Everyone from influential bodybuilding experts to American football coaches has used it – including Arnold Schwarzenegger – but have you tried 5×5?

The 5×5 (shorthand for five sets of five repetitions) workout first came to prominence in the 1960s and 70s as a way to increase strength and build muscle. It has stood the test of time and is still used to improve posture and avoid injuries. Unlike most bodybuilding routines, the aim of the 5×5 is not to make you look ‘pumped’ or feel sore (although this may well happen once the weights get heavy). The goal of this routine is to increase the weight you are able to lift with good form at each workout, thus providing you with fast incremental gains in true strength and muscle size.

A simple workout

The 5×5 consists of five free weight compound exercises: the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press and barbell row. These exercises are used in two separate full-body workouts:

  • Workout A: squat, bench press, barbell row
  • Workout B: squat, overhead press, deadlift.

You train three times a week, alternating between workout A and workout B each session and resting for at least one day in between workouts (your body needs time off to repair muscle and get stronger, so you never train two days in a row). Because only three exercises need to be performed at each workout, training sessions tend to be pretty short, often lasting no more than 30-45 minutes. After starting the regime with very light weights (or even just an Olympic bar) to ensure good form, your aim is to progressively add 2.5kg each time you do an exercise.


Although 5×5 stands for five sets of five reps, there is one exercise in the programme that you only do one set of: deadlifts. The reason? Doing more than 1×5 deadlifts in this routine twice a week will destroy you. For deadlifts aim to progressively add 5kg each time.

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