The Advanced 5×5 Routine For Size and Strength

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The Advanced 5×5 Routine For Size and Strength

During bodybuilding’s Golden Years one of the most popular routines for packing on muscle fast was the “5×5 Routine”. Just like it’s name, the workout suggests performing 5 sets of 5 reps of mostly compound movements. One could train each movement 2 or even 3 times a week without worrying about overtraining because the overall routine volume is so low, but the training frequency and focus on compound movements necessitates this type of schedule for maximum recuperation and growth.

The main [but unjust] criticism of this routine is that it’s too limiting, but with a bit of creativity you can tweak the basic 5×5 regimen onto a plan which could be used for many cycles of growth to come- all without incurring boredom or plateaus!

A typical 5×5 routine would look something like this:

Squats 5×5
Bench Presses: 5×5
Chins: 5×5
Clean and Jerks: 3×5

The above was performed anywhere between 2-3 times a week. Usually the first two sets of the above were for warming up. One would perform a set of 5 with 60% of their target weight, then the next set at 80%, then 3 sets of the work weight.

With some variety over time someone can go quite far with just the above routine, but there will come a time where added exercises and specialization is sought.

The 5×5 solves some of the more important issues found in advanced training. For one, there comes a point where strength begins to severely outweigh recovery ability. Ordinarily this would necessitate taking more rest days in between sessions, but what often happens with more standard routines is it becomes unwieldy to perform all of the work per specific section in one routine without taking so much time off in between like session that detraining can begin to occur- or at least some from of neurological inefficiency due to the long time span between like sessions. By splitting up the work and performing like sessions frequently enough to keep this neurological edge, one gets the necessary volume of training AND no efficiency is lost.

Scientifically, one slightly reduces the “amplitude” of a session but increases the frequency to make up for it. Here’s a good example of a full, advanced size and strength 5×5 routine:

Bench Presses: 5×5
Chins: 5×5
Military Presses: 4×5
Curls: 4×5
Tricep Extensions: 4×5
Wrist Curls: 1×8
Reverse Wrist Curls: 1×8


Full Squats: 5×5
Leg Curls: 4×5
Shrugs: 2×5
Calf Raises: 5×8
Roman Chair Sit Ups: 3×10

Incline Bench Presses: 5×5
One Armed Rows: 5×5
Arnold Presses: 4×5
Seated Dumbbell Curls: 4×5
One Armed Overhead Extensions: 4×5
Reverse Curls with Thick Bar: 1×5
Grip Machine: 1×8

Deadlifts: 3×5
Parallel Squats: 5×5
Seated Leg Curls: 4×5
Upright Rows: 2×5
Seated Calf Raises: 5×8
Hanging Leg Raises- twisting: 3×10

The above time interval constitutes one “microcycle”- which is a measurable portion of a standard cycle where the entire range of training is encompassed before repeating.

You’ll note the first half of the week focuses mostly on core type movements and there’s no deadlifting- You’ll note the first half of the week focuses mostly on core type movements and there’s no deadlifting- whereas the second half includes deadlifting and auxiliary training. The lower back is engaged with so many different movements that targeting it less frequently is usually desirable. Auxiliary movements can be used with less sets since the bodyparts they’re targeting are already getting a lot of work with the big movements. As shown in the initial 5×5 routine, one can do well with only the most basic of movements if times is a concern.

The above routine should be set up in a cyclical format. A standard cycle would be as follows:

Week 1: 85%

Week 2: 90%

Week 3: 95%

Week 4: 100%

At the 100% week, you achieve your goals and use the performance to evaluate what your next 100% goal week should be like.

What makes this routine format great is it allows for the perfect combination of continuity and variety. Some elements of each like session should be similar enough so you can compare them- this is how you track progress. The option for performing another session within a week that allows for unlimited variety is what keeps this workout “fun”. While the routine revolves around reps of fives, one can change that as well as long as the 5 SET count for most major groups is left intact. The variety that this allows for is limitless, and one can fashion all forms of specialized routines with this in mind! Want to turn the 5×5 into a powerlifting regimen? Start off with a cycle of 8 reps and work your way down to reps of 6, then 4, then 2, and then 1 in the last cycle to achieve your powerlifting goals. Need more vascularity and a better “pump” during training? A couple of cycles of 5×20 can cause a spurt of fibrous, vascular growth not often seen with other forms of training.

How about focusing on one lift to isolate and accelerate gains in one particular movement? One can prune the routine down to mere maintenance (or eliminate any extra work if only for a short period) for other aspects and focus solely on the target. Here’s a great example on how to do this with the Clean and Jerk in a two week “isolation” phase. An exercise like the Clean and Jerk is optimal for this type of abbreviated training since it qualifies as a “whole body” movement.

Week 1:

Monday: 5×5 @ 82.5%

Tuesday: 5×5 @ 85%

Thursday: 5×5 @ 87.5%

Friday: 5×5 @ 90%

Week 2: Monday: 5×5 @ 92.5%

Tuesday: 5×5 @ 95%

Thursday: 5×5 @ 97.5%

Friday: 5×5 @ 100%

After this, a period of rest and resumption of a more “normal” routine would be encouraged.

Here are some tips for improving your experience with the 5×5 routine:

-Start with a 7 day week plan but add days each microcycle if necessary. This is especially important if you’ve become accustomed to training each bodypart/series once per week.

-Time yourself between sets and keep the intervals to 3 minutes or less to eliminate time wastage and to improve the quality of your “pumps”. This is especially valuable when using reps higher than 5.

-Use the heaviest weight on your first work set and drop the weight slightly for the remainder of the sets. This will ensure you’re training each work set with a bit more intensity and not merely sacrificing to ensure you’re getting 3 sets of 5 reps.

-Vary the exercises in the auxiliary portion of your microcycles unless you have a very specific deficiency to correct.

-Log all of your training. Even if you’re performing the same type of workout for long periods of time the weight and numbers should change. The obligation of writing your training down can also have the effect of helping you stick to your schedule.

The 5×5 is a fun and reliable way of setting up a weight training routine to target most any goal. Give it a try today!

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