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The 5x5 Workout: Strength Training for Beginners and Beyond

You’re considering starting a 5x5 workout program — high-five!

This easy-to-follow strength training program is ideal for anyone who wants to start weightlifting or increase their lifting capacity. With it, beginner and intermediate lifters can make serious strength gains in a short time. Plus, in addition to the 5x5 program being effective, it’s also safe. (Phew!)

Once you have access to weight training equipment, you’re (almost) ready to get started! First, take five to read this complete guide to the 5x5 workout. We’ll share how this program works, the benefits, the five essential exercises, and a five-week workout routine to get you started.

How Does the 5x5 Workout Work?

5x5 workout: person saying work it GIF

It’s called the 5x5 workout, but we think it should be called the 5x5x5 workout. (Too many fives?) Here’s how it works: You’ll do five sets of five reps to complete five different barbell exercises.

You won’t do all five exercises in each workout. Instead, individual workouts are made of three out of the five exercises on a rotating basis. 

Because you do a low amount of reps in the 5x5 workout, it’s easier and safer to lift heavy weights than during weightlifting routines with 10-15 reps.

Unlike many other workouts, the 5x5 workout program is highly regimented and involves lifting weights rather than only doing bodyweight workouts. That means it also involves some equipment — more on this in a bit!

You’ll work out three days a week with rest days between each workout, which allows your muscle fibers to rebuild and repair themselves. 

You’ll increase the amount of weight you lift each week for four weeks. Then, you’ll drop it back down for one week, a process called deloading that helps you avoid both overtraining and hitting a plateau.

In order to see results, you need to stick with the 5x5 program for enough time. You'll start to see results after about one month of doing the 5x5 workout, and you could see continuous results for as long as 1-2 years before you hit a plateau. 

If you hit a plateau in your muscle growth before you reach your goal, an online personal trainer can help you get past it. A personal trainer can also send you personalized 5x5 workouts with other barbell exercises that are unique to your goals. And they can help you stay motivated and keep you on track with your three time per week workouts. 

5 Benefits of the 5x5 Workout

5x5 workout: Jennifer Lopez flexing her biceps from the World of Dance GIF

There are a lot of benefits to working out with heavier weights and fewer reps. The most obvious is that you’ll be building strength week after week. 

But beyond flexin’ your growing muscles, there are whole-body benefits that you’ll notice both inside and outside of your workout. Here are our five favorite perks of the 5x5.

1. Build Strength

This workout will help you build muscle mass fast. It's not only a great way to build muscle — it can help you get ripped when combined with a lean diet. (To learn more about how to adjust your diet to get better results from your 5x5 program, talk to an online nutritionist and personal trainer.) 

In as little as 14 weeks, you could be deadlifting 100 pounds more than when you started. 

Throughout the program you’ll gain muscles that you’ll not only notice in the mirror, but will also find yourself using more and more in your daily life. (Suddenly, moving that dresser doesn’t look so hard!)

2. Focus on Form

Because you’re only doing five total lifting exercises, you’ll get a lot of practice using the proper form for each one, which helps prevent injuries in every workout. 

And because you’re only doing five reps in each set, you won’t feel as fatigued as you might with other weightlifting routines, which allows you to keep your form strong throughout the entire workout. 

If you're not sure that you understand the correct form, schedule an appointment with a personal trainer — better safe than injured. 

3. Avoid Injuries

Not only does this muscle building workout help you prevent injuries while you exercise — it also helps you prevent injuries in your daily life. 

By strengthening your large stabilizing muscles, like your glutes and core, you’ll avoid the repetitive injuries that come up when you least expect them (like when you’re lifting your toddler or getting something down from a high shelf). 

The workout also includes plenty of rest days and a deloading week, which helps you avoid injuries from overtraining.

4. Burn Fat

The powers that be used to say that cardio was the only way to burn body fat, but recent research shows that weightlifting or resistance training burns just as much fat as cardio. So, the 5x5 workout can be part of a successful weight loss workout plan.

5. Train Less

According to the New York Post, over 42% of people say the main reason they don’t exercise is because they don’t have time. But, the 5x5 workout is proof that you don’t need a lot of time to see results. With this plan, you only need to squeeze in a 30 minute to 1 hour workout three times a week.

Equipment for a 5x5 Workout Program

If you have a gym membership, you can get cozy in the weight section and use their equipment. However, to do this bodybuilding workout at home, you’ll need to get an olympic barbell, a set of olympic weight plates, a squat rack or power rack, a bench, and a few workout mats

Note: We don’t recommend using dumbbells for these workouts. They increase in increments of 5 pounds, which means you’ll be increasing your weight load by 10 pounds each week, which is too much and could lead to injuries.

Plus, in the long run, buying enough dumbbells to incrementally increase the weight could end up costing you more money than buying the set of Olympic weights. So, for best results (for your workout and your wallet!), stick with a barbell. 

For a good workout with dumbbells, try these dumbbell back exercises instead.

Hot tip: While it can cost several hundred dollars to buy a new barbell set, you can often find a secondhand set for much less. So, check sites like Craigslist, OfferUp, and Facebook Marketplace.

The 5 Essential 5x5 Exercises

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The 5x5 workout uses many of the exercises used in powerlifting workouts. 

Once again, all of these exercises are barbell exercises, and we don’t recommend doing them with dumbbells. You can work with a personal trainer to find at-home dumbbell exercises that will help you see similar results. 

Now, onto the exercises — each of these exercises is a compound movement, which means they work multiple muscle groups at once. When you put all five of these compound exercises together, you get a full body workout. 

Here are the exercises you need for your 5x5 workout.

1. Barbell Squats

5x5 workout: woman doing barbell squats GIF

Muscles worked:hamstrings, glutes, and lower back

Do it:

  • Using a squat rack, place the barbell at the correct height, according to your height.

  • Step under the barbell so that it’s lined up behind your head.

  • Bend your elbows and grip the barbell.

  • Place your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.

  • Slowly lower the barbell down onto your shoulders. It should not rest on your neck.

  • Take a couple steps back so the squat rack isn’t in your way.

  • Tighten your core and keep your chest up.

  • Bend at the knees and slowly lower down until your quads are parallel to the floor.

  • Raise yourself back up to a standing position. That’s one rep.

This is the only exercise that you’ll do in every 5x5 workout.

2. Barbell Bench Press

5x5 workout: man doing a barbell bench press GIF

Muscles worked: pecs, deltoids, triceps, and traps

Do it:

  • Lie on a barbell bench with your back flat and your shoulders centered under the barbell.

  • Reach up and grip the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

  • Lower the barbell down to your chest.

  • Push it back up so your arms are extended but your elbows aren’t locked. That’s one rep.

For the safest workout, ask a fitness friend to spot you when you do your bench presses.

3. Barbell Overhead Press

Man doing some barbell overhead press GIF

Muscles worked: pecs, deltoids, triceps, and traps

Do it:

  • Place the barbell on a squat rack at the same height as your shoulders.

  • Stand facing it with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.

  • Grip the barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from you.

  • Lower the barbell onto the front of your shoulders, across your chest.

  • Tighten your core and bring your shoulder blades together.

  • Slowly press the barbell up directly over your head until your arms are straight.

  • Lower the barbell back down until it’s once again resting across your chest and shoulders. That’s one rep.

4. Barbell Row

Man doing some barbell rows GIF

Muscles worked: lats, traps, deltoids, and lower back

Do it:

  • To do the barbell row or bent-over row, start with the barbell on your squat rack at about the height of your knees.

  • Place your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.

  • Tighten your core, tuck your chin, and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

  • Hinge at the hips until your hands meet the barbell.

  • Grip the barbell with your palms facing toward you.

  • Unrack the barbell.

  • Keep your upper body hinged at a 45-degree angle and your knees slightly bent.

  • Pull the barbell up toward your chest.

  • Lower it back down to knee height. That’s one rep.

5. Barbell Deadlift

Woman doing some barbell deadlifts GIF

Muscles worked: hamstrings, quads, glutes, lower back, upper back, and core

Do it:

  • Start with the barbell on the floor in front of your shins.

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.

  • Tighten your core, tuck your chin, and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

  • Hinge at the hips and bend at the knees until you reach the barbell.

  • Grip it with your palms facing toward you, a little wider than shoulder-width apart.

  • Stand up by raising your torso, keeping your core tight, and pushing your hips forward.

  • Lower the bar back down to the ground. That’s one rep.

Unlike the other exercises in the 5x5 workout where you do five sets of five repetitions, you’ll only do one set of deadlifts. Because this exercise is the most challenging, you’ll also always do deadlifts last so your muscles don’t get too fatigued.

Your 5 Week 5x5 Workout Plan

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In your 5x5 workout program, you’ll alternate between two different workout routines — doing workout A for your first workout, workout B for your next workout, then workout A again, and so on. 

You’ll increase the weight you lift by five pounds each week, adding an additional 2.5 pounds to each side of the barbell — except for your deadlifts. You’ll increase the amount you deadlift by 10 pounds each week, adding an additional 5 pounds to each side of the barbell.

For your starting weight, use the empty barbell, which weighs about 45 pounds, if you’re new to weightlifting. If you have weightlifting experience, use 60% of your one-rep max, or the maximum amount that you can lift just one time. 

In the workout plan below, we’ll use the empty barbell as the starting point. If you choose to start with a different weight, simply add your starting weight to each of the numbers we give.

Workout A:

  • Warm up: 5 minutes of brisk walking

  • Barbell squat: 5 sets of 5 reps

  • Barbell bench press: 5 sets of 5 reps

  • Barbell row: 5 sets of 5 reps

  • Cool down: 5 minutes of brisk walking, followed by 5 minutes of stretching or using a foam roller

Workout B:

  • Warm up: 5 minutes of brisk walking

  • Barbell squat: 5 sets of 5 reps

  • Barbell overhead press: 5 sets of 5 reps

  • Deadlift: 1 set of 5 reps

  • Cool down: 5 minutes of brisk walking, followed by 5 minutes of stretching or using a foam roller

Now that you know what the workouts are, here’s how you’ll use them in your five-week plan:

Week 1

Use an empty barbell for all exercises, except the deadlift. Add 10 pounds of weight to the barbell for the deadlift.  

  • Day 1: Workout A

  • Day 2: Rest day

  • Day 3: Workout B 

  • Day 4: Rest day

  • Day 5: Workout A

  • Day 6: Rest day

  • Day 7: Rest day

Week 2

Add 5 pounds to the barbell for all exercises, except the deadlift. Add 20 pounds for the deadlift. 

  • Day 1: Workout B

  • Day 2: Rest day

  • Day 3: Workout A

  • Day 4: Rest day

  • Day 5: Workout B

  • Day 6: Rest day

  • Day 7: Rest day

Week 3

Add 10 pounds to the barbell for all exercises, except the deadlift. Add 30 pounds for the deadlift.

  • Day 1: Workout A

  • Day 2: Rest day

  • Day 3: Workout B

  • Day 4: Rest day

  • Day 5: Workout A

  • Day 6: Rest day

  • Day 7: Rest day

Week 4

Add 15 pounds to the barbell for all exercises, except the deadlift. Add 40 pounds for the deadlift. 

  • Day 1: Workout B

  • Day 2: Rest day

  • Day 3: Workout A

  • Day 4: Rest day

  • Day 5: Workout B

  • Day 6: Rest day

  • Day 7: Rest day

Week 5

This is a deloading week. You’ll decrease the weight you lifted last week by 30-50% this week. Add 10 pounds of weight to the barbell for all exercises, except the deadlift. Add 25 pounds for the deadlift. 

  • Day 1: Workout A

  • Day 2: Rest day

  • Day 3: Workout B

  • Day 4: Rest day

  • Day 5: Workout A

  • Day 6: Rest day

  • Day 7: Rest day

Week 6 and Beyond

To continue your 5x5 workout program beyond the first five weeks, simply return to what you were lifting in week four during your week six workout. 

Then, continue to increase the weight by 5 pounds each week for all of the exercises except deadlifts, which you’ll continue to increase by 10 pounds each week.

Every fifth week, take another deloading week. So, in week 10, you’ll decrease the weight you lift by 30-50% of what you lifted in week 9. In week 15, you’ll lift 30-50% less than you lifted in week 14, and so on.

5x5 and Feelin’ Alive

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The 5x5 workout is a safe and effective way to build strength fast. In just three workouts per week, you can increase the amount you’re deadlifting by 100 pounds in as little as 14 weeks.

Because this routine is designed to help you avoid overtraining, you’re less likely to get injured. To make this workout even safer, schedule a consultation with a personal trainer to make sure you understand the correct form for each movement.

This workout regime has other benefits too, from burning fat to building muscle and saving time.

You will need some equipment to do it. Look into getting an Olympic barbell, a barbell weight set, a bench, and a rack. If you don’t want to invest in all that equipment, you can work out at a gym or try one of our no-equipment at home workouts, like this calisthenics workout.

And while the deloading weeks in the 5x5 workout are designed to help you avoid plateaus for as long as possible, plateaus do happen when you stick to the same routine for a long time. 

If the 5x5 workout isn’t helping you reach your goals, or you’ve decided it isn’t for you, work with a personal trainer. For as little as $3 a day, you can get personalized workouts from an online personal trainer who has your goals and interests in mind. Get started today!