Your Guide to Stronglifts 5×5: Complete Stronglifts 5×5 Workout Review

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Have you had been thinking about giving Stronglifts 5×5 a try?

Don’t hesitate.

It is a solid program for beginner to intermediate lifters and don’t let anyone say otherwise. Just because it is simple, does not mean it is ineffective.

Stronglifts 5×5 is for those who want to increase strength and build muscle mass.

Here Elliot from YO ELLIOT – Strength Camp explains why he likes the program, and indeed, he used it at the start of his bodybuilding career.

This guide to Stronglifts 5×5 is just that, a guide to explain Stronglifts 5×5, lay out the equipment you need, explain who the program is for and answer the most common Stronglifts 5×5 questions we get.

Contents

What Exactly is Stronglifts 5×5?

Get bigger and stronger by lifting just three days a week.

The Stronglifts 5×5 program allows you to build a balanced physique without favoring upper nor lower body.

The program is geared toward increasing strength and building muscle mass.

Other goals like weight or fat loss, cardiovascular fitness and living longer or being healthier may come as a result, but also depend largely on your lifestyle choices.

The two halves of 5×5

Stronglifts 5×5 is two workouts alternating during two weeks.

Stronglifts 5×5 is made up of 2 workouts, workout A and workout B, which run on a two week schedule.

Workout A

  • 5×5 Squats
  • 5×5 Bench Press
  • 5×5 Barbell Row

Workout B

  • 5×5 Squat
  • 5×5 Overhead Press
  • 1×5 Deadlift

The Stronglifts 5×5 Program Laid Out Simple: The Best 5X5 Program to Follow

Schedule so easy, you really don’t even need this table…but I included it so someone new would easily see the simplicity.

MondayWednesdayFriday
Week 1Workout AWorkout BWorkout A
Week 2Workout BWorkout AWorkout B

Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are rest days. Cool, right?

The Fab 5 – the Five Stronglifts 5×5 moves

It’s Simple.

There are 5 compound lifts that make up the Stronglifts 5×5 program:

  • Squats
  • Barbell Row
  • Deadlift
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press

What does the 5×5 mean in Stronglifts 5×5?

man lifting barbell in gym

It means you do 5 sets of 5 reps of each exercise.

Except…

Except deadlifts. You only do ONE set of 5 reps of deadlifts.

What does this look like? An example.

Workout B

  • Squat 5 times. Rest. Squat 5 times. Rest. Squat 5 times. Rest. Squat 5 times. Rest. Squat 5 times. Rest.
  • Overhead Press 5 times. Rest. Overhead Press 5 times. Rest. Overhead Press 5 times. Rest. Overhead Press 5 times. Rest. Overhead Press 5 times. Rest.
  • Deadlift 5 times. Rest

Why So Many Squats? Does Stronglifts 5×5 Really Mean Squats Every Workout? Why?

The Squats don’t lie. Stronglifts 5×5 calls for squats for every workout.

Every! Single! Workout!

You may hear some whiners asking…But whhhhyyyy?

Squats work the ENTIRE Posterior Chain.

What is a posterior chain? Great question. It’s your backside. All of it!

The posterior chain covers muscles up and down you’re the entire backside of your body, including:

  • Glutes (butt)
  • Hamstrings
  • Erector spine muscles
  • Calves
  • Lower back
  • …and more, depending on the exercise

Note: In addition to the Posterior chain, Squats also work abs and quads, and a gang of stabilizing muscles too.

With all the muscles squats cover, it’s easy to see why they are included in EVERY 5×5 workout.

The Stronglift 5×5 Program Details

man lifting heavy barbell on squat rack

Always skip a day between workouts

The easiest way to do Stronglifts 5×5 is follow the Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule outlines above.

Thur/Sat/Monday work too. Or any schedule where there is a rest day between the workouts will work.

The goal is three days a week, alternating between workout “A” and workout “B”, with a rest day or two in between workout days.

How much weight should you start with for the Stronglifts 5×5?

When you are new to Stronglifts 5×5 your first goal is establishing proper form. Without proper form, adding weight will increase your chance of injury and train muscles improperly.

Starting with too much weight also encourages bad form, so start lighter and get your form in check first.

With that said…

Start with about 50% of your MAX weight for each lift.

If you are completely new to lifting, start with an empty bar. Keep in mind, a standard oly bar weighs about 44 lbs by itself. This may be too much for someone who is new or even some ladies starting the Stronglifts 5×5 program.

In that case, you can also use a smaller bar for the program.

Microload with Stronglifts 5×5

Increasing too fast, or with too much weight can stall progress and cause problems. You may plateau and that can be annoying or discouraging.

Also, always load the EXACT same amount of weight to each side of the barbell. Uneven loads encourage bad form.

What increments you should use:

  • Squats: Increase in increments of 2.5 lbs on each side of the bar.
  • Bench Press, Overhead Press and Barbell Row: increase by 2 lbs on each side of the bar.
  • Deadlift: increase by 5 lbs on each side of the bar.

Most gyms have 5 lb barbell weights. Cool.

But some may not have micro weights, or so called fractional weights, to allow you to increase in small increments.

Iron Bull Strength and The Friendly Swede offer sets that are perfect for adjusting and increasing the weights on your Stronglifts 5×5 routine.

How often do I increase weights on Stronglifts 5×5?

Every workout, increase the weight by the increments I described above. Increase weights each workout until you cannot finish the 5 reps.

Once you reach failure follow the rules for deloading, below.

What’s this I hear about Deloading – more on progression with Stronglifts 5×5

As you incrementally add weights and progress using Stronglifts, you will come to a point where you are unable to complete the lifts without failing.

Once you reach the point where you fail before completing the day’s routine, you use the same weight on the next workout.

If you go three workouts in a row without being able to complete that weight successfully, you need to deload.

What is deloading?

It’s simple. If after three workouts you are unable to successfully, and with proper form, complete the 5×5, you must deload.

Deloading is decreasing the weight by 10%.

On the nest workout, decrease the weight of the failed lift by 10 %. This deload only applies to one day. After the deload workout, on your next workout day, add the deloaded weight back.

Tell me a Story: Let me Quickly Explain the History of Stronglifts 5×5

women doing squat workout with power rack

Short version of the story: No one is certain exactly who created 5×5 but it has likely been around since before you were born and will still be here once you are gone.

A little more detail on the origins of 5×5

Many Folks credit Bill Starr as the creator of Stronglifts 5×5. Other sources give others credit. In the 50s, three times Mr. Universe Reg Park described a routine similar to the Stronglifts 5×5 in his book “Strength & Bulk Training for Weight Lifters & Body Builders”.

Good luck finding a copy. I guess you will just have to take my word for it.

The Stronglifts 5×5 program has been rumored to have been used by the likes of Doug Hepburn and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Most sources cite Bill Starr as the creator, and indeed, Stronglifts 5×5 is featured in his book The Strongest Shall Survive: Strength Training for Football.

So now you know. What really matters is not the history of Stronglifts 5×5, but the fact that it is effective.

With that little bit of history out of the way, let’s look at some common Stronglifts 5×5 errors.

Don’t Do This! 3 Common Stronglifts 5×5 Mistakes

athlete in CrossFit gym

1. Starting with too much weight OR not using enough weight

Too much Weight

When you start with Stronglifts 5×5 the recommendation is this: Lift 50% of your max capacity.

It’s tempting to use more, everyone wants results, – like yesterday. But resist the temptation.

Form is first, so get that down pat before adding more weight. Increase weights in small increments, as I described above. You will get there. Stronglifts 5×5 is more like a marathon, not a sprint.

What’s the problem with too much weight?

  • Encourages bad form.
  • May cause injury – especially if your form sucks.
  • Will take a long time to see progress.
  • You may plateau and get discouraged.

Trust the process and follow the program like it is laid out.

2. Deviating from the program, or modifying lifts, or adding too many accessory exercises

This You-tuber, Baber Barbell, explains how making adjustments to the bench press caused a complete stall in progress on that move.

He was trying to add in different styles to hit more muscles and it backfired on him.

He shows a graph he created using a tracking app and you can see his squats, which he did according to plan, progressed beautifully.

However, his bench press, which he changed up, did not progress. It is an interesting testimonial to Stronglifts 5×5 and worth a watch.

My Biggest Mistake on StrongLifts 5×5

So now you can see how changing the lifts and modifying the program can stall progress. But there is something else you might be tempted to do that can backfire in the end.

Adding too many accessory exercises.

Stronglifts 5×5 is a complete workout on its own.

Adding accessory exercises, like additional arm work, or a cardio session, are fine. But adding too many, or not timing them strategically can set you up to fail, get exhausted or even cause injury or plateaus.

If you exhaust yourself with a cardio workout before getting into your Stronglifts routine, you may not be able to lift as heavy, defeating the purpose and stalling progress.

If the cardio is done afterward, you may be so tired that one rest day is not enough and you end up skipping workouts, which also stalls progress.

3 Using Crappy Equipment to do Stronglifts 5×5

A decent barbell, good set of weight plates, including micro plates, a power cage power rack or squat rack, and weight bench are all that you need for this program.

This essential equipment is a MUST.

If your gym does not have free weights, find a new gym, or create a simple home or garage gym.

Do NOT use a Smith Machine for Stronglifts 5×5

Smith machines limit your range of motion, can cause awkaward or poor form, and do too much of the work for you.

You must use a barbell and FREE weights for Stronglifts 5×5.

Free weights force you to use stabilizing muscles and allow you to lift through the complete range of motion the exercise calls for.

Do not use a Leg Press for Squats

The Leg press does not equal squats.

With the leg press you don’t have to balance, like you do with real squats, and you totally miss out on working the posterior chain.

You do want a nice strong posterior chain, right? Yes. You do!

Do not lift without a power cage, rack or squat rack

Lifting without a rack of some kind is not safe. So don’t do it!

If you want progress, you need to be able to lift heavy and fail safely, and a rack allows you to do that.

Again, most gyms have this basic equipment, but if not, you can easily build a simple home gym with this basic equipment.

Why Should You Give Stronglifts 5×5 a Try

Stronglifts 5×5 is an excellent weight lifting program for beginners or for those getting back to the basics.

Why?

Because Stronglifts 5×5 WORKS!

Stronglifts 5×5 focuses on good form and building a strong foundation and these are the start of a solid lifting career. You can add exercises and change things later, once you have squeezed what you can from the program.

Going to the gym with NO PLAN is a plan to fail!

Stronglifts is a simple, effective, proven routine. It’s easy to remember, uses just basic equipment and you will see progress if you stick with it.

The Equipment You Need for the 5×5 Workout

crossfit workout street gym

Power Rack, Power Cage or Squat Rack – Pick one

A rack of some sort is mandatory. At some point in the program, you WILL be lifting to failure, and lifting to failure means dropping the bar, which requires a rack to protect you.

You cannot do the Stronglifts 5×5 without this simple, but essential gym equipment.

Barbell and plates

It is obvious why a barbell and plates are needed for the Stronglifts 5×5 program. A barbell and weight plates are the centerpiece of the program.

A question we get a lot, however, is…

Can I use dumbbells for Stronglifts 5×5?

No, you cannot use dumbbells for Stronglifts 5×5. Dumbbells do not increase in small enough increments for Stronglifts 5×5. You cannot lift dumbbells to failure as you do with a barbell.

Weight Bench

You need a weight bench for the bench press. Even the name implies that yes, a bench is needed.

So there you go, not much more I can say about that.

Micro weights or fractional weights

Micro weights are required for proper progress. The barbell must be loaded evenly and in small increments. Only fractional weights allow for small increments. If your gym does not have micro weights, pick up a set and bring them along.

They are not that expensive.

If you are going to invest your time and energy, which are valuable, why not invest in a set of fractional weights which cost less than the price of a dinner for two?

What Other Programs Can You Combine with 5×5

two fit people on the background in crossfit gym

Can I mix Stronglifts 5×5 with CrossFit workouts?

As much as I love CrossFit, I would say no.

Both Stronglifts 5×5 and CrossFit are full workout programs by themselves. There is no way you can successfully run each side by side, without compromise.

Do one or the other.

You can take a few months break from CrossFit to do Stronglifts 5×5, or vice versa, they can complement each other that way, but just not both at the same time.

Can I mix Stronglifts 5×5 HIIT?

Incorporating one or two HIIT workouts in a Stronglifts 5×5 routine might help you accomplish weight loss goals. I would limit the number of HIIT workouts to just two per week.

However, with Stronglifts 5×5, the focus is on lifting, strength and building muscle. The best way to lose weight is to focus on nutrition.

Nutrition + Stronglifts will help you lose weight and get the gains you want.

Can I mix Stronglifts 5×5 yoga?

Yes, in moderation. Yoga can help with recovery, flexibility and mobility. Just listen to your body and don’t do so much you burn out.

I would say one or two sessions a week, max.

It may not sound like a lot, but when you combine anything with the three days you do Stronglifts 5×5, you are adding stress to your body and your schedule and the potential for burnout is there.

Rest days are necessary for recovery and your own sanity.

Stronglifts 5×5 for Buff Old Dudes: Tips for 5×5 for Those Over 50

Stronglifts is a great program, whether you are 18 or 58. It is basic, encourages good form, and you will see progress.

It benefits lifters young and old alike. Do not let age hold you back.

Stronglifts 5×5 will help you look and feel younger

Doing Stronglifts 5×5 will help you feel younger.

Lifting properly, with good form, will help you avoid injury.

The simple nature of 5×5 means you won’t get crazy and overdo it.

Lifting heavy encourages testosterone production, which is anti-aging and will have you feeling and looking, and acting younger.

If you are 50 plus it is important to follow the program as prescribed

If you are older and coming from a sedentary lifestyle, I suggest you follow the program as prescribed, without adding anything to it, for at least 6 weeks, to give the Stronglifts 5×5 program a fair trial.

This includes only starting with 50% of your max weight and deloading when needed. Do not try to progress too quickly.

Stronglifts 5×5 FAQs

Rogue fitness barbell and CrossFit gym

1. Does Stronglifts 5×5 training build muscle? Is Stronglifts 5×5 effective?

Yes, Yes and YES!

The goal of Stronglifts is simple: Increasing strength and building muscle mass. If you follow the program as it is laid out, you will see an increase in both.

Stronglifts 5×5 is effective and increasing how much weight you can lift and bulking up muscles.

2. How often do you do the 5×5 Stronglifts workout?

Three times a week, with one rest day in between. The most common schedule is Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with weekends off.

3. When is the Stronglifts 5×5 workout bad?

Stronglifts 5×5 won’t build cardio endurance

If you are training Stronglifts 5×5, don’t expect to jump into, say, ultra marathon running any time soon. You will be starting from scratch there if Stronglifts is your primary training program.

Stronglifts may not benefit advanced Bodybuilders

Stronglifts 5×5 is great for beginner to intermediate lifters, but some lifters will max out eventually and need more.

Granted people find success and progress using Stronglifts 5×5 for years, but nothing lasts forever. You may eventually get more benefit from other programs, like Madcow 5×5 or SL advanced, CrossFit or other lifting programs.

Stronglifts won’t work well if the program is not followed as laid out

Stronglifts is also bad if it is not performed as prescribed. See Stronglift 5×5 mistakes above to get the gist of what I am talking about.

Most problems come from a bad form or going to heavy, or adding too many extras.

4. What is the best Stronglift 5×5 app?

Tracking is a MUST when using Stronglifts 5×5. You can go old school and bring along a notebook. No shame in that, plenty of lifters do.

But an easy way to track is to use a phone app. Phone apps have the added benefit of creating cute little charts to lay out your progress in a way you can easily see.

What is the best Stronglifts 5×5 app?

Stronglifts 5×5 app – Weight Lifting and Workout Log

Its free, it’s simple, it’s one of the original and most popular Stronglift 5×5 apps available.

It tracks weight, sets and reps, and allows you to see a chart with a line graph of your progress, so you know you are getting somewhere.

No need to remember what weight you left off at with this handy app. Upgrade to PRO to access the useful warm-up feature.

5. What is Madcow 5×5?

Madcow is named after an unknown Forum participant with the handle “Madcow”.

Madcow 5×5 is similar to Stronglifts 5×5 except instead of increasing weight with every workout, you increase weight every week. Once you stall or plateau on your squats with Stronglifts 5×5, move on to Madcow.

Madcow is for intermediate lifters and you can see the program details here.

6. Can women use the Stronglifts 5×5 program? Do women need to change or modify 5×5?

Yes, women can certainly use the program. They do not need to modify the Stronglifts 5×5 program at all since the Stronglifts 5×5 program automatically adjusts to your personal fitness level.

The only modification I can think of is if a woman cannot lift, bench, squat or press 44 lbs, she may need to start with a standard weightlifting bar. Remember, the weight of an Olympic bar, by itself, is about 44 lbs.

7. Can Stronglifts 5×5 be used for losing fat?

5×5 can give you a fat loss assist, but it cannot be the only thing you do. Lifting weight will increase testosterone, growth hormone and muscle mass.

All of these help shed fat and make you look and feel better. But for quick fat loss, diet is 80% and lifting is 20%.

The best way to lose fat using StrongLifts 5×5 is to eat right, using paleo, keto, calories cutting, clean eating or whatever diet suits you.

And…

Add in low intensity, high volume cardio, as Elliot suggests in this video

Stronglifts 5×5 Fat Loss Method

That wraps up this Guide to Stronglifts 5X5.

I hope you have gained some insight and benefit from what you read.

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