It's a general program made to get a guy bigger and stronger.  This is good...and bad.  If your general goal is just to get bigger and stronger, then it can work great.  If you have short comings somewhere, whether that be a certain lift or a certain bodypart you want to develop this is not your program.

For example, if you looked at my deadlift programs, I had to vary my rep scheme, volume, frequency, get certain bodyparts stronger and train from different angles (heights) in order to make my deadlift move.  This kind of generic program wouldn't be something I would look to to move my deadlift if it had been stuck for a long at my present bodyweight and overall strength level.  For a guy that needs to get bigger and stronger, this program would probably make his deadlift (and everything else) move.  But for an advanced guy it might not.

What 5 x 5 IS and IS NOT -

5 x 5 is a great overall program is a guy is looking to gain mass and strength, especially if he's coming off a layoff or injury, or hasn't built up a solid foundation over a long period.  I think advanced guys too can benefit from a cycle of it if they have gotten stupid with too much lifting variation (board presses, floor press, foam this, bands and chains that, box squats from 1 million heights except anything below parallel).

It is also just a program.  And all programs have short comings because over the course of your training life, you're going to have to change some things in terms of volume, sets, and reps.  The big movements can always stay the same, however at different times the body needs different stimulus in terms of both perceived intensity and bar intensity (% of your max) to get you through plateaus.  5 x 5 could be a program that actually does that, for a period of time.  However like all "programs" it will have a lifespan on "gains" or productiveness.

So is 5 x 5 good or bad?  Yes and no.  It depends on you as a lifter, and what your goal is, and where you are at in your training life.  When I ran it after surgery I ran it the whole 9 weeks and came out feeling great on the other side.  Naturally I went to start another cycle and by week 3 I hated that damn program like Luke Skywalker hated the Empire.

Like any "program" use the application of it wisely and know when it's time to change gears.  This may mean you run it many times in a row.  If you keep getting bigger and stronger from it, milk that shit till its dry.  If not, sail on.  It's possible you may use it again with success later.  


  1. Hi Paul. This isn't actually a comment on this post which I haven't read yet.
    I see that you can donate to support this site. But I don't like PayPal since my credit card once got hijacked through them. Is there another way to donate?

  2. Paul that's all I have up at the moment. I appreciate the thought more than anything. I hope to have some t-shirts and a shopping cart up soon.

  3. Oh BTW Paul clicking on my google ad sense ads pays me too. And that's free for you. ;)

  4. Couldn't agree more about programs versus philosophies. Great analogy.

    About 5x5, is the number '5' of any significance? Could you use the same technique with 4x6 or 6x4, where you'd lose or add a warm-up set, with the same effect?

    I've tried the 4x6 variation of the 5x5 and although it's really difficult to tell if one was greater than the other, I did find it saved time in the gym, especially when you have 4 lifts to do.

  5. there is nothing written is stone in strenght training

    see thsi guy for exmaple

    best bench press wrist belt no arch..440 at 80kg of bw

    here hes pressing 330x14 out of shape

    how he trains
    1 big set of 15-25 reps and some down sets

    something that pretty much goes against everything you read about the bench press training

  6. I think 5x5 started simply because Starr thought it was catchy, but someone could refresh me.

    5 is a solid rep number for both size and strength and kind of finds a middle ground, but there isn't anything magical about it.

  7. Paul, have you written anything about training differently based on the season or time of year. I've done 5x5 before and would like to incorporate it again into some sort of yearly scheme, not sure what it should look like though.

  8. No, however it's interesting that you bring that up because I used to plan my training year around gaining weight in the winter and then losing it for summer. Kind of a natural bulk/cut progression I guess you would say.