StrongFirst and the 5×5 Method

The “5×5” method is credited to Reg Park, a bodybuilder who built a 500-pound bench press in the 1950s. This method remains one of the most reliable ways to build strength in existence.

The Basics of the 5×5 Method

Train a lift three times in two weeks: Monday, Friday, then Wednesday of next week. An experienced lifter will be better off hitting 5×5 only once a week.

Pick a weight you can do at least two strong sets of five with and do five sets. (A standard Russian guideline is 7RM.) The last sets will be fours or threes. Do not attempt a rep unless you are 100% sure you will make it. “Save your strength for the next set,” as Alexander Faleev put it. In successive workouts add reps when you can do it with confidence. Keep at it until you are up to 5×5.

The basic 5x5 method

At this point, unload and switch to a different protocol if you are an experienced lifter. Beginners and intermediates may stay on this regimen for several months, taking an unloading workout after reaching 5×5 with a given weight, then adding 2-5% and carrying on. Deload with 80% of the weight you have been using for 5×5 (not 80% 1RM) for 5×4.

Following is a sample of the 5×5 progression for a 225 bencher:

5x5 method for the 225 bench press athlete

The 5×5 Method for Advanced Lifters

Advanced lifters have a lot to gain from 5×5, as long as they use moderate weights. Dr. Fred Hatfield used 5×5 with 60-80% 1RM as the backbone of his off-season training. Konstantin Konstantinov applies the 5×5 scheme to high bar squats that he does to build his deadlift leg drive. Vitaly Papazov who broke Kaz’s 23-year-old total record frequently does 5×5 with 75%1RM in both the squat and the bench press in one day in the preparatory period.

Speaks world champion Brad Gillingham:

“Jorgen Ljunjberg from Sweden told me about his squat training method. Jorgen trains by himself on a frequent basis in a small town located in Northern Sweden. He built his 400kg+ squat by training 5×5 rep schemes with lower percentages of weight. Jorgen can handle so much volume that it is incredible. When he does 5×5 squats, he actually will squat a second day sometimes in the same week and work up to singles.”

Brad Gillingham in competition.
Brad Gillingham in competition.

Here is Gillingham’s own squat cycle. In case you did not know, Brad just won another IPF World Championship, this time in Russia. At 46, he has got to be the oldest lifter to win this prestigious title. Congratulations, Brad!

Brad Gillingham 5x5 method squat program

All squats, except for the heavy singles on week fifteen, are raw and beltless. The light week 60% squats are in addition high bar and narrow stance.

The 5×5 are done in twenty to thirty minutes, which makes for unusually short rest periods for an elite superheavyweight, makes the session a lot harder than it looks on paper, and biases it towards hypertrophy.

The light week squats are completed in only ten to fifteen minutes. This extremely low rest combined with the loading scheme 60% x 2/8 has its origins at Westside—another way to organize a light day.

Gillingham employs wave cycling: reaching 75% x 5/5, then starting over with 67.5% and building up to 77.5%. It is worth noting that he varies the number of weeks he stays on 5×5 without deloading from 1 to 3, depending on the weight.

5×5 power to you!

Note: The above is an excerpt from the StrongFirst Lifter instructor manual. Do not miss StrongFirst’s next Barbell Certification.

An SFL candidate performs the bench press

Learn the 5×5 method at the StrongFirst Lifter Certification.

Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel Tsatsouline is the CEO of StrongFirst, Inc.

40 thoughts on “StrongFirst and the 5×5 Method

  • Pavel,
    Does one have to deload? Or can I simply jump to the next weight? Do we know the science behind deloading or is it simply tried and true method?

  • Pavel, I am 43 years old and have been lifting for many years. With your 5×5 program should I do a bodybuilding type split, just as hitting each body part once or twice a week or a full body workout a few times a week?

  • Pavel,

    I have used 5×5 training with great success as per your article written for the four hour work week blog. My question is regarding frequency for the 5×5 protocol listed in this article. You suggest training three times in two weeks for beginners and intermediates using a straight weight (approx 7RM) for all 5 sets. In contrast you recommend that advanced athletes cycle through lighter percentages (60-80%) once a week. At what point has a lifter moved into an advanced category as opposed to beginner/intermediate? For the record at a body weight of 198 my lifts are 405 belted squat, 285 raw bench, and 505 belted deadlift. Would this mean I should be training straight weight 5×5@7RM three times in two weeks or train once a week at lighter percentages?

    Thank you

  • Pavel,

    I previously purchased and read “The Naked Warrior”. The 5×5 method seems to contradict “greasing the groove”.
    Which one is more effective for gaining strength?

    Raymond Greig

  • Actually, Jon Jon Park says in Reg Park: The legend dvd, that Reg did 1.set 60% days maximum poundage, sets 2 and 3 at 80% and set 4 100% 4-5 reps, set 5 at 8-10 reps, a cool down to speak off. So its faster this way, but you still get considerable tonnage. Fascinating documentary by the way.

  • Hi Pavel,

    I am a big fan of yours due to the way you turned traditional western exercise methods on their head. I have one question though: the 5×5 method once or twice a week for an exercise seems to contradict the daily, “Grease the Groove” method I have been doing from reading your book “the Naked Warrior”; which one is more effective for gaining strength?

    Calum Mackinnon, United Kingdom

  • Pavel I hope this reaches you in good spirit and mind.
    My question is – How old should a man be when he should start considering not to lift heavy anymore ? I’m 43 and lift everyday. I have no injuries and i love to lift . Is there such an age to consider or do I just keep on keeping on ? My cholesterol is high so I cant eat whatever i want to anymore and would love to know a diet for weight training that would work for my life style . I’m 5’9 at 200 lbs. A little bit of a spare tire around the waiste now that i cant seem to lose, suggestions ? Just for reference. My squat is 250 x5 x5 , Bench 250 x5x5 , DL is 250 x5x5 . All of my squats are Parallel squats , I lift bare foot , no belts , no shirts , just raw . I realize i’m all over the mao with my question but any advice at all on age , diet , gaining muscle and strength at age 43 would be greatly appreciated.

    • Jarrod, the limit is in your doctor’s permission; not your age. My father started lifting at 71. Today, at 77, he deadlifted 413 pounds ithout a belt.

  • Hi Pavel,

    I personally find your approach to strength to be alluring. I always liked most things Russian, to begin with.
    I’m a martial artist at heart. Because of your subtle influence, I’ve gone back to building my CNS through power lifting. I’m deeply influenced by art as well as sport. I feel that you’re someone who can relate to this. I applaud you.

    In martial arts, I see it was a body, mind and soul endeavor. My style is called Iron-Ryu or Tetsuken-Ryu. I’m incredibly hard from doing this, still not the hardest, either. The martial aspect in my training will be Chen Tai Chi, from a reputed teacher in Montreal, Canada. He’s from Tianjin, in China. Power lifting embodies, spirit, Tetsuken-Ryu embodies body, and Tai Chi the mind. These are all interchangeable. My goal is to break free of all obstacles and only exist in a hyper-natural form in martial arts. Walking, breathing, nutrition…just about everything. I’m super passionate. It sounds a little crazy, I know!

    I just really admire your stuff,


  • Great Article! I was under the impression that the original 5×5 Program that Reg Park advocated involved 2 progressively heavier warm up sets, then 3 working sets at the same weight. If this is incorrect, please let me know. With the percentages listed, 5 working sets at that higher weight would seem more difficult to recover from.

    • Victor, there is more than one version of 5×5. The one you mention is also a good plan.

      You are correct to point out that 5×5 with the same weight is very demanding. Hence lower %.

  • Question- practice a lift 3 times in two weeks. If you are a powerlifter does this mean
    Monday: bench, squat and dead lift 5×5
    Friday: same as above
    Wednesday of the following week: same as above?
    Didn’t know if this would be to much. Thanks!!!

    • Brice, there are many ways. Here is one: SQ once a week, DL once a week, BP once a week; another BP or MP day using a different loading pattern. Optional: another light SQ day.

      • If you would be doing bench or MP another day, what should this different loading pattern look like?

        Thanks in advance

  • Hi Pavel.
    On the website which seems to be a translation of Faleev’s writing, the writer states the importance of including isometric work with the 5×5 program that you have previously outined. Not sure whether the confusion comes from translation or summary errors, but it seems as though Faleev includes these. Just wondering, given the multiple benefits of isometrics, as well as their use in improving “wedging” what your thoughts were on this.
    Thanks, Craig

    • Craig, yes, isos are a part of his plan and they are very effective but Russian specialists recommend that one is way past the beginner stage before adding them in.

  • Pavel,
    I am definitely weightlifting illiterate. I take MMA and Strength & Conditioning. They are all bodyweight exercises. When I do the 5×5 is it only 5 sets of 5,5,4,4,3 each day? Can I do more than one body part each day? For example: Would I be able to do Monday- Military press, pull up, dead lift. Wednesday- Bench press, bent over rows, squats. Friday- Military press, pull up, dead lift using the 5×5 method?
    Thank you,
    It’s greatly appreciated.
    Frank Lapetina

    • Hi Frank,

      I am by no means an expert and I am willing to say that Pavel has forgotten more than I will ever know about fitness…. But, I might be able to answer your questions. (Any Strong First experts are free to correct me if I have anything wrong…)

      For the 5 x5, you want to shoot for 5 reps or your max per set. The 5,5,4,4,3 for reps is just an example or someone. You may have reps per set of 5,5,5,3,2 or some other combination during your workouts.

      Your selection of exercises for the workouts look fine with great opposing push/pull exercises per workout. The only concern I have is that you may overtrain if you start with 3 times per week coupled with regular MMA training. Start with one per week as the 5×5 is tougher than it sounds.

      Good luck and happy training!

  • Hello, Pavel.

    I am going to give this program a try for my bodyweight workouts pullups.

    What is not clear to me is what is the recommended rest time between the five sets?

    Thank you!

  • Beautiful article. A great compliment I received just last week at my local YMCA came from an older gentleman who, after watching me for a while, asked if I’d been doing a “5×5 workout” and approved of my commitment to “old-school methods”. Your article here is very timely for me! If only I could convince my “comrades” within our unit at Marine Forces Pacific’s Headquarters & Service Battalion, that 5×5 and some ballistic kettlebell training is worthwhile! I’m eagerly awaiting an SFG Course that lands here on Oahu, Hawaii; a platoon of disgruntled HQ staff Marines will be with me when you come. I am disappointed in the majority of my comrades’ disdain for your paired-down approach; you too, I think, would be disgusted with how similar these leathernecks’ approach to weight training mirrors what they see in modern bodybuilding. But if I see a trip to Oahu appear on your schedule I’ll drag some with me to attend.

  • Pavel,

    I am a huge fan! I was introduced to kettlebells a few years back, and am now serious about getting back in shape…nothing fancy, just increase strength, lean muscle mass, and improve my overall health. My problem is, with all of the DVD’s out there, I’m not sure which one to go with. I just want a kettlebell based workout plan that will tell me exactly what to do to achieve the results I’m looking for. Would you be able to recommend which of your DVD’s will do that? Thanks so much!

      • Pavel,

        Thank you so much for responding. I’m ordering now, and will keep you posted on my results!

  • Pavel,

    Thanks for the informative article. I am currently doing ETK ROP & I love practicing all the KB movements! Looking forward to getting a barbell and attending a SFG cert!

  • Pavel,

    Great post!

    If one has a preference for low volume and just getting as strong as possible without much care for hypertropy on the exercise of choice (for me clean & presses) would PTTP’s 2×5 be a better fit to save energy for heavier lifts in future weeks?

    • Carl, it would be best to rotate between periods of higher and lower volume every few months.

  • I am currently going through the “Rite of Passage” kettlebell training, building up to 5 ladders of 1-5. How does 5×5 differ in it’s theory and purpose?

    • Rob, ladders allow more skill practice and enable more volume at a given intensity—but consume more time.

  • Great post! Brad Gillingham is easily one of my favorite lifters.

    Folks, if you have the opportunity to go to the barbell certification in VA, DO IT!

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