5 exercises x 5 sets x 5 reps
It’s the simple, effective and proven workout to enhance your strength, power, speed and physique. Spend less time in the gym yet achieve faster results with this regime.
Built on the concept that heavy compound lifting is proven to deliver strength, size and physique enhancements effectively and continuously, the 5x5x5 workout program is design for anybody – men, women, young and old – seeking those outcomes.
Before you get stuck in, feel free to read about my associated nutrition tips here, which are sure to help you get the most out of this training program – but if you want to just cut straight to the chase and get started knowing the results will come, keep reading for all the workout steps below!
Perform this workout regime no more than 3 times per week, and always allow 48-72 hours of rest between sessions to ensure maximum growth and recovery.
All exercises should be performed using either 80% 1 rep max weight, or enough weight that you are ‘feeling the burn’ but not exhausted after each set.
You’ll need all of the below equipment to perform 5x5x5, which is found in almost every gym in the world:
- barbell and weights (to suit your 80% 1RM needs)
- squat rack
- pullup bar (above head height)
The following items are also useful and strongly suggested, but not essential:
- weightlifting belt (I prefer leather, 4 inch width)
- training gloves with built-in wrist wraps
I also suggest warming up before performing lifts (I like to walk on a treadmill for 10 minutes before performing a few bodyweight pushups, for example). BUT … do not stretch out before lifting, as studies have shown this to actually increase the chance of injury and also damage performance intensity, despite what all the old wives’ tales say.
Exercise 1: The Deadlift
Love it or hate it, the deadlift is an essential part of building size, strength and overall physique. It trains almost every muscle in your body (making it a genuine compound lift) and is especially useful for core strength. Many fitness pros and bodybuilders claim that if they could only perform one lift for the rest of their life, it would be (yep, you guessed it) … the deadlift.
The deadlift is the ideal lift to start your workout, as it targets so many muscle groups simultaneously and feels mind-blowingly satisfying to perform when you have maximum energy and strength.
If you can, before starting deadlifting in this workout plan, invest in a decent quality leather weightlifting belt to help support your lower back, avoid injuries and lift more weight.
Part 1: set up a barbell on the floor with your suitable amount of weight loaded. Ensure you have comfortable space around you to lift the bar and not risk hitting anything nearby.
Part 2: stand over the barbell with your toes straight, feet about 10 inches (25cm) apart, shins touching the barbell and back straight.
Part 3: keeping your back straight, bend at the knees into a squat position, with your arms straight and hands holding the barbell just outside your knees. Some people like to keep both palms facing their legs, and others like to reverse grip one hand (palm facing forward). Do whatever is most comfortable for you.
Part 4: you’re know in position ready to lift – your arms should be straight and your back at an approx 45 degree angle, also straight. Be careful not to invert your back into the ‘happy cat’ position (a belt will help prevent this as well). Keeping your neck aligned and eyes always pointing straight ahead will help keep your entire spine straight.
Part 5: driving your power through your heels, calves, thighs and hamstrings and keeping your arms straight, slowly lift by standing up and effectively dragging the bar up your shins and thighs. At the top of the lift when you are upright, drive your hips forward to complete the lift.
Part 6: hold for a brief second and then lower the bar following the same path as the lift, only in reverse, until the bar reaches the floor.
Part 7: let go of the bar briefly whilst on the floor, then repeat the above motion 4 more times.
- always keep your back in the straight and strong position, never arch or round your back at any stage during the lift.
- some people like to drop the bar from the top of the lift, which is OK but be careful of the bar bouncing off the floor onto your toes! Lowering by repeating the lift motion in reverse is preferred, as it also helps strengthen your core.
- lifting gloves can also be useful, to prevent the ‘pinching’ feeling in your hands sometimes caused by a heavy lift. Gloves with in-built wrist-wraps can also help stabilise your forearm.
- if you feel any lower back pain whilst lifting, cease immediately – just drop the bar if you have to! Reassess your technique in the mirror or ask a PT or friend to watch your form (without weight). You may be arching or rounding your back without noticing. A belt will help avoid this and often prevents lower back soreness and pain.
Exercise 2: The Squat
Another exercise that’s easy to love and hate simultaneously is the squat – but rest assured, you will love the results!
Like the deadlift, the squat works plenty of muscle groups, especially in your legs, and is a genuine ‘big growth’ exercise. Never skip leg day!
Part 1: set up a barbell in the squat rack at just below shoulder height, then load your required weight.
Part 2: with your back to the bar, squat and shuffle backwards to get your shoulders and neck under the bar. A pad will help avoid any discomfort caused by a heavy bar sitting directly on your shoulder muscles! Keep your toes pointing forward and slightly outwards for stability, with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart.
Part 3: when in a comfortable and strong stance with the barbell positioned in a balanced spot on your shoulders, slowly lift the bar off the rack and step forward. Keep your spine straight throughout all of this lift.
Part 4: slowly bend at the knees until you reach a sitting-style position, keeping the bar balanced the entire time.
Part 5: when your upper legs reach parallel with the floor, pause then drive back up to a standing position with power. This helps activate your large leg muscles and build maximum strength.
Part 6: repeat 4 more times, keeping your posture and leg drive strong and consistent the entire time.
Part 7: when complete, slowly shuffle back to the rack and return the bar.
Well done, you just completed the squat! Some important notes:
- don’t lower your squat too far (i.e. when your butt almost touches the floor) – end the lowering movement when your upper legs are parallel to the floor, then lift. Going down further doesn’t help with strength and only increases the risk of injury and fatigue.
- Like with the deadlift, keep your spine in a strong, straight position the entire time. Don’t arch or round at any point – wear a belt to help with this.
- A pad around the barbell will help prevent soreness or pain caused by the barbell sitting on your shoulders – those with tender delts will be especially grateful for a pad!
Exercise 3: Military Press
Fall in line, soldier – it’s time for the military press!
Often underused in weightlifting and general fitness programs, the military press is an excellent way to built shoulder, arm and back strength.
Full and round shoulders are fundamental to a fit and strong physique in both men and women, and the military press is the best way to get them!
Part 1: using the setup you had for the squat (though with much less weight, as required by your 80% 1RM), spin around 180 degrees and rest the bar against your chest. place your hands on the bar at shoulder width apart, palms facing forward and slightly upwards.
Part 2: bend your knees very slight (to aid overall body stability), then lift the bar off the rack and rest on your upper chest. Step backward to clear yourself and the bar away from the rack.
Part 3: lift the bar straight up past your face and up above your head until your arms are straight. Note: do not arch your back and/or look upwards when completing the press – this is easy to do as it’s your body’s natural way of stabilising during this lift, but doing so actually increases the risk of back injury. Wearing a belt during this lift can help avoid this as well.
Part 4: hold the bar over your head briefly, then slowly lower back down past your face into the chest hold position – don’t drop quickly as this will strain your neck and back. Repeat 4 more times.
You’ve just completed the Military Press, well done! Some important notes reiterated:
- don’t arch your back or look up when pushing the bar up over your head – back straight, eyes front.
- don’t lower the bar too quickly, keep the movement slow and controlled.
Exercise 4: Pullup
The pullup is another essential compound lift if you want to achieve a fit and strong physique.
Brilliant for strengthening lots of muscles, especially in the back, mastering the pullups will give you the athletic V-shaped torso.
Part 1: stand directly below the pullup bar. Reach up and place your palms on the bar, approximately shoulder width apart. Wrap your thumb underneath the bar and hold tight.
Part 2: pull yourself straight up until the bottom of your chin touches the bar, hold briefly and then lower yourself.
Part 3: repeat the same action 4 more times.
It’s that easy! Keep in mind the following points when completing your pullups:
- don’t ‘kip’ when pulling up (i.e. move your legs to assist you lifting up). It’s tempting to do this because it makes the lift easier thanks to momentum – but doing so reduces the strength and muscle gaining effects of the exercise and increases the injury risk.
- pullups are hard for new lifters (especially women), so getting to 5 will be a challenge – just do your best and don’t let go of that bar until you genuinely have no hope of getting yourself back up there to complete the set. As you complete the exercise more and more, your strength will improve and you’ll eventually get to 5, I promise.
- if 5 pullups is easy for you and you’re not finding it challenging, try adding extra weight – this can be in the form of a dumbbell strapped to a belt, a weight vest, held in between your feet, or even tied around your shoulders. How you do it really doesn’t matter, but just add enough weight to your setup to ensure that 5 reps per set is difficult but not impossible to complete.
Exercise 5: Bench Press
Another iconic lift in the weightlifting world, the bench press is a genuine power move when it comes to developing strength, size and physique.
Primarily targeting the chest, the bench press also works the arms, core, shoulders and back – and is absolutely essential for building a strong and toned frame.
You’ll find that performing the bench press toward the end of your 5x5x5 workout is a good idea, because although your muscles are starting to fatigue and soreness is setting in, lying on the bench to perform this last exercise will reduce the strain and help you perform with maximum strength.
Part 1: move a bench into position under a rack holding a barbell approximately 1 metre off the ground. The head of the bench should be directly under the barbell (when lying on the bench, you want your eyes straight underneath the bar).
Part 2: add weights to the barbell to suit your 80% 1RM measurements. If you’re just starting out and find that bench pressing is a weaker lift of yours, don’t worry at all – you’ll still benefit massively from benching lower amounts of weight, and your 1RM measurements will improve over time.
Part 3: lie on the bench and rest your head so that your eyes are directly below the bar. Ensure the bar is at a comfortable height off the ground when racked, and not too close to your face. You want your arms slightly bent when racking and unracking the barbell to start and finish each set.
Part 4: now comes the technical part. Many people just lie flat with their legs laying limp while they bench press. Instead, in order to maximise your body’s power, stability and comfort while benching, keep your feet flat on the floor and knees bent at approximately 90 degrees – this will help you drive the bar upwards using the stable base provided by your legs. In addition, squeeze your shoulder blades down towards your lower back, to activate your large back muscles, and also arch your back very slightly. You’re now in the perfect benching position.
Part 5: slowly unrack the barbell and drive straight upwards until your arms are straight. Hold the lift there briefly, then slowly lower the bar down to almost touching your chest at nipple height. Hold the bar briefly again, then push the bar as powerfully as you can back to the straight-armed position. Lowering the bar slowly and then powerfully driving the bar back upwards with force activated all the muscles needed for the lift and harnesses their true explosive fast-twitch nature – resulting in more strength enhancement.
Part 6: repeat the push and lower process 4 more times, keeping the explosiveness consistent throughout all 5 reps. When the fifth rep is complete, rack the barbell and rest.
Nice work, you just completed the bench press! You’re on your way to strong and powerful chest, shoulder, arm and back muscles.
A couple of notes to keep in mind:
- don’t arch your back more than just a little when bench pressing – again to avoid the risk of injury.
- the fifth rep should be heavy enough that the explosive push part of the lift is difficult, but not impossible. If you’re lagging and losing explosiveness on the last rep or two, lower the weight on the bar very slightly (say 2.5kg).
- don’t get up and walk around or do other exercises or stretches between sets – stay laying down on the bench. Once each set is complete, your body sends nutrient-rich blood to the muscles being worked, which subsequently gets used by those muscles for repair and adaptive growth. Standing up and moving around causes some of that blood to be hijacked by other muscles.
That’s it! You’ve now completed the 5x5x5 workout! Excellent!
Time for a hard earned protein shake and some complex carbs soon after the workout to maximise your muscle repair and growth, reduce soreness and help you lift even stronger next session!
Take a look at the Nutrition page for more tips on what to eat around your workouts to maximise the effects of the 5x5x5 process. You can also Contact me anytime with questions or to share your progress and results (I’m always keen to see what the program can do for you!).