Traditional 5x5 workout for building strength

Traditional 5×5 Workout Plan for Building Strength

Simple but remarkably effective workout plan for increasing maximum strength.

  • Goal: building strength
  • Technical complexity: medium
  • 2 – Day Split
  • Duration: 45 – 60 minutes
  • 3 times a week

The traditional 5×5 program is a very simple and effective workout plan for quickly increasing your maximum strength. The workout plan is easy to follow and it includes big basic exercises (squat, deadlift, bench press, bent-over row and shoulder press) which are done five times with five rep sets (5 sets of 5 reps), excluding deadlift. The workout plan is not recommended for beginners because when doing big exercises with heavy weights, your technique needs to be perfect.

Please notice that the aim of this workout plan is not for building muscle or controlling weight management. The idea is not to “pump iron” or train the muscle until it hurts. On the contrary, the idea is to increase weight and therefore build STRENGTH. Of course muscle mass will increase when strength increases and the increased muscle mass helps with weight management, but the main concept of this workout plan focuses on building maximum strength.

The efficiency of this 5×5 workout plan is based on progressively increasing the weights used after each time you work out within a given cycle. In this case you will start out by using lighter weights, but after every time you workout, you will use heavier weights than the time before. By week 8 – 12, you will reach your previous maximum (and top it!). When you cannot do 5×5 sets any longer with the weights you are using at that moment, it’s time to rest for a week. You then start the whole cycle all over again, but with slightly heavier weights than those from the previous cycle of course.

One vital recommendation for this workout plan is to do it for a maximum of two cycles in a row since long, maximum strength training can quickly overload your nervous system, thus increasing the risk of causing injury due to overtraining.
The workout should be done 3 times a week (not back-to-back days) as two different exercises (, alternating between each exercise day by day?):

Workout “A”:

Workout “B”:

Make sure to recover completely in between the sets! For example, don’t start the next set until you feel completely recovered from the previous set. Depending on the weight load, it should take 2 – 5 mins between sets. So at the beginning of a cycle, the training duration is rather short (becoming longer over time because the recovery times between sets increases as the weight load increases) but it becomes longer because the recovery times are becoming longer.

Do a few warmup sets before starting each working set. For example, if your squat working-set weight is 80 kg / 175 lbs, complete the following sets as a warmup:

  1. 15 x 20 kg / 45 lbs
  2. 8 x 60 kg / 135 lbs

Whereas your working set will be 5 x 5 x 80 kg / 175 lbs

The starting weight:
Select a very light starting weight. A good rule of thumb is that if you can hardly bench press 5 x 100 kg / 220 lbs, you should start the cycle with 50 kg / 110 lbs (50 % of your 5 rep max). The weight might feel light at first but when you increase the weight by 2.5 kg every time you workout, in about 10 weeks you should manage to complete that 5 x 100 kg / 220 lbs FIVE times.

I repeat… Start lightly!

The progression in this workout plan has been implemented in a way that after every time you workout, you increase the weight by 2.5 kg / 5 lbs, with the exception of deadlift where you increase the weight by 5 kg / 10 lbs.

When you reach a weight you can’t lift 5×5 anymore, try again the next time, the time after that and so on until you manage to lift the weight, OR you will start having trouble with some other exercises as well. When you have two exercises that you can’t complete the 5×5 sets for using a clean technique during two workouts in a row, it’s time to rest for a week and start the cycle over. The starting weight of a new cycle is obviously a little heavier than that from the very first cycle you began with.

Why only one deadlift set?

Squats load mainly the same muscles as deadlifts (quadrizeps, glutes) so the load will be enough without doing a 5×5 deadlift set. After all, you are in fact squatting every time you do this workout as well!

Why such a limited number of exercises?

Let’s take a look how “only” these five basic exercises load your body. (This is from source:×5/)

Abs. Your abs have to work hard at keeping you from collapsing under the bar when you do heavy Squats, Deadlifts and Overhead Press. Stronger abs are the secret to six pack abs. Note that you must eat right as well. Otherwise your abs will be hidden behind a layer of fat.

Shoulders. Both the Overhead Press and Bench Press will work your shoulders hard to lift the weights up. Nothing worked for me at building wider shoulders until I started doing the Overhead Press.

Chest. Getting your Bench Press to 100 kg/225 lb will have the biggest impact on getting a bigger chest. You don’t need to do incline, decline or all that “B.S.”. Just go flat and go heavy.

Arms. One, your biceps work hard when doing heavy Barbell Rows. Two, your triceps work hard when pressing against heavy loads (bench, overhead). Three, you’re holding the bar on each exercise, squeezing it hard during heavy weights. All in all, your arms will get tons of direct and indirect work causing them to grow in size.

Forearms. Again, your hands grip the bar hard on every exercise. That and heavy Deadlifts will make your forearms get bigger. Forget about high rep wrist curls in every direction.

Traps. Shrugs suck. If you want ski-slope traps, just do some heavy Deadlifts. Take before/after pictures for proof of your advancement. Your traps will be huge once you can pull 4 plates (180 kg/400 lb) off the floor.

Thighs. Once you get your Squat to 3 plates (140 kg/300 lb), you’ll have to buy a new pair of jeans. You might even tear a pair of shorts in the gym… (note: I can’t be held responsible for this).

Back. Forget about wide lat pulldowns and all that. Heavy Deadlifts and Barbell Rows will hit your upper-back hard. You’ll build size, strength and that v-shape everybody wants but few achieve.

Calves. Squats and Deadlifts will work out your calves. But don’t expect any miracles if you have high calf attachments such as myself. There isn’t much muscle to work with in this case; just mostly tendon. Calves are largely genetics.

Download a printable workout journal to keep track of your increasing weights. Now go to a gym and GET STRONGER!
Traditional 5x5 workout for building strength


Looking for a different type of workout plan?