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.
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:
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.”
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!
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.