I heard about the 5×5 routine for the first time in the venerable pages of Muscle & Fitness. And by venerable, I mean something other than the dictionary definition. I think I meant to type glossy and ad-laden. Anyway, 5×5 was in a section about combining bodybuilding and powerlifting, which was itself in a section about whether the two could be reconciled at all. Size and strength. Muscles and power. Could you be aesthetically pleasing to the eye and still lift a ton of weight? Or did signing up for elite powerlifting mean that you’d wind up looking like a fire hydrant?
I also saw the workout in Stuart McRobert’s wonderful book Beyond Brawn (that link takes you to my book review). And in the Purposeful Primitive by Marty Gallagher, Bill Starr’s 5×5 preference comes up a few times.
According to the 5×5 workout, you could have both. 5×5 focuses on volume and intensity (weight on the bar).Essentially you do 5 sets of 5 reps with the same weight. Once you can do that, you add weight and start over on the next cycle.
It is usually applied to bigger movements like the barbell back squat and the deadlift, but the numbers work the same no matter what you do.
Say that you’re doing deadlifts with 315. Let’s say you got three sets of 5, but then only 2 sets of 3. The next time you did the same lift you would be trying to add reps to the sets which you had not yet completed 5 reps with. It’s that simple. 25 reps and you get to move up in weight. Anything less and you keep plugging away until you’ve done it.
I applied this to my deadlift training a few years ago and had great results in muscle gain and strength, largely because I had never done such high volume before. And now that I train with Gym Movement, the idea that those 25 reps were ever high volume makes me smile.
If you’re looking for something new and you’ve never tried 5×5, it might be worth testing out.