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5 x 5 Workout: Muscle Builder


The 5 x 5 workout style is a well-known technique to quickly pack on muscle mass and improve your personal record on the main lifts. I’ll shine my light on this routine, being one of my favorite ways to work out. Not only will I explain how it is built up and what the advantages are, I’m also going to share with you my own experience regarding this training style. So pick up some heavy weights and join me in the 5 x 5 workout routine!

How to use a 5 x 5 workout?

One can argue about it, but generally speaking the five main exercises that you should do are the bench press, squat, deadlift, military press and barbell row. These are also the components of this intense routine I’m about to describe. Doing these five exercises (a.k.a. The Big Five) in one single workout can be highly demanding, which is why with the 5 x 5 workout you spread them throughout two workouts, namely workout A and workout B. On workout A you’ll do bench presses, squats and barbell rows. The B workout consists of yet again the squat, completed by deadlifts and the military press. Yes, you did read that correctly, the squat is added to both workouts.  Because it’s such an important exercise and builds muscle mass and strength throughout your body it’s something you have to do in both workouts.

Workout A:     5 x 5 Squats        5 x 5 Bench Presses         5 x 5 Barbell Rows

Workout B:       5 x 5 Squats        5 x 5 Military Presses     1 x 5 Deadlifts

There are some variations on the exercises you could use and the combination of exercises, but I’ll talk you through that later. What you should know as well is that you are going to train 3 days a week. Where’s the third workout you’re asking? There isn’t one. You simply alternate between workout A and workout B. This means that in week 1 you use workout A twice and B only one time. The second week you start with B, then do workout A and finish with workout B again. After that you’ll follow this structure for the following weeks. You should keep at least one day of rest between the two workouts. Most used training days are Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but anything that has this same structure will work. Just make sure you’ll take at least one day of rest in between, because doing squats a couple of days in a row is going to take you down!

I haven’t explained where the name 5 x 5 comes from yet. It comes from the amount of sets and reps you’re going to do. For every exercise – besides the deadlift – you are going to do 5 sets of 5 repetitions. Deadlifts are a different story, because doing 5 sets of 5 repetitions is very demanding on that particular exercise and you’re already targeting similar muscles with the squats. Between the sets you should rest at least 60 seconds, but since you’re using higher weights for heavy exercises you should consider taking 2 minutes of rest after each set.

What weight to use? An important part of the 5 x 5 workout is that you can increase the weights used on each lift drastically. You can add 2.5 kg (about 5 pounds) of weight to all exercises every training. Let’s say you do 5 sets of 5 repetitions of squats using 60 kg. The next training you should use 62.5 kg and after that 65 kg. By the end of the month you’ve added 30 kg (about 60 pounds) to your squat! Even though this is often recommended, I personally like to take a more gentle approach. I add weight to the exercise every third training for most exercises, although I do add weight to the squat and deadlift more rapidly than that. This is where the personal part of training comes in and it’s important to take this into account. Some of us are simply not able to keep on adding 2.5 kg each and every workout and should take it easier. No problems in that with the 5 x 5 workout though!

Advantages of the 5 x 5 workout

What are the main advantages of the 5 x 5 workout? First of all it’s the fact that it is far from time consuming. Doing only 3 exercises for the given amount of sets and reps is going to take you an hour to finish at most. That’s if you use the maximum amount of rest though. With minimum rest you can finish your workout in about 30 minutes. Not bad if you consider the fact that you only have to do this three days a week, saving you hours at the gym. Hence, it’s a realistic workout for those who are short in time. It’s also one of the main reasons I like this training style so much.

Other than that you must have noticed in the explanation how quickly you’re adding weights to each exercise. The more weight you can lift the stronger you get and this also leads to progressive overloading. Progressive overload means you’re slowly adding more weight to an exercise to give your muscles that extra challenge that’s needed to gain muscle mass. Beginners and even the advanced trainees can easily and quickly improve their personal records of all these specific lifts. Besides that you’ll notice an incredible chance in your physique if you can keep up the progression.

Even though it’s not really proven scientifically, it’s highly likely that using a 5 x 5 workout is great for your appetite. You’ll be hungry like a beast after this high intensity workout. This is awesome because the second component of gaining muscle mass (the first one being a good workout plan) is eating more calories. The extra appetite you get from the workout is going to help you increase your calorie intake, adding up to the muscles gained during training.

Fair warning

Be warned though! Adding more and more weight every workout is very taxing on your body. Make sure to rest properly, get your sleep, eat enough to support muscle growth and stay hydrate! The risk of getting injured is around the corner if you don’t use a proper training technique or if you add on weight too quickly without being ready for it. You have to stay focused and listen to your body. If it’s getting a bit too rough for you out there don’t be afraid to admit it and back down a bit until you can get back on track. Also be aware of getting bored out of your mind by doing the same thing every workout. There isn’t a lot of variation in the workout which can be demotivating for some (especially beginners).

My experiences with the 5 x 5 workout

The 5 x 5 workout is my favorite workout of all. I’ve had the best results out of it compared to all other routines and I really enjoy lifting heavy weights instead of lifting lighter weights for more reps. My attention span drastically drops after doing 6 repetitions and you rarely see me doing 12 reps or more on the majority of exercises. I just dislike doing that many reps. That being said it’s only normal for you to wonder what results I got from my 5 x 5 workout. After the very first time I heard about it I was immediately excited. Mainly because of the low rep-ranges, the exercises and how little time you need to get those great results. Using this routine for 6 weeks in a row led to an increase in my lifts. I went from doing 79 kg squats to 104 kg squats for 5 sets of 5 repetitions. Never have I been a fan of deadlifts, but I did set a new personal record of 120 kg deadlifts. Not very impressing to you perhaps, but I think it’s not that bad at all. I went from 69 kg bench presses to the current record of 84 kg. After that I messed up my shoulder with judo which is why my records stagnated, but I’m really motivated to get back on track and increase my personal record again!

Even though the regular 5 x 5 workout consists of the exercises mentioned above, I often made a variation of this routine. Pull ups are among my favorite exercises and I think they are one of the main components of a good quality workout plan. That’s why I often added it in. Sometimes I used it as a replacement for the squats on either one of the workouts (A or B) while I could also just do another five sets of pull ups at other times. Since my arms are not that well-developed I have also experimented with doing separate exercises for my arms at the end of the 5 x 5 workout. The Big Five contains the deadlift, which isn’t my favorite exercise. That’s why I sometimes replace it with pull ups. Instead of deadlifts to target my lower back I then do hyperextensions, which are way friendlier for my back and also give me great results.

Regarding my weight and muscle mass there is enough to say for the 5 x 5 workout. Before I got to know about it I was only 71 kg. After a very good summer with plenty of rest, a surplus of calories and the new workout style I gained 4 kg of which mostly muscle mass. When you look at my YouTube channel and watch back my videos of about 12 to 16 months back you can see I was more muscular than I am at the moment of this writing. For now it’s my goal to get back to what I was and I will do so by using the traditional 5 x 5 workout once again. Of course completed with proper rest and eating more calories than I need. Don’t let that fool you; it’s still about an energy surplus, plenty of rest and hard training. That surplus of energy is easily met by the increased appetite that I actually get from the workout. No other workout routine has ever increased my appetite as much as the 5 x 5 workout!

Plenty of reasons to try out this routine I think. Now off you go and good luck finding shirts that fit you after using 5 x 5!

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